Christmas Turkey - Key - © - Maggie J's

Five More Cooking Days ‘Til Christmas!

Most folks start their holiday countdown much earlier than this. But I’m not talking about ‘shopping days left ’til Christmas’. I start my dinner prep countdown on December 20, a good point at which to do the shopping and start the make-ahead dishes…

Casserole Stuffing Deluxe - © epicurious.comClassic Turkey Stuffing: You can’t tell it wasn’t cooked in the cavity
thanks to the addition of a little Chicken stock in the casserole!

We’ll all cook our Turkeys on Christmas Day, of course. But we all have different routines for doing the shopping and preparing our sides and desserts. I start the process five days in advance of service…

December 20

Finalize menu and assemble shopping list. This includes inventorying the pantry to see what we already have in stock. You should already have acquired your Turkey, and placed it in the bottom of the fridge to thaw gently and safely. If your bird is still frozen, start thawing it now! If you still don’t have one, get out there and get it, before all that’s left are 29 lb. / 13 kg monsters!

December 21

Do the festive feast shopping. Also, grab all snacks, treats and other goodies you’ll want for entertaining… And snowy-day TV binge-watching.

December 22

Make some of your side dishes ahead. Scalloped Potatoes, Squash Casserole and similar dishes keep well tightly covered in the fridge. Re-heat them in the oven for an hour (to at least 165 F) just before serving. This is also a good time to make your Pumpkin Pie. You can also make a Veggie Quiche as a Vegetarian option. Just leave out the Bacon Bits and put in lots of Veggies. Small Broccoli Florets, Thinly Sliced Onions and Mushrooms go well together. This Quiche is more like a Forentine. It will keep well tightly covered in the fridge.

Have I mentioned, it helps to have a second fridge in the house? Many serious cooks do – often referred to at other times of the year as ‘the beer fridge’. Stake a claim to at least a couple of shelves in it early! Failing that, I’ve actually stashed pre-made dishes in plastic freezer storage containers, with tight fitting lids, in the garage (on the roof of the car). The weather in my part of the world this time of year usually hovers just above the freezing mark through the day.

December 23

Take a break and conserve your energy. Even though you’ve made some dishes ahead, you’ll still be really busy tomorrow and Christmas Day!

December 24

Make your Cranberry Relish and Cranberry Sauce today and store tightly covered in the fridge until service. They’ll actually develop great flavour when allowed to sit overnight, and they really should be served cold, not straight off the stove or even at room temperature. This is also a good time to put together your Green Bean Casserole. If you don’t make it the ‘old fashioned’ way – with two cans of condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup – here’s a tried and true ‘scratch’ recipe.

This is also the time to cut up your bread for the Stuffing. You’ll want to leave it on a large sheet pan overnight covered by a dish towel to gently go stale. If you use soft, moist fresh bread, your Stuffing will come out soggy and mushy.

And check how long the Turkey will need to cook, according to the recommendations on the packaging. This might reveal that you should set your alarm clock even earlier than usual for tomorrow morning.

December 25

Get the Bird ready to go into the oven. Put together your Stuffing mixture. You can stuff the cavity if you want to, but I recommend you bake your stuffing in a casserole dish. This beyond-the-bird method ensures that the stuffing will be properly cooked and that there will be plenty of crusty topping for all.

Since you can re-heat any or all the dishes you made ahead in either the oven or the microwave, take a census of what you have in that department and decide which will be re-heated where, and when. You don’t want any counter-top roadblocks!

This is also the rime to prep any side dishes such as Asparagus, Brussells Sprouts or Mashed Potatoes. These really must be made on the day they’re to be served and all can be cooked on the stove top. Asparagus can simply be sautéed in a pan on the stove top with Salt Pepper and Butter, or you can try this oven-baking method. Sprouts can likewise be sautéed after boiling or steaming them to the fork-tender stage.

If you have special family favourites, you probably know exactly how to prepare them from recipes handed down through the generations!

Just before service…

While the Turkey is resting and being carved, make the Gravy. I was given a special measuring cup for Christmas many years ago, one which has a tubular spout that attaches at the bottom of the cup. You just pour the drippings into the cup and let the grease separate from the juice. You can then pour off the pure juice, which settles to the bottom, without messing with or even touching the grease. Makes Gravy making even easier and more fool-proof!

Finally…

You’ll want to make the Whipped Cream topping for the Pie just before serving dessert. The secret to making great Whipped Cream – well, secrets, plural – are: make sure the mixer bowl is ice cold (put it in the fridge an hour before you plan to use it; the bowl must also be squeaky clean, as in fresh out of the dish washer; and don ‘t forget, along with a generous amount of Icing Sugar, to add a teaspoon  of Vanilla Extract. It perfects the flavour. And use only rich, thick 35 percent Whipping Cream. One cup / 236 ml of Cream will whip up into enough topping to more than satisfy 6 -8 diners.

And then its time to sit down to dinner…

…And you didn’t break your back or go nuts making it happen. Congratulations!

~ Maggie J.

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