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Be thankful for the meal, not irritated, by making a Thanksgiving plan now

Addie Broyles, Relish Austin

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Stock up on pecans for a variety of dishes.

If Christmas is for wish lists, Thanksgiving is for to-do lists.

For most cooks, hosting a large-scale turkey dinner is the most elaborate food event of the year, and only a magician with three microwaves could pull off all the planning, shopping and cooking from scratch the day of the feast.

Thanksgiving is still a week away, but now is a good time to make sure you and your kitchen are ready for the big dance.

Not hosting? Lucky you. But if you're asked to bring a dish to the dinner anyhow, you'll find some suggestions in this week's food section and next, which comes out on Monday instead of Wednesday, to help you decide what to bring.

I say suggestions because many folks' Thanksgiving dinner is as set as cranberry sauce in a can. The stuffing, the turkey, the sides, the pies. You know your family's drill. Some families won't tolerate any deviation from the standard menu, while others can get away with serving something other than turkey, stuffing, two sides (one green, one brown/white/cheesy) and a dessert that contains the words pumpkin, sweet potato or pecan and pie.

No matter what you're planning on serving, here are some tips to keep stress at bay during the next week. And not to get all Oprah on you, but as your list of things to do grows longer, just keep in mind that unless your gratitude list is longer than your to-do list, you're doing all this work for the wrong reasons.

My list of things to be thankful for has grown quite a bit this year, most notably in September when I gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Avery. After a two-month break, I'm happy to be back, just in time for the holidays.

Hearing from readers is one of my favorite parts of this job, and my ear is always open to story ideas, tips, feedback and recipe requests. You'll find my e-mail address and phone number at the bottom of every story I write.

Game plan

Purge your fridge. We're coming up on the most food-intensive six weeks of the year, and you'll be doing yourself a favor every time you cook from now until the new year if you do a ruthless cleaning-out of your refrigerator. That 3-year-old jar of cranberry jalapeño jam you've used once is just taking up valuable space. Besides, you'll need the Tupperware that's holding last week's lasagna to hold next week's leftover stuffing.

Get your bird and know how you're going to cook it. You can reasonably postpone making the side dishes and desserts until the last minute, but if your turkey is still frozen Thursday morning, you're going to be in trouble. (Every 4 pounds of turkey will need 24 hours of thaw time in the fridge.) If you're going to brine your turkey in saltwater or with a salt rub, you'll need to start that process by Tuesday or Wednesday. (Need a turkey primer? Find a quick lesson from Le Cordon Bleu chef Stephen Cash at http://www.bit.ly/aasturkeychat .)

Shop now. The starting line of Thundercloud Subs' Turkey Trot is the only place more jam-packed than grocery stores come Wednesday and Thursday, so make a list now, buy what you know you'll need and avoid the rush. Don't buy salad greens and bread until Wednesday, but hopefully you can pop in and out of a nearby farm stand and bakery to get these items instead of fighting the rush.

Take care of all the non-food stuff. Iron the napkins and tablecloths, if you're that kind of person. Buy extra paper towels and toilet paper to accommodate guests. (Don't forget extra plastic containers so you can send guests home with leftovers.) Set your table the day before.

Cook early. On Monday and Tuesday, make cranberry sauce, pie crusts and casseroles and store them in the fridge. (Don't add the crunchy topping until reheating casserole on Thursday.)

Still on the hunt for a non-conventional turkey?

White Egret Farms, just east of Austin, is one of the last options for getting a locally raised turkey ($2.50 a pound, 512-300-3584, www.whiteegretfarm.com ). Owner Lee Dexter says it's best to call now to reserve one of three kinds of birds so you can pick it up next week.

You still can order heritage turkeys for delivery from Slanker's Grass-Fed Meats ($6.48 a pound, 1-866-752-6537, www.texasgrassfedbeef.com ) in northeast Texas.

Sprouts Farmer's Market (1-888-577-7688, sprouts.com/turkey) is taking online reservations for free-range turkeys ($1.47 a pound) through Monday. You have until today to reserve a free-range, organic or heritage turkey ($1.89 to $5.49 a pound) through Natural Grocers either by phone or online (1-800-817-9415, www.naturalgrocers.com/turkeys.php ). You'll have to visit the meat counter at Newflower Farmers Market, 6920 Manchaca Road, before next week to reserve one of their free-range turkeys ($1.47 a pound).

Both Central Market and Whole Foods carry organic turkeys, and Central Market is the only retail outlet carrying Greenberg smoked turkeys ($49.99 each), a Texas favorite that gained national fame a few years ago after being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504

Get ready to go shopping

In next week's food section, we'll show you how to incorporate what's in season into your Thanksgiving feast. It is a harvest celebration, after all, so hit one of the dozen or so markets that will be running in the next week (go to austin360.com/go/farmersmarkets to find one near you) to stock up on cool-weather fruits and vegetables to use in your meal. We'll be running recipes for four dishes created by former Cook's Country recipe developer Meghan Erwin: creamy kohlrabi with breadcrumbs, braised kale with pecans, herb-roasted organic turkey and pumpkin mousse with pecan brittle.

Here's the list of what you'll need to make the dishes, including a few pounds of produce to buy at the farmers market.

Grocery

Chicken broth

Coarse grain mustard

Olive oil

Cider vinegar

Golden raisins

Granulated sugar

Light brown sugar

Flour

Breadcrumbs (plain)

Anchovies in oil

Light corn syrup

Cooking spray

Baking soda

Dairy

Butter

Heavy cream

Parmesan cheese, grated

Eggs

Meat

Organic turkey (10-12 lb.)

Farmers market/produce

Kale - 3 to 4 bunches (about 21/2 lb.)

Shallot

Pecan halves (about 13/4 cups or 8 oz.)

Lemon

Kohlrabi - 3 to 4 medium bulbs (about 21/2 lb.)

Garlic

Orange

Herbs/spices

Pepper

Salt

Italian parsley (flat leaf)

Pumpkin pie spice

Vanilla extract

Fresh thyme

Fresh sage