“Sleep no more… sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher of life’s feast.” William Shakespeare, MacBeth, act II, scene 2.
The cook who prepares the Thanksgiving feast, like Macbeth, forgoes sleep; work starts before dawn, indeed days in advance, so that the Thanksgiving meal can begin midday to allow time for all that consumption. While the cook may need a post-feast nap for obvious reasons, guests may nap as well. Turkey contains the natural sedative tryptophan which, in combination with a meal high in carbohydrates, can cause drowsiness. (A recent New York Times article estimated that an average Thanksgiving dinner contains nearly 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat, not counting any alcohol consumed.)
A lack of sleep is not the only problem facing cooks on Thanksgiving. Families often expect the exact same meal every year – the absence of Nana’s pineapple cottage cheese mold, Aunt Bunny’s sweet potato casserole with miniature marshmallow crust, even commercially prepared items like a canned cylinder of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or Pepperidge Farm packaged bread stuffing, can cause disappointment. The most minor alterations to beloved dishes (do not put roasted garlic in the mashed potatoes!) can cause dismay. If, heaven forbid, you have offered more than one soup, or turkey stuffing, over the years, family members may fight over which is best. A schedule may be required to alternate favorites so that everyone has an equal chance. And if you do succeed, through an excess of creativity, in introducing a well-received new dish to the feast, prepare to repeat it annually for the rest of your cooking life.
This menu stays close to the southern border with Mexico, drawing upon the flavors of avocado, black beans, chiles, chorizo, cilantro, corn and lime.
THANKSGIVING PLAN OF ATTACK
THE WEEK BEFORE
o Make a shopping list and identify any ingredients that may be hard to find. Track these items down early or, if they aren’t available, make substitutions or menu changes.
o Inventory your cooking equipment against the menu and make sure you have what you need to prepare each dish. Check your linens, china and flatware and clean anything that needs it. Decide which serving pieces you will use for each dish. Buy cocktail napkins and candles. Make place cards.
o Order flowers from your florist if necessary. Buy liquor and wines.
o Order turkey to be picked up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. You want a fresh-killed, never frozen bird (resist the temptation to avoid crowds by picking it up earlier – storage in most home refrigerators is a problem).
o Order any baked goods – pies, rolls, etc. – that you plan to purchase, not bake yourself. If the bakery is open Thanksgiving morning, and you can assign a helper to pick up your order, do that. Otherwise, pick up on Wednesday.
o Clean out your refrigerator to make room for all of the comestibles to come.
FIVE DAYS AHEAD (Saturday)
o Buy ingredients for the turkey stock, adobo, cornbread and pepitas and all the remaining nonperishable ingredients on the shopping list. Prepare the turkey stock and store, refrigerated.
FOUR DAYS AHEAD (Sunday)
o Make the adobo. Cool completely then store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.
THREE DAYS AHEAD (Monday)
o Make the cornbread. Let it cool completely on a rack, then wrap it in plastic wrap and foil and leave it at room temperature overnight.
o Make pepitas. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
o Set the table.
TWO DAYS AHEAD (Tuesday)
o Pick up turkey and refrigerate it.
o Buy all the perishable items on shopping list.
o Bake the chocolate torte. Cool completely on a rack, then cover and hold at room temperature.
o Make the cranberry salsa.
o Crumble the cornbread and leave it out to dry overnight.
o Soak the beans.
ONE DAY AHEAD (Wednesday)
o Make the stuffing.
o Make the black bean soup. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered.
o Make the pumpkin flan. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate, covered.
o Marinate turkey and refrigerate, covered.
THANKSGIVING DAY (Thursday)
o Stuff and roast turkey and dressing.
o Make the gravy.
o Make mariscos.
o Take cranberry relish out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at least an hour before you plan to serve it.
o Make mashed potatoes.
o Make quesadillas while the turkey rests.
o Bake squash while turkey rests.
o Saute zucchini.
o Make coffee, tea, etc.