Don't Panic! It's Not Too Late To Plan A Turkey Feast

Nov 19, 2012
Originally published on November 20, 2012 6:37 am

For those of you hosting a Thanksgiving meal, Monday signals the official start of crunch time. If you're cooking-challenged, or simply short on time, trying to pull together a traditional holiday meal for family and guests can be an anxiety-inducing experience.

But don't fret, says Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook. There's still time to impress everyone and salvage your sanity — starting with some supermarket shortcuts.

"You can definitely buy some great salad greens and salad mixes, prepackaged," Workman tells All Things Considered host Audie Cornish. "This is the time for them." And don't rule out prepared mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, she says. "Many, many grocery stores have some very good, sometimes in-store-prepared, side dishes. Because you are not the only person who waited until the last minute."

Time-crunched cooks should also consider forgoing the whole turkey, Workman says. Instead, "you can ... just cook up a turkey breast, which cooks much faster." A 5- to 7-pound turkey breast typically takes less than 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach the recommended internal temperature of 170 degrees. "And you can feed a lot of people with 7 pounds of turkey breast," she says.

Finally, don't be afraid to delegate — even if you have trying guests. "It's a charged holiday," Workman says, "which is why letting people help — letting them have a task, letting them feel like they're participating in things — actually sort of eases the tension."

And if all else fails, she says, you can always crack open the pinot noir early.

Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves 4 as a side dish

You can multiply this recipe easily, but you will want to make sure that the pieces of squash are distributed in a single layer on the baking sheet, without being at all crowded to get that nice browned, caramely exterior. If you make more than one batch you'll very likely need to use more than one baking sheet and rotate them on the oven racks midway through roasting.

Nonstick cooking spray

1 butternut squash (about 1 1⁄4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1 1⁄2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Spread the pieces of squash on the prepared baking sheet.

Drizzle the melted butter over the squash and sprinkle it with the brown sugar and salt. Toss the squash until it is evenly coated.

Bake the squash until it is nicely browned and tender, 35 to 45 minutes, stirring it once halfway through the cooking time.

Recipe from The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman. Copyright 2012 by Katie Workman. Excerpted permission of Workman Publishing Co.

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For those of you hosting a Thanksgiving meal, it is now crunch time. We don't say that to make you anxious. We're just stating a fact. But don't fret. We've got someone here to help, someone who knows how to organize, who does not suffer fluffy recipes or stuffy guests gladly. Katie Workman is the author of the "The Mom 100 Cookbook" and the creator of "The Mom 100" blog. Katie, welcome to the program.

KATIE WORKMAN: Thank you so much. Nice to be here.

CORNISH: All right. So you know all about shortcuts, right? Say, you have 12 people coming over Thursday. Is there anything that you can do to sort of ease the sense of dread, essentially, that you're feeling the night before?

WORKMAN: Well, there's always pinot noir.



WORKMAN: That is helpful, I find. But the night before, what I find to be extremely helpful is to set out all the serving plates and serving utensils so that the next day you're not scrambling thinking: What I going to serve the green beans on? Where is that turkey platter? You put little sticky Post-it notes on every single platter. This is where the mashed potatoes are going. This is the salad bowl. And you can even put them out on your table so you have a sense of how it lays out and you're not crowded for space. And when people come in with their pie and say, hey, you know, do you have a pie plate? Yes, you do. You do have a pie plate. It's right here.

CORNISH: You're appealing to my type A sensibility here when you talk about bringing in Post-its.


WORKMAN: I love them, yeah. I don't - I just don't know what we did without them.

CORNISH: So the clock is ticking and you decide that maybe you might skip out to the store. What do you buy prepackaged? What's worth it? What makes sense?

WORKMAN: You can definitely buy some great salad greens and salad mixes prepackaged. This is the time for the - there's wonderful bags of prewashed arugula and shredded romaine, and so all the salad fixings can be purchased prepackaged. So that's helpful. You can buy mashed potatoes. Usually, you can buy mashed sweet potatoes. Many, many grocery stores have some very good, sometimes in-store prepared, side dishes because you are not the only person who waited to the last minute.

CORNISH: But you might be the only person who waited on the turkey. So when it comes to the turkey, is that the part that you take a stab at the home-cooked attempt?

WORKMAN: You actually can do the simplest preparation possible or you can also just cook up a turkey breast, which cooks much faster. And you can even buy a couple of turkey legs, usually, to roast those alongside of it.

CORNISH: And you can act like you did some impressive carving or something ahead of time.

WORKMAN: Exactly. And - or hand the carving knife over to somebody else. You know, a five- to seven-pound turkey breast cooked to 178 degrees, which is the safe temperature, takes two and three quarters hours. And you can feed a lot of people with seven pounds of turkey breast.

CORNISH: So, Katie, is there a particular recipe or side dish or item that you like to put on the plate, which is basically all about shortcuts, but look so good that people think that, you know, it was the real thing - full effort, full amount of time.

WORKMAN: Right. There are some incredibly simple side dishes that take very little time but have a lot of bang for the buck in terms of presentation. You can buy cubed butternut squash in almost any supermarket. And if you just toss it with a little melted butter, some brown sugar, salt and pepper, roast it in a 450 oven for about half an hour till it's caramelized, it is a gorgeous, delicious, kid-friendly side dish. It takes about five minutes to get in the oven. You can make your own vinaigrette, which is so easy: oil, vinegar, chopped shallots, Dijon, salt, pepper. That is all the difference it takes to make a salad something special rather than use a bottled dressing.

And there's a very simple stovetop method for cooking greens that I use all the time. You saute up little onion or garlic or shallot in some olive oil and add either snow peas, sugar snap peas, string beans, broccoli florets and regular peas. Saute them in the butter, add a little bit of broth or water, cover the pan. And then as the water evaporates, it creates this light, light buttery glaze that is just so delicious, and they turn out beautifully bright green, and they're just sort of perfect. And it's about, again, 10 minutes of active participation.

CORNISH: Now, Katie, what do you think it is about the pressure of the Thanksgiving meal, and has that eased up any nowadays?

WORKMAN: Well, I think, first of all, this year, my family, we're in a little bit of a weird time crunch, too, because we had some up-in-the-air stuff. And we're doing much more of a potluck thing this year, which we've never done. But it was very liberating. We gave everybody assignments, and I think it's going to feel much more communal and much more relaxed. You know, obviously, in addition to the food situation, almost everybody has whatever family situations, you know, drunk Uncle Ralph or whatever coming over.


WORKMAN: So it's charged. It's a charged holiday, which is why, you know, letting people help, letting them, you know, have a task, letting them feel like they're participating in things, I think, actually sort of eases the tension and makes the host, perhaps, less bitter and resentful.

CORNISH: So essentially, get organized and delegate. Those are the shortcuts.

WORKMAN: Delegate, relinquish, pinot noir.


WORKMAN: I think not necessarily in that order.

CORNISH: In those order.

WORKMAN: And Post-its.

CORNISH: Yeah. Katie Workman is the author of "The Mom 100 Cookbook" and the creator of "The Mom 100" blog. Katie, thank you for talking with us.

WORKMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.