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talking turkey and other Thanksgiving advice for the first-timer host
by Yee-Fan Sun 
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It sounded like a good idea at the time: you, in your first real apartment, eager to show the whole fam just how grown-up you now are, offering to host Thanksgiving chez vous this year. But now it's one week till the big day, a fact you still can't quite believe because you feel like it was just yesterday you were recovering from that Halloween party hangover. And as you start planning your turkey day feast, a panic slowly starts to descend as you realize: you have no idea what you're doing.

Which is why we're here to ensure you're not left fumbling. Here's the lowdown on some of those basic Thanksgiving questions -- including the ones that seem too dumb to ask aloud. Because hey, we've been there ourselves. So we're not judging; we're just here to help...

What can I do ahead of time?
Good question -- because you can and should do as much as possible. Unless you have a commercial-size kitchen and an army of sous-chefs at your disposal, there is no human way possible to cook an entire Thanksgiving feast if you wait till the morning of to start dealing with the food.

No, you won't have time to squeeze in an apple pie if you get up really, really early because A) you'll have way too much else to do on turkey day, and B) waking up early and inevitably cranky is not a dandy way to start an already potentially stressful day. But a lot of your baking can be done well in advance, which is good, because that oven'll pretty much be monopolized by the turkey for most of Thanksgiving day. If you're planning to make homemade rolls or bread, for instance, they can be baked pretty much whenever you feel like it and popped in the freezer (wrap in foil and seal in a plastic freezer bag). Thaw them at room temp on the big day and reheat in a 350F oven while your cooked turkey's resting. As for the requisite pies, bake 'em the day before; these can be reheated, again in a 350F oven, while you're enjoying dinner.

You'd also be smart to make sure you're properly equipped with whatever doodads, gadgets, and whatsits you'll need for the big day. Check your inventory of place settings, glasses, and serve ware. Read over all your recipes to see whether there are any specific pots, pans, or other cooking tools you'll need to prep your feast. Last but not least, make sure the turkey fits in your roasting pan, and the pan plus turkey fits in your oven. And don't wait till the night before to test this out.

How do I avoid accidentally inflicting food poisoning on my guests?
Defrost your turkey in the refrigerator. This means planning ahead, as a 12-15 pound bird will take three days to thaw this way. Under no circumstances should you let your turkey sit around on the kitchen counter defrosting. It is possible to defrost in slightly shorter time by thoroughly immersing your bird in a cold water bath (changed every 30 minutes to keep the water cold), but this'll still take at least 6 hours for a 12 lb. bird, and require a heck of a lot more effort on your part than if you just remember to stick the turkey in the fridge a few days earlier.

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