Melissa Clark's Tips for a Flawless Thanksgiving Feast

PHOTO: Melissa Clark gives tips for a flawless Thanksgiving.
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Thanksgiving is a holiday that ought to be just what its name implies — a time for giving thanks. But with family and guests in town, the kids home from school and huge amounts of food to prepare, sadly, Thanksgiving can sometimes seem like nothing but a burden. Rather than leave loads of work for those last 48 hours, why not get the jump on your cooking and prep as much as you can ahead of time? With gravy made, the turkey seasoned and casseroles and pies stacked neatly and ready for baking, you'll be as thankful as ever the day Thanksgiving arrives. Here are some do-ahead suggestions, dish-by-dish, to guarantee holiday gratitude (glass or two of champagne for the cook strongly recommended).

Melissa Clark is the author of "Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can't Wait to Make "

1.
Turkey Talk

If you're lucky enough to have the fridge space and you're choosing to brine, get your turkey brining started on Tuesday. If not, dry-rub your bird with some salt and whatever seasonings you choose on Wednesday, and leave it uncovered in your fridge.

2.
Stuffing

Successful stuffing starts with dry bread, and as it's a dish based on bread you might as well use the best bread you can find. As early as Sunday, cube up some high-quality, crusty bread and spread it out on some baking sheets. Set them somewhere out of the way, and let your bread air-dry for two days. You can then make your stuffing recipe on Tuesday.

3.
Get Ahead Gravy

Good gravy is as easy as 1-2-3: butter, flour and stock. Get your roux a nice honeyed golden brown, and then slowly whisk in your stock of choice (of course, homemade is always best). Since it will keep for up to five days, you might as well make your gravy on Sunday, and then simply reheat it for all your gravy hounds.

4.
Mashed Potatoes

Proper fluffy mashed potatoes need to be made the day of, but a superdelicious and rich mashed potato casserole can be made as early as Tuesday. Then all you need to do is pop your casserole in the oven, where it will get acquainted with its soon-to-be plate mate.

5.
Green Beans

Speaking of green beans, if you're going the simpler (and perhaps lighter) route and skipping the green bean casserole, you can still start your beans on Tuesday. Tidy them up, give them a beautiful bright-green blanch and they'll be ready for a quick saute on Thursday with a little butter, some shallots or garlic, or even some chili and sesame oil.

6.
Simple Salad

Butter, starch, crispy-browned fowl-fat ... these are all compulsory Thanksgiving day indulgences. Which is why a simple and superfresh green salad is always a welcome (but often neglected) addition to the menu. Cleaning greens can be a tedious business, particularly so when other dishes are in the way, when knives and cutting boards need washing or when your Aunt Charlene has commandeered half of your counter space for her "famous" Manhattans (which are really just bowls full of booze). Bring home your favorite salad greens on Monday, and get them washed and well-dried. Slip them into some big zip lock bags with a paper towel or two, and they'll be crisp, clean and ready to go. You might as well make a lovely, lavishly acidic vinaigrette on Monday too. Throwing your salad together on Thursday will then take no time (or space) at all.

7.
Perfect Pies

The dough for your beautiful autumn pies will keep, refrigerated and tightly sealed in plastic wrap, for five days, so you can get them in the fridge on Sunday. On Tuesday you can make your fillings (pumpkin, sweet potato, etc.) as long as they're not raw fillings like fresh apples. You can bake your pies a day ahead on Wednesday, but you might as well wait till as late in the day (or evening) as possible; pies are so good when they're extra fresh.

With just a little planning and a good road map, you can steer clear of last-minute stress. Thanksgiving day should be fun, and it can be, even for the cook. Enjoy that well-deserved glass of bubbly and toast yourself for being so darned savvy.

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