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Slow down and smell the turkey

Carolyn O'Neil

By Carolyn O'Neil
CNN Registered Dietitian

November 20, 1998
Web posted at: 9:24 a.m. EST (1424 GMT)

In this story:

(CNN) -- There's no place like home for the holidays. That is, until things really heat up in the kitchen.

Gobble, gobble, gobble
'Before'   

For every family gathered peacefully around the golden-brown glow of a 20-pound turkey, there may be five still hovering over a saucepan, arguing about how to thicken the gravy.

Some insist on flour and water, others swear by cornstarch or arrowroot. Should we trust Grandma's memory, or the cousin who took a cooking class? Add an in-law to the mix and you've got a suggestion to stir in chopped hard-boiled eggs.

It's enough to drive you to volunteer to slice the turkey, just to get near the carving knife.

But let's get back to the beginning, when inviting 27 relatives and friends over for the big feast seemed like such a good idea.

Turkey crossing

Turkeys

You might think that in this fast-paced, take-out, eat-on-the-run world that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings would be an endangered species.

But according to a new survey from the Grocery Manufacturers of America, 90 percent of respondents said they would spend this Thanksgiving at a sit-down dinner, either at their own home or at a friend or family member's home.

No official word on who's bringing the sweet potato casserole with the miniature marshmallows, but the survey found that 82 percent of folks will make the majority of dishes for the Thanksgiving meal at home, from scratch.

That's a big deal, because during the rest of the year more than one-third of the grocery-shopping public brings home ready-to-eat dinners at least twice a week.

Take your low-fat turkey loaf and go home

Here's another tasty trend: The nation's health-conscious preoccupation with counting calories and fear of fat grams has relaxed a bit.

So don't count on scoring points by contributing a tofu broccoli casserole to the annual feast fest. It's flavor and well-prepared traditional foods that so many of us crave today. That means butter in the mashed potatoes, and gravy on top, too.

Raw turkey
Families often debate cooking techniques   

Even registered dietitians advise everyone to relax and enjoy holiday meals. It's a special occasion.

Remember, everything in moderation, even excess. That means for most folks, it's considered OK to overeat every once in awhile. And Thanksgiving comes but once a year.

My favorite holiday dessert strategy is to ask for a sliver of each pie. I get the equivalent of one big piece of pie, but three different tastes -- pumpkin, pecan and apple.

(You can always eat more in the kitchen later, if you volunteer to help put the leftovers away! Just kidding. Not really.)

'P' isn't just for poultry

Professional party planners know the "P" word is key here. Not "P" for pinot noir, a light-bodied red wine that pairs so well with turkey, but "P" for planning.

The idea here is to make what you can ahead of time, delegate as much as possible and keep things moving toward the dinner deadline.

For instance, you can bake pie crusts one month ahead and freeze them, and make your cranberry mold three days ahead. Then, starting the night before, employ a countdown of duties to help prevent last-minute panic attacks.

Thanksgiving dinner
A key to glowing results is the 'p' word: planning   

Suggestions for T-day timetables can be found in a number of cookbooks especially dedicated to preparing the feast, including "Thanksgiving," by Chuck Williams, of Williams-Sonoma fame, and Kristine Kidd.

Hot off the presses is "Thanksgiving 101," by Rick Rogers. Dubbed "The Turkey Meister" by friends, Rogers delves into the big bird and its sidekicks with a dozen ways to cook the bird, 15 ways to stuff it and a whole chapter on leftovers.

Back to the dinner, or nearly. I know everyone's hungry and ready to dig in, but you've got to give the bird a rest. Rogers, in "Thanksgiving 101," suggests waiting 45 minutes from when the turkey comes out of the oven until carving.

The meat will be juicier and anyway the host needs the time to get the other dishes out on the runway. I mean the runner. You did remember to put the linen table runner, resplendent in autumn's jewel tones, on the table, didn't you? Where was I? Oh yes, still waiting for the bird to rest.

Turkey

Time to sample, perhaps, a glass of sauvignon blanc or fume blanc, white wines with less flavor punch than a chardonnay, so they complement the richness of a Thanksgiving meal.

As long as we're at it, serve the white wines first, then move on to the pinot noir with the main course. Consider a lovely dessert wine, such as a late harvest sauvignon blanc, with the pumpkin pie.

Hey, this holiday meal is sounding like a lot more fun now. I may even volunteer to do it again next year.

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