Planning the spread

the key to Thanksgiving dinner is working ahead

Every year for the last decade, Medford resident Karen Greene has served up a Thanksgiving spread for 15 to 20 people. It takes three tables, weeks of planning and mountains of food to pull it all off, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

"We invite friends, family and anyone who doesn't have a place to go for Thanksgiving," she says. "It's better than Christmas."

Kentucky Hot Browns

Looking for a new way to use up that leftover turkey? Hot Browns are a delicious comfort food that dates back to the 1920s.

Makes two open-faced sandwiches

Ingredients:

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk or cream (cream makes a richer sauce)

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese

1„4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, shredded Parmesan cheese

2 slices Texas toast or other thick bread

2 cups sliced turkey

2 medium tomatoes, thickly sliced

Parsley and/or paprika, optional, for garnish

Directions:

Fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until it makes a thick paste called a roux. Stirring frequently, cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk or cream and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from heat. Whisk in the cheddar and 1„4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, until sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the Texas toast in an oven-safe dish. Top each slice with half of the turkey. Sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and pepper. Arrange tomato slices around base of each sandwich. Pour half of sauce over each hot brown. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Place under broiler until cheese sauce bubbles and begins to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from broiler and cross two slices of bacon on top of each hot brown. Garnish with the fresh parsley and/or paprika, and serve immediately.

Michelle DeLeon, a mother of eight from Vancouver, Wash., also has huge gatherings each year. "We usually serve at least 20," she says, "sometimes more."

How do they pull it off? "Planning is key," Greene says. She plans the menu several weeks in advance and lists all the ingredients she needs. DeLeon relies heavily on produce she cans herself throughout the summer. Both women pick up a few items each time they make their weekly shopping trips.

Greene sets the table the night before, even setting out serving pieces and labeling them with sticky notes. She creates place cards using her computer. She likes to do a different theme each year — all gold or silver, for example. DeLeon chooses a centerpiece and lets her younger children decorate placemats.

On Thanksgiving morning, Greene gets up early to start baking pies. She starts with pumpkin, which takes longest to bake; while they're cooking, she peels and slices fruit for apple pies. "You can never have too many pies," she exclaims.

Greene spends the rest of the day in the kitchen — mostly by herself. "I have it down to a science. My daughter is the only other person I allow in the kitchen," she explains. One trick they've learned: making mashed potatoes early in the day and keeping them warm in a crock pot set on low.

DeLeon cooks all week long. On Monday, she makes breads, rolls and pie crusts. Tuesday she bakes all her dessert items. Wednesday she makes the stuffing and other side dishes. On Thursday, all she has to do is pop the turkey in the oven, warm the side dishes and cook the last-minute items. She, too, does most of the cooking herself.

"But I will accept help peeling potatoes," she says.

Both women rely mostly on familiar favorites, with the addition of one or two new recipes. Greene especially likes a salad made of Granny Smith apples, walnuts and cranberries.

After the meal, DeLeon enlists help to clear the table, load the dishwasher and put the food away. Greene stacks all the dirty dishes to be washed later. "We like to use paper plates for dessert," she says.

Finally, when the night's over, DeLeon sends a plate of leftovers home with each guest. Both women use the remaining turkey and gravy to make sandwiches.

"We always go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, and we don't want to cook when we get home," Greene says. The turkey frames make a delicious soup.

It's always important to be diligent with food safety. Bret Thomas, of Jackson County Environmental Health, says, "Always thaw turkey under refrigeration." Otherwise, the exterior of the bird can reach room temperature and begin to grow harmful bacteria well before the rest of the bird thaws.

"It can take several days for a large turkey," he says.

Allow one day of thaw time for every 5 pounds of weight. Leftovers need to be handled carefully. Discard any left sitting for more than two hours. Cooked turkey can be frozen for later use, but leftover side dishes should be consumed within two days.


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