Turn-Key Turkey Day
by Yvonne Seng for Digital Living Today

Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday: Big-hearted, familial, inventive and often, too damn stressful! When it comes to juggling your devout vegetarian sister, your fidgety future in-laws and a 25-lb roast foul, you want the turkey to take center stage. (Okay, you may just want it all over with.)

The Internet is replete with culinary ideas and recipes for whipping up a memorable feast without working yourself into a frenzy. The Net offers vast resources and guides to help you plan and produce a Thanksgiving meal that will even leave your mouthy aunt Edna stunned into silence.

For starters, before you log on eat something! The visuals on most culinary sites are sure to make you salivate. Especially on Epicurious - associated with Gourmet and Bon App*tit magazines-where you'll find plenty of eye-candy (food slideshows) and over 11,000 recipes, complete with grocery lists and links to specialty stores. Of the 450-plus recipes for Thanksgiving, approximately 30 are for pumpkin-inspired deserts. Renowned chefs show you, courtesy of streaming video, how to stuff a turkey. Fortunately, there are plenty of tasty suggestions for vegetarians or finicky-eaters, and their buying guide will give you the skinny on turkey, from kosher to self-basting. For added fun check out "Search Spy," which tracks what other site visitors are looking to cook, and Gourmet's Drumstick Disaster Forum, an outlet through which you can vent and gain perspective on your holiday worries.

To build your own a la carte menu, use the recipe search on the above mentioned and other food magazine sites. Food & Wine has some exuberant suggestions, such as Coyote Cafe's Yucatec Stuffed Turkey-guaranteed to wake up those taste buds. And Southern Living's Thanksgiving dinner (sans turkey), infused with literary reminiscences, just might steal your li'l ol' heart

All Recipes serves up a smorgasbord of practical recipes and cooking advice. Their hassle-free notebook includes plan-ahead menu suggestions for those days when your home will be filled with houseguests. And if you're looking to take an untraditional route, try their Hawaiian Thanksgiving Luau or explore other regional cuisines of America. For a Thanksgiving dinner without the gourmet frills, Meals, on the web, provides simple and sensible menus that won't empty your wallet.

Every task requires specific and necessary tools for flawless execution, and Williams Sonoma is the place to go for your supplies and more. Their site will help you create a cooking timetable, an equipment checklist -- conveniently linked to their sales floor -- and roll out smooth dough. And if you prefer ladle-to-the-gravy treatment, order your naked turkey, specialty ingredients and table linens for speedy delivery to your door.

Sierra Home's site for their Master Cook CD-ROM series is an excellent place to start your holiday planning. The online recipe index, chat rooms and helpful hints will wet your appetite for the cooking software. DLT tried the Cooking Light 6.0 and unlike most healthy cookbooks, this collection is far from boring or bland (their maple, fig and marsala pie is highly recommended). Its 3,000-recipe directory provides grocery lists and nutritional analysis, instructional videos, organized menus, and links to Web communities. The only downside: It can't do your dishes.

If all else fails, order in. Your local supermarket or gourmet store will most likely offer ready-to-go Thanksgiving dinners that you can reheat in the secrecy of your kitchen. And don't be modest when it comes to presentation: Wow them with a luxurious table setting and accessories from Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel or any other online kitchen or home retailer.

Thanksgiving should be about creating your own tradition. The food may be memorable in a way you'd rather forget and Uncle Jack's magic tricks may be a disaster, but look on the bright side: They'll all make for entertaining stories next year at the table.

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