Big Bird in a Box 

Turkey day preparations got you stressed? Don't cry. Outsource.

This year the Chronicle is running a boot camp for one lucky incompetent cook: A team of coaches will be teaching her (and it is a her) how to shop, prep, and serve the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

Good for her. Good for the Chron. The Oxfam approach to generosity -- teach a man to fish, yadda, yadda, yadda -- means that one family will enjoy Thanksgiving for the rest of its years together. But what about the hundreds of folks whose applications weren't pathetic enough, or who are just too busy to cook for three days straight?

Don't tear your hair out. Don't battle feelings of failure. Outsource.

Frankly, the costs aren't that much lower than they would be to cook the meal from scratch. You can also supplement your own turkey with store-bought sides, or let one of the following markets or caterers prepare the main event. The quality, of course, is variable -- and because we were unable to do advance tastings, we can't vouch for any of the dinners below. In general, you pay more for individual attention, organic ingredients, and novel twists on the classics.

The best part? The meals come in boxes, so you warm up and plate the food at home. If you want to stake your reputation on someone else's labor, feel free to claim responsibility. Just make sure no one hears the microwave ding.

MARKETS

Albertson's (locations throughout the East Bay). Small turkey dinner for $34.99 serves eight to ten people. Includes turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and pumpkin pie. More elaborate dinner for the same size party adds on a couple pounds of turkey, a green-bean casserole, and cranberry relish for $48.99. Prime rib and ham dinners are also available. Each store has a limited number of meals available, so it's first come, first served.

Andronico's (Berkeley, Emeryville, Walnut Creek, Danville). For $99.99, eight to ten people can dine on free-range turkey, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, gravy, and cranberry-orange chutney. Order by Thursday, November 21, or Friday, November 22 (depending on locations).

Village Market (Oakland: 510-547-3200). Dinner for eight to ten people costs $149 for turkey or ham, $169 for prime rib or salmon. The full dinner includes a fruit and cheese appetizer plate, garlic roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, Waldorf salad, beans or carrots, all the traditional accompaniments, and your choice of pumpkin pie or apple pie. Order by Monday, November 25.

Whole Foods (Berkeley: 510-649-1333; Walnut Creek: 925-274-9700). A full meal serving six to eight people costs $99.99. It includes free-range turkey with maple-herb butter, roasted-garlic mashed potatoes, all the fixings, and pumpkin pie; half meals and á la carte items available. Vegan meal for four also available for $49.99. Order in person or by phone by Sunday, November 24.

CATERERS

Few of the caterers I contacted are preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Some don't find it cost-effective, others want to give employees the day off. Here are two that offer pickup meals that can be supplemented with tableware rentals and service if you choose.

CW Catering (Orinda: 925-254-9283). For parties of fifteen or more. The base price for dinner is $20 per person, plus rental and delivery fees, service, management charges, and taxes. CW complements oven-roasted turkey breasts with herb stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, homemade cranberry sauce, a vegetable medley, a spring salad with citrus vinaigrette, and pumpkin pie or apple pie. Place your order by Friday, November 23.

Market Hall Caterers/Pasta Shop (Oakland: 510-547-4006; Berkeley: 510-528-1786). Really, these are pickup orders, but service is available. All items are á la carte, so consult with staff for proper amounts. Main courses are orange-sage-marinated game hens, roasted turkey ($10.95/lb for breast meat, $6.95/lb for legs and thighs); honey-ginger glazed pork loin; and galette of spinach, cremini mushrooms, and fontina. Accompaniments include mustard-glazed Brussels sprouts, cornbread and almond stuffing, spicy pear and apple chutney with dried cherries, and chocolate hazelnut tortes. Order by Monday, November 25, for pickup on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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