Thanksgiving is only two weeks away (say what?), so it is time to get planning! I know things can seem overwhelming – the turkey alone can be intimidating for many people, and then you add in the potatoes, the sides, the pie, the gravy, the stuffing? It is enough to scare even experienced cooks away from hosting Thanksgiving. But it doesn’t have to be! Just be smart in your menu planning, and follow a few key tips to keep yourself calm, collected and in control for Thanksgiving. If you play your cards right, I’ll bet you even enjoy it!
Let’s start with designing that menu. Follow this flowchart, complete with recommended recipes, to make your menu:
Now that you’ve got your menu, let’s talk about staying calm during the whole cooking-a-big-Thanksgiving-feast deal.
CHOOSING YOUR RECIPES:
1. Don’t overdo it – use the infographic to plan your menu. If you only have four people, you can get away with just potatoes OR sweet potatoes, rather than both. And if you really can’t decide between yeast bread or cornbread, try what I’m doing – use one as your bread, and incorporate the other into your stuffing!
2. Pick at least a few recipes that can be made a day or more in advance. I’ll be making my ginger-glazed carrots on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and gently reheating them just before dinner on Thursday. Some recipes, like my mom’s wineberry salad and Bon Appetit’s mashed root vegetables with bacon vinaigrette, are even better when they are made ahead of time!
Note: Things NOT to do in advance: Chop potatoes, apples or other produce that will oxidize and brown when exposed to air. It won’t be pretty.
3. Minimize the recipes for day-of cooking that call for the oven, unless they can be cooked and allowed to sit before the turkey, or take less than 20 minutes in the oven (and can therefore be roasted while the turkey rests and is carved).
4. Use some different cooking methods to clear up oven and stove space. Find a slow cooker recipe, like coconut pecan sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, that can simmer while you do the rest of the cooking. Or pick something that you can cook in a rice cooker, or that doesn’t need to be cooked at all!
5. If your guests want to lend a hand and bring a dish, have them bring one of the following: pie, cranberry sauce, drinks, no-cook appetizers or already-baked bread. This way, you can avoid scrambling to fit their dish on the stovetop or finding oven time for it, and everyone can be more relaxed to enjoy the day.
6. Pull all of your recipes together. Make a complete grocery list. I like to sort mine list by where they are in the grocery store – all the produce gets grouped together, all the bulk ingredients get one part of the list, etc. Don’t forget to consider drinks for adults and kids alike!
7. Before you head to the store, do a quick organizing job on both the refrigerator and the pantry. There are three reasons for this: a) You will want to clear up space for your incoming grocery haul. b) It will make your Thanksgiving ingredients easier to find when you need them. c) You may discover ingredients that you don’t need to purchase after all. When I was organizing my pantry this weekend, I stumbled upon an extra bag of brown sugar that had fallen to the back…that’s one less thing to get at the store!
THE COOKING GAME PLAN:
8. Go through all your Thanksgiving recipes and highlight steps or portions that can be prepped in the days leading up to the holiday. This could be as simple as cutting up bread for stuffing, or as complex as making one of your make-ahead recipes. Don’t forget about vital steps like brining your turkey! Make a list of all of these steps and recipe pieces on a notecard and stick it on your refrigerator so that you don’t forget anything.
9. Start early. Beginning on the Sunday or Monday of Thanksgiving week, do a little prep work each day. Caramelize some onions while you eat dinner one night, make bread crumbs while supper is in the oven, chop veggies while packing up lunch for the next day…you get the idea. Even getting tiny little steps, like chopping an onion, out of the way will make things run so much more smoothly on Turkey Day.
10. Make a schedule for Thursday. Start with your hoped-for dinner time, and work backwards. Don’t forget to leave time for allowing the turkey to rest, and give yourself some flexibility in case something goes wrong. Here’s a sample, using just the turkey:
4:00 — Desired dinnertime 3:20 — Turkey should be out of the oven 11:30 — Get the turkey in the oven
Then, I’d work around this to figure out when to fit in my side dishes, potatoes and stuffing.
Using a schedule, you’ll know when you need to start prepping ingredients and when to start cooking!