Whilst we are busy being thankful, it’s also ok to plan. It leaves more time for thankfulness on Thanksgiving. If you’ve ever cooked a giant meal without a plan, you know that you weren’t as thankful on that day. You were more sweaty and unkempt and feeding people from the stovetop, than filled with gratitude. To avoid any future appreciation pit-falls, we’ve assembled a handy guide to help you get your meal on the table, and be happy about it. And for more holiday how-to's, check out our Holiday Guide.
• Write it all down. This really can’t be emphasized enough. The basics: Who is coming to dinner and what are they bringing? What are you making and when are you shopping? I recommend multiple shops over several days, including non-perishables, butcher, bakery and as close as you can bear it to Thanksgiving, braving the crowds for perishables and produce. Naturally, all of this will be on several lists. I recommend doing your lists at least 10 days in advance. Thankful for: Actually finding a pen and paper for making said lists, or having a fancy digital device on which to make your lists, and the husband that mocks the lists.
• Clean and organize. I often hire someone to clean my house, but even as lazy as I am I clean out my fridge and pantry cupboard to make room for the crush of groceries and leftovers. I usually do this the weekend before a big holiday meal. There’s also something very satisfying about having a fresh canvas on which to host your special day. No one wants cat hair in his or her sweet potatoes. This is also a good time to make sure you have all the utensils, pots, pans, linens, and so on for your food prep and actual dinner. If you want to be uber-organized, you can even stick a post-it on each serving dish, so you are sure you have enough and as a reminder of what goes where. Thankful for: This is an easy one. All the stuff we don’t need that we have anyway. The bounty so great, that we can actually throw stuff away. Also, the hearty souls that tackle the cat (and dog) hair.
• A good menu plan: This goes with writing it down, but also includes the order that you will prepare everything. Many things can be made in advance. Let’s assume your meal is going to include turkey, stuffing, gravy, two kinds of potatoes, two veggies, cranberry sauce, bread, desserts, drinks and maybe crudités or antipasti to kick it all off. Something like this:
• Make the stuffing. It can’t go in the turkey hot anyway, so make it ahead and stick it in the fridge. While you’re dicing veggies, dice whatever extra you need for other dishes or crudités.
• Make the cranberry sauce. You can even do this on Monday or Tuesday. It keeps forever.
• I’m a bit of a masochist, so I tend to make my own breads and desserts. If you are doing this, do it Tuesday or Wednesday. These parmesan thyme rolls are a no-knead recipe and fairly straightforward. Just remember to make oven time to cook them off on Thursday. You can also have guests bring bread and desserts. It will make them feel useful and save you a lot of stress.
• Make any dips you might be serving. My stand-bys are courtesy of Queen Martha and the Contessa, and they never fail me. Tapenade (add 3 tbs. fresh thyme leaves, 5 tbs. finely chopped walnuts, and a 1/4 cup of dried currants for perfection), and caramelized onion dip. I also like to make a cured meat platter, with these mozzarella balls, which can be made in advance.
• Some people make their mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes the day before and reheat. You can. I don’t.
• We brine our turkey for 12-plus hours, so this process begins the night before. It’s the tastiest way to prepare turkey and it actually saves a lot of time, because you aren’t basting all day Thursday.
• If you have something called a ”dining room,” you can set the table the night before. I find that it’s often the last thing to happen, particularly as I don’t have one of these special rooms, and it never looks as charming as I envisioned. It’s good one to do when you aren’t rushing.
Thankful for: My little helpers. They eat their turkey with ketchup, but still, I’m so grateful. Also, the joy of cooking for two straight days in a warm, well-stocked kitchen, and finally getting authorization to put on Christmas music.
The Big Day:
• Estimate the time that everything is going to take, and say it with me, write it down! You won’t forget anything, and you won’t have ice-cold potatoes.
• Turkey first. It doesn’t have to go in at 4 in the morning and cook for 12 hours — why did our parents do that? — but it is still a good idea to get it up and running. Stuff that bird, slather it with butter, do what you do, and get it done. Once you pour hot gravy on it, it’s not going to matter if it isn’t piping hot.
• Set up the bar, pull out the drinks, and finish any decorating details.
• Pull together the appetizers.
• Have the kids set the kid’s table, make clever place cards, and veg out in front of the parade.
• The rest of your schedule depends on what you’ve decided to make. At this point, you’ve done so much in advance, you should have plenty of time to stop for 15-30 seconds and think of the next thing you have to do. Just remember, don’t try anything new on Thanksgiving, don’t over stuff the oven, and do have one fresh, crisp vegetable that isn’t slathered in a coronary.
• Last but not least, don’t forget the cranberry sauce. It always gets left in the back of the fridge.
Thankful for: The food. The people. The day. The food.