The turkey is coming, the turkey is coming! A very wise man named Paul Revere said that… at least I’m pretty sure that’s what he said, because he was always so pumped about thanksgiving! Paul knew the importance of a golden brown turkey with homemade sides and fresh baked pies to accompany it. Paul knows what’s up.
There is no other day that allows you to be thankful for all of the blessings in your life, while allowing you to eat as much as you want with no guilt from anyone. Then again, I don’t really use thanksgiving to eat as much as I want… I have a bad habit of doing that all the time!
But how can we prepare for such a joyous occasion? My family is big on traditions, so we tend to find a pattern that works and stick with it, even if it doesn’t make complete sense (if that makes sense). From how much food to prepare, to organizing oven space and timing of the meal – I got you covered. I’ve written some tips that have helped me prepare for Thanksgiving that should help ease the stress. After I spoke with my sister this morning, the preparation has begun!
1. Figure out how many people you will be hosting for Thanksgiving
This may seem obvious? But this year we happen to have more family coming in town. Plans have changed, people want to come last minute – doesn’t matter you can always make room for family! But now that we know who is attending Thanksgiving dinner, we can plan the food accordingly. Oh and make sure you have enough chairs and table settings to accommodate them. You can always purchase decent chairs and plates at Walmart or Target. I know it’s probably not ideal, it may not match the original sets, but I promise no one will care, the food and presence of family will overshadow the mismatching!
2. Plan the meal
Probably the biggest task and the most important task but I promise it doesn’t have to be daunting. When you’re entertaining a crowd stick to this: KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Make your basics, the things you can cook in your sleep and with confidence. This is NOT, I repeat NOT the time to try you’re experimental Tofurkey (ewe-no offense), or that recipe you found for Chef Po-Pons dressing with homemade dried cranberries and while truffle oil. Personally, just execute the basics. Do them well and let the flavors shine on their own. I always feel that by trying a new recipe on a stressful cooking and baking day like this is counterproductive. You should feel at ease when you’re cooking, and that you’re in control of the meal. That way you’ll be able to be relaxed around your family and friends, maybe even have a glass of wine :).
3. Make your list, check it twice
Alright, now that headache is over and you’ve figured out what you’re gonna be making, make a grocery list. When making your list, simply think of these two things: how many people are coming and what do I need.
When entertaining the rule of thumb is make extras. The truth is, you can’t guess how much people will eat or if they will go back for seconds, third, heck even fourths! Besides, we can all agree that thanksgiving leftovers are even better the next day.
*Trying to figure out how many pounds your turkey needs to be? Calculate 1 1/2 pounds per person. The trend is to even split that amount between two birds to cut down on oven time.
Divide what you need by section of the grocery store; produce, dairy, meats, baking, etc. That way you don’t have to spend an entire afternoon battling people who are doing exactly what you are doing. You can go up and down the aisles with ease, check items off your list and get on your way.
Before you go, be sure to check your pantry, spice cabinet and fridge to see what ingredients you already have and account them into what you need. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I didn’t have vanilla extract. For a months, every time I would go to the store I would bring some home, leaving me with 10 little bottles of vanilla. But I would rather be sure than have to go back to the store. Moral of the story, if you can make the time, do a check of what you have.
And for those of you entertaining a large group consider adding things like paper plates and serving spoons, especially if you are entertaining a large crowd and want an easy clean up. In that case, maybe add some cleaning wipes to your list…
4. Make sure you have room for your groceries
Imagine this: you’ve figured out steps one and two, you just took the time to prepare yourself for the grocery store, and you’ve made a list so that you can get through your shopping with ease. Then you go to the grocery store and you kick. it;s, butt. You get in there and knock out your shopping in 45 minutes. 45 MINUTES!! You’re so proud of yourself you pat yourself on the back and but yourself a $1 sundae from McDonalds. You get home and right as you start to brag to your husband how you just killed it shopping, you realize, you don’t have any room. No room in your pantry, in your fridge, in your cabinets. Good feeling, gone.
Consider this a public service announcement, don’t let this happen to you! Make sure you clean out your fridge of any expired foods, rotten fruits and vegetables and anything that is questionable. Check your pantry for expired stocks and spices. You should make sure ingredients are fresh to obtain the highest flavor rating possible!
5. Do what you can to prepare before Thanksgiving day
You can totally cook everything Thanksgiving day. No judgement here, we’ve done that almost every year. But as we get older (and wiser), it is better to prepare as much as you can on the front end. It’s one of those “why didn’t I ever do it this way?” feelings. What can be done in advance? It all depends on your recipes. If you’re making homemade pies, rolls, or a breakfast casserole those are something you can prepare in advance, probably the day before.
Are there any steps you can do in advance? Chopping vegetables for your dressing, cutting potatoes for your mashed potatoes, or measuring spices for your pies can be done in advance.
*If you’re brining or dry brining your turkey, make sure you prepare the turkey 24-48 hours before baking time. Make sure you let it out of the fridge to rest before you bake it.
Map out cooking time for your recipes. What should be cooked first? Last? What time do you want to eat? So much to think about!! Not to worry, once you have a general idea down, it will help to know when to make once. Historically, we have cooked our breakfast casserole, then pies, then prepared stuffing for inside the bird, then the turkey, then once the turkey is out the sides. The sides typically take 30 minutes, so it is a good amount of time for the turkey to rest before we carve it. No matter what, do what works best for you and your recipes!
Overall – don’t let cooking and baking stress you out! These steps are designed to guide you through your cooking day. It’s time to celebrate with friends, family and loved ones, and what better way to do it than with good food and wine! Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!