Thanksgiving – Spectacular and Stress-free: Post 1 of 3

There are a few things that are pretty much unbelievable about any holiday at my mom’s house, and Thanksgiving in particular. First, the food is amazing. Thanksgiving is, hands down, everyone’s favorite meal. Second, the ease at which she does everything (or appears to do everything) on the day of – delicious food rolls out of the kitchen, beautifully presented, on a fairly consistent basis throughout the day and my mother never appears frazzled. Third, she does it all solo. Preparing holiday meals at my mother’s house is not a group activity. It’s not a potluck (unless you count bringing wine…and I’m not even sure we’ve contributed that in years past) and it’s not a time in which family members take different responsibilities or steps in the process. Nope, the entire family (except for my mom) is fairly lazy on that wonderful Thursday – content to eat, nap and watch football (and repeat). I asked her to tell me about some of her secrets, which I will share over the next few weeks as we ramp up to Thanksgiving.  This week’s topic is planning and prep, next week – on Wednesday’s Food & Entertainment post – will be recipes (yum) and on the last Wednesday before the holiday, finishing touches.

Document a Detailed Plan

At least a week in advance, determine the menu, pick the recipes, and assess your pantry. Keep a list of your recipes – if in a cookbook jot down the page number, print off the ones from online, and set aside those on recipe cards. Itemize the ingredients and compare against what you have in your pantry, so you create a grocery list that saves you time at the store and doesn’t result in duplicate purchases. If you have the space, physically put the ingredients in the bowls and/or dishes in which you plan to serve the food, so that you aren’t short of a particular shape or size once the day arrives.

Make the Food in Advance

With the exception of the vegetable side dish, my mom cooks everything in the day or two (or evenings, when she was working full time) leading up to Thanksgiving. Yup, even the turkey. With the turkey especially, you can take the time to brine, portion out the dark and light meet, make the gravy, etc. Your stress level will decrease dramatically, as it makes the process so much more efficient, particularly on Thanksgiving day. No running to the store when you realize you’ve forgotten an ingredient, no getting frustrated over distractions from guests when reading a recipe, no spending a good portion of the day wishing you had a double oven.  Although you still need to be careful to time things correctly (the turkey will take less time to reheat than, say, the mashed potatoes), it cuts down a number of challenges when you don’t need to worry about various cooking temperatures and instead can reheat items at a consistent heat of around 300 degrees.

Sure, there may exist an argument that the house doesn’t have that “the turkey has been in the oven since 8:00 a.m. aroma” as guests walk in. Maybe. Or maybe not – depending on when guests arrive and when you start reheating. The point is, don’t kill yourself for the impact it will make on your guests for the first 45 seconds they walk in the door. And if you do want to create that impact, roast a couple of cloves of garlic, or simmer some apple cider and cinnamon on the stove.

Reheating Tricks

Wrapped fully prepared items that only need reheating in aluminum foil, formed into rolls. It helps heat the dish evenly, and is incredibly helpful from a space perspective – in the refrigerator on the day or evening prior and on the day of when reheating in a tight, single oven (you can fit the rolls in between casserole dishes or in the space to the side).

Use a small crockpot to heat the gravy on a low temperature. You won’t have the worry of having to tend to it on the stove.

Keep a small amount of chicken or vegetable stock on the stove at a low heat when cooking and reheating, in case you want to moisten any of the dishes just a bit.

No Shame in Purchasing Prepared Items

It was within the last year or two when I called my mom and let her know how I “discovered” that Whole Foods had a cranberry sauce that is shockingly similar to hers. That was then she let me know that her cranberry sauce IS the Whole Foods cranberry sauce. Certainly, there will be special items you love to make or are family traditions you want to continue, but there will be some others for which you can save yourself time and hassle by purchasing fully prepared.

Choose a Self-Serve Dessert

Find a dessert recipe that doesn’t involve a lot of fuss for serving. So many times guests are full at the end of the big meal and want to save dessert for later. If you have an elaborate item planned for dessert, it can be frustrating to have to prepare it several times to meet guests’ appetites. Have something simple and delicious, that guests can help themselves to at a time that suits them. After all, we can all get off the couch once in a while.

Reality Check. I’m so happy to finally have these tips and tricks documented. I’m even happier that I still get to enjoy this year’s Thanksgiving from her couch. Perhaps I’ll remember to bring some wine.


4 Comments on Thanksgiving – Spectacular and Stress-free: Post 1 of 3

  1. Trina Muich
    November 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm (10 years ago)

    Great tips,I’ll have to try the rolled packages tucked in the oven! We’ve been having Thanksgiving at our house for a few years now. My Mom always hosted and it was her favorite Holiday. The numbers hovered around 25 and included family from Minnesota and local friends too. Libby and I fondly remember shining silver at the kitchen table the night before while Grandma peeled potatoes. We still have the same dishes as my Mom did (many cannot live without her artichoke dip appetizer) but always try something new too! My Mom has kept the menu and guest list (and memorable things that happened – like the year Big Daddy bought a smoker for the occasion and burned the skin of the turkeys – turns out that really seals in the juices!) from the past 20 years we love to read through it every year! Getting excited for this year – Tom’s family will be here. Loves to all of you!! Go Lynette!

    • Kerry
      November 12, 2014 at 4:08 pm (10 years ago)

      Oh my goodness, Trina, thanks for the lovely comment – reading those memories (especially of Big Daddy!) made me tear up! Good luck hosting that crazy number again this year (as you can see I’m putting off that grown up stage until I’m forced to take it over), and I hope some of the tips are useful. The aluminum foil rolls really are genius! Recipes next Wednesday – hopefully you find something you may want to try. xoxo!

  2. megan weizel
    November 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm (10 years ago)

    Watch out Lynette! After reading that post, you might have a lot of drop in visitors this year! 🙂

    • Kerry
      November 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm (10 years ago)

      You know Lynette – she would be prepared for anything!


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