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.
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.