You're busy. You're on-a-work-call-while-bouncing-a-baby-and-making-dinner Busy, with a capital B. And you still have to make Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily, with the right menu, preparation for the Big Dinner won't take much you longer than an after-work evening at home.
Wednesday evening, before a whole array of beloved (and not-so-beloved?) relatives trickle into your living room and swarm your kitchen to offer help—and ask for snacks—take advantage of your time alone. It's the calm before the storm—and an opportunity for you to get ahead on tasks so you can spend more time tomorrow
drinking eating with family, and less running laps around your kitchen. Here's how to have everything prepared, so all you have to do tomorrow is slide the turkey into the oven and ponder all the things you're thankful for (like make-ahead recipes):
You just got home from work: Take some time to ease into your Thanksgiving cooking with the sides—they're similar enough to your weeknight cooking that they won't be intimidating, but traditional enough to get you into the spirit. The turkey will come later, but for now, mash those potatoes.
You have your sides ready! Now, pack them up into oven-proof glass containers or casserole dishes covered in plastic wrap (more on how to freshen up your mashed potatoes later!) and bookend the prep for tomorrow's meal by making dessert. It may feel against logic to make dessert before you even start to think about the turkey, but in this case, it's in your favor to get the desserts out of the way—it's one less thing to think about tomorrow in between checking turkey temperatures and entertaining Auntie Marge.
Start by making Pumpkin Pudding Pie, which is crustless and much simpler than a regular pumpkin pie—but just as good!—then store it in the refrigerator until tomorrow (the recipe calls for it!). Next, make just the dough for these Ginger Cookies and wait until after dinner tomorrow to stick them in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes while the table's cleared. Warm cookies = best Thanksgiving host ever. Win, win.
"I think what people really like is pumpkin pie filling, because the crust on a pumpkin pie is almost always soggy. I’m not saying pumpkin pie can’t be done well, but it rarely is, and Thanksgiving is no time to try to perfect a new skill." — Alice Medrich, Food52 contributor and cookbook author
Your Night-Before Rescue Manual
Top: Bacon Bird with Turkey Neck Gravy | Lower Left: Game Hens with Roasted Grape Mostarda | Lower Right: What We Call Stuffing: Challah, Mushroom, and Celery
The non-Turkey, rogue route:
If turkey just isn't your thing, don't worry! Game hens look just as lovely on a Thanksgiving table—and are just as delicious. And the Roasted Grape Mostarda for these hens can be made the night before! Plan on making roughly one hen per every two guests, and instead of carving the turkey, serve the whole game hens on a platter, then cut each along the spine to serve a half to each guest.
"If you think about a Thanksgiving dinner, it's really like making a large chicken." — Ina Garten, host of Barefoot Contessa and cookbook author
Cocktails are often an over-looked part of a wine-heavy Thanksgiving table, but don't pass them by! Not only will you impress your family by going the extra step, but the base of each of these cocktails (Left: Last Word; Right: Apple Rye Punch) can be made the night before (just don't shake it till tomorrow), then served tomorrow in a punch bowl or as single servings—just stir it, ladle it into a shaker, and serve away! But for now, help yourself to a drink and rest easy knowing tomorrow will be a breeze.
Your Day-Of Rescue Manual
Set the Scene
Your Grocery List
Click here for a downloadable and printer-friendly grocery list—organized by section of the store. (That's one less thing for you to do!)
"Print your list and bring a pen for the soothing cross-off experience (and the ease of tearing the list in half, if you're bringing a buddy)." — Kristen Miglore, Food52 Creative Director and author of Genius Recipes
Whistle While You Work
Listen to this Thanksgiving playlist while you cook—filled with upbeat, but mellow songs, with a couple of Thanksgiving songs thrown in (there are a few!), it's the perfect background music to mashing potatoes and chopping onions.
This article originally ran in November of 2015.