Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: AntoniaJames gives us a step-by-step plan for hosting the least stressful Thanksgiving you've ever had.
Every Thanksgiving, our family takes a challenging hike, typically up Mt. Tamalpais, about an hour away. When we get home, I prepare and serve our big holiday meal, usually before six. It requires planning and organization, but it’s not that hard. Here’s how to do it.
Three weekends before Thanksgiving, sketch out your menu and pull together recipes, knowing that things may change. Ask the Food52 Hotline questions about recipes and techniques -- like this, this, and this. Set up a good-sized calendar (photocopying planner pages work well), print your recipes, and keep them with the calendar. Use large sticky notes for task and shopping lists (the latter organized by store), so you can move them around on the calendar as necessary. Make sure to order all of the special tools you'll need for The Big Day now -- that way, you're not stressing about them arriving too late.
Then, plan your dinners for the 7 days before Thanksgiving. They should be really easy. Try to take 3 or 4 meals out of the freezer, eat out one weekend night, and order in on Wednesday. Figure out what you can use from your freezer (and how) and plan to make, within the next 2 weeks, whatever else you need. Also, try to coordinate those dinners with your advance prep. For example, when you make pie crusts, make an extra one for quiche. Write down all these details, now.
Check and shop for staples, including baking soda, spices, vanilla, etc., and supplies such as parchment, foil, garbage bags, silver polish, etc. Order your turkey -- in plenty of time to defrost, if it’s frozen -- calendaring the pickup date; jot down on a sticky note other items to buy at the same time. Then make lists of what you’ll be doing the next weekend, so you’ll have everything you need.
On the second weekend in November, make and freeze stock, pie crusts, and dough for holiday weekend breakfast pastries and other baked goods. For each recipe on your menu, figure out every step you can finish in advance; group similar activities together, calendaring what you’ll do, when. Update your shopping lists for all the ingredients you’ll need during the last weekend before Thanksgiving. Complete your shopping for non-perishable foods, as well as wine, candles, etc.
On the weekend before, set out serving dishes with utensils and notes identifying each dish, polish your silver, and get your house ready. Start the short cooking tasks that can be done in advance, such as grating cheese, washing and drying herbs, making salad dressing, mixing sugar and spices for pies, roasting nuts, etc. Prepare whatever you can for your weeknight dinners. Finally, update your list of what you’ll do each weekday evening and Thursday, and when you’ll do it -- grouping tasks to maximize efficiency and minimize cleanup.
On Thanksgiving Day, plan your hike so you have about 2 hours before leaving. Bake scones or sticky buns for breakfast, and your pies. When you get back, while you bring to room temperature your turkey -- Spatchcocked Roast Turkey is the obvious choice -- bake and roast dishes requiring temperatures lower than the high heat needed to cook the bird. Finish stovetop sides while the turkey roasts, and put on the sideboard everything you can. Once the turkey is out, tented and resting, warm your gratins and rolls in the oven, and get your gravy nice and hot. When the turkey is carved, take your place at the table, happy and grateful for how easy that was!
AntoniaJames will be sketching out a daily plan on her Twitter feed @HowMotherCooks -- follow along!
How do you prepare for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!
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