No matter, I’m late in posting it, and well, you can use it for Christmas.
Seriously, I was checking out at the grocery Sunday and the young woman scanning my stuff mentioned that she was hosting her first Thanksgiving. I would have liked to help her through the terrors, but of course the time and place were wrong.
So I thought I’d give some tips to make that first or forty-first big dinner a little easier on the old heart and blood pressure.
- First, make lists, multiple lists, covering all the stuff you can imagine. This matters whether your guest list is two or twenty-two. Setting the meal aside, list the beverages you wish to offer, how much, any decorations, napkins, candles. No matter how obvious you think some things are, list them, because you will find in the heat of the moment you will forget the most minor of things! We have already established that I forgot my precious pearly onions, so I know of what I speak.
- See where you lists overlap. Combine by stores or by areas of shopping, whatever makes most sense to you. Get what you can ahead of time, store in ONE place, so nothing is lost. Plan out when to shop, where, being mindful of storage, availability and so forth. Where are you gonna put that bird until you are ready to defrost it?
The Grocery List
- Collect all your recipes, even the ones you think you know by heart. Add every item to a master list, even if you have some on hand. Take no chances with running low or out of something as silly as flour or salt. Check it twice. I wish I had. Do the best you can to estimate amounts you will need for the group you are feeding.
- Choose your shopping day carefully. You do not want to be in the grocery story on WEDNESDAY, God forbid, getting last-minute items. You don’t want to go so early that your spring onions have wilted and started to turn brown.
- Group your food items by location in the store. Nobody likes racing back and forth across the giganticus Piggly Hog Store that is an acre in size.
- Upon arrival home, keep all the non-perishables together if you can, even in a couple of bags that you store in a closet or pantry. It will save a lot of time, especially in finding that poultry seasoning at the last minute.
The Preparation Week
- Do your decorating at least 5 days in advance, as far as you can. Depending on how fancy you are, with name cards and specially made napkin holders, at least collect these in a common place so they are ready to do. Same with linen for the table. Go through china and wash if necessary. Gather all the pieces. Go through your menu and gather together special plates, serving dishes and so forth. Clean the silver (you are insane of course). Make sure you have the right serving materials for the actual menu items. You still have time to shop if you need a relish tray.
- Make more lists. This time the lists should be by day. What needs to be done when. It’s a lot harder to create dried bread crumbs on Thursday morning than it is on Tuesday. When to start defrosting the turkey, planning room for it, when to make cranberry sauce. Each day of the final week should have a to-do list.
- Make someone else do the housework! Okay, at least ask them.
- Make sure that you are having low maintenance meals this week. You have plenty to do, and you don’t need leftovers, so cook accordingly. Eat out if it’s more convenient.
The Last Two Days
- More lists. Take your to-do list for the last two days. This is the Dinner-eve and Dinner day. Prioritize your list, by setting up the order of doing. Your goal is to get it done in the shortest most efficient time. Think about recipes and what they need. Cranberries need to cool before adding things. Don’t add nuts until just before serving, they will go soft. Do chop your nuts and put in a small plastic bag and store in your community food area.
- On the big day. Your cooking order is critical. If you want stuff coming out in some rational, all done, all hot way. Know your oven size. Can you get the turkey and the dressing in at the same time? What about the roasted squash? Turkeys, once done, are good to stay fairly hot for nearly an hour. You can warm dressing and roast squash after taking it out if necessary.
- How many burners have you? This determines the order of on-stove cooking. Gravy is usually the last to be made because you need the cooked turkey juices, but you can make the roux ahead of time. The point is, break down everything as much as possible and do ahead what you can.
The point of all this is simply to get the dinner on the table in good order, pleasing and hot. And of most importance, that YOU aren’t frazzled by the experience.
Here is an example of my final days prep and ordering:
- Cube bread and cornbread and lay out to dry on trays
- 1. Make pie
- 2. Make cranberry sauce
- 3. Clean onions and radishes and bag
- 4. Shred and blanch Brussel sprouts and bag
- 5. Cook 1st five ingredients for dressing and refrigerate
- 1. Remove hot pepper from freezer
- 2. Remove and cook giblets
- 3. Soak Turkey for 30 min.
- 4. Construct dressing and set aside
- 5. Construct relish tray and set aside
- 6. Roast Turkey (shoot for 11 am.)
- 7. Warm dressing in oven w/Turkey (last 30 min)
- 8. Remove turkey and rest (it not you)
- 9. Roast squash and onions, with dressing
- 10. Boil potatoes
- 11. Saute Brussel sprouts
- 12. Heat bread(everything is out of the oven now, but bread)
- 13. Mash potatoes
- 14. Make gravy
- 15. Carve turkey
That’s it. Hope you have a great day Thursday. Hope this helps somebody out there who is obsessing on the work ahead!