Thanksgiving has a way of just kind of sneaking up on us. I’ve been working on my menu and game plan for the past two weeks, but I just realized today that I really only have three days to shop, prep, clean and plan. This is easy with a two year old – NOT! If you’ve spend too many Thanksgivings in a last-minute finish this, finish that whirl, it’s time to break the cycle. Use these tips to prepare a plentiful Thanksgiving spread.
Planning the Perfect Thanksgiving Menu
For many of us, Thanksgiving is the most extravagant meal that we will make all year. Selecting an assortment of tantalizing dishes can make a good dinner great. When planning you Thanksgiving menu hold on to these tips:
Take Time to Plan
Pull out your favorite cookbooks and magazines and browse through them for some inspiration. Make notes of the dishes that will go well with your traditional menu or pick some fresh recipes. This is a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays and to find new inspiration for your dining room table
Mix It Up
Mix the old with the new. Thanksgiving is about traditions. But, don’t let this deter your plans of adding a new side dish to the table, or to put a new twist on old favorites.
Many of us remember the Thanksgiving meals we had as kids. Simple, traditional comfort food that was rich, heavy and creamy. When choosing your recipes for this Thanksgiving, include dishes with different colors and textures for a more inviting meal.
Practice Makes Perfect
Please do not try out a brand new sweet potato souflee or something fancy that you have not tried before on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re itching to try our a brand new dish, make it before the big day, and practice so that you can feel confidant when the big day comes.
Now that you’ve compiled all of your recipes, ideas and family traditions, use the following list to finalize your menu:
Of your equipment, dishes, fridge, freezer and pantry. Keep your kitchen layout and stock in mind when planning your Thanksgiving dinner. For instance, it’s going to be a little difficult to roast a turkey, bake a pumpkin pie and brown dinner rolls all at the same time if you only have one oven and all of your recipes require different cooking times. So plan dishes that you can make ahead of time, or only require a short cooking time – like things that can cook while the turkey rests and you’re making gravy. Consider using cooking these recipes in dishes that can be served right in the dish you make it in. Make sure that you have enough serveware and baking dishes for each of your recipes too. Take them out when planning your menu, and use sticky notes to write what each dish is going to be used for.
Also, take an inventory of what you have in stock in your fridge, freezer and pantry when planning your menu. Write every single ingredient for every recipe on your grocery list, and then go “shopping” in your own kitchen first before actually going shopping. This will save you a ton of space in your kitchen for the big days prep.
Make Ahead – Plan Ahead – Think Ahead
When looking through and thinking of recipes, look for the words “make ahead”. A lot of dishes can be made in advance – either partially or entirely. For example, many dough recipes like pie dough, or dinner rolls can be made and refrigerated for a couple days or frozen for several weeks. Some dishes like soups, cranberry sauces, salads, and salsas actually taste better if they are made a few days in advance.
Prepare your vegetables that will not oxidize in advance too. If you’re working the week leading up to Thanksgiving, cut up a dish or two’s worth of vegetables every night during the week and place them in labeled containers or ziplock bags, so that when it comes time to cook, you’ll be ready to go. The French call this “mis en place”. For desserts, make them ahead of time, and just warm up while you’re doing the dishes or eating dinner.
Read the recipes well, so that you can be confident in your plan. Some recipes like stuffing require the bread to be cut ahead of time and laid out to dry overnight. Take advantage of these tips in the recipes. Also, many casseroles can be assembled either the night before or on Thanksgiving morning and refrigerated until it’s time to bake.
By spreading out the cooking and preparing over several days, you’ll be able to prepare a delicious spread without spending all day in the kitchen.
Figure Out Your Game Plan
Now that you know your recipes, you’ll probably have a good idea of what you need to do. Make the game plan with the tips from above. Use a weekly calendar template from your word processing program, and write out steps for each day. For example: Monday – make cornbread for stuffing. Tuesday – prepare vegetables for green bean casserole, stuffing and turkey aromatics. Etc.
Plan your grocery list. Add everything on every recipe – down to the salt and pepper. Having this kind of detailed plan is your key to success at Thanksgiving. Additionally, keep a folder with all of your recipes that you can keep in the kitchen, to refer to with ease while cooking – and that you can refer too when going grocery shopping.
Awesome. Now you have your menu, you’re timeline for the next week figured out and your shopping list organized. It’s time to start cooking!
Shop Ahead and Put Away
Designate one day of the week leading up to Thanksgiving to do your groceries. Being sure to leave time before the big day to run to the store incase eek! you’ve forgotten something. When you get home, open the bags of produce and spread them out on your dining room table. Do the same with the rest of your groceries. Take out your recipes, and sort your ingredients. Place the ingredients you need for each dish in a box, dish, bag, bowl; whatever you’ve got available and label the bowl. This will save you time when preparing the dish, and you’ll have everything you’ll need to the dish in one place. It may take an extra few minutes to put your groceries away this way, but when it’s time to prepare your meal, this will save you lots of time.
Make sure to store raw meats on the bottom shelf of your fridge. As for dairy and other bulk items, assign a special spot for them in your fridge and pantry so that when it is time to cook, you can easily grab what you need.
When preparing your veggies save the leftover bits. Save the skins from onions, end pieces of onions, carrot peels, celery, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli stems, anything really (no peppers though), and place them all in a ziplock bag. Leave the bag somewhere accessible and add your veggie bits to it as you go. When it comes to leftovers you can use this and your leftover turkey bones to make a delicious stock, all for virtually nothing – and with little prep, because you’ve saved it all from your prep. It’s like preparing your leftover meals ahead of time!
Keep Cold Foods Cold
Your kitchen is going to get HOT. Be sure that there is sufficient room in your fridge for items that need to stay cold. When shopping, bring a thermal bag with you to make sure that cold foods stay nice and cold.
Keep Hot Foods Hot
If you have a second oven or even a toaster oven, you can turn it on to warm and keep your dishes that way until you’re ready to serve. If you’re not lucky enough for a second oven, consider chafing dishes or warming trays.
Moreover, consider that game plan again. Know the cooking times of your items, and the temperatures that they need to be cooked at. Your turkey will need to rest for at least 30 minutes, so you can cook (and warm) up other dishes while your turkey rests. If you’re just not quite there yet and need to keep things warm, use a thermos to keep things like gravy nice and warm while you’re finishing up those last minute tasks.
Don’t Forget The Details
If it’s not already on your grocery list, remember little things like; ziplock bags, foil, and plastic wrap to properly store things and prepare food in advance. Other things to remember when getting ready to cook is oven space. Check before to see if your roasting pan and a rack will fit into the oven, and where your other shelves will need to go – can you add something else in the over other than your turkey? Do you have room for all of your sides that need to cook after your turkey roasts?
With a little planning, who am I kidding, with a good deal of planning and preparing dishes a head of time, you can sit at the Thanksgiving table with your family and friends and enjoy the beautiful meal that you’ve made with no last-minute rush.
The Big Day
Turkey often takes center stage on the Thanksgiving table. To make sure that your turkey arrives to the table perfectly cooked have these essentials on hand:
A heavy duty, stainless steel roasting pan is essential. You’ll be able to roast your bird in here, and then use the pan right on your burners to make a delicious pan gravy. Look for a pan with a heavy bottom and well constructed handles which will make lifting easier.
This ensures a perfectly roasted turkey. By lifting the bottom of the turkey off of the bottom of the roasting pan allows the heat to circulate around the turkey for even cooking.
Instant Read Thermometer
This is the most accurate way to tell when your turkey is done. If your bird comes with a pop-up timer, remove it and throw it away. An instant read thermometer are simple and quick to use. Just place it in the thigh of the turkey and check his temperature. A cooked bird will register 160 degrees. But remember, it will continue cooking when you take it out of the oven, so make sure that it’s not too much higher than 160 because you don’t want a dry bird – think Christmas Vacation and cousin Catherine’s turkey…You know the one!
This are just long and wide forks that make picking up a turkey off of the roasting rack more secure.
This is a nifty measuring cup that will allow you to pour off the fat from the pan drippings for a delicious gravy.
Cutting Board and Carving Knife
A large cutting board provides the perfect surface for carving your turkey. Look for a board with a well to collect any juices. Some are even nice enough to go right from the kitchen to the table! As for a knife, you’ll want to choose something SHARP – this will make slicing your turkey effortless . A long thin blade allows you to slice through the turkey and now saw.
You should have everything you need to make the perfect meal, so what about entertaining your guests? Make your gathering magnificent with a few simple strategies:
Make Your Mark
Serving a signature cocktail (and mocktail for the kiddies) makes any event feel special. Spice up an apple cider, make a fantastic fall punch or even pour some cranberry juice and sparkling wine (or grape juice) into a champagne flute and garnish with a cranberry.
Small Appetizers with Big Flavor
Making appetizers doesn’t always mean extra time and effort. Make things that your family loves. In our house, football is a big part of Thanksgiving, so we make “game day” snacks as appetizers. But, you can elevate the most basic appetizer recipes with a simple elegant twist. Serve little bites on a nice platter for a sophisticated look.
Be Prepared and Stay Focused
Make sure there is always extras. Who knows who is going to show up! Guests like to bring unexpected dates sometimes. Think of always having easy go-to snacks on hand. A variety of different cheese, crackers and fruit is an easy and delicious choice to serve.
Staying focused on your times and meals will make things easier, but don’t forget to enjoy your family and have fun. Use these tips to make Thanksgiving simple, fun and delicious.
Make this year’s dinner not only delicious, but a breeze to make by planning ahead! Oh yeah, and find some time to clean before your guest come too!
If you’ve enjoyed these tips, click the links below for more Thanksgiving advice and recipes to make your day stress free!
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