Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Thanksgiving Cheat Sheet



Is it your first time hosting Thanksgiving? Don't freak out. It's just as stressful whether it's your first time or your thirtieth… If you don't have a plan. Start thinking about the details now, and it'll go off without a hitch. Here's my plan for making things run smoothly:


A MONTH BEFORE:
  1. When putting together a menu, plan things that you know you can execute well. Now is not the time to show off with a new recipe that chains you across the room while your bird dries out. 
  2. Plan for recipes that will go over well amongst the family. Don't get too fancy with it if it's going to leave Grandpa with a hankering for good old fashioned green bean casserole. No bigger  Thanksgiving killjoy than cranky relatives.
  3. Get listing. Make THE MOST organized shopping list{s} of your life. I like to start my lists ahead of time because inevitably, I'll need to add stuff to it. The head start just makes me feel like I have my life together. Make a separate list for each stop you'll be making, and separate your lists into departments in the store. Have you ever forgotten the cream of mushroom soup for Grandpa's casserole because you didn't notice it scribbled on your cockamamie list? I have. Let's not go there, K? 
TWO WEEKS BEFORE:
  1. Buy all nonperishables no later than today. You DO NOT want to wait any longer to buy your canned pumpkin, sage, and other Thanksgiving hot items. Remember that can of cream of mushroom I once forgot? I had to go to six stores to find it because the rest of America was buying it, too.
  2. Make a cooking plan. Figure out what will need oven space and when, calculate what temperature things need to cook at. I find this works so much more efficiently if you work backwards. For example, if I want to eat at 5, and my bird requires 3 hours of cooking time, I'd add in a little cushion for resting time & slicing time, and I would need to have in in the oven around 1-1:15. {My recipe is a modified version of Alton Brown's}. If you read nothing else on this list, make a cooking plan. No, I'm not kidding.
MONDAY BEFORE:
  1. Begin defrosting bird in the refrigerator in the morning.
  2. Plan which dish will be used for what. Label each dish with what its contents will be. It may sound crazy, but there's nothing worse than running out of casserole dishes. 
TUESDAY BEFORE:
  1. Make pie crust, if making from scratch. 
  2. Make cranberry sauce, unless you are the jarred-jelly type. But you could put the can in the fridge, just for funsies. 
  3. Plan your tablescape, and make sure you'll have everything necessary to pull it all together. Launder tablecloths & other linens. 
  4. Make sure your dishes, flatware, and glassware is clean. No one wants to open their cabinet on Thanksgiving Day to give a relative a dusty wine glass. 
  5. Cook cornbread and/or cube bread for dressing. On that note, do you call it dressing of stuffing? My family has intense arguments about this every year.
  6. Shop for remaining groceries. Go in the morning or you'll have a Christmas with the Kranks-type experience where the annoying lady steals the last {whatever ingredient is your kid's favorite}. No one likes sad kids on Thanksgiving.
DAY BEFORE:
  1. Brine your bird, if desired. Believe me it's definitely desired. 
  2. Prep veggies. Slice, dice, and put in plastic containers in the fridge. I chop all my onions together and take our what I need for each dish. But if you wanted to go Thanksgiving-control-freak 2.0, I suppose you could divide everything into what you'll need for each dish in separate containers. Just don't make me wash your dishes.
  3. Set your table. It's so much better to do this ahead of time rather than rushing through it on D-day. I would cry if I had to miss the Thanksgiving parade in order to arrange flowers.
  4. Make pies & whipped cream.
  5. Prepare any sides that can be made ahead. Keep calm as your fridge begs for mercy while being stuffed beyond its capacity. 
D DAY:
  1. Bring bird almost to room temp in the the morning before roasting. You won't get salmonella. You'll get crispy skin. And that will make everyone happy. Since you just cleared up fridge space by removing the turkey, you can chill beverages now. Warm Chardonnay makes no one happy. 
  2. Finish up dressing. And if you're like me, bless your grandmother for creating such a kick-butt recipe.
  3. Roast bird. Two tips: Pat it dry with paper towels before roasting and let it REST before carving. Pretty please?
  4. Mash potatoes. 
  5. Reheat prepped sides. 
  6. Marvel at the fact that your pushy mother in law has nothing to criticize. Soak up the glory as long as you can, because your clean up efforts won't be quick enough for her. So enjoy it while you can!
HOW MUCH FOOD I BUY:
  1. I buy 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. It sounds like a lot, but the bones account for almost half of the weight, plus it will lose volume during the roasting process. And who doesn't want leftovers?!
  2. I buy a pound of potatoes per person. Again, leftovers. And I fear the natives would revolt if I toned it down at all.
  3. I'm ashamed to say how much dressing we make. It was one of my grandmother's greatest legacies, so it would be a shame not to honor her memory with it.
  4. If you're doing an appetizer, I recommend a dip. Individual appetizers might just push you over the edge. Plan on four ounces per person. Another great option is a cheese/olive tray. Plan on 8 total pieces per person.
  5. When it comes to drinks, plan on a drink and a half per person per hour.
  6. Veggies clock in around a quarter pound to a half a pound per person. EXCEPT for potatoes. 
  7. Plan on two rolls per person.
  8. Pie… OK. I'm not telling you how many pies I make. I get crazy when it comes to pies. My husband would be crankier than grandpa if he didn't have days to eat leftover pie.
Thanksgiving should be relaxing for you. Do all your stressing in advance & you'll be good to go!

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