Whether you’re feeding four friends or forty members of your extended family, putting a meal on the table that consists of more than three elements [turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes] takes a little planning.
Maybe you’re off the hook this year — you’re not hosting the whole feast, but you’re supposed to bring a dish [or two] to share. Either way, you’ll be happier as the big day approaches, if you plan ahead.
Here are a couple of things to consider as you get organized:
Menu. [I know. It seems obvious, but sometimes we don’t give this enough thought.] What are you going to make? Write a list — and don’t forget the snacks and relish foods you’ll need to “tide you over” while the turkey cooks and the football game is on!
Recipe. Say you’re going to make stuffing and sweet potatoes. Which kinds will you be making? Browse through your recipe resources and pick out an old reliable family favorite — or change it up this year, and try a new variation on the same old thing. Write another list — this one detailing which particular variation on each dish you’re using.
Scratch, Storebought, or a Blend of the Two? Sure, making everything from scratch is more delicious, and, for those who like to cook, more fun. Face it: cooks like the process of cooking almost as much as we like the finished product. But if making everything from scratch makes you stressed, and cranky, and sucks all the joy out of the process….. it’s just not worth it. Your family and your friends would much rather eat storebought rolls than watch you cry over underperforming yeast dough. If there are some shortcuts you can employ, it is allowed. In fact, if there are some entire dishes that you wouldn’t enjoy making from scratch, or that you serve only because your brother-in-law insists on its presence at the table, by all means, do storebought — or ask someone else to bring it! Make another list of which dishes are scratch-made, and which will need a little “shortcut” from the store.
Ingredients. This may seem obvious, but I’ve forgotten to do this once or twice — do you have all the ingredients called for in all the recipes you’ve chosen? Finding out, in mid-recipe on Thanksgiving morning, that you’re out of a crucial ingredient, and the store is closed until Black Friday Midnight Madness begins, is a terrible feeling. Cranberry-Pear Chutney without pears is pretty lame, believe me. Avoid this debacle at all costs: plan ahead, compile one more list of what you’ll need to complete each of the dishes on your menu. Bonus points for breaking down your list into which store carries which ingredient. Remember: if it’s an herb, spice, chile, oil, vinegar, or ingredient for baking, we have it on hand here at AllSpice. We also have “no brainer” boxed kits for preparing the perfect turkey, and for making luxurious autumn desserts and drinks, which can dramatically help simplify your feast prep.
Timing is Everything. Do you want to get up before dawn on Thanksgiving morning? For a refreshing morning walk with the dog, perhaps. To peel and cook twenty pounds of potatoes? Not so much. Would you prefer to have a leisurely day in the kitchen, with time for a relaxed chat with dinner guests [or with your host, if the guest is you]? Look at your menu [step one, above], and see whether there’s anything you can make ahead. If you’re going to brine your turkey [which we *highly* recommend], you’ll want to mix up the brining solution in advance, and allow up to four hours brining time, before preparing your poultry. Most desserts, relishes, many breads, and most side dishes, can all be prepared up to days in advance. Some foods actually taste better once they’ve had time to “rest” after cooking. Plot out [notice how I didn’t say, “make a list”] which dishes you can make in advance, and enjoy *not* multitasking as you make them, one by one, over the next few days.
Will you be giving a gift? If you are playing the part of the guest this year, it’s a good idea to bring a host/ess gift along with your world-famous Maple Pumpkin Pie. If you are playing the part of the host/ess this Thanksgiving, you may want to have a special something tucked away to surprise the guest who has traveled a distance to see you — or for the dear soul who has given up Thanksgiving with *their* side of the family, to spend the day with yours. Our boxed gift sets are always “in good taste” and taste good — no worry that the gift will be the wrong size, color or style.
Photo credit: “Thanksgiving at the Trolls” on Flickr