It’s November and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. You start to sweat as you realize members of your family have booked their tickets and are coming to visit. It’s starting to sink in … you’ve got to prepare an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner!
DON’T SWEAT IT! As much as you may not believe it to be real … the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner is not a myth. It happens in households all across the country, in every city, neighbourhood and apartment complex (and not just on the pages of Martha Stewart Living or in an episode of Trisha’s Southern Kitchen). You, too, can have the perfectly cooked turkey with crispy golden skin, savoury stuffing with sage, onions and peppers, creamy mashed potatoes (with bacon) and a pumpkin pie that will make your knees buckle! You can also avoid the headaches, kitchen mishaps, and emergencies that can ruin a holiday weekend (i.e., smoke and a fire in the kitchen, food that doesn’t make it to the table, food poisoning, etc.).
You don’t need a state-of-the-art kitchen or high-tech tools to get the job done … you just need a plan and a strategy to put all the pieces in place so that you’re not running around like a chicken with your head cut off come Thursday evening when everyone shows up! You can master the event with just a little bit of planning and flawless execution.
COUNTDOWN TO THANKSGIVING – A GUIDE TO SUCCESS
If you’re reading this article after November 4th, it might be too late to avoid “some” obstacles but it’s better than 11pm on Wednesday night without a single ingredient in the house! The best way to deliver a successful Thanksgiving dinner is to plan in advance. The biggest mistake novices make when they host their first Thanksgiving dinner party is to do everything in one day. You can easily spread out the work over a few weeks to make the tasks manageable and ensure you have fun with your family and friends on Thursday night!
Give yourself three (3) weeks to properly plan and prepare for an epic Thanksgiving dinner and gathering. Use the guidelines below to help get organized and to make for light work on Thanksgiving Day!
3 WEEKS BEFORE (THE FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER)
Start to put together your guest list. Figure out who are the “no brainer” guest (i.e., family, good friends, roommates, etc.). These are the people who will give you an idea of what recipes to choose for the menu. These days people are more “particular” about their food and ingredients. If there are food sensitivities or allergies you may need to include options to accommodate your guests (or you can simply choose NOT to invite them). The number of people you include on your list will also help you determine how much food you will need to have on hand to feed everyone and keep them happy in your home.
Once your list is in place, flip through trusted recipe books, magazines, and websites to find recipes you want to attempt. Keep in mind the types of things you’ll have going on at the house to entertain your guests (i.e., NFL Thanksgiving games, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Game of Thrones marathon, or World of Warcraft played on every screen in the house). Choose appetizers, snacks, and beverages to keep guests satisfied as they await the main event at the dinner table. Be sure to choose more recipes than you actually need as you will narrow them down to the ones that best reflect your style and accommodates the needs of your guests.
Most importantly, you need to keep in mind that your kitchen has limits and you only have two hands to work with (unless you recruit help in advance). With your recipes in place, make a list of what you need to get done in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The more you break up the work, the less stressful and more enjoyable the experience will be for you!
2 WEEKS BEFORE (THE SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER)
Assuming the invitations have gone out, and others have conveniently invited themselves to your home that evening, you’ll have a better idea of how many people will be coming to your Thanksgiving get together. Figure out what size turkey you’ll need to feed the entire group (including non-turkey options for those who just won’t venture there). You can buy a frozen turkey in advance (if you have room in the freezer) or reserve a fresh bird for pick-up closer to Thanksgiving to avoid defrosting a turkey in your fridge, which typically has limited space to start with.
THE WEEKEND BEFORE (THE THIRD WEEK OF NOVEMBER)
If you haven’t done it already, make a detailed shopping list of all the items you’ll need to entertain your guests. This list may seem daunting, at first glance, with everything you may need. Not to worry! Split up the list and make two trips to the store. One list will include everything you’ll need in advance (i.e., non-perishable items, ingredients for recipes that can be made and chilled a few days beforehand, alcohol and beer) and the other will include everything you’ll need for cooking and baking on Thanksgiving Day. Because you will have limited space in your fridge, planning two trips gives you an opportunity to make room in the fridge for all the fresh ingredients that go into turkey dinner and all the fixings. It also help you avoid the inevitable … forgetting an essential ingredient (i.e., butter, milk, potatoes, whiskey, etc.) and the grocery store being all out on Thanksgiving Day.
Don’t plan anything for this evening. This is the evening you will set aside to make everything that will be served chilled (i.e., cranberry sauce, spinach dip, etc.). Cover the dishes, place them in the fridge, and forget about them until it’s time for them to be served.
GAME FACE ON! This is the most important day as you prepare for a successful Thanksgiving dinner. First, go through the cupboards and fridge to take inventory of what you have and what you need before making a second trip to the grocery store. This includes picking up the turkey (if you arranged a fresh bird for this event). But … be sure to check your list at least two times. It’s typically an obscure ingredient that gets missed and ruins the entire meal (i.e., bacon bits, nutmeg, Cool Whip, pumpkin pie filling, etc.).
Once the shopping is done, it’s time to start prepping in the kitchen. This includes chopping the onions and celery, trimming the rest of the vegetables, and washing the herbs you’re planning on using to add flavour to your feature items. Pat them dry, cover them up, and put them in the fridge. Next, assemble the stuffing, put it into a baking dish, and refrigerate. Finally, prepare the dessert (or get as much of it done as you can) and get it in the oven or refrigerate it.
If you still have time, get started on the side dishes and prepare as much as you can in advance. This will save you time and frustration with limited burners on the stove on Thursday.
If you planned this out correctly you would have identified someone to call in case of an emergency … like picking up the one ingredient essentially to your brussels sprouts casserole or red Solo cups for an epic game of beer pong. Choose someone you can rely on (or who owes you BIG TIME and this is their one chance to redeem themselves). Have their number queued up on your phone.
Get the turkey in the oven and begin cooking the side dishes (in order of how long they take to prepare). Have multiple smartphones and timers handy. You are going to need them all! As food is baking and simmering, be sure to mingle with your guests, catch some of the Dallas Cowboys or the Detroit Lions games, and pour yourself a cold one.
When the turkey is done, and you let it rest, make the gravy, assemble any last-minute sides, and rewarm the dishes you made the day before (including dessert).
DINNER IS SERVED … (and you become LEGEND)!
About the Author
Andrea Oh is an accomplished writer, published author, podcaster, and local blogger in Calgary, AB (Canada). Follow her adventures at www.sixfootcanasian.ca or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@sixfootcanasian).