This post has been edited from the original, which was published on October 27, 2011. I adore Thanksgiving. I love the traditions, the food, the Macy’s parade on television while I am making my pies, the football games. I love moving the family room furniture after the last football game is over to extend the dining room table. I love hearing everyone share why they’re grateful. I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 18 years, as well as dozens of Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes. I have made lots of mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about how to execute and enjoy a very happy Thanksgiving. Every Thursday from today until the big day, I will share my best tips, strategies and a few good recipes to set you up for a successful holiday. Let’s get started!
4 Weeks Before Thanksgiving
- Guest list Now is a good time to invite family and friends for the holiday, even if they are regulars. I send an email out to all our guests with the schedule for the day, especially when we will sit down for dinner. We live on the West Coast, which means the second football game is over at 4:00. Anyone that wants to come for the earlier game is welcome to do so. There’s coffeecake, fruit and coffee in the morning. A mugful of soup and cornbread around noon; hors d’oeuvres at 3:00 pm and dinner is at 4:00 or whenever the game is over. You know that I pray for no overtime!
- Plan your menu Planning the Thanksgiving menu requires a bit of strategy and balance. Make sure you have a balance of cooked and raw food (one thing I have learned is no matter how big your kitchen or how many ovens you have, it’s never enough on Thanksgiving!); protein, starches and vegetables (I find most Thanksgiving menus to be too starchy;) and ingredients (make sure not every recipe has dried fruit and nuts in it.) Know what dishes need an oven and when because if you’re making turkey and you have one oven, you won’t be baking too much in the hours before dinner.
Also, know your audience. I love trying new recipes, but my family looks forward to the same traditional standbys every year. There was almost a revolution when I took Breaded Cauliflower off the menu in 2007 ( I now serve it as an hors d’oeuvre.) So I compromise by making the classics (traditional roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie), but I also try out a new salad or vegetable side dish every year.
Also, just because you’re cooking overtime for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t mean your household won’t be needing dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of. Instead of ordering takeout pizza on Wednesday night, make and freeze a casserole in the weeks ahead or plan for your easiest 20-minute meal. The same goes for Thanksgiving day, especially if you have young children in the house. You can save your appetite and get by on a piece of fruit for the day, but your four-year-old cannot. I always make a pot of butternut squash soup the day before and a pan of cornbread to be served around noon to tide anyone over until the big meal.
- Outsource Do as I say here. Don’t do as I do. You don’t have to make everything yourself. In fact, most people would be delighted to contribute something to the holiday which will alleviate the pressure on you. But you must be specific otherwise you’ll end up with 4 pumpkin pies and no green vegetables and we all know what I think about that. “Thank you, Caitlin for your offer to bring something. I think I’ll take you up on it. We have neither stuffing nor apple pie yet. Would you like to tackle one of those?”
- Write out a schedule Take the time to plan everything that you need to do over the next four weeks and put it on the computer so you have it for future holidays. By taking a little time now, you will save yourself stress, anxiety and HOURS later. Trust me on this. You can see my detailed schedule as an example.
- Photocopy your recipes from books and magazines I remember my first Thanksgiving with a stack of cookbooks and magazines taking up valuable counter space and my wasting so much time looking up each recipe multiple times. Ugh! Put your photocopied recipes in sheet protectors and create a dedicated Thanksgiving or holiday binder organized by category. This just might be the most useful tip I give you.