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 16 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 last 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.
But 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 three ring binder organized by category.  This just might be the most useful tip I give you.
Here’s what I am probably making this year:
Coffeecake, fruit, coffee and tea
Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup and Cornbread
Hors D’oeuvres:
Breaded Cauliflower with Tomato Dipping Sauce
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Maple-Rum Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Whole Grain Stuffing with Mushrooms, Leeks and Herbs
Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Shallots and Thyme
Individual Harvest Chopped Salads or Butternut Squash Salad
Apple and Tart Cherry Pie
Gingerbread Cupcakes
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Freshly Whipped Cream
Fresh Seasonal Fruit

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  1. Can homemade applesauce be frozen?

    • I’ve never done it, but purees normally freeze very well, so I’m sure you’re fine. I just couldn’t tell you if there would be a noticeable difference in texture. I make mine the Sunday before Thanksgiving and put it in a tightly covered container in the back of the fridge with a note that says “Do Not Open Until Thanksgiving!”

      • Ok! I will make it on Monday! THANKS!

  2. So, that’s how you create such a fabulous Thanksgiving day at your house! Your kitchen is still Ryan’s favorite “restaurant”.

  3. Wow you are so organized!!!! Wished I had it in me!!!!

    • OMG!You are so organized that you have motivated me to start thinking about my Thanksgiving Dinner this moment. Since I am hispanic, I have to add saffron rice to the menu; at least three of my guests will enjoy the rice. However, everything you listed is so delicious. I especially like your selection of veggies. I love brussels sprout! Thank you for all your great tips. Early Happy Thanksgiving!

      • That’s the idea, Jeanette! I think it’s beautiful to incorporate your family’s traditional foods in the holiday. Although when I was a kid, I remember several Thanksgivings when pasta was served as a first course and I couldn’t deal with it!

    • I learned after my first Thanksgiving when I was NOT organized that it is so much more fun when you are. Plus I didn’t want to hear my mother-in-law follow me around the kitchen again saying, “you have no idea how much more work you have to do.” 🙂

  4. Can you please post your cornbread recipe? I’ve been looking for one without a lot of added sugar. Thanks!

    • Possibly, but if you have a cornbread recipe that you like, just decrease the sugar and sub some Grade A maple syrup. You can also swap whole wheat pastry flour for white. I’ll see if I can fit it in.

  5. I love brussels sprouts and your recipe with dates sounds divine. Please, please post that one too.

    • Hmmm, I was going to post a Brussels sprout leaf salad that I am crazy about. We’ll see…

  6. I’m hungry already!!!

  7. I’ve already decided to give your organizational ideas and suggestions a try for our Christmas Day celebration…fantastic!

    • Absolutely! These tips can be applied to any holiday or major entertaining undertaking!

      • Christmas eve? 😉

        • Depends on the Christmas Eve!

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