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 he or she is grateful. I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 19 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. The key is being organized. 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.