6 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner
I have created Thanksgiving Dinner over the years for as few as 8 and as many as 25. It is a beautiful American celebration meal. And as a cook and host my goal has always been to enjoy the event as much as my guests.
Everyone seems to come to this holiday with a particular food in mind that they are hoping to have, a dish that will satisfy their personal vision of Thanksgiving. For many it is simply mashed potatoes and a tasty gravy. For others pecan or pumpkin pie is on their mind. We all hope for a juicy turkey. But most of all, this day is an expression of love for family and friends. And it is truly a thanks for all that we enjoy as Americans. Our freedoms can never be taken for granted.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving I present to you my top six tips for keeping a smile on your face this Thanksgiving. Oh, and my first tip is the most important one:
- Plan and organize the event and write it all down.
I will start by deciding on my menu and lining up my recipes. I will then make a detailed grocery list that I can print and check off. I will list the tasks I need to cover and decide on when I will complete them. I will attach it all to a clipboard that I take along with me. My guideline: You don’t wing it – you manage it.
- Start your shopping early. I start my shopping 5-7 days in advance.
Order you turkey from a store you trust. Do not grab it from the display. Plan on picking it up 1-2 days in advance so you can use the neck, gizzard, heart and wing tips for stock for that perfect gravy. Check off the ingredients you already have at home. Select and purchase your wines. Buy ingredients for pies. Stock up on the basics: onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, carrots, celery, cranberries anything on your list that will hold up for 5 days or more.
- Set out all your linens, plates, glasses and silverware.
If anything needs washing, polishing or ironing do it a week in advance. Select your platters and label them with what will be served on them. Arrange them in order on your buffet with identification tags and serving pieces. Set your table at least 3 days in advance. At this point you may be thinking: “ I work for a living. How am I going to do this after work?“ Pour yourself a glass of wine and do it! Take a slow, steady, spread out pleasure in creating this once a year event.
- Make as much ahead as you can.
Pie pastry can be made, rolled out and frozen. However, bake those pies on Thanksgiving morning before the turkey goes in the oven. Fresh pies cannot be over estimated. If you need bread cubes for stuffing, they can be cut and dried a week ahead. Corn bread can be baked a few days in advance. Prepare and refrigerate homemade cranberry sauce many days ahead. Having a sorbet? Make it a week in advance. Roast nuts a week ahead. You want your ingredients to be in prime condition, but you need to balance this with your available time.
- Now that you are organized what else can you do?
Well, let’s consider some interesting options. Do you have a friend or family member that is a good cook? Let them bring a dish of your choice. Give them your recipe to use or give your ok to their choice. Is there someone who offers to come early and help you? Think about that. If you trust them to be in the kitchen with you and follow your directions, then let them in. Start your turkey a bit earlier in the day so that it can be resting to room temperature as guests arrive. Do not try to keep it hot or reheat it. (A rested turkey will be juicier.) Consider serving it at room temperature with hot gravy. Hire someone to help you serve the meal, and do the clean-up on Thanksgiving Day. Let them sit at the table with you at the meal or at the very least make them a generous plate of food to enjoy later.
- This is the last and also most important guideline.
Accept imperfection. The goal of this day is not a perfect meal, but a meal lovingly created. Accept the crack in the pumpkin pie. Accept that the white meat is not as moist as you hoped. Relax as best you can, spread your love and receive the love this day offers. This is the party you really want to have.
By the way, tomorrow, on November 6th, I will be giving a full Thanksgiving Dinner for 17 students (we’re sold out this year, but register early next year to join us!). You can bet I will have been following every drop of this advice. Write me back on facebook after your Thanksgiving, post pictures, and let me know how it all went for you!
Louise Hasson is owner and lead chef of Bon Vivant School of Cooking. Seattle’s premier cooking school for beginning and experienced chefs. At Bon Vivant Louise and her team of chefs strive to teach culinary creativity, not just recipes, in a relaxed home environment. Visit Bon Vivant on Facebook and get more recipes on her Blog.