It’s that time of year again!on November 12th, 2011 at 8:50 pm
As many of you who have followed my blogging for many years know, Thanksgiving is pretty much my favorite holiday in the world. Note that I do not like the more disgraceful aspects of the holiday’s history, and think it’s important to acknowledge them, but the idea of a holiday that is a day of gratitude that is a time for reminding friends and family how much they mean to you and reflecting on all the good that has happened over the last year is something that I think is really important, and I do think that the two sentiments can be inclusive of each other. But this isn’t a political blog, it’s a food blog, so I’ll leave it at that for now and get on with the food part.
Beginning in 2005, I have made my family’s Thanksgiving dinner almost singlehandedly and entirely from scratch, including from-scratch versions of stuff like stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other dishes that I was previously perfectly happy with in the pre-made version. I have two elderly grandparents, and so around that time, I decided that there was no better gift I could give them than to prepare an amazing dinner for them. I make everything in advance, with the best ingredients possible (my mom foots the bill for most of it), and we trek down to Delaware with Thanksgiving dinner in hand early on Thursday morning. Then I assemble the feast. Typically, we get between 8 and 12 people for this dinner.
I know many of you who are in the US also love to celebrate Thanksgiving and might be planning your own dinners and get-togethers for the holiday!
Believe it or not, this is when you should start getting ready! I’ve got my menu mostly selected, and tonight I’ll be making my shopping list. Shopping this week for everything but the ingredients that must be bought extra fresh means cutting down time waiting in line in the grocery store, and it also means that you have plenty of time to realize you’ve forgotten something, to realize you bought the wrong quantity, to discover you need to go to that specialty deli 35 minutes away to get the right kind of meat, and so on. So, in the spirit of starting at the right time, I’m going to start posting my tips!
1) If you’re planning a big dinner, using a spreadsheet can be a huge boon, whether you’re cooking the entire meal or need to assign or keep track of responsibilities with a group of people. You can print it out, share it with friends and relatives, and check it via smartphone or tablet from the grocery store. Here is my handy spreadsheet, available for you to use. It has columns for nearly everything. Note that it has two pages: one to write down your recipes and schedule tasks, and one to write down and sort a shopping list.
2) Order your turkey! Many grocery stores and butchers may have already closed orders for turkeys, but if you want a fresh turkey, ordering can be the best option if you live somewhere where turkeys fly off the shelves quickly. Try to do that as soon as possible as many stores close their orders. Ordering turkeys also means you can specify a close range of size (16-18 pounds, 18-20 pounds, etc) and other requirements, like if you want an organic or free-range bird.
3) Make your stock! This week is a great time to make some turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock! You can store it in the freezer until you need it. Last year, I wrote up a little turkey stock how-to if you’ve never made your own stock before. I highly recommend it!
4) Also make your decorations! If you are hosting Thanksgiving and want some nice centerpieces, you can make them from cloth and dried flowers and other non-perishable items well ahead of time so that you’re not rushing to do things like that at the last minute. Place cards, print-out menus, and other things like that can all be made now!
5) Start planning! All the Thanksgiving issues of the cooking magazines should be out and available, or you can search online for many great recipes. If you are having Thanksgiving with a group, make sure everyone knows what they are responsible for– the sooner, the better, so there are no surprises!
6) When planning, think about how much advance time you will need for each recipe, as well as how long in advance you can do things. For example, if something says it can be done a day ahead, it can probably be done two days ahead, so plan to do it Tuesday. If something requires a lot of time, like defrosting and brining a turkey, make sure you have enough days– a turkey can take more than a day to defrost! It’s always better to have as much prep as possible done ahead of time, so that you have time to manage disasters or just to have a relaxing holiday. I get so much done in advance that sometimes I get to relax all Wednesday night, which is lovely.
7) Also think about your guests! Know their food restrictions and make sure you will have things that everyone can eat. Most Thanksgiving food can be made vegetarian, with the obvious exception of the turkey, and enough things can be made vegan/dairy-free with very few changes to the recipes (olive oil or margarine instead of butter, for example) that anyone should be happy. Make sure that you know if anyone has an allergy or dietary restriction or religious/ethical eating restriction and then try to accommodate those restrictions in your planning. Most people who have dietary restrictions are used to having to accommodate themselves if necessary, so if for any reason you absolutely can’t accommodate someone (for example, if you have guests with conflicting dietary restrictions), give them lots of advance notice so they can bring a dish of their own to supplement their meal. There is usually so much food at Thanksgiving that everyone can eat something, but sometimes it’s just a question of bringing one extra thing.
8) Pick your dinnertime NOW! Knowing if you are eating at 4, 6, or 8 will make a difference in how you plan your dinner. Eating earlier means less prep time, but more time to dig into a long sit-down dinner. Eating later means more prep time, but you will probably want more munchy appetizers and cocktails available.
9) Check all your recipes for “weird” ingredients that you might not be able to locally. If there’s something you don’t recognize, look it up online. Then figure out if you can get it locally. If it’s a dry good, you may be able to order it online and get it delivered by the beginning of next week. If it’s a fresh ingredient, see if you can find out a good replacement. Most things can be substituted with something else if it’s not available near you.
10) Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I have been doing Thanksgiving for so long that I have gotten to the point where I am a bit of an expert at it. If you need help, have questions, or there are specific things you’d like me to post about over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be happy to do it.