I love Thanksgiving! Or as I fondly call it- Turkey Day! This is most likely because it involves a TON of cooking, a massive meal, cozy time around the table with friends and family, and lots of different desserts to make and eat. Over the years I have seen my mom master Thanksgiving- she seriously has a game plan that starts a couple weeks in advance. And this Thanksgiving, being away from home, it seemed like the perfect time to get all of those tips down to hold on to them for future Thanksgivings and to share with you! So without further ado… take it away mom!
My Thanksgiving Tips!
Set your table 1-2 weeks in advance. Get all the pretty stuff out. Wash, iron, polish, replace candles, figure out centerpiece. Dust and polish the dining room. Remove clutter from buffet. It really reduces stress and you can enjoy the lovely table for weeks.
Buy a little cheap ring notebook. Copy your thanksgiving recipes from the cookbooks or internet and put in page protectors. File in notebook for easy access. This worked like a charm
Plan your menu 1-2 weeks in advance. Make a comprehensive list of ingredients needed at the grocery store and on hand. Check supplies you might have on hand (flour, cornstarch, sugar etc). I shop for non-perishables and wine the week before. I shop for the turkey on Tuesday (fresh, unfrozen) so I can dry brine it for a few days in refrigerator. I pick up produce on Tuesday or Wednesday.
If you have small children, cook ahead. Yes, cook ahead to keep the day fun. Make the biscuit and corn bread for the dressing and freeze it. Brown the sausage for the dressing and –freeze it. Cook sweet potatoes and freeze the puree. Cranberry sauce freezes beautifully (always always make from fresh berries). Rolls. Pie crust. Turkey/chicken stock! I even made gravy the week before last year from fabulous turkey stock and added the deglazed pan drippings from the turkey before serving for extra flavor. We went to my parents’ beach house several times for Thanksgiving, and I cooked ahead. I pulled out Thanksgiving dinner from the cooler and made the pumpkin pie there.
Be realistic when planning a menu. I’ve always had to host and make Thanksgiving, rather than meeting a large group of relatives and bringing a pie. Big difference. Don’t make the menu too complicated and pare down to what you can cook in your oven/range space. If you’re trying to make a salad, whip whipped cream, rise rolls, and saute green beans all while the gravy is reducing and the turkey rests– guess what. It’s chaos.
Use an appliance for another use. Cook mashed or smashed potatoes ahead and keep warm in the slow cooker.
I have tried and true recipes that are always on the Thanksgiving table , like my grandmother’s dressing. I also switch around quite a bit. This year, I want to try a whole wheat roll recipe and a new spinach salad recipe. I’m serving homemade bread and butter pickles and peach/jalapeno jam I made this summer. Ditch old recipes (canned green bean casserole!) for something new (grilled Brussels sprouts).
Throw restraint to the wind with desserts. One little pumpkin pie and one little pecan pie aren’t enough. Last year we had four pies. For four people. This year the requests have started.
Buy a large enough turkey. Even if you’re having a small group, purchase a 12-14 lb turkey so you’ll have leftovers to send home. For a large group of 20 or more purchase two 14-pound turkeys and cook one the day (or week) ahead. Reheat with lots of gravy. Or fill in with some smoked turkey from the barbecue restaurant around the corner. The very large turkeys take forever to cook and may not fit in your oven.
Turkey stock. My gravy improved considerably when I started making my own stock. Follow any good stock recipe. I use turkey wings or neck (usually browned first) with celery, onion, parsley pepper corns etc. This is the perfect thing to do in mid-November.
Dry brine. Always go with a brine to make turkey moist. Always go with a dry brine. (A wet brine involves soaking your turkey in a heavy plastic sack filled with water, salt and spices for a day in your refrigerator. You cannot lift a turkey plus 2 gallons of brine. You do not want this to spill. )
Finally. If you cook, clean up while you cook. Run the dishwasher several times (try the short cycle) with bowls, measuring cups, etc. Once the pie has been served, retire to the couch and take a nap.
Our Tried and True Thanksgiving Recipes:
What tips have you learned over the years?