It’s almost Thanksgiving. Those of you who follow me know that I usually have a crowd on this holiday, but this year it will be smaller-just 17 people. And for me that’s small. I still haul out my cookbooks, my old Thanksgiving magazines and my nontraditional Thanksgiving chef’s bulletins to get inspiration. And I know I will overcook because somehow that’s what Thanksgiving is about. More food than you can possibly eat. “Party Food” that you only eat once a year. And a day when calories DON’T count. And giving thanks for all these things and more.
Every year, I like to post a version of party advice because it holds true not for just Thanksgiving, but for other holidays, dinner parties, etc. But somehow, this holiday is what makes everyone crazy. I think it’s because of the uncertainty of the turkey. Who cooks a 25 pound bird any other time of the year? I don’t. And I’m a chef. How long will it take to defrost? To cook? Will it be ready this year 2 hours before everything else? Or two hours after? And there’s never enough oven space. I get it. So make your life easier and follow my mantras below. The advice may not actually help you cook the turkey, but it will ease the stress around everything else…so you only have to stress about the bird.
Any party, but especially Thanksgiving with its variety and volume, is a challenge to get to the table on-time and hot. Here are a couple of things I do to make it a bit easier:
1) Organization is the key. Begin with the end in mind (Thank you CIA). I.e., if dinner is to be served at 6PM and the turkey takes 5 hours to cook, you gotta get it in the oven by 11AM. Doesn’t add up you say. Right. But you need to count in resting time (it can easily rest for 2-3 hours and still be hot) and carving time. And a bit of “it’s not done yet” time. So 11AM!!
2) Carefully plan your menu around the equipment available to you. If everything you are making needs an oven and you only have one, it’s bad planning. Think ahead and consider what will be on the range top and what needs the oven. You have the oven for at least 1 hour as the turkey is resting, so plan accordingly. Consider buying a couple of $10 freestanding burners from a big box store. It is so worth it to cut down juggling.
3) Do as much prep as you can the day(s) before. Peel and cut the carrots, peel the potatoes and store them overnight in cold water, tip the green beans, make the cranberry sauce. You get the picture. This is the kind of food that is easy to do ahead.
4) Set the table 2-3 days before.
5) Take out your serving platters the day before and label them with what will be in them. That way, you have enough platters ready and others can help you get the food on the table quickly. I saw this gem in Bon Appetite last year…Hey! I mean…. I invented this tip….lol.
6) Make your pie crusts weeks ahead. For fillings that need to be baked Thanksgiving day, measure out dry ingredients, put in plastic zip bags and label with the pie, what ingredient and amount needs to be added and time/temperature for cooking. The pies will come together in minutes.
7) Use disposable pans for your stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc. to cut down on post dinner scrubbing.
8)If you need extra oven space, use your grill in the “off-set grilling” position. Turning a flame position or two on with the food on the grate area that doesn’t have a flame under it, with the lid closed, will create an oven.
9) Get help, hired or family and know what you want each person to do and when. Make a task list for each.
I could go on…just know that you are giving a party and no matter what the magazines say; there is NO SUCH THING AS A STRESS FREE PARTY. Period. You can greatly reduce the stress by planning and organization. And also know this holiday is about friends and family getting together. The burned carrots will become the family legend your kids will talk about to their kids and those memories are what it’s really about. So RE-LAX. And look forward to a Happy Thanksgiving!!