Have you ever watched one of your favorite shows expecting a new episode but instead finding one of those clip show episodes where maybe 40% of the content is new? At first I get pretty annoyed because how lazy is that? But then as I watch I realize that the past clips remind me of funny or really good bits I may have forgotten about and while it’s not all “new”, the new parts play into the clips pretty well and make it an overall enjoyable experience.
So folks, this week the Kitchen is giving you it’s take on the clip show. Last year, I did a fun email series called “6 Tips For the First Time Thanksgiving Host”. I emailed a new tip each week to help new and seasoned Thanksgiving hosts navigate the weeks and days before the big day. So today and Friday I will be sharing these tips, updated and all nice and shiny just for you. I hope you find these tips to be informative and helpful as we gear up for the eating season!
Step 1: Plan a Menu.
So I’m sure you are saying “Well Duh! Turkey and sides!” But do you know what sides? Or how much turkey? Or if someone stopped eating meat or is super allergic to mushrooms? So yes a meal plan is the solid first step. A few weeks before, sit down and figure out what YOU are going to make. As the host, you will need to provide the main (which for most is turkey but you do what you and your people do). Next, think about the favorite sides of you and the people you expect and decide which ones you would love to make. Keep those recipes in an easy to remember place for when you need them. Our past Thanksgivings have looked like this food wise: two or three appetizers, a turkey, a casserole, potatoes, two vegetables, bread, and dessert. You can use this meal template to determine what you will make and what you will delegate others to bring. My major tip: don’t use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to try out your brûlée skills for the first time. Want to light some food on fire? Make a few practice fires before the big day. Keep Thanksgiving recipes and techniques ones you are comfortable making and doing while doing many, many other things. The firemen and your people will thank you.
Now time to figure out who is coming, what can’t/won’t they eat and what can they bring? If you are willing to bring your A game to have people over, make a giant bird and then clean it all up, it is more than ok for you to have each guest bring something to pass. If you have allergies or aversions, have folks who have restrictions bring a dish they enjoy that they can share with others to show that a gluten/soy/meat/dairy/grain free diet can be yummy! Have a friend or family member who does not love the kitchen? Have them pick up a cheese tray or some other heat and eat appetizer or some wine. Keep a list handy somewhere (email, spreadsheet or good old paper work for this) and once you have a final head and dish count, create your final meal plan. Include everything from start to finish and note what dishes are coming to your house and what dishes you are making. This will be helpful once we get into shopping and making the food, trust me!
Step 2: Make Way for Turkey (and stuff!)
You have a plan, you have checked your cabinets for what you need, now it’s time to buy the bird and shop, shop, shop! Slow down there, first of all let’s take a quick peek in our refrigerator and/or freezer. Can you easily stow a 20+ pound turkey in there or will it take a miracle to shove it in? How about the rest of the perishable items you need to make the meal happen? Or the dried goods do you have space for all this? Let me tell you when you have a turkey quickly thawing on your counter, buttermilk and heavy cream weeping in a bag and fresh veggies wilting by the second as you stare at the refrigerator, you will wish you had taken a bit to make sure you had the room for it all!
First, let’s make a plan for the big guy, the turkey! Once you get the biggest item squared away it becomes a little easier to make room for the rest. Over the next few days or until you get the turkey, make it a goal to eat everything possible in your refrigerator and freezer. No take out, n new groceries, just eat what you have to make some space. I like to do nights where everyone wanders into the kitchen, grabs food out of the refrigerator, freezer or pantry, heats it up and eats. The food combinations get weird but everyone is full, happy and room is made so I’m good. Once you’ve made some space, get in there and carve some room out for the bird. Even if you plan to freeze it first, it will need to live in the refrigerator for at least a day or two. And with the space you made eating the bits and leftovers in the fridge you are ready! My turkey pro tip is to take a large bowl that you are pretty sure the turkey can fit inside (you will need something to house it when it defrosts anyway) and make room for that in the refrigerator. Once you have that space, leave the bowl there. You would be surprised how quickly an empty space can be filled:) Now that you have made some room for the stars of the show let’s go shopping!
Step 3: Pantry Raid and Shop
First things first: what do you need? Remember that meal plan you made? Time to take it out and determine what you are making and what ingredients are needed to make that happen. You will also want to grab those recipes we put in an easy to remember place as we will need those to make a master ingredient list.
Next, sit down and make a master ingredient list. Include EVERYTHING you will need to make EVERY dish, even salt, pepper, oil and water. Don’t worry about listing it out by recipe, just a dump of all ingredients for all recipes is necessary now as you will sort out exact amounts when you cook. For ingredients that are present in multiple recipes, note the total quantity of the item needed. For example if you need 1 tablespoon of salt for a casserole, 3 tablespoons for mashed potatoes and about 1/4 cup for your turkey rub, include 1/4 cup and 4 tablespoons salt (or 1/2 cup salt if you know your kitchen conversion math!). This is important to do because when it’s time to prepare all this, you know you have everything you need to make tasty food and don’t have to be that person looking for a store open on Thanksgiving.
You have a list and now it’s time to shop….your kitchen! Check the pantry, freezer, storage and all other food storage ares for ingredients on your list. When you find an ingredient and can confirm you have the the correct amount, will still have that amount when you go to cook, and it will not spoil before it is used then note this on your list as something you have and continue on. Using what we have saves us money and time in the store, things we all want more of this time of year.
Now, over the next week, scan ads for your favorite stores for deals on what items you need still. Holidays are a great time to purchase baking ingredients and ingredients that appear in a common Thanksgiving meal so do your best to get good prices on what you need. My personal tip is if you can, avoid the stores the weekend through the days before Thanksgiving as EVERYONE will be running around grabbing what they need. Start now and shop the sales and you should be able to relax and sip coffee while the store crazy dance goes on.
Come back Friday to check out my last 3 steps in this series and as always, find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if you have any burning holiday questions, tips or just want to chat:)