Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Are you ready?

I had a lovely new recipe all ready to share with you today, but it just didn't feel right. It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and who can think about anything other than the biggest food day of the year. I mean, Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of food. It would be sacrilege to tell you about pot roast.

Instead I'm resurrecting one of my favorite lists. Back in 2010 I compiled my favorite Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks. When I reread it recently, I was impressed. I don't want to toot my own horn, but these things are handy, people. So without further ado...

Making Dinner:
  • Plan your menu early. And don't feel guilty if your menu doesn't include 12 different jello salads. No one needs that much jello, anyway.
  • Are you making any new recipes this year? To keep your stress level at minimum, give new dishes a try in the weeks leading up to the big day. Once you know it tastes delicious, you'll be much less nervous. And if it tastes like crap, you can try something different.
  • Whenever possible, make dishes the day before Thanksgiving. That way, you can enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. And many Turkey Day classics reheat well or can be prepared the day ahead and popped into the oven while the turkey is resting. That's a darn good reason to give thanks, if you ask me.
  • The following items taste just as good (or even better!) when reheated or prepped ahead of time:
    • Stuffing (I actually saute the aromatics on Tuesday, prepare the stuffing on Wednesday, and bake it on Thursday. Talk about make ahead!)
    • Green Bean Casserole (Wait to add the onion ring topping until Thanksgiving day.)
    • Mashed Potatoes (Just add extra milk and butter before reheating.)
    • Candied Yams (If you're in the marshmallow camp, wait until Thanksgiving day to top with marshmallows.) 
    • Cranberry Sauce (You don't even need to reheat this one! I usually make Cranberry Sauce on Tuesday.)
    • Dessert items (pie, cake, whatever)
Staying Organized:
  • Start early. Nothing will lower your anxiety levels like having a plan in place. This will also allow you to save a couple bucks by shopping the sales, clipping a couple coupons, and avoiding last-minute desperation purchases. 
  • Once you know how many people you'll be hosting, count your plates, flatware, and glasses to make sure you have enough. My knives seem to disappear in the dishwasher, so I usually need to pick up a few replacements around the holidays. Also, it never hurts to have an extra place setting available in case you have a last-minute dinner addition.  
  • After you have your menu planned, sort through your serving dishes and serving spoons to ensure you have an appropriate platter and utensil for each item. Scooping mashed potatoes out of tupperware takes the class out of a dinner party real quick. Also, have a few extra serving utensils on hand for guests who are bringing dishes.
  • A few days before Thanksgiving, use post-it notes to label your serving bowls with what they will contain. Then set them out on the table or buffet. This will confirm that you have an appropriate dish for every item and also that there is enough room for everything. And it will be easy for you to give helpful dinner guests a job, "Katy, can you put this in the dish labelled "potatoes?" 
  • Set the table the day, or several days, before Thanksgiving. You don't want to deal with this right before the main event. And if you're worried that your kids/animals/spouse will mess up your beautiful table, cover it with a clean bedsheet or extra tablecloth. (While I've never tried this myself, it sounds pretty doggone clever.)
  • If you'll have candles on the dinner table, use unscented candles. Scented candles can confuse your taste buds when you're eating.
If You Are Not Hosting:
  • Ask your host what you can bring. And if you have a family specialty that you'd like to share, suggest that dish to the host. Likewise, if you can't cook/hate to cook/don't have time to cook, offer to bring booze.  This will save your host moolah and will be much appreciated.  
  • If you are in charge of bringing a dish for dinner, but you might be late due to another commitment, drop off your dish earlier in the day. Then your host can warm it up for you and serve dinner on schedule. My friend, Kelly, does this, and I love her (more) for it!
  • Try to remember your own serving utensils in case your host didn't read our handy holiday tip guide and doesn't have extras. 
  • If your dish needs to be reheated, use a post-it to label the dish with reheating instructions. Things get crazy in the kitchen at the last minute, and that way anyone can prep your dish. And there might be a cute guy/girl watching the football game or (let's be real) a crying baby who demands your attention more than your dinner contribution.
P.S. I wouldn't be a true friend if I didn't give this reminder: If your turkey is still frozen, get that baby in the refrigerator today! Thawing your turkey in the fridge takes about 1 day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. If you're short on time, you can thaw the bird in a bucket of cold water, which takes about 30 minutes per pound. Change water every 30 minutes to make sure the turkey stays cold and safe. 

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