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thanksgiving 2015: a survival guide.

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Guys! It’s almost Thanksgiving! My very favorite holiday. Let’s be honest, any holiday that is 100% focused on food is my favorite kind of holiday. Oh yes, and seeing my family and being thankful and all that jazz. But mostly the food. Here’s what’s on tap for my family this year:MONDAYS

Thanksgiving has always been an enjoyable, well-orchestrated event in the Radeke household, so I never quite identify when people tell me their horror stories of Thanksgiving prep gone wrong. Now, if you wait until the day of (or even the day before) to start your planning, then I understand your strife. The key to a successful Thanksgiving meal is all about planning and time management…and a few helpful tips from your friendly neighborhood Plumber’s Daughter.

So break out your spreadsheets and your stopwatches and follow the plan below for an efficient, mostly stress-free journey to Thanksgiving success.

ALSO, check back each day this week for my favorite Thanksgiving recipes — from the easy peasy to the not so. Deliciousness awaits.

You ready? OK, let’s do this!

LIST DAY — MONDAY

NOTE: this list planning is intended for everything EXCEPT the turkey. You should already have your turkey for several reasons (if you don’t, go get it! Now!):

  1. You’ve pre-ordered a fresh, heritage bird (my preference) which usually requires at least a few weeks’ notice.
  2. You’ve purchased a frozen bird (sometimes a necessary evil), which means you need a few days to thaw it before cooking. If you haven’t already, take the turkey out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator to start the thawing process.
  3. If you believe in brine, it usually takes a few days to properly brine your turkey, so get to brinin’ before making the rest of your list.

With that aside, welcome to the official start of your Thanksgiving planning! You’re going to be great, I promise. Today is all about gathering your thoughts and organizing a list of everything you’ll need for the big day. Doing this a few days ahead of time is key — not only will you feel better prepared for everything that’s about to happen, you’ll also be able to evaluate what you already have on hand vs. what you need to pick up at the market. It might take a bit of extra time, but it’s well worth the effort.

First things first, get all of your recipes together and read them carefully. You want to look for common ingredients across different recipes so you can factor that into your shopping list. That way you can get everything you need in one go rather than realizing only after you get home that you needed twice as many potatoes than what you actually bought.

If you want to go really crazy (and I highly recommend you do), write out your list on a spreadsheet or large piece of paper using the following categories:

Meats
Fruits & Vegetables (includes Fresh Herbs)
Dairy Products
Condiments, Oil & Vinegar
Canned Goods
Dry Spices
Other

Now that you have your categories, go through each recipe and record what you need by adding the appropriate amount to the correct category. Once you have everything down, go through the list and consolidate where necessary if you have common ingredients across multiple recipes. Remember to check your fridge and pantry to ensure you don’t already have certain ingredients on hand — if you do, cross it off the list.

QUICK TIP: when putting together your list, don’t forget prep and storage materials! It pays to pick up a few different sizes of sealable plastic bags for prep work as well as plastic containers, tin foil and plastic wrap for taking care of leftovers.

Once you have the list ready, you’re good to go for the next step in pulling off a legendary Thanksgiving meal!

SHOP DAY — TUESDAY

Today will take place mostly outside of the house, as your main focus on shop day should be to knock out everything on the list you created yesterday and/or this morning. Since you already have your list organized in categories of ingredients and the appropriate amount, your shopping trip should be an efficient experience. Depending on the shopping resources available to you, you may be able to snag everything in one stop; however, I would urge you to strive for quality of ingredients over convenience of shopping method. So if that means you need to make a few extra stops to get the good stuff, then do it! This is your only task today so really make the most of it.

Once you’ve got your goods, head on home and organize. Your dry goods can stay out on the counter if you have the space (and you may want to organize them by recipe), and your fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy should all go in the fridge. If you run out of room in your primary refrigerator, prioritize the refrigerator space for the meats and dairy products, then take advantage of a cooler for overflow fruits and vegetables (you could even leverage a cold garage or outdoor space as long as it’s cold enough, but not too cold, and you have a place to store things out of the way).

PREP DAY — WEDNESDAY

OK, you’ve made it to prep day. What can I say about prep day? It’s where all the heavy lifting happens. It’s going to be a little rough, so get started with a hearty breakfast and some strong coffee. You’re going to want to get as much done as you can today, so by tomorrow all you need to manage is the oven schedule, setting the table and any last minute stovetop cooking.

Things to do on prep day:

  • Clean and prep all vegetables (use your sealable plastic bags to store prepped veggies in appropriate measurements)
  • Make the cranberry sauce
  • Make the mashed potatoes
  • Make and pre-bake your pie dough
  • Bake the pie(s)

That seems like a lot, no? It is. But. I promise by taking care of the above list a day ahead of time, it will make the actual day measurably less stressful. Then you can focus your time on your sparkling charm and top notch hosting skills. You know you have it in you.

THE MAIN EVENT — THURSDAY

You made it! The big day. And today is all about time management. Here’s what’s on tap for the day, in chronological order:

  • Roast the turkey (you’ll need about 13-15 minutes per pound, about 2 1/2 – 3 hours for a 12-14 pound bird)
  • Set the table (and prep the sideboard if you’re planning to serve the food away from the table)
  • Get your serving dishes and utensils out and ready
  • Bake the stuffing
  • Shower, primp and put on your Thanksgiving finest
  • Open the wine! (crucial step)
  • Set out the appetizers (only a few, you’ve got a lot of eating ahead of you — I’m a fan of a few cheeses, meats and crackers and a selection of olives, but that’s it)
  • Reheat the mashed potatoes
  • Cook the stovetop vegetable sides
  • Dish the sides and set them out on the table or sideboard
  • Carve the turkey
  • Sit, give thanks and get to eatin’!

Having a plan is the best way to ensure that things go your way on the big day and to allow you time to actually spend with your family, which isn’t that the point? (If you want an actual timetable for Turkey Day, here’s a great one from the folks over at The Kitchn.) You’ll be prepped, polished and the furthest thing from frazzled, and your fussy aunt and her snarky daughter will wonder, ‘how did they do it?’. You’ll be a Thanksgiving champion, and what a well-deserved title.

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