November? Already? Wasn’t it just Labor Day? Weren’t we just talking about grilling? Yikes! Well, in case you have a little calendar-challenge going on, Thanksgiving is still a few weeks off. Thursday, November 26th just so you know. So you still have 2 1/2 weeks to get ready. And if you start now you can keep Thanksgiving relatively simple and low-stress.
In my opinion, the key to a lower-stress (you can’t ever really call it stress-free, can you?) Thanksgiving is planning ahead. Make decisions about how many people you will be serving and what dishes you will make now. Then make a schedule, make a plan. Do things piece-by-piece. Lay it all out and schedule each part. Look at Thanksgiving like any other project.
(I’m not getting into table decorating and all that. I’ll leave that up to you. But DO add those activities to your plan.)
Here are some pointers that I hope will lower that Thanksgiving stress.
THIS WEEK (week of 11/09)
The key at this stage is to start planning. The sooner you can start planning your menu the better. Confirm the number of guests and settle on a menu. (Don’t forget any special dietary restrictions.) Do that THIS week.
One great step to take at this point is to pull out all the recipes you plan to use. Read each one a few times (trust me….a few times!). Highlight some of the critical stuff and anything you think you’ll forget. I’m famous for skimming thorough recipes - and then figuring out (sometimes TOO late) that I missed a step or a step would take much longer than I thought it would!
Now use those recipes to make a master shopping list - ingredients and any tools that you might need. Merge your ingredients lists into a single shopping list. For instance, if you have three recipes that need 1/2 cup of onions, make sure you have 1 1/2 cups of onions. Then plan when you will buy each item.
The next big step is to make a calendar. Drop in everything you need to remember. How long will your turkey need to thaw? Put “begin turkey thawing” on the calendar. When can you make and freeze that corn casserole? How far in advance can you make your stuffing? List the days you will go food shopping. Drop in everything you can think of - when you plan to cook dishes, when you plan to shop, key prep items, etc.. Leave as little to chance as you can. You will live with this calendar for the next few weeks. It will remove a lot of your stress - and you won't forget things until the last minute.
Consider lining up the help you need. Having someone share the duties or bringing part of the meal can take a great load off. But you can’t wait until the last minute.
Are there some tools you don’t have that you know will be helpful now that your menu is laid out? Buy them now! Today! Don’t wait…and hope that they will arrive in time. A few things to consider if you don't already have them:
- Meat thermometer
- Roasting pan (WITH a lifter)
- Carving knife - a GOOD one
- Platters and serving dishes
- Bench (or dough) scraper
- A good Y-peeler
- Potato ricer
- Pie server
If you are buying a frozen turkey, buy it now. You’ll have a better selection to find the exact size you want. Also pick up those longer-lasting ingredients such as canned foods, dried spices, etc.
NEXT WEEK (Week of 11/16)
Confirm the Details
Confirm your guests. Just touch base with everyone with a friendly “I’m looking forward to seeing you next week!” message. You now how people are! There are always a few of those noncommittal “question marks” try to get them to commit one way or the other. Just tell them that you are trying to plan and hope they are still coming.
Here are some ideas for the week before Thanksgiving.
- Take a little while and learn to use that thermometer. Maybe do a test or two with a chicken or something. Get the feel of where to stick that thermometer and how to read it.
- Get your knives professionally sharpened.
- Clear your calendar for the weekend of 11/21-22. That's a good time to try to make as many “cook-ahead” dishes as you can. Make sure you know how long each one can be stored. Can it be refrigerated for a few days? Can it be frozen and thawed successfully? Check your turkey if it’s frozen. How long does it need thaw? When do you need to get it thawing?
Thanksgiving Week (Week of 11/23)
Start Your Engines
The weekend of Nov. 21-22 try to make as many “cook-ahead” dishes as you can. Make sure you know how long each one can be stored. Can it be refrigerated for a few days? Can it be frozen and thawed successfully?
Work in Some Relaxation Time
Remember, follow that plan! Make those last-minute dishes that can be done in advance. If you have any grocery shopping to do for those last-second perishables, try to do it during off-times (i.e. NOT right after work).
Make a very detailed schedule for Thanksgiving Day. Knowing how your day will flow will take some of the day's away.
It's important to take a little time for yourself this week. You've earned it. You've planned for it. Remember, lower-stress is our goal here. Here are a few ideas:
- You MUST sit down and watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special. It’s wonderful (and it will remind you how well-planned you are compared to the Peanuts gang. LOL)
- Get outside - walk, breathe. Get your regular exercise in.
- Clean your cooking tools - pots, pans, utensils, etc.
- Your new tools and gadgets should have arrived by now. Unpack 'em. Clean 'em. Make sure you know how to use 'em.
- Plan a simple menu for the rest of the week. (Even order out some.) The fewer things you have to work on and concentrate on, the better.
Enjoy Your Thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving Day, still follow your plan. And enjoy your guests, your family, your friends, and your (somewhat) stress-free Thanksgiving!
The goal here is to get as much on autopilot as we can. The fewer last-minute decisions or confusion, the better!
A caveat, my friends. Stuff WILL GO WRONG! Count on it. But the better we can plan in advance, the better equipped you’ll be to handle those goofy things that happen at the last minute. Just remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect.
I sure hope you're enjoying these blog posts. I know I'm absolutely loving writing them and sharing them with you. If you have a topic you want me to hit on just drop me an email (BCohen@HomeChefsMarket.com).
And I'd be honored if you'd share this with your friends and family! :)