Last year I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving with my siblings in a cabin in the woods, celebrating a little early so we could be together (because as we grow older, our family expands, and Thanksgiving is spent at the homes of our respective in-laws). On Thanksgiving day I had a revelation as I watched my spouse's brother, a professional chef, leisurely put together a meal that he mostly prepped and cooked the day before.
Duh! Why haven't I thought of this? Why have I been so rigid in my plans to do almost everything the day of?
So now I'm re-thinking my recipes and re-planning my cooking schedule for the next time this (or any other elaborate meal I make for many others) gets cooked, which will allow me to actually enjoy the present moment, and be more relaxed and engaged with my family. Isn’t that the whole point?
If you have friends and family that enjoy working in the kitchen, make use of them! If someone asks, “Can I help?” say “Yes!” and find a task so they can share with the loving preparations for the meal. Or why not have a Thanksgiving potluck? Encourage folks to come whenever they like, bring an appetizer or their favorite holiday dish if they offer to bring something.
Another way to cut back on prep time? Make half the amount of food that you think you need. But what if we don't have enough? There will be enough. And if folks eat smaller portions, it is so much the healthier for them and the planet. Still, I'm terribly guilty of this, even after years of menu planning, so I always buy half of what I think I need and I continue to end up with plenty leftovers (which we love and eat the rest of the week).
So here's my game plan -
A Week or More Ahead of Time:
- create a menu, assemble recipes and make a food shopping list
- gather or borrow any needed kitchen equipment, silverware, plates, and glasses
- purchase all non-perishables
- make cranberry sauce or compote (you could also freeze or can it)
- buy perishable ingredients
- prepare the serving pieces, plates, flatware, glasses, etc
- iron cloth napkins and tablecloths, if you're into that sort of thing
- make salad dressings, sauces, gravy and marinades
- bake pies and desserts
- wash all vegetables
- most vegetables can be prepped and chopped
- caramelize onions
- arrange furniture and set the tables
- assemble the stuffing and keep covered in fridge. And this year I plan to substitute the bread cubes with roasted winter squash cubes, to decrease the carbs and increase the veggies and nutrient density on the table
- Chop potatoes for the mashed potatoes (you could make them entirely but they come together really fast on the day of) and store in water
- whip up cream for desserts
- sweet potato dishes can be made up to the point of final baking
- breads and rolls could be made and par-baked, but I still think they are so wonderful made the day of.
9am Start the rolls.
11am Prep fresh salad ingredients.
12pm Form the rolls.
1pm Bake the stuffing; make the salad.
2pm As room in your stove top and oven permits: cook the mashed potatoes (for something extra special - yes, let's guild the lily - stir in grated cheese and 1 beaten egg per cup of potatoes, whip briefly and bake into a souffle until golden brown on top); roast or steam up pre-prepped vegetables; heat sauces and gravy; bake pre-prepped sweet potatoes. Finish and garnish all dishes except the rolls
3pm Serve dinner and put the rolls in oven to be served hot. Give thanks & enjoy the bounty!
5pm Make coffee and serve dessert. Make music & have fun!