For some people, the thought of having a houseful of people over for Thanksgiving is akin to giving a speech to a large audience: terrifying and to be avoided. Not necessarily! I grew up in a single-family household and my mother worked full time, leaving little time for cooking. And even if she hadn’t, cooking wasn’t one of her favorite pastimes. So, around age twelve, I took over many of the cooking duties. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! For me, gift shopping is stressful, not cooking. In the next two blog posts, I’m going to show you how to have, if not a totally stress-free Thanksgiving, at least a LESS stressful one. Always remember, your guests are family and friends and will be forgiving. Besides, the Thanksgiving menu itself is forgiving. Keeping a good supply of alcohol on hand helps too!
I am a great list maker. As I get older, this becomes even more necessary. The first thing you need to do is make a master plan. Get a yellow legal pad and draw a line down the paper, a third of the way on the left. This left-hand column is for the menu. Make sure to include everything, don’t forget appetizers, desserts, and drinks. Leave space below each item. Use left most index column for cooking schedules, including the day before. In the next blog, I will discuss many day- before menu items. Use as many sheets as you need (I usually use two). In the right- hand column, list the grocery items you need. Make sure to include spices, condiments, and all ingredients. This will be your shopping list. Every item you need, mark with a highlighter dot. Use different colored highlighters. Shop for non-perishables early in the month (use one color) and perishables the Monday (another color) before Thanksgiving. Line through when purchased. Bakery items should be ordered at least two weeks in advance. Remember that bakery pies yield 8 servings. Fresh turkeys will need to be ordered early too. Plan on two pounds per adult and one per child. This should yield ample leftovers.
Next, go through all your dishes and serving pieces. Match dishes to the number of guests and serving pieces to your menu items. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t match. I have several serving dishes given to me by family members who have passed and it’s nice to remember them during dinner. Now is the time to find out if you need more pieces, not at 3 o’clock Thanksgiving afternoon. If your pieces are lacking, try borrowing from friends or family members. If you are trying to add to your collection, many department stores have sales this time of year. Wash everything, especially pieces that you use infrequently. Make sure everything works. One year I pulled out the electric knife and it didn’t work; certainly not a disaster but it could have been avoided. Make use of disposable aluminum pans when you can, they make cleaning up so much easier.
If you are thinking of choosing new menu items, it’s a good idea to try them out first. For two reasons: first, does it taste good? Second, can you manage it? Roasted root vegetables are easy and appeal to many with their sweet taste. Try some new Brussels sprout recipes, they’re real popular now. There are many ways to make them more appealing to people (although, I’ve loved them forever). Try as an appetizer. Wrap the Brussels in bacon, sprinkle with coarse black pepper, bake 30 minutes. Insert a toothpick and serve warm. Mashed, skin-on red potatoes with roasted garlic are a fantastic side dish.