Photo of a classic Thanksgiving turkey dinner

Chicago Home and Lifestyles – Fuss free Thanksgiving

Photo of a classic Thanksgiving turkey dinner

Many people get palpitations at the thought of preparing a large dinner like Thanksgiving. But, whether you have 5 guests or 30, it can be pulled off with minimum anxiety if you are organized! Remember: thanksgiving recipes are somewhat forgiving, and usually your guests are family and close friends so a few hiccups will be quickly forgotten. 

First things first, construct your menu. Write down everything from the appetizers to the dessert. After your menu is complete, consider which menu items can be handed off to guests. Yes, it is perfectly alright to ask for help. You will make people feel good! Tell Aunt Alice it simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without her sweet potato casserole. Wouldn’t your sister love to bring her special appetizers? I usually pass off the desserts and appetizers because it makes it easier for me to just concentrate on the main meal. 

Drinks can be simple too, and it’s another way to let others contribute by bringing wine, beer, and soft drinks. You could even have a special drink for before-dinner-cocktails. You can do Margaritas or Sangria; both can be mixed ahead of time with only the Margaritas needing a minute or two of preparation. This is not a day to try new recipes. It’s fine if someone wants to bring some special vegetable dish they saw on Martha Stewart but it’s a good idea to stick to tried and true recipes.

I’m old school and use a yellow legal pad for my Thanksgiving prep, but use whatever is most comfortable for you. If you do it on a tablet or laptop you can save it and change it from year to year. First, list every dish you will be serving. To the right will be your shopping list. Include everything, even if you think you have it on hand. You don’t want to be looking for sage on the big day and realize you don’t have any!

Speaking of spices and herbs, this is a good time to replace the herbs you have with fresh ones. Even properly stored spices and herbs will lose their punch after six months or so. Much of your shopping can be done more than a week ahead of time. Even if you are using a fresh specialty turkey, they will last two weeks or more. So split your list into two. Items purchased 1-2 weeks ahead and those that need to be fresh, so purchased 1 or 2 days ahead. Do buy the best ingredients you can afford. This is also not a time to worry about calories. Butter, cream, and whole milk cheeses only!

When making your cooking schedule go through each item and ask yourself, “What can be prepared early for this dish?” Many dips and other appetizers taste better the next day. Almost all your vegetable prep for everything, from your crudité tray to stuffing onion and celery, can be done up to 2 days early. Most desserts will be fine if made a day or two early. Do everything you can Monday-Wednesday of Thanksgiving week. This helps a lot if you work outside the home!

So, plan and plan some more. You will be rewarded with a stress-free day. Remember, you plan to fail if you fail to plan. Next week we’ll get down to the Monday-Thursday schedule in detail. 

Kathleen Weaver-Zech and Dean’s Team Chicago