The Gleeful Gourmand: Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks!

Thanksgiving is officially one week away from today! If you follow me on Twitter, you know I've been sending out tweets on Thanksgiving tips. I throw them out there as they occur to me, and today I've decided to organize them all in one place.

Maybe you're hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. Maybe you're an old pro who's been in the Thanksgiving game (our culinary Super Bowl, am I right??) for years. Maybe you're a guest who's not sure what to bring. Don't worry, I have tips for you all. I certainly remember the first holiday feast I hosted all on my own, and I know I would have been sunk without these time-saving tips and tricks. So pour yourself a glass of wine (or bourbon), roll up your sleeves, grab a pen and let's get started:

1). Order your turkey now.  This may seem like a no-brainer for most of you. In fact, most of us have already ordered the bird. If you haven't done it yet, now is the time. Stop stalling and do it already. If you have questions about size and cooking time, there are lots of knowledgeable folks (like the folks you order from) who can answer your questions.

2) Make a list.  I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. Without a list to work from, you can find yourself in the weeds before Thanksgiving even happens. Write down every single dish you plan on serving, and next to those items, write out all the ingredients you'll need. Take that list and plan on doing your grocery shopping this Saturday. Don't wait until the week of Thanksgiving to stock up on all you need. Produce will be freshest at the store now, and everything will still be relatively well-stocked. Get it out of the way, and that's one less thing you'll have on your to-do list.

Bourbon-glazed turkey.

3) Make a second list.  Decide what time you want to sit down to eat dinner, and write down a schedule of when certain things need to go in the oven or on the stovetop to meet that timeline. If someone is helping you cook, make sure you make this particular list together so that your movements in the kitchen will be in good synchronization. Like a lot of people, I have a small kitchen with only one oven and 4 burners to work with. I may love all things gourmet, but a gourmet kitchen I do not have. But I still crank out delicious holiday dinners on time because of this list, and the next tip:

4) Look at your list and find things to make ahead and freeze.  This is a big one. Almost as important as the list. If you can knock out a few items to make and freeze, you'll be ahead of the game come Turkey Day, and able to relax with your family and guests instead of freaking out. Some things that can be frozen: Pie dough, breads, and cranberry relish (can be made and stored in the fridge up to 3 days out). Stuffing can be assembled (not baked) the day before.

5) Delegate.  Guests always want to know what they can bring (listen up, guests, NEVER arrive empty-handed!), but this could go one of two ways. Either you want them to bring a dish to join your lineup, or you don't. If you do, be prepared that it might not mesh well with what you're serving. Or it might not be good. It's a big risk. If you say yes, own it and be prepared to deal with the consequences. Let them know what you're missing in the lineup and give them direction on what they can make. It's in their hands on whether or not they do what you've asked.

If you decide not to let them bring a dish, here is a great way to make them feel useful and included: Ask them to prepare an appetizer or two, or a fun cocktail to enjoy before the big feast. Or, tell them how you're preparing the turkey and ask them to bring a couple of bottles of wine to complement the flavor. Always pair the wine to the turkey - don't worry how it will mesh with all the sides. GUESTS: If this is the route you go, but you're not confident in picking out wines, don't stress out. Go to your nearest wine shop, and let someone there help you. They really know what they're talking about! Guests, if you're still unsure what to bring and your host has said no to dishes and beverages, bring flowers. That's a safe bet.

6) Get the guest room ready. Speaking of guests, some of them might be sleeping in your home. Don't wait until the day of, or even the day before to get the room ready. If you have 20 spare minutes this Sunday, do a quick clean of the room (or rooms), make sure the linens are fresh, and everything is ready to go. Make sure it's as comfortable and accommodating as possible. I always like to have a vase of fresh flowers for my guests on their nightstand. Another nice touch is a luggage stand that can be folded flat for storage when not in use. Small bottles of water are nice, as are little snacks like chocolate so your guests don't have to feel embarrassed scrounging for nibbles in the middle of the night.

My table last Thanksgiving.

7) Set the table the day before.  This might be tricky if you have small children, since they seem to always sense when something nice has been set out and they go after it with great gusto, but this can be a huge timesaver. The great thing about Thanksgiving is that trends right now for the dining room table are all over the place. You seriously could put a pile of pinecones in the middle of the table and it would be considered chic. But seriously, don't stress out about this. Lay out your table exactly how you want it, down to the last detail. It doesn't have to match, because mismatched dishes are actually en vogue right now. Do what looks pretty to you. Last year, I was looking to jazz up my table, so I found some mini pumpkins for ¢99 and put them on a linen napkin on top of my china. The point is: Have fun with it! If you still can't figure out what would look best, remember that a good floral arrangement with some votive candles can go a long, long way. But once that table is set - bam! One less thing you have to do on Turkey Day. Only have one table and need to use it during the day? Grab a guest before it's time to sit down and have them set the table for you while you finish the meal.

8) Day-of Mise-En-Place. "Mise-en-place" is French for "putting in place," or better known as "prep work." Take a look at your dishes and their ingredients. For each dish you make, get your mise-en-place on as much as you can the morning of (with the Thanksgiving Day Parade blaring in the background, of course!). Things that need to be chopped, diced, sliced, what-have-you can be done and put in small bowls or Tupperware and stored away in the fridge until you need them. Lay out each casserole, platter, and plate you'll need and put a sticky note on each so you'll know which dish to use for what. That keeps the flow going.

It might not end up looking like this, and that's okay!
9) Enjoy and Have Fun! Listen. Your real life probably does not look like Pinterest. It is not the pages of Southern Living or a Pottery Barn catalog. I can say that with complete confidence now that I know how to style food and take pretty pictures of them. So don't freak out if your home, your table, or your food doesn't closely resemble what you've Pinned. That is not the point. The real point is the fun you had, the memories you made, and how much you laughed along the way. And if something goes wrong, like (Heaven forbid), you ruin the turkey, don't worry. In my family, the legend of the Thanksgiving turkey that toppled off the pan, bounced across the kitchen floor and then rolled under the dinging room table is still told with tears of laughter and fun to this day. Enjoy the day, your family, and your guests. That's what truly matters in the end.

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments! Happy Thanksgiving!


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