This week – the one leading up to Thanksgiving - is one of my favourites of the year. I intentionally clear my calendar so I can spend several days prepping the big meal, organizing activities for the kids, adding a little festive décor to the house, and planning far too much food for our larger-by-the-year crowd. I’ve learned a lot about cooking this meal over the years and have a few ideas to help us all feel completely in control. Here are my suggestions:
1. Find Butter on Sale
If I’m really on the ball I’ll start looking for good-quality butter on sale in the weeks leading up Thanksgiving. When I find it I stock up and put anywhere between six to ten pounds in my freezer because Thanksgiving is not the time to worry about calories and cholesterol. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m low on butter I start to feel twitchy and the surplus keeps me calm while cooking a big meal. If I’m not thinking ahead, and only notice my butter supply is low a few days before the holiday (gasp!), I just type the word into my favourite flyer app, source the best product/price and hop in the car in search of my holiday meal’s best friend and ultimate flavour booster.
2. Make Cranberry Sauce
Homemade cranberry sauce couldn’t be easier or more economical to make so please don’t tell me you buy the kind in the can. Instead, take 10 or 15 minutes tonight (yes, TONIGHT!) and make a batch. It will keep well in the refrigerator until you need it on Sunday or Monday. It’s these small steps taken over the course of a few days leading up to the holiday that make cooking this meal so much easier than you might expect. When I’m out buying my butter tonight I hope to see a few of you in the grocery store with a bag or two of cranberries in hand. (Side Note: Apply the same make-ahead philosophy to your side dishes by examining them for tasks that can be completed in advance - like blanching veggies and toasting nuts.)
3. Make Pie Crust
Ditto for the pie crust. Even if you haven’t completely decided what kind of pie you want to make for dessert (hand raised!) stashing a few discs of frozen dough in the freezer will make your life easier and make you feel like the domestic goddess you are. Having said that, if you want to go the store-bought frozen pie dough route feel free. No judgement here. For real.
4. Plan Your Menu
I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this weekend and you don’t know what you’re making stop reading right now and go plan your menu. Just kidding. Don’t stop reading. But do start thinking about what you’re going to serve your family and friends, and try to have a plan in place before the end of the day.
5. Delegate Dishes to Your Family Members
As the host don’t feel compelled to cook every part of the meal. Unless you want to, in which case email a sibling and ask them to bring a bottle or three of wine, and get your father-in-law to stop by the local bakery and pick up a few dozen rolls to serve with dinner. There’s always something that someone else can contribute to the dinner.
6. Buy a Baster!
As the only person in my extended family to host Thanksgiving for over a decade you’d think my kitchen would come equipped with everything required to cook a turkey dinner for 23 people. Sadly, that’s not true at all! Last year I bought my first real roasting pan, with a proper rack and all, and this year I’m buying a turkey baster because guess what? I don’t have one! So here’s my advice… don’t be like me, and instead make sure you have everything you need to pull off your holiday dinner with ease. Or at the very least, know how to MacGyver your way through the meal prep using what you DO have on hand.
7. Keep Notes
This is where my gatherings journal comes in super handy. A day or two after our Thanksgiving dinner, I write down my menu and include any notes related to food quantity, menu options (what did and didn’t work out), etc. This year when I was trying to decide how many pounds of turkey to order, a quick look at last year’s list told me that I could cut it by at least ten pounds (um, what was I thinking? Let’s just blame the baby brain, okay?).
8. Print Your Recipes
Whether your recipes come from a favourite blog, book, magazine or website, here’s my suggestion: have a hard copy of each and keep them close at hand when you’re cooking a big meal. Make photocopies if you have to, and keep a pen handy for making notes or scaling up a recipe. For extra convenience, you can even tape the recipes on the kitchen cupboards so they’re at eye level and easier to read.
9. Don’t Forget the Doughnuts
If you have kids at your Thanksgiving dinner, pick up a dozen store-bought doughnuts, tie some sturdy string between two trees and dangle the doughnuts for an “eating off the string” competition. We’ve been doing it for years and it’s truly the things the kids look forward to the most.
10. Be Thankful, Not Perfect
It’s easy to get stressed out when you’re making a holiday meal, but really, where’s the hardship in having good food to share with the people you genuinely care about? Ditch the Martha-meets-Stepford Wife mentality and instead be so very thankful you get to gather those nearest and dearest for a day of delicious food.