You don’t need Martha Stewart’s skills to execute an impressive meal for the in-laws this holiday season. All you need is a plan.
If you’re waiting until Thanksgiving Day, or even the day before, to start working on your family’s feast, you’re doing it wrong. There are many simple steps you can take in the coming days to reduce the amount of stress and time spent in the kitchen next Thursday. Here are a few of them.
1. Clean Out the Refrigerator and Freezer
You’ll want to make room, and not just for the massive haul of groceries you’re about to bring home. You’ll need sufficient space to keep large dishes that you’ve made in advance, plus plenty of room for the leftovers.
2. Get Your Knives Sharpened
This sounds like an unnecessary chore, but if it’s been awhile, or maybe the first time ever, you will notice a difference. Not only will sharpening your knives make turkey carving easier, but all the tedious veggie chopping will be a breeze. Especially for that notoriously tough butternut squash.
3. Get Organized
Pull out your dusty serving dishes to clean them up and make sure you have what you need. I’ve already had one friend ask if I have an extra roasting pan big enough for a turkey she can borrow. If you don’t have a pan either, pick up a heavy-duty foil one. Getting together your extra mixing bowls and storage containers isn’t a bad idea either.
4. Get Your Bird Now
If you haven’t already ordered your fresh turkey, or picked up your frozen one, do it this Saturday. Stash your frozen turkey in the refrigerator so it can begin defrosting. It will take about six hours per pound to thaw. There is always hell to pay for those who forget this step. No ice baths, salt brines, prayers, or seances can thaw a frozen turkey at the last minute (If you do want to brine your turkey, you’ll want to do this on Tuesday so it can be submerged for 24 hours).
5. The Freezer Is Your Best Friend
There are a number of items that you can make in the weeks before, thanks to the magic of freezing. Freeze your pie dough in a disc, or roll it out to fit your pie plate and freeze the whole pan. Make homemade turkey stock, or even the dinner rolls and throw them in there. Make your cranberry sauce and it will keep in the fridge for two weeks.
6. Measure It Out
There are never enough measuring cups, mixing bowls, or spoons in a Thanksgiving kitchen. They get used once then lost in the abyss of a dirty sink. An easy way to remedy this in the days before is to measure out dry mixes for various desserts, pie fillings, and dressing. Put the dry ingredients for a recipe together in a jar or Tupperware and label them so all you have to do is add the wet ingredients.
7. Start Chopping Now
The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before is when you can really start making a dent in the workload. Start with the chopping. Dice up any loaves of bread or cornbread that you plan on using for stuffing and let them dry out. Chop all the onions, carrots, and celery that will likely be cast as supporting roles in so many dishes. You can put them in containers in the fridge, or even take it a step further and sauté them ahead time before refrigerating.
The list of possible prep work in the days ahead is almost endless: shred cheese, wash and dry greens, mix up salad vinaigrette, toast nuts, bake pies, set the table, or make that caramel sauce for the apple pie.
8. Have a Game Plan
Write out your cooking schedule. What are you going to make in the days before and what are you going to make the day of? Get a game plan for what goes in the oven or on the stove and when. Nothing worse than a crowded oven, only to have guests show up more dishes looking for some oven time.
9. Casserole Is King
No one will save more time than the home cooks with an affinity for deep-dished, bubbly dishes that you can make days ahead and pull from the oven the day of without breaking a sweat. Choose side dishes that are not just crowd pleasers, but time savers. These include your mashed potatoes, spinach gratin, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, and green bean casserole, just to name a few. A good general rule of thumb is if you’ve ever seen these veggies or dishes sold in the freezer aisle, you can make them in advance to freeze or refrigerate in your own kitchen.
10. We Need More Wine
Stock up on your non-perishables. And by non-perishables, I mean wine and liquor. Because it’s 2017 and your relatives have already read too many “How To Talk To Your Relatives About Trump This Thanksgiving” think pieces.
Clean out, stock up, and cram while you can. Don’t get caught in next week’s grocery store crowds or a Gordon Ramsey situation with your extended family. And if you’re just destined to procrastinate, you’ll really want to stock up on the wine.