The Clever Cookstr has some great tips on what you can do a month before Thanksgiving to ensure smooth sailing on that all-important holiday. Whether you're hosting, cooking the entire meal, or just deciding what to bring as a guest, we've got plenty of ideas to make it easy.
We’re about a month out from Thanksgiving, which means the countdown to Turkey Day has official begun!
Thanksgiving is to cooks what Halloween is to candy-loving children, or Mother’s Day is to mothers—there’s no better time to celebrate the ability of food to bring people together.
But without good planning, that joyful, cozy celebration can quickly devolve into a nightmare of chaos, stress, and cold potatoes. By starting your planning early and approaching Thanksgiving with the right strategy, you’ll avoid that terrible fate.
In this episode, we’ll go over what you should be thinking about a month before the holiday. I’ll also be collecting all your Thanksgiving questions to answer in a later podcast closer to the main event.
Decide the Who, the When, and the Where
It’s tempting to start your planning by bookmarking every pumpkin cheesecake trifle recipe you come across, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Before the fun part – the “what” of menu-planning —you need to know the who, the when, and the where. Who’s doing the cooking? How many people are they cooking for? Where is the food being prepped and where is the meal being eaten?;
For some of us, these are easy questions that are pretty much the same year to year, but for lots of families, the negotiations over who’s hosting and who’s cooking might require starting early. If you’re not cooking the main meal, make sure to check with the host about what you should bring. Some folks will be happy to do a potluck-style menu or offshoulder a dessert or side dish, but other cooks really want to run the whole show and might only be able to let go of choosing a bottle of wine or a cheese.
Try to trust a host who tells you not to bring anything – showing up with a pan of couscous pilaf that requires oven space for reheating and doesn’t go with the rest of the menu might not be the best way to express your appreciation.
If you’re cooking the entire meal, or the majority of it, make sure to confirm at this point who your guests are and whether they have any special dietary needs or preferences. While you probably won’t be able to please every single person with every single dish, you can plan around knowing whether someone’s been diagnosed with a nut allergy or just won’t eat mushrooms.
Once you know how many people you’re cooking for, and have a sense of any dietary restrictions to keep in mind, think about the space where you’ll be cooking and serving the meal. Does it make sense to present the food buffet style, or to assemble plates in the kitchen? How much oven space do you have? What other kitchen appliances are on hand that you haven’t considered using—like a slow cooker, a toaster oven, or an ice cream maker?
Thinking about these factors can help you be creative about the meal, and also prevent that “uh-oh” moment of realizing that you have four side dishes that all need to be done at the same time, all requiring oven space and different cooking temperatures. (Try sweet potatoes in the slow cooker, stuffed mushrooms in the toaster oven, and pumpkin ice cream in the freezer!)
Unlike most people, I find mashed potatoes to be one of the most obnoxious parts of the Thanksgiving meal. Nobody likes mashed potatoes that sit out and become cold and gluey, but getting the potatoes perfectly cooked and mashed with milk and butter, seasoned properly, right at the exact moment when you’re trying to get everything else on the table is pretty frustrating.
So to save myself the hassle, I make a mashed potato casserole based on a lifesaving Melissa Clark recipe – the potatoes are made ahead of time, mashed with sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, butter, chives, and topped with cheese, then popped in the oven to reheat while the turkey’s resting. So much easier!
For many hosts, the temptation a month out might be to feel overly optimistic about how much you can do. Your first menu draft might include five appetizers, a complicated soup, tons of sides, homemade bread, three desserts—and that’s fine. You’ll pare it down. But from the very beginning, please give yourself permission to take shortcuts.
You don’t have to make everything from scratch just because it’s Thanksgiving. If you hate making bread, and you never do it, this is not the time to start. If you buy a store-bought pie crust, nobody’s going to come after you. If you love the log of cranberry sauce out of the can, by all means, embrace it. If starters consist of crackers and cheese, and some fruit and pickled vegetables you pick up from the store, I promise, no one will be disappointed.
Don’t try to make everything, just focus on what you’re really passionate about. Your guests will have an amazing meal and you’ll have a good time making it.
Join us next time on the Clever Cookstr for more tips and tricks from the kitchens of the world's best cooks.