Planning a big meal (or feast) isn’t much different than planning a dinner party or a party. First you figure out what kind of food you want to serve, then you make a list of ingredients needed, shop for them and then put them all together and wah lah! done. Well, it is more work than it sounds like, but with careful planing you can do a lot ahead of time and prepare some things in advance.
Some tips for doing things ahead is to shop for everything at least a week in advance (unless you are planning to serve fresh fruit or veggies and then I would get everything except them in advance and buy the fresh items the day before.
An easy way to make sure that you do not forget anything is to pull your recipes for each dish on your list and then verify that you have all ingredients for each recipe in stock. Make your shopping list as you do this and you will not find yourself short something at the last minute.
My Thanksgiving Feast changes from year to year depending on how many people will be attending. If it is just my husband and me, I keep the menu simple with a few items we both love. There are the standards, which will always be on the menu for Thanksgiving. Deviled Eggs, Pumpkin and Apple Pies, and of course, TURKEY and Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. This year we have two friends coming for dinner, so I added a few things.
I also make a few of the ingredients called for in my recipes, like sage butterand homemade nature’s seasons. These can be made ahead and stored (sage butter in refrigerator and take out 1-2 hours prior to using to soften; nature’s seasoning in an airtight container in your spice cabinet.). I make a big batch of nature’s seasons, as I use it in almost everything I cook. You’ll find the recipes on the page with the Roasted Turkey, as you will need both for that recipe. Or simply click on the link to go to that page.
I also make the dips the day before (you can make them 2-3 days in advance) and I hard boil my eggs for deviled eggs the day before. I usually make the deviled eggs the night before and refrigerate them or I make the filling and put in a zip-lock in the fridge so all I have to do is plate them and cut the corner of the bag and fill them in the morning. I also chop my onions and celery the day before and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator, so once again in the morning, all I have to do is throw them in the pan with butter and go. If I am making homemade bread or pies, I will also make them the day before and then heat them up prior to serving. My bread maker makes homemade bread so easily that I do that the morning of the feast and the aroma of fresh baked bread adds to all the other yummy smells of the day. Fresh vegetables are better prepped, cooked and served the same day.
Once my turkey is getting happy in the oven, I peel and quarter the potatoes and put them in water (or chicken broth) in a pan on the stove (keeps them from turning brown). I wash the baby carrots and put them in water also. Then when the turkey is done, all I need to do is turn on the burners and start cooking the veggies. I also get my serving dishes ready so it is like an assembly line when everything is done. By now the guests are arriving and I want to spend as much time with them as possible, so I already have the table set, the appetizers out and my wine glass full. Then it’s a quick check on everything and back to my friends.
NOTE: If your turkey is frozen, MAKE SURE YOU TAKE IT OUT OF THE FREEZER AT LEAST 4 DAYS IN ADVANCE OF THE MEAL. A 15-20 pound turkey will take at least 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ROAST A FROZEN TURKEY! If you find the turkey is not completely thawed, leave in original packaging or place in an airtight plastic bag and submerge in cold water. Change water often and it takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw in water. DO NOT LEAVE TURKEY ON COUNTERTOP TO THAW. You are inviting that pesky bacteria called Salmonella to breed. Also do not stuff your turkey until you are ready to put it in the oven. This will also become a breeding ground for Salmonella.
Also, make sure to clean any utensils or surfaces that come in contact with the turkey and wash hands thoroughly after handling the turkey to prevent cross contamination.
I also cheated this year and bought my rolls and pies in the bakery at the local supermarket. They are very reasonable and very good. I simply place the pies in a warm oven (200 degrees) before serving dinner and by dessert time they are nice and warm. You can also buy ready made dips for chips or veggie platters, I simply prefer to make my own.
One additional note. This is a special day. Plate your appetizers and put chips in bowls. Don’t just throw the chip bag next to the dip, make the extra effort to make it look appealing. Set the stage. Make a nice presentation of your hard work. Set the table up nicely. Get yourself in the festive mood by dressing up and putting on makeup. It’s going to take hours to cook that bird and you’ll have plenty of time to do it all. Don’t stress and enjoy yourself. Today is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Have a glass of wine while you are cooking and put on some music you love. Your guests will appreciate the work you put into it and will feel special that you worked so hard to make it nice for them. Although it is difficult for me to share my kitchen, you can also enlist their assistance and continue socializing while cooking.
Last Thanksgiving we did something really different and went our friends’ home and did a “Pot Luck” style dinner. It takes a bit more planning in the beginning, but went off without a hitch and we all had a wonderful meal and a wonderful time. To host this type of feast, first make a list of all the foods you want to have. If you are into socializing with your friends you will know what they make that you and everyone else loves, so do not forget the “specialties” of each of your friends. Then call and invite them and ask them to bring something on your list. You can also leave it open ended and just ask them to bring a bread item, or a dessert item, or a side dish. That way it is truly pot luck and you never know what you are going to end up with. This is a great idea for a dinner party. I would choose to do it like my friend and ask for specific side dishes and desserts, as we wanted traditional Thanksgiving foods. They did a deep fried turkey and someone else did a traditional roasted turkey. Someone else brought mashed potatoes, etc. I did what my friends consider my specialties: Bacon Wrapped Breadsticks, Deviled Eggsand Italian Style “Spanakopita”.
This year’s menu is pretty simple…here it is.
- Deviled Eggs (make more than you think you’ll need, they go fast!)
- Procuitto & Cheese Roll (you can buy this in the deli section at your supermarket. Slice thin and serve with any type of crackers) with Roasted Garlic Triscuits
- Beefy Onion Dip with Chips
- Mexican Dip with Tostitos Scoops
- Stuffed Celery
There are many different things you can make or buy to make your meal special and inviting. Just remember, even if you buy something pre-made instead of making from scratch, transfer it to an appealing serving bowl or plate. It only takes a few minutes, but makes it look like you spent hours putting things together.
Here are just a few examples of things I have done on prior Thanksgivings or special dinners. The only limit is your imagination.
APPETIZERS (you can pick and choose between any of these depending on the number of people you are feeding)
- Pies: Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat, Blueberry, Cherry
- Bread Pudding
- Cobblers: Apple, Blueberry, Raspberry, Peach
- Fruit Salad
- Jello Molds
ADDITIONAL NOTE: DON’T THROW AWAY THE TURKEY CARCASS! SAVE IT FOR MY NEXT TRADITION…MAKING TURKEY STEW!