It’s Thanksgiving time again – one of my favorite holidays! It centers all around food so what’s not to like.
I asked a bunch of chefs, authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers a simple question:
What is your best Thanksgiving Tip?
The response was great and insightful from all the experts that replied.
Some of the themes that were repeated were:
- Plan ahead!
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Leftovers are great so take advantage of them.
It is a turkey oriented meal, but I went the extra mile and asked a few vegans and vegetarians, too. I personally eat meat. However, I mix it up every now and then, and try to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet for a few days. Variety is good and I get to cook and prepare foods in a new way.
(I am running a contest this week too – to win a Wusthof Santoku! It’s free to enter here.)
Without further adieu…
If you have a good plan and time table, you’ll be able to reduce stress overall and have more time to spend with family and friends.
- Map out your menu and figure out how much time each dish takes to prepare.
- Ask yourself, “What can I make ahead for Thanksgiving?” Maybe cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, bread, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and many other desserts.
- Even if you can’t make some things ahead, you can still do the prep work.
- People will want to bring something…Let them! Please do check what they will need to heat their dishes, if needed. Obviously, make sure you don’t end up with 4 people bring mashed potatoes. I love those creamy spuds, but you don’t need a metric ton of them!
- What about the turkey…?
Another part of planning ahead is thawing your turkey then brining it (if you are brining). The right way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge or in a cooler that’s at 38º, or at least under 40º. It takes longer – yes – but it keeps the bird out of the danger zone.
Plan about 24 hours for every 4 pounds, so a 16 pound bird will take about 4 days in the fridge.
Here is a turkey thawing calculator if you’re too lazy to do the math!
It takes about 8 – 16 hours to brine. If you haven’t done it before, it seems a tad overwhelming, but it really isn’t so hard. Just make sure you have the space to brine, like a 5 gallon bucket. Here’s Alton Brown on brining turkey…
PRO TIP: Smaller birds are easier to deal with…So get two small-medium turkeys instead of one very large turkey.
- Easier to handle
- Easier to fit in the fridge
- Easier to cook
- Take less time to thaw
- A large turkey has a higher chance to be overcooked in some spots. No one likes dry turkey!
Get some “to-go” or reusable containers so people can take home leftovers in a simple way. (Reusable containers are preferred to reduce waste, of course.) Heavy duty zip top freezer bags always come in handy, too.
Remember to stay calm. It’s just food.
If necessary, make sure you have a really tasty vegetarian option that’s not just an afterthought.
Veggie options often end up being just as popular as the meat! Just make sure it goes well with all the usual trimmings – nobody likes missing out on potatoes and veggies!
Be sure to take a moment before adding sauces, coatings, or salad dressing to your recipes, to check with your guests if they can have them.
People with food allergies or sensitivities can often eat basic ingredients (veggies, salads, etc.) before they’re “dressed,” but may be sensitive to ingredients in those sauces or coatings.
If you ask first, you can set aside some of the “clean” dish for them, and you won’t need to prepare an entirely different dish for those guests. Plus, they will be incredibly grateful that you asked!
My Best Thanksgiving Tip – Don’t get so caught up in the hustle, bustle and preparation that you forget to stop and enjoy some time with your family.
I remember my Mom and Nana being so busy in the kitchen that we hardly saw them until it was time to eat… and then they disappeared right after to clean everything up.
Stop and enjoy some time with the people you’re giving Thanks with and for!
Prep as much as you can ahead of time.
I like to make dinner rolls, pies and casseroles a few days or even weeks in advance and freeze them until the night before the big day.
It just makes Thanksgiving Day prep that much easier (a cocktail in hand helps, too).
The turkey is the star of the show, so treat it that way. Brine a fresh (not frozen) turkey for 24 hours for best flavor. It results in a juicy turkey.
My recipe for brine is simple – water, salt, apple cider, brown sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, orange peel, and garlic.
Thanksgiving feasts don’t have to be stressful. You can create an impressive traditional and tasty meal that will knock the socks off your guests and all you need is a little pre-planning.
My advice is to start the preparation early and figure out anything you can make ahead of time such as side dishes, sauces and dips. That way when it comes to the day things can run as seamlessly as possible.
My best Thanksgiving tip is to either practice a new recipe beforehand or stick to a classic you are familiar with.
There is nothing worse then spending money on ingredients for a recipe and getting it wrong- and you have no backup. Especially when entertaining! Maybe spice up an old favorite, swap out a frozen or canned ingredient with it’s fresh counterpart, use fresh herbs instead of dried- that kind of thing.
Experimenting is great, but maybe not the day of a holiday meal when you are expected to feed a crowd.
This allows you the freedom to cook as many side dishes as you like and give the job of the main dish to the grill master in your family.
To make Thanksgiving healthier–have more vegetable side options and use fruit in season for your desserts.
So much good stuff are in season right now: cabbage, squash, cauliflower, pears, apples.
Use this bounty to make your plate not only taste good, but good-for-you as well.
Plan, plan, plan! If you’re hosting a gaggle of people, it’s imperative to get the plan started at least two weeks before.
Write to–to lists.
Chances are your family and guests will be more than happy to help, whether it be bringing a side dish, or securing a fantastic bottle of wine. When that quintessential fall day comes, you’ll be cool, calm, collected, and able to enjoy all of your guests.
I can’t go without mentioning that you must secure avocados (now!) and leftover turkey for my simple, yet completely awesome Turkey Avocado Sliders.
Cheers to your gathering being a great success!
Getting Thanksgiving Dinner on the table can be hectic enough, but when you have little kids around it’s hectic-cubed.
Having easy crafts on hand helps your whole family survive the day.
While the food is the focal point of Thanksgiving day, don’t forget to set the mood!
Have some soft holiday music playing in the background, place fresh flowers around the house, and light a few candles (unscented so that they don’t clash with the aroma of the food).
You can also create inexpensive décor with strategically placed fall leaves and pine cones.
What about Side Dishes?
As a busy mom of three, getting some prep work or cooking done a day or two before Thanksgiving is key for me being successful.
Things like cranberry sauce or corn bread can be made the day before and still taste yummy once Turkey Day arrives. So, if you can figure out what can be done early, it’ll take a lot of the stress out and put the fun in!
EASY FAST HOLIDAY SIDE DISH SAUSAGE AND RICE
Don’t wait until the last minute to do your menu planning and go to the store for your Thanksgiving ingredients!
The longer you wait, the more crowded and hectic the stores will be – and less enjoyment you will have from your shopping trip.
Take the time to do a thorough stock-up about a week before the big day. That way, if you forget anything, you’ll know sooner rather than later – and while everyone else is running around trying to grab the most excellent goods, you’re already sittin’ pretty!
My tips for Thanksgiving dinner begins the day before.
Set your table - everything from the tablecloth to the dessert plate! Take that one step further and set out your serving dishes with the serving utensil placed inside the dish.
You won't be scrambling at the last minute for that serving spoon or special tray! If you are planning on making homemade bread or rolls, consider doing so the day before.
Since most other dishes cook at a lower temperature than most bread recipes, this is ideal! I make my easy homemade white bread and rosemary dinner rolls the day before. Easy to warm them up in the oven while the turkey is resting and the other foods are cooking.