Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday - the parade on TV in the morning (the local Philly parade), food in the oven and on the stove all day (house smells great), friends and family, comfortable clothes (no fancy holiday dresses here), football in the afternoon, and of course, way too much food (and wine). Since we had our daughter Christmas is becoming my new favorite holiday for different reasons, but Thanksgiving will always be my favorite food holiday.
But I can't lie, the thought of hosting did stress me out a bit. So what do I do? Make lists, of course. I LIVE by lists and always have one on my phone and update it daily. For last year's Thanksgiving I had lists for my guest list, menu, food shopping, "stuff" shopping (new tablecloth, décor, etc), prep sorted by the type and day, and a day-of timeline. Having these things all written out in front of me gets them out of my head and on paper so I no longer need to obsess over every little thing but instead can just look at my lists.
Our day and the days leading up to the big day went so smoothly that I thought I'd share my timeline and some other things that worked for me. I know hosting, especially for the first time, can be stressful so I hope I can help!
Being prepared and organized will mean you can enjoy your day with your guests, and isn't that what it's all about?
I'm listing the times I used, but to make your own timeline, start backwards. First put down the time you want to eat and go back from there. And it may seem silly to list every little thing like I did, but when you have a menu of 12 things while a bunch of people are hanging out in your kitchen it's easy to get frazzled and forget the little things.
Rolls out of oven and into a serving dish or basket
Gravy into serving dishes
Carve turkey and turkey breast; put on platters
Put "in-the-bird" stuffing in a serving dish
Take green bean casserole and "out-of-the-bird" stuffing out of the oven
Put rolls in the oven
Pull cranberry sauce, cucumber salad and coleslaw out of fridge (already in serving dishes)
Light candles in dining room
Put all hot items in serving dishes (refer to your menu to make sure you don't miss anything)
Put rolls on baking sheet
Make gravy; keep warm on stove.
Make corn and peas
Put green bean casserole in upper/main oven
Turkey out of oven
Mash the potatoes
Put the "out-of-the-bird" stuffing in the lower/second oven
Take butter out of the fridge
Heat lower/second oven
Start to prep green bean casserole
Prep and put out appetizers
Fill ice bucket
Put turkey breast in oven
10:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Stuff bird, prep/season bird, tie legs, put turkey in oven
Pre-heat main oven
Some of My Other Tips
Just a few tips for things to do early, some helpful advice, and some Type-A things I do to make the week less stressful!
- The amount of shopping you will need to do may seem overwhelming, so when making your shopping list, make one master list with absolutely everything you will need. Then, break it up into things you can buy a few days or a week early (dry goods, frozen things, soda, beer, wine) vs things you will need to buy fresh (veggies, fresh flowers, bread, etc.). I also break my list up by store - supermarket, produce store, wine store, beer store (PA is weird like that) and miscellaneous stores. Even better - make your list in Excel so you can easily sort and move things around.
- Get all of your serving dishes out the night before and figure out what will go in each one. Doing this early will save you from digging through cabinets at the last minute and will help you make sure you have enough dishes, bowls, and platters.
- While you are at it, get out all of your serving spoons and forks, too.
- If you are making a buffet, lay out your dishes the night before (if possible and if it won't be in the way of your prep space). At one party I even put post it notes in the dishes on my buffet so if anyone offered to help they would know what went where, and so I would remember how I laid out my buffet.
- Ask people to help, especially in that last hour as there is a lot happening. My husband loves to cook and he's in charge of the main things on Thanksgiving - the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. My dad makes the best mashed potatoes so he did the mashing. My nephew did a great job at stirring the mushroom sauce for the green beans and he was thrilled to help. My mom and dad bake the desserts. People will be happy to chip in and do things like lighting the candles, taking dishes to the table, or staying out of the way and in front of the TV if that is what you want them to do!
- Set a self serve bar in an area away from where all the cooking and prep will take place - ice bucket and tongs, wine glasses, other glasses, corkscrew, mixers, cocktail napkins. If you need limes or other garnishes for your bar, cut them the day before and have them ready in a serving dish. Make sure your soda and beer are cold, either in a second fridge or cooler (and don't forget the ice for the cooler!).
- Set your table a day or two in advance - move any furniture needed, iron your tablecloth, set the dishes, make the centerpiece, etc. This is one task you won't want hanging over you on the day of your gathering or while your guests are there.
- Prep as much food as you can ahead of time. Wash your veggies, peel and quarter your potatoes and store them in water in the fridge for a day or two, blanch your beans, put butter on/in a serving dish, set out all of the dry goods you will need (flour, broth, salt, pepper, etc), get all of your pots and pans and cooking utensils out and ready.
- Put your cold items in serving dishes so you can go from fridge to table (the cranberry sauce, salad, etc.)
- Take people up on their offer to bring something. If you like having control over the menu, ask them to bring an appetizer, dessert, or drinks.
- Make sure your salt and pepper shakers are full and on the table.
- Buy a bunch of extra plastic/to-go containers or Ziploc bags so you are ready to send everyone home with leftovers.
- If you are having a few or more kids (younger kids, especially), pick up some crafty turkey day things they can do. I picked up these paper cup turkeys from Michael's and the kids, and even a few adults, had so much fun putting them together and then decorating with them.
- If it is cold where you live, turn down the heat an hour before people get there. It's going to get hot fast especially with the kitchen on overload.
And Finally, My Thanksgiving Day Menu
My menu is pretty simple and traditional -
Appetizer: Endive with Pears, Gorgonzola and Crushed Pecans; Cheese/meat/fruit/cracker platter
Turkey stuffed with my husband's stuffing (his mom and grandmom's recipe)
Turkey breast because you can never have too much and leftovers are awesome
Stuffing for those who like it out-of-the-bird
Green bean casserole with fried onions
Spiked cranberry sauce
Cranberry sauce - canned. Some of us like that kind :)
Dessert: Dad's Apple Pie and Mom's pumpkin pie
I didn't have room for anything else on the menu, but here are some of my other favorites that sometimes make an appearance on a holiday menu -
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bacon
Cauliflower-Broccoli Gratin with Mustard-Sage Cornbread Crumbs
And for those leftovers, here is something different - Bubble and Squeak or Mini Chicken (Turkey) Biscuit Dinner
I'd love to hear from all of you - what are some of your favorite entertaining or holiday hosting tips? What have you learned along the way?