Domesticity Nouveau

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thanksgiving 101

Thanksgiving is almost here!!!! This is by far my favorite holiday because it is all about food!!! But what if you were sick the day they covered Thanksgiving in home-economics? What if your school didn’t offer home-economics? What if your Mom prepared Thanksgiving dinner by getting you dressed and driving to her Mom’s house?

One thing I am incredibly thankful for is my Mom patiently allowing me in her kitchen when I was young. I used to ask how long it would take until dinner was ready and she would say something like thirty minutes. Then I would ask when dinner would be ready if I helped and she would say an hour. Eventually my skills improved over time and I could help with dinner in a manner that wouldn’t delay the entire family chowing down on some tasty grub.

On several occasions, one recently, I have been asked for help in doing a Thanksgiving dinner, which has inspired this rather long dissertation. My apology for the length, but it’s a big meal!

As the preparer of the meal, it is important that you enjoy it as well. With that in mind, you need to decide which of the following four categories you fall in:

1. Kitchen Queen – you can and have done everything from scratch for a Thanksgiving meal. You might not have mastered fine French cooking, but that’s okay because you don’t need those skills for Thanksgiving.
2. Kitchen Princess – You have the equipment, you have some skills, but you are a Thanksgiving virgin. Cooking dinner and baking cookies is one thing, but a holiday feast is a wee bit intimidating
3. Kitchen Jester – You have seen people use a kitchen and you have used the kitchen… only because the phone is in it and that is where you keep the menus for delivery and take-out
4. Kitchen Nightmare – you know who you are

As the person that is preparing the meal, it is important to honestly answer where you stand. If you are in over your head, you will not enjoy Thanksgiving. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are a Kitchen Princess. Kitchen Jesters are figuring out which grocer to order from and Kitchen Nightmares are making reservations or coming to your house to eat! As a princess, it is important to pamper yourself, which in the kitchen means working smarter not harder…. and wearing a cute apron.

So where do you start? First, take a deep breath, and keep up the deep breathing until Christmas is over. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Relax. Turn on some music.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your attitude shows up in your food. If you are stressed and worried and frazzled, you can’t be stirring in love for your friends and family. This applies to the planning and prep as much as it does the actual cooking. Now drink your wine, relax and smile!

Thanksgiving is not complicated, as long as you are organized. There are a lot of steps, and the key to not tripping up is to plan. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Thanksgiving is about food and family. Family planning is another topic altogether, so that leaves planning the food.

A couple weeks before T-Day, start thinking about what you want to serve. Are there any traditional family foods? Make a list of everything from beverages to dessert to the turkey sandwiches afterwards. I apply the K.I.S.S. principle to Thanksgiving. There are a lot of dishes and keeping it simple, well… it keeps it simple. If you do want to try something new and fancy, make it now to see if it will be realistic (or taste good) come turkey day. Forget all those fancy magazines with grandiose recipes that have you baking pumpkins filled with soup, brining the turkey in a special herb blend, and decoratively carving rare, hard to find vegetables for roasting. Stick to the basics until you are a Kitchen Queen, and most KQ’s became KQ’s because they know and value the superiority of simple, good, clean food.

What will you serve?
Meat – Turkey, ham, tofurkey?
Side Dishes – mashed potatoes, yams, brussels sprouts, green bean casserole?
Condiments – cranberry, gravy, olives, relish tray, butter, salt & pepper?
Bread – rolls, bread, biscuits?
Beverages – gravy, water, soda, wine, cocktails, juice, sparkling cider, pepto bismol?
Dessert – pumpkin pie, apple pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pepto bismol?
Snacks for before or after – cheese & fruit, veggie tray, snack mix, potato chips, dip?
Sandwiches after – bread, mayonnaise, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, chips?

Now that you have an idea of what you will cook, walk away for today, but let your brain start processing stage 2.

Planning Stage 2. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, turn on the music and relax. It’s time to evaluate your tools. Do you have the right size pots and pans to cook all your dishes in? How are you going to serve it? Do any of your recipes require special equipment, like a mixer or food processor? Will everyone sit down to your table and pass your yummy creations around the table or will you serve buffet style? What will you put your yumyums in? Do you have enough serving dishes and serving utensils? How about plates, napkins, silverware, glasses etc? Containers for leftovers? Kiddie table with non-breakables and non-stain-ables?

Deep breath, glass of wine. Now don’t be overwhelmed. These are just questions, take your time answering them, pour another glass of wine. This planning is the foundation of your success, and you will be successful!!! And if not, it will at least be memorable because of the lack of success.

Planning Stage 3. Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, turn on the music… I’m not kidding about how important it is to relax and enjoy the process! Your next step is to make a shopping list. Gather all your recipes and jot down a list of the ingredients. Then go through your cupboards and cross of anything you have enough of. Your final product will greatly depend on the freshness of your herbs and spices, so if you can’t remember when you bought them, it is probably time to get new ones. You already have the jar, so don’t throw it away. Simply buy your herbs and spices in bulk and refill the old jar; you will save A LOT of money doing this. And if you don’t have a certain spice, don’t buy a jar of it, buy it in bulk. You can save around $3-5 per jar. Watch the papers for sales and stock up where you can. Butter can be frozen, soda keeps. Buy on sale throughout the month, keeping the perishables for the Thanksgiving week run. The stores in my area often have coupons for free turkeys with a certain purchase amount. If you don’t normally buy organic, this is one meal where it is worth the extra moo-la. The flavors are far superior and that alone will make simple dishes a smashing success!

Make a list of any cooking tools or serving utensils you will need to acquire as well. You can find many of them at the dollar tree, especially good for foil baking pans and glassware. Thanksgiving can get expensive really fast, but it doesn’t have to. Don’t be afraid to borrow from family and friends if they are coming to your house to eat, they obviously won’t be using their dishes!

Planning Stage 4. Pour a glass of wine, relax, turn on the music and be happy. Make a list of what you will need to set the table and gather as much of it together now as you can. Put the table cloth, napkins, napkin rings, candles, etc into a basket and set it aside for later. Then when it is time to set the table, you won’t be running around finding everything only to realize that you are missing something. The days leading up to turkey are about food. The days leading up to the days about food are about everything else. You can also easily hand this basket to someone who wants to help you out, but you don’t want anywhere near the food until it is time for them to eat it.

Planning Stage 5. This one is short and sweet, but still pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on the music and smile at everything you are accomplishing! Gather together all your containers for leftovers and put them in a bag somewhere. The last thing you are going to want to do at the end of a big meal and after cooking all day is scrounge up the containers. If they are all in one place, in one easy to grab bag, it will make things a lot easier on you and your helpers.

Planning Stage 6. This part requires math, so maybe only pour ½ glass of wine and turn the volume down on the music. Start with the time you want to serve dinner and work backward. Take a gander at the roasting time for your turkey’s size and add an hour. This hour is for wiggle room and to allow time for your side dishes to cook. For example, you want to have your meal at 3 pm. You are roasting an 18 pound stuffed turkey, which takes approximately 5 hours to cook. You will want to have it in the oven at 9 a.m. To get an idea on how long to calculate and what size bird will feed your guests, check out the Butterball site. It has all the info you will ever need on turkey prep, and it saves me from having to retype the info here.

Putting your bird in at 9 a.m., with the goal of dinner at 3 p.m. gives you 6 hours to accomplish everything else. Those 6 hours go by fast! Do as much prep work in the days before that you can, it will save you a lot of headaches and hassles while the turkey roasts. Chop the vegetables the nights before, so everything is ready to assemble the day of. Cook as much as you can ahead of time. Pie crusts can be made a few weeks ahead of time and frozen until the day before when you make the filling and bake the pie. Rolls can be made and frozen, then reheated.

Here’s a sample schedule to give you an idea:
Weekend before - Eat everything in the fridge to make room for gobble gobble wobble wobble day, clean the house
Monday - Get the turkey out to thaw if frozen, put your recipes together in one spot and read over them
Tuesday - assemble all your dining and cooking dishes, make sure everything is clean and pretty, prep what veggies you can, like onions, carrots and celery. Make cranberry sauce if doing it from scratch.
Wednesday - bake your pies and, take out anything you have frozen so it has time to thaw, set the table and tidy up around the house. Go to bed early!
Turkey day
7:30 a.m. Clean the turkey and get the roasting pan ready
8 a.m. Make the stuffing & stuff the turkey
9:00 Turkey in the oven & extra stuffing in the fridge
9:15 Assemble side dishes and put in fridge
1 p.m. Take side dishes out of fridge to warm up, along with the butter
1:08 Start peeling potatoes & get them boiling
2:00 Take turkey out of oven and tent with foil
2:15 Side dishes in the oven to bake, call for some helpers
2:30 Get condiments and wine to table & make the gravy
2:45 Mash those taters & carve the turkey
2:55 Reheat/bake rolls & bring everything to the table
3:00 Grace
3:03 Eat, drink, laugh & love, graciously accept compliments about your amazing meal
3:45 Dessert
4:15 Bring leftovers to kitchen and box up
5:00 First load of dishes in the washer
5:07 Nap and snacks

If people ask if they can help… you say YES! Remember it is important that you enjoy the day, too! They can peel potatoes, make the relish trays, bring a side dish, bring a centerpiece, bring snacks, bake a pie, open a jar, reheat the rolls, set the table, decorate the table, bring dishes to the table, open the wine, pour the drinks, clear the table, package leftovers, wash the dishes, clean the day before, or bring you wine.

People always like to gather in the kitchen.... it must be the delicious smells of your cooking! But unless they are helping, they are underfoot and make for a cranky Kitchen Princess. Set snacks and drinks up away from the kitchen so it keeps people out of your way. Those who really want to help (and who will be helpful) will stay in the kitchen, those who just want food will follow the food.

Depending on where you live, the outdoors can be your refrigerator. Store beverages outside the night before so they are cool and your have fridge space for food. Put leftovers outside to cool first so your fridge doesn’t have to work so hard to cool everything down. If you can’t use the outdoors to your benefit, keep the beverages in a cooler away from the kitchen so you have less foot traffic and more room in the fridge.

Your kitchen is going to get quite warm with the oven on all day and things bubbling away on the stove. Don’t turn on the heat in the house until people comment about being cold. You might want to get a fan ready to blow heat out of the kitchen. Don’t point it into the kitchen, it might blow something undesirable into your delicious creations!

Always have two of each prep tool. Why should just one person peel the ‘taters when two people can? Prep work is necessary for everything you cook, so it is important to be smart about it so it can go efficiently. Have the trash can handy, or a scrap bowl on the table. Assemble everything you need before you begin, you are going to have to pull it out anyway and this saves you trips to and fro. Sit at the table to do your prep work; you are going to be standing all day on Thanksgiving and that will be no fun if your feet hurt from the days before. Figure out how much onion, carrot, celery etc. you are going to need and do it all at one time. Have containers handy for the prepped food and stick it in the fridge as you are finished with it

Wear comfortable shoes, you will be on your feet a lot!

I’ll post my recipes over the next few weeks, but if there is something specific you want to see or have a question about, let me know and I’ll get to answering it right away!

Having the Better Homes and Gardens magazine layout display is great, but not realistic for everyone. Don’t be a perfectionist, be about the love. Stir it into your dishes, say it with your smiles and hugs. What they say about being able to hear a smile over the phone is true for food too; when you keep loving thoughts of the people you are cooking for in your heart while you cook, it gets stirred into your meal and it is the difference between a good and a great cook. The perfect Thanksgiving is one spent with friends and family, eating a fabulous feast and counting your blessings. If you forget to light the candles, the yams burn and the gravy is really salty, it doesn’t matter because you blessed your family with love.


  1. I can't seem to *cough* find your address...I just need it to uh *cough* send you something yea! that's it! How big is your table (what?)

  2. This is sooo awesome! I will be reviewing Thanksgiving 101 often in preparation for cooking my first Thanksgiving meal.
    Love, Kerri (aka Kitchen Princess)

  3. If you are like me, and just have one oven, here are a couple of ideas that will work: Turkey roster. An electric roaster works very well. The other is from a friend who was having a remodel of thier kitchen that hit during Thanksgiving/Christmas one year. BBQ. She puts the turkey, and ham in the BBQ. Even after the kitchen is done, she still does this. Says it gets it out of the way and leaves more space in ther kitchen. We have used the BBQ to keep some of the side dishes warm.

  4. Okay I'm just sayin' Boston Market will do it all for you...

    Just kidding, I'm really going to try but it may be my backup =)

  5. See now, I thought of a couple more hints. Ok, I saw this first one on Marth Stewart years ago. Set the table the day before. I think this is a great idea. That way it's one more thing out of the way on turkey day. Hint two, came from a show I was watching, were they were doing these farm to plate type dinners (some eco friendly show) anyway, they did a BYOP. Bring your own plate. It's a great idea if you don't have enough plates, It makes for a interesting table setting. And You don't have to clean them all. See I do think Michelle! :D