Most major holidays involve a few different activities, like egg hunts or presents, but on Thanksgiving, it’s all about the food. And behind every treasured family photo of loved ones gathering around a table, there’s that one person who’s spent all day slicing, dicing, basting, and roasting dish after dish. If you’ve ever cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner, you know that it’s easy to become completely consumed (a.k.a. totally stressed out) with getting every aspect of the meal just right. After all, it only happens once a year, and you don’t want to see Aunt Cheryl pushing her green bean casserole around her plate for hours.
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner usually calls for cooking a very large turkey, preparing at least three sides, and baking plenty of desserts. The kitchen choreography needed to pull off the meal leaves most home-cooks in a state of panic in the days before Thanksgiving, no matter how experienced they are. But there’s a way to approach the big day that saves you precious time and energy while still getting a delicious meal on the table. Here’s Chef Lynn Michelle’s tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving.
Make a Menu
Before you pull out the stand mixer and spice racks, you need a plan. A few weeks out, go through your recipes, figure out how many folks are coming and make a detailed list of what you are going to make. Do you need two pumpkin pies or will one be enough? What size turkey do you need? Will someone be upset if you don’t make Grammy’s sweet potato surprise? Write everything down, and if you have a little extra time, turn your list into an on-theme menu for the day-of. A menu will serve as a big-picture roadmap for what you’ll be making and stave off a bunch of questions from hungry guests.
Plan Two Shopping Trips
Stay with us on this one. For those who haven’t been to a grocery store on or the day before Thanksgiving, let us paint you a picture: bumper-to-bumper shopping carts, down-the-aisle checkout lines, picked-over produce, and someone grabbing the last roll of biscuit dough just before you can reach it. Instead of scrambling to gather your ingredients hours before you need to get cooking, pencil-in two designated shopping trips in advance. Plan the first trip at least a week before thanksgiving, and use this time to pick up bulk, frozen, or long lasting items (think boxed stuffing, pre-made pie crusts, and frozen green beans) before they’re all gone. Then, after drinking at least one cup of coffee, hit the store the day before Thanksgiving to pick up fresh foods that won’t last as long in the fridge.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how many people wait to make mashed potatoes and pies on the morning of Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes reheat beautifully in the oven or a slow cooker. If you aren’t stuffing the bird, the dressing can be made ahead and baked off right before dinner. Almost all the desserts can be made ahead of time. Even if you can’t cook the whole dish, you can do prep work ahead of time. Peeling potatoes, pre-measuring ingredients, and layering the casserole can save you hours on the big day.
Have Tasks Ready for Your Sous Chefs
Instead of pushing friends and family away when they’re willing to lend a hand, let them help out in the kitchen so you can focus on one task at a time. Just make sure you have pre-planned tasks that are appropriate for our sous chefs. Serving a veggie tray? Even your cousin Becky can arrange baby carrots on a plate while she’s sipping her third glass of wine. The kids can help you crack eggs and whisk gravy, and your S.O.? Two words: trash duty.
At the risk of sounding corny, carving out time for yourself is just as important as carving the turkey. If you’re on your feet all day and don’t have a bottle of water nearby while you’re over a hot stove, you’ll be so exhausted by dinner that you won’t fully appreciate the meal you worked so hard to make. Worse, you’ll be spending less time with your guests on the day that celebrates gathering together. If you have to trade baking a third pie to watch part of the football game, do it – you won’t regret it.
Make the most of your time on Hilton Head Island with an unforgettable private meal prepared by Chef Lynn Michelle. From Lowcountry classics to vegan dishes and beyond, she’ll serve you a restaurant-quality menu made in your own kitchen or vacation rental. Give her a call at 843-422-5480 or click here to book your next meal.