Not to alarm anyone, but we are three short weeks away from the United States’ most food-centric holiday: freaking Thanksgiving. If you, my dear soul, have decided to host, there are some steps you should be taking now to ensure you actually get to relax and enjoy yourself on turkey day.
Starting the planning right now may seem a touch extra, but all the best things are, and I’d rather be over-prepared than wake up on November 23rd to the fresh hell of too-few place settings or a not-quite-thawed turkey. Planning ahead will give you a sense of control, and control is very comforting.
First, make and finalize the guest list
Facebook, text, or (gasp) call your friends and family, and get a definite, firm headcount. Add two imaginary people to that count, to give yourself a soothing buffer and ensure that there are leftovers. Next, you need to talk turkey (and dairy, and gluten) and make yourself aware of any and all dietary restrictions that your guests may be bringing to the table, and find out if they plan to bring any dishes that they won’t be sharing. (There’s no reason for your vegan niece to share her Tofurkey with your deer-hunting brother-in-law.)
Plan the menu
Now that you know how many people are coming and what they can and can’t eat, you need to figure out exactly what you will be feeding them. Menus will of course vary from family to family and region to region, but these are the basic categories you should fill:
- Protein/Main: Turkey will be the star of most menus, but you could do a ham, a lamb roast, or whatever your non-traditionalist heart desires. (Just make sure your guests are on board, some people freak the eff out if they don’t get their turkey.) You also need to decide how you’re going to cook that thing. (You should probably sous vide it, to be honest.)
- Dressing or stuffing: Again, know your audience with this one.
- Casseroles: Green bean is a must, but there should be at least one or two more, depending on the size of the crowd.
- Potatoes: Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose between mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, for that is a fallacy.
- Salad: It seems non-essential, but it’s actually very important.
- Other, non-casseroled vegetables: Asparagus is always a good choice, but a nice platter of roasted mushrooms is comforting without adding to the casserole count.
- Bread: This is separate from your stuffing or dressing.
- Cranberry sauce: Obviously.
- Gravy: This is also obvious.
- Soup: I’ve never actually had soup at Thanksgiving, but starting with a nice butternut squash bisque could be fun.
- Appetizers and snacks: For the parade and football-watching.
- Alcoholic beverages: Because you have to talk to people.
- Non-alcoholic beverages: Because there might be children present, but also because you are hosting a dinner, not a rager.
- Dessert (pie): As if you would forget pie.
Once you have your dream menu drawn up, start assigning the dishes you don’t want to cook to other people, and make a list of what remains. Find the exact recipes you want to use with detailed ingredients lists. Once you know exactly what you will be cooking, write down the cooking time and method for each dish, and make a note of any and everything that can be made ahead of time.