A few simple tips that help keep me sane on Thanksgiving or anytime I am hosting a big dinner party. I have been cooking on Turkey Day for over twenty years so I know of what I write, and please share any other tips you have in the comments section of this post.
Thanksgiving Tip #1: Put Post-it notes in your serving dishes so you don’t forget anything.
Putting the notes in your dishes and platters will help you keep organized and make sure you don’t forget anything from appetizers to green beans. This Thanksgiving trick can help you plan out how much space you need on the table or buffet.
Thanksgiving Tip #2: Bake Pies on Wednesday.
Yes, fresh baked doesn’t mean that day at my house. So all my pies are done a day early, and I will let you in on a secret: I use Mrs. Smith’s pies because I am not a baker and in blind taste tests at many a holiday everyone likes her pumpkin best.
Thanksgiving Tip #3: Say goodbye to lumpy gravy use cornstarch dissolved in room temperature water instead of flour as a thickener.
Making flour rue is a sensitive procedure and one many only attempt on Thanksgiving. If you are at all concerned that you could get lumps try this method instead. Add 2-4 tablespoons of corn starch to a cup or more of room temperature water, stir to dissolve then pour slowly into pan drippings over heat; add corn starch slurry bit by bit stirring until you reach desired thickness. Add wine, broth and seasoning to taste as you go.
Thanksgiving Tip #4: Set the table the Night Before.
I know this is a silly thing but it’s really a huge time saver. If you find out on Wednesday night that your favorite table cloth has a hole in it you have time to make a plan B. Also on Wednesday night you will not have everyone trying to “help” and if you want to do an elaborate table scape that is a good thing.
Thanksgiving Tip #5: Empty all Dishwashers and Trash Cans the Night Before.
The only dirty dishes that should exist on Thursday morning before you start cooking is the coffee mug you are drinking out of. And not only should garbage cans be empty but extra garbage bags should either be in the bottom of the can or located close by so anyone can take out the trash and put in the new bag.
Thanksgiving Tip #6: Offer plenty of Appetizers and Cocktails before dinner to keep everyone busy and out of your kitchen.
Holiday meals are kind of a theatrical presentation so you need a good warmup act: apps and booze! Get everyone jolly but fed them well so it will not go to their heads. I also recommend leaving the TV on with football, parade or dog show it will help keep people from talking Trump and throwing punches.
Thanksgiving Tip #7: Save Easy Jobs for Early Birds and House Guests.
Everyone wants to help, but let’s be honest sometimes you just want to be left alone in your kitchen. Or the person asking lacks any discernible kitchen skills. For these instances I save up easy jobs anyone can handle: lighting candles, fetching ice from the garage freezer, filing water glasses, taking out the trash, and opening wine bottles. My uncle, a confirmed non-cook, has a lifelong assignment of stirring gravy so it won’t burn.
Thanksgiving Tip #8: Use a slow cooker to keep Mashed Potatoes warm.
Not having to mash potatoes at the last moment is a liberating feeling! This trick is great any time of year and not just for mashed potatoes. Use the slow cooker on low to keep anything from spinach dip to chili warm.
Thanksgiving Tip #9: If you have a Toaster Oven, use it! Small side dishes and even pies can be baked in a Toaster Oven.
I generally use the Toaster Oven for either dinner rolls or sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. I have a good toaster oven and use it all the time, many dinners when it’s just my husband and I are made in there. I think the investment and counter space are totally worth it for a good toast oven.
Thanksgiving Tip #10: Have plenty of Plastic Bags to use for sending Leftovers home with guests.
Sending home leftovers is a thanksgiving tradition, so to simplify I put the food in plastic bags then plop the bags into old gift bags. This thanksgiving tip saves you from having to track down your dishes all year long!
Thanksgiving Tip #11: Accept help with clean up! They all ate, they can all help Do Dishes.
I know there are kitchen control freaks everywhere cringing at this, but you cooked all day grab a glass of wine and a spot on the couch and let them go crazy. My husband and mother-in-law take over and marshal the kitchen clean-up troops while I relax. They are going to do things in your kitchen you really don’t want to see, but it’s not a big deal if once a year the dishwasher is loaded wrong or someone uses the OJ pitcher to store leftover gravy. The great part is you didn’t have to do any of the clean-up.
Thanksgiving Tip #12: Take a family Walk after dinner but before desert to get people out of turkey coma.
Around here not everyone goes on the walk but with three farm dogs to entertain a walk down the road after dinner is always a good idea. The walk tends to be the younger women of the family giving the men a chance to take back the TV remote, lie on the couch, and unzip their pants to digest. The walk normally generates some good conversations among all of us and a chance to really concentrate on each other’s words. And for me some fresh air that doesn’t smell like gravy is welcome.