Today begins a Special Series I am doing not only on my Thanksgiving recipes but also my new approach to the holiday. As many of us home cooks know this is both the best and worst holiday. We spend hours planning and cooking to have it all gobbled up in minutes and then it’s over. Not only is it over but it’s a fast transition into Christmas. Putting this much work into it I decided I wanted to make this a holiday that lasts. If I am going to put in so much work I want it to be savored as well as I would like a break from cook after I am done preparing all the food. So this year I broke the feast into a lunch and a dinner that lasts for an entire week. This also gave me the time to think about why and how does this meal show my thankfulness and gratitude. So join me on this series and learn not only what I made but why it captures my gratitude.
Today (being Thanksgiving) I am thankful for not only cooking maybe the best thanksgiving meals and menus I have ever made but I gotta actually spend time with my family and not a salve to the kitchen. How did I pull this off? Planning and execution.
Ask anyone who plans big dinner parties, and lets face it Thanksgiving is a big dinner party, planning is crucial. There are a few ways to look at planning. My preferred method is to start 2 weeks in advance minimum and use a digital calendar. I start with the day of the event and work backwards. When do I need to cook? When do I need to clean the house? When do I need to grocery shop?
With a digital calendar I can make blocks of time for each recipe because I can make as many as I would like and they will all fit. However if I were to do a hand written calendar it might get crammed or illegible. To plan my cooking I make a block for each recipe, simply titled “Make Cranberry Sauce” or whatever it is that’s on the menu. I don’t worry about where to place them on the calendar I just start adding them all. After my first pass I look at any of the recipes I have added and look to see if there are parts that are other recipes such as with cheesecake I also need to make ginger snaps so that’s another calendar entry.
With all the blocks filled out I then start arranging them. I know that in a perfect world I like to do no more than 3-4 recipes a day. So I start moving them earlier and earlier in the week or the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving so that I don’t overwhelm myself. If you want to be even more organized something else I like to do is look at each recipe for the time it says it will take and make the recipe blocks on the calendar actually reflect those times. Once I have gotten that far the other piece I look at is, where can I multitask. If breads are rising I can do something else, and so on.
By getting my calendar built out ahead of time I knew I needed to have all of my shopping done not the weekend before Thanksgiving but the weekend before that. This had the added benefit of not fighting the crowds at the grocery store.
This year I implemented a new strategy of getting ALL the cooking off of Thanksgiving. That way all I would have to do on the day of is reheating, a little finishing touches, and a quick sauté. Once I saw this I was even willing to take on the task of starting a new Thanksgiving tradition which is to start the day with Brown Butter Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls. These get made in advance and just need to be baked and iced the morning of. The big key to getting Thanksgiving made ahead of time? JOULE. What is that? It’s a sous vide immersion circulator. This was the answer to turkey! The whole thing gets made in advance, it then gets refrigerated, and you simply reheat it in the same way and finish it as you please. Best part other than perfectly cooked turkey? It doesn’t tie up the stove or the oven!
Another tip to get your cooking off the day of… Cheesecake! There are lots of recipes out there for delicious cheesecakes but Bravetart’s Pumpkin Cheesecake is a real winner. I started doing cheesecake a few years ago because I an not a fan of pie. Since cheesecake is best baked a day or two in advance and served cold this means yet another thing you don’t have to worry about tying up your oven.
By putting the work in ahead of time I was able to sit and relax with my family, play with my dogs, and even take a nap between meals! (Oh, did I mention that I did both a lunch and a dinner?) After 20 years of on again off again trying to pull off a beautiful and delicious Thanksgiving it’s finally happened and I spent maybe a total of 2 hours in the kitchen today!