Thanksgiving Game Plan

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Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and to make it as stress free as possible, it’s time to start making a game plan.

If you are hosting, it’s important to be a well-oiled machine, with all parts coming together to create a massive feast in a relatively short period of time.

Here are a few tips to create a game plan that will guide you to a successful dinner:

Make a guest list. Encourage your guests to commit, and let you know if they are planning to bring someone along. Every year, without fail, someone calls at the very last minute asking if they can bring a friend or two. We always figure out how to squeeze in a few more, but frankly, it’s best and most polite for all involved to give a little notice. (Yeah, I went there.)

Plan a menu. If you are like me, you will be making lots of dishes over a 24 hour period, and need to juggle time and precious oven space to make that happen. If you are like most people who aren’t control freaks, you may be sharing the cooking with others, and want to make sure every item is covered, and no duplications show up. It’s not fun to have 5 store bought pies and no potatoes or cranberries. I like to print out all of my recipes and place them in a folder, along with my menu and grocery lists. I keep it from year to year, and add or subtract recipes as necessary. Since we have just done some home renovation, I had better start looking for my beloved folder, which I am sure is in a bin somewhere.

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Ask about food issues: Notice that I called them issues and not allergies. These days, everyone has them. This one is gluten free, that one is vegetarian. Someone avoids nuts, another avoids dairy. I have had dinners where there was not one single item that everyone at the table was willing to eat. With all of the side dishes on Thanksgiving, it’s very possible to have enough items for everyone to find a few things to feast on without having to make anything special. One year, I knew I had a vegan guest coming, and scooped out portions of every non-meat dish as I was making them and substituted margarine for butter, or made sure to use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. It wasn’t a big deal to do this as I went along, and she was very, very grateful. Make sure that if you don’t do that, you are completely transparent about it. Don’t tell someone it’s ok if it really isn’t. As a guest, if you have a lot of food issues, offer to bring a dish that you can eat and enjoy. Be gracious and make enough to share with everyone.

Inventory your cookware, dishes and serving pieces. Do you have everything you need?Are the linens stained?  If not, now is the time to shop for those extras, or borrow them. Make sure you have a chair for every guest, if you are planning a sit down dinner. It’s rarely the worry of having enough food for those last minute guests that throws me into panic mode: it’s more about having enough dishes and a seat for them.

Make a grocery list. I like to divide mine into perishables, and non-perishables which can be bought in advance. Now is a great time to stock up on those non-perishable items and leave them in the pantry. Think about everything you need, even salt and pepper, so you don’t run out. The stores are a virtual zoo in the days leading up to the holiday, so the less time I spend in them the better.

Prepare: I am not much of a make ahead kind of cook. The idea of preparing a meal and freezing it, to me is akin to serving fancy TV dinners. Ok, I am exaggerating, but I prefer to get my cooking zen on and make everything with a day or so of the meal. Having said that, there are many things that freeze well, if you want to get a jump start. Homemade breads,rolls and pie crusts can be made ahead, and baked on Thanksgiving day, making them freshly baked, without the last minute fuss.  If you make cornbread for stuffing, that is also freezable. Non creamy soups also fare well in the freezer.

Now sit back, relax and repeat after me: “I go this!” You do, you really do!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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