Do you want to talk about an adrenaline rush? How about realizing that Thanksgiving is in ten days and you have done NOTHING to prepare for it? Nothing, I repeat, nothing, and you are expecting 36 guests and counting. I say, “and counting”, because you really never know who all the college kids will bring home until they have packed up and are underway. The more the merrier, and I mean that with all my heart. It just takes some planning, whichI have only now begun.
My husband and I love to cook. We love to try new dishes and improve our favorites. On Thanksgiving Day we have a great time getting our “cooking itch scratched”. We almost always eat supper together as a family every day, but the time pressures of our daily life too often squeeze our cooking time, and the meals-of-choice become those that are lean, nutritious, easy to make, and quick to clean.
But on Thanksgiving Day, we get to savor not only the eating, but also the preparation of the food. There is a joy to be experienced in the chop, chop, chopping of the ingredients alongside a child. The aromas, the flavors, the little noses peeking over the counter seeking beaters to lick – I wouldn’t change a thing.
Thankfully, I do not have to recreate a Thanksgiving menu from scratch every year. There is a little organization technique I figured out a few years ago that works wonders for our family. If you can picture my husband, my daughter, and me, racing around the kitchen, cooking and stirring and roasting and whisking. We were constantly misplacing our recipes and finding our favorite cookbooks smeared with mousse or gravy. Then there was the whole challenge of timing the cooking. Sometimes two ovens just didn’t seem like enough!
As a coping strategy, I started photocopying or printing off the internet our planned Thanksgiving recipes. Even recipes I know by heart I added to this pile, because I wanted to have a complete menu. I fastened all the recipes together. I made a list of my dishes on the front, then put the recipes in order.
Next, I made a cheatsheet of cooking times- what needs to bake at what temperature and for how long. By charting this, I could visually see how to pair up dishes, and I could stick a post-it note reminder on the oven. “Beef goes in at 12, mushrooms go in at 12:30.” The master recipe menu also helps to plan for prepping. ”Exactly how many garlic cloves do I need to peel? And how many cups of chopped onions?” Having the recipes all together, even the ones memorized, helps to delegate tasks when you can not be two places at once. ”Finish up the casserole; I’m finishing the gravy.”
Many of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes come from Bon Appetit magazine and can be printed off of their online source, epicurious.com. Often their recipes offer “Do Ahead” suggestions, saving time and sanity.
When the meal is over and the dishes all washed, this collection of recipes becomes a memento of the year’s feast, and a reminder for next year’s planning. Some recipes, such as Masa Cornbread Stuffing with Chiles, become family favorites. Others, such as Popovers, will be passed over this year. Popovers are easy and delicious, but are oven-hogs, requiring 40 minutes in the oven- and no peaking or sharing oven space!
When all is said and done, there will be tons of food and piles of dirty dishes. But also bellies filled with delicious food and hearts bursting with warm memories. And that’s the best part.