This year I didn’t cook Thanksgiving all by myself; everyone brought their favorite Thanksgiving dishes so our table was filled with contributions of nothing but the best & most delicious. However, in the past I have cooked many holiday meals for big crowds and I thought I'd share how I plan and execute cooking for a crowded table. Preparing ginormous meals for large groups really can be enjoyable, and since Thanksgiving is behind us and we’re facing the Christmas festivities, I thought this would be a perfect time to share the tips and tricks that work for me :-) Know Your Guests: Before you even start thinking about the big day, make sure that you know who is coming to your home. What are their allergies? How many people? Will there be a bunch of children who may have more conservative palates?
Get Prepared: Clean out your fridge! We have two fridges and I make sure that they are emptied of things that just take up space (like that jar of jam you opened last Thanksgiving and have been meaning to chuck all year, oopsies!) Also you need to make sure that you have enough serving dishes & utensils for the big day. I pull my dishes out and sit them on the buffet with post-it notes reminding me what I plan to put in each dish. Also make sure that you have enough tupperware, plastic cling wrap, or aluminum foil to pack up your leftovers or to-go boxes to send food home with your guests.
Make Your Menu & Shop: When you're planning your menu for a big day, this is not the time to experiment. Use your go-to, tried & true, time-tested classic recipes that you're familiar with. Everyone loves tradition, and if you're familiar with the recipe, then you will have less stress. Also when you’re selecting your meal recipes, don’t forget about breakfast for the big day because you'll need your energy (I always make these for special mornings: monkey bread, glazed ham & cheese breakfast sandwiches, PSL syrup for coffee, & pumpkin streusel bread) and ingredients to turn your left-overs into special dishes in the following days (I always do turkey pot pie, turkey & fig pizza, and some kind of turkey tacos with bbq cranberry sauce). Once you have your menu planned go ahead and make your grocery list. Remember to get a few extras in case accidents happen (and they do!). When you go shopping, do so the week before, and try not to do it the weekend before because everyone else and their brother will be at the grocery store with you.
Establish A Schedule & Stick To It!: I know this goes without saying, but I still have to say it (blame my inner teacher on this one): don’t wait until the last minute to start planning or cooking; procrastinating is super anxiety provoking & so avoidable. Not only should you start early, but space out your tasks with a schedule and mind the schedule. The big day should have the fewest to-do items so that you can be ready for things you forgot, but mostly so that you can enjoy the day too. This is my typical schedule for a Thanksgiving meal:
-Monday (or 3 days out): Cook all of your baked goods & desserts, prepare (dice & measure out) all of your ingredients for other dishes & store in ziplock bags in the fridge so that when you start cooking them you can move through the recipe faster, take note of how long it will take for your turkey to thaw.Ready Your Kitchen: Once you’ve done your shopping, set your schedule, and you’re ready to start preparing food, make sure that you’re space is ready for you. Your kitchen should be cleared of distracting clutter, the dishwasher & sink should be emptied. It’s easier to cook in a clean kitchen when you're not hunting for things. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to start cooking, pull your eggs & butter out so that they can arrive at room temperature. Set up a station of all the ingredients you will need for that day; just go ahead and pull everything out and sit it in a central area so that you’re not hunting through cabinets and the pantry. Also, if you can, clean as you go so that once everything is cooked you don’t have to then take hours to clean up for the next day.
-Tuesday (or 2 days out): Start making your savory dishes
-Wednesday (or 1 day out): Finish the majority of your savory recipes, set the table, pull out all serving dishes, prepare the meat for the next day (brine, etc.)
-Thursday (the big day!): Cook breakfast, start turkey, reheat your dishes, and enjoy your time with family
Go Time: Turn on some Christmas music or a movie to listen to as you prepare your dishes. If you can juggle recipes you can decrease your cooking time. What I mean but that is while one dish is resting, baking, melting, etc. work on another recipe. Only do this if you’re comfortable juggling multiple recipes at the same time.
Make the Choice: Cooking doesn’t have to be stressful. With some preparation it can really be manageable and ....dare I say, enjoyable?!?!?! It is a choice to have a melt-down or to be proactive and take lots of baby steps. You can do this!
Grace: Give yourself some grace. You are going to be the toughest critic sitting at the table. No one is going to be as harsh as you, so stop beating yourself up. You might make a mistake, it could be big or it could be minor, but no one really cares. Don't let it ruin the festivities for you. Laugh it off and move on; if nothing else, you have a great story for next year.
So there you have it folks. These are my tips and tricks for preparing a big meal for a full table.
Do you have any tips that you could add to this that would make it easier for me?
Please send your tips my way!!!