It may seem a little early to start organizing your holiday meals, but trust me. I am one of the least organized people I know, and even I start organizing Thanksgiving dinner this early in the season. It’s really crucial if you want the day to be as stress-free as possible, especially if you plan on making it all yourself, and if you will be making things from scratch.
1. Decide now what to serve. This is really important, whether you’ll be making everything on your own, or will be enlisting the guests to contribute. Go through magazines, blogs, websites, and wherever you find food inspiration. Make clippings of the photos and arrange in a notebook. This will help you see the variety of color, and you will know what things you should add to make things balanced and really special. I sometimes will make little sketches of what I will be serving, so that I have a strong visual idea of what the meal will look like.
2. Write things down and make assignments early. Use that notebook to write down all the who’s, what’s, and when’s. Then let your friends know what you would like them to bring with as much notice as possible.
3. Gather your recipes. Make sure all the recipes you plan on using are in the notebook along with the photos of the food. If you will be asking friends to bring dishes, find out whether they will be using their own recipe, or if they will be needing one. Make sure they have it ahead of time.
4. Make as much as you can ahead of time. Casseroles, such as a spinach gratin or a sweet potato casserole can usually be made a day or two ahead of time and refrigerated until ready for the oven.
Will you be making pie dough from scratch? I have been known to make pie crusts weeks in advance and then freeze them. If you will be making a one crust pie, such as a pumpkin pie, you can bake the crust ahead of time and freeze it. You can also freeze the pumpkin pie filling ahead of time as well. That way, as soon as you are ready to bake it off, you can pour the defrosted pie filling into the pie crust and bake it.
5. Get serving pieces and cookware ready. Use your notes to plan what pots and pans you will need, and what dishes you will need to put them in. You may find you need a few extra pieces, and it’s better to know this ahead of time so you can borrow something from a neighbor or go out and buy one. Make sure they are clean and ready to go on the day of the celebration.
6. Prepare a cooking schedule. You will need to know what can be baked before the turkey, and what can be baked afterwards. Once the turkey or ham comes out, you will have about 20-30 minutes that the meat will need to rest before serving. That’s a perfect time to throw in the casseroles or the stuffing so they can be warm and ready when everyone sits down to dinner.
Right before everyone sits down, that’s when I like to put my apple pie in the oven so that it’s hot when everyone is ready for dessert.
It’s always good to go through this earlier than later. You may discover there simply will not be enough room in your oven to get everything ready when it needs to be. I have been known to borrow my mother-in-law’s oven for that reason.
7. Put someone in charge of washing dishes, whether it’s you or a friend. Maybe you aren’t as lucky as I was, but my husband always did dish duty on Thanksgiving. He basically cleaned up as I cooked. He knew that the dinner would be great, so he was willing to pay up front by doing all the dirty work.