You’re Gonna Need a Game Plan

It’s time to start working backwards toward Turkey Day. I’ve already started. Here’s how it goes…

First, ask yourself a few questions. That will determine your plan of action. Are you hosting or visiting? I’m hosting this year. How many guests will you have, and are any of them staying over? I’ll have 9 for Thanksgiving dinner and 3 are staying over, so that means the house will have to be ready for guests and I’ll have to plan breakfast for Friday. Do any of your guests have dietary restrictions? I think we will have enough menu items that it won’t be a problem, and that brings up the first strategy,  You have to Delegate.

I have asked each guest to bring a dish of their choice, children included.  I did make a few suggestions, based on what some of them have prepared in the past.  For example, Jen makes an excellent pecan pie, and the tradition of Granny’s Green Stuff is easy enough even for Xander to handle.  We must have that green bean casserole with the crunchy fried onions on top and our Broccoli Casserole .  It’s another family tradition.  Kaij thinks mac and cheese is a must.  Emily’s Thanksgiving specialty is a Pumpkin Roll. She chooses to bring that.

Michael and I will provide the basics, including the (Brined) Turkey and Gravy, Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes, Bread Stuffing, and Cornbread Dressing.  Oh, I almost forgot the Cranberry Sauce.  I plan to try making it in the pressure cooker this year.

Now that the menu is set, it’s time to put together a shopping list. If you have a recipe management program on your computer, that’s a piece of cake. If not, you’ll have to do it by hand. Ouch! Be sure to compile your list so if two recipes call for milk, you’ll need to have that total quantity. On shopping day, check your fridge and pantry and mark off the items you have on hand. (be sure to reserve them for that purpose)

Speaking of shopping, just like Elizabeth Warren, “I have a plan for that!”  I pick up all the non-perishable items a little at a time.  I learned my lesson many years ago when I hosted my first big family Christmas dinner.  That year I waited to do all my shopping in one big trip.  Not only were the stores a nightmare, but my bill came to over $300.00!  When I wrote my check they had to call the manager for approval.  He looked at the check, then he looked at me.  I guess he recognized me and approved it.  When I got the check back at the end of the month I realized I had made the check out to myself and signed it “Brunos”, the name of the store.  I must have been in shock over that total.

Anyway, not only do I pick up what I can a little at a time, I make Monday before Thanksgiving my absolute last shopping day, and that’s for as few items as possible.  I try to purchase few enough items to qualify for the express lane.  And, yes, I count.

Not only do I shop ahead, I prep and cook ahead.  The breads for the stuffing and dressing were baked and allowed to go stale.  Now they are parked in the freezer, waiting to be combined with the veggie components, which are also already cooked and frozen.  I’m kind of a fanatic when it comes to the broth I use in my recipes and gravy.  I just never substitute chicken broth in turkey dishes, so where does all that turkey broth come from?  I roast a turkey breast, (the smallest I can find), as soon as they go on sale, usually the first week of November.  My recipe for Rich Chicken Stock is easily converted to turkey stock, which I now stew in the pressure cooker for 45 minutes, rather that simmering all day. The stock is fortified in part with the trimmings from all the veggies I prepped for other dishes. I always chill my stocks overnight to allow the fat to separate before the broth is frozen in smaller containers. Turkey fat plus flour plus broth equals GRAVY, now in the freezer. The potatoes have a shorter make-ahead window, since they don’t freeze all that well, but even fixing them a day or two in advance helps.  Have you considered condiments and beverages? Oh, and make sure you have all the serving dishes you need.  I even write the name of each menu item on a scrap of paper and save it in the dish I plan to use.

Now, get out your calendar.  If you’ve taken advantage of a sale on frozen turkeys that turkey needs to be moved to the fridge in time to thaw.  Pencil that in.  Find time to clear out the fridge as best you can.  You’ll need the room.   The bathrooms?  If you can, give the one your guests will use a good cleaning, then ban its use by the family until the big day. Ample supplies of paper products, including toilet paper?  Guest room sheets?  Dusting and Vacuming?  Do a thorough cleaning job, then all you’ll need to do is a quick spiff up the morning of.  Delegate that, too.  The old saying is, “Many hands make light work.”  Believe it!

I write everything down, especially the time line for Thanksgiving day.  If I know what time I’d like to serve dinner I can work backwards to know when to start things cooking.  I use my formula for baked ham, but allow about 25 minutes per pound and let the turkey rest covered  a bit longer before carving. That way you’ll have time to pop other dishes in the oven.

I have a plan!
Happy Turkey Day and, as always,
Be Thankful for what life gives you.

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