Do as I say; not as I do.
I absolutely love hosting Thanksgiving, and I’ve hosted it since I got my first apartment in college and used to have friends over who weren’t going home for the holiday. My mom said one of her favorite Thanksgiving memories was out of that tiny apartment when I had so little room in my kitchen that I had to put food on my dresser! Each year I have stressed more and more about hosting the “perfect” Thanksgiving, and try to top myself from the year before. My mom and husband always implore me not to do so much, but I assure them it’s not Thanksgiving if I’m not crying on my kitchen floor at least once.
I usually have a real issue letting anyone else help me in the kitchen. I micromanage everyone, and really don’t even like anyone in the room with me while I’m cooking. Over the last couple of years, I have somehow managed to relax a bit (or maybe just started opening that wine a littler earlier.) I am pretty certain I didn’t even cry the last 2 years, which is a huge step for me haha!
Last week I co-hosted a meeting for Junior League about stress-free entertaining, and these are the 7 tips that I think are most helpful. If I followed all of them, I would be in amazing shape every time! To be honest though, I think I like a little bit of pressure on Thanksgiving, as long as it’s not too chaotic!
Cooking for a Crowd – 7 Steps for Stress-free Entertainment
Make a List (and Check It Twice!)
Yes, I know this sounds obvious, but I almost always forget to put something on my list, or I am not paying attention and miss something on my list at the store. I usually forget to put something on my list that is a baking or staple ingredient, and I just assume that I have it when I don’t, or I don’t have as much as will need. What works best for me is making my grocery list in groups by department and in the order that I walk through the store. I also make a prep list of everything that needs to be done. Feels great to cross things off my list as the day goes on!
Mise en Place
Mise en place is a term we used a lot in culinary school, but it is the ticket for saving both time and space! In French it means literally to “put in place,” but in the kitchen it means to have everything ready to go. When you start a recipe, measure everything out ahead of time, get your bowls and equipment out, etc. so that you are not running around rummaging through your cabinets trying to find your vegetable peeler. Mise en place also includes having your vegetables or herbs already cut up and ready to go. If you’re impatient like me, this seems annoying at first but it is a huge help!
Create a Timeline
Write out a timeline of what needs to be started when. Work backwards from when you want to eat to determine when everything needs to be ready to go. Also keep in mind that when you look at recipes online, they oftentimes put a lesser prep or cook time than it really is! Unfortunately publishers don’t want to scare off their readers by telling you that it will take 45 minutes to carmelize your onions, and they will put 10 minutes instead. I always add 10% or so to the estimated prep time when creating my timeline. Oh and don’t forget to schedule yourself a break or time to eat!
This is an example of where I have a hard time taking my own advice. As I mentioned above, I really just do not like help. I don’t know why, but I can’t help it. However, this year I am being smart and outsourcing our turkey! The star of the show! How is that for personal growth? I ordered a half smoked turkey and also a brisket from Little Miss BBQ. They have the most amazing barbecue – way better than any turkey I could ever roast, so why not free my oven space up? People love to feel like they helped, and guests usually ask what they can bring or make. So let your neighbor bring over her famous cranberry sauce if she wants or pick up a pie from the local bakery!
Do as much as you can ahead of time. For dinner parties, I always try and stick to dishes like braised meats or lasagnas. This type of food is always just as good, if not better the next day! On Thanksgiving I start cooking a week or 2 ahead of time. I make and freeze my pie dough, make turkey stock for gravy, etc. A couple days before, I will cut up my vegetables and make croutons for stuffing.
Organize Your Serving Pieces
This is another tip that I usually forget to do. A few days ahead of time go through all your recipes and make sure that you have everything you need for serving. Take everything out of storage, wash and set aside so that it’s ready to go! Thanksgiving I always serve family style so I need lots of serving pieces. Dinner parties I usually do plated meals, so I will count and stack all my plates I need in order of the courses that I’m serving to expedite plating.
Keep It Simple
Simpler is always better. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Guests will have a better time if you are at ease! Take the time to enjoy your friends and family, because that’s what it’s really all about!
If you want these tips for easy reference, please download my free Stress Free Thanksgiving printable! Happy (almost) Thanksgiving everyone!