The first time I organized my own Thanksgiving, I was so exhausted I think I may have fallen asleep at the table. But what I remember most - what left me with the greatest feeling - was when everyone finally sat down together in my home, their eyes wide, and shared the meal I prepared.
For people who've hosted Thanksgiving before, you're all too familiar with the amount of planning and preparation involved in getting everything on the table, hot and ready to serve to your guests on time. For those that haven't experienced cooking this epic meal, there's a lot you need to familiarize yourself with in order to get it right. Don't let that intimidate you though, because there are ways to simplify the process and make it a little bit more manageable. The outcome will be worth the effort, trust me.
If you find yourself undertaking the task of hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, or if your past attempts have left your guests feeling a bit more thankless than thankful, read ahead. I hope my suggestions will take some of the challenge out of this sometimes complicated event and help to avoid side dishes gone wrong or an unwelcome power nap in front of your family. I'm also providing three recipes for you to use in your own home that I use every year to successfully cater this occasion.
First, a quick reminder to folks who look back at the stress experienced during preparations for Thanksgiving with regret. Those moments might feel punishing, but they're actually filled with valuable time spent alongside family.
There are so many memories I have from the kitchen when things weren't going my way, like when my Nanna consoled me because my stuffing was too “bready” or when my mom had to step in because I had absolutely no idea how to get the perfect gravy consistency. I wouldn't trade those in for a more perfect operation though, because in the years to come I won't care that the turkey may have come out dry. I'll care about the conversations I shared with two women I hold closest to my heart.
It's been a few years since that ambitious first hosting, and in that time I've discovered some really simple tricks that allow for a seamless way to prepare, cook, and serve food (while it's hot) and still leave me with enough energy to enjoy a day with my family and friends.
Remember when I said my mother was once sent in as an emergency chef to restore my lumpy gravy back to something edible? Well, that wasn't only due to my inexperience as a Thanksgiving host. Part of that suffering was a result of trying to take on every task alone.
I recommend stepping away from the ambition of running a one-person show in the kitchen for this holiday. Even the most experienced chef needs assistance when preparing such an elaborate spread. Don't wait until the moment when you realize everything is going wrong to recruit friends and family to help get it right. Enlist the help of your loved ones at the beginning of the process. Trust me, having a couple extra set of hands to cut, mix or stir will remove so much stress from your day.
The next tip is to be strategic with your side dish choices. Make sure not to have a Thanksgiving menu full of overly complex recipes that require a lot of time and effort to complete. If you do, it won't matter how much help you get since everyone will be overwhelmed. That leads to a disorganized kitchen and a half-baked dinner full of overcooked and cold courses. Instead, try to create a realistic Thanksgiving menu that you can accomplish with the amount of time and support you have on hand.
I know everyone has their family favorites, but if you recognize that some of those traditional foods are too much for you to handle don't be afraid to replace them with something less elaborate. This is also a great opportunity for you to incorporate some new items to the menu and start building your own traditions.
Each year, I make a lot of dishes that lend themselves well to being made or prepared early so I have a lot less work to do on the big day. Which brings me to my next piece of advice...
If I could give only one piece of advice, I would tell you to prepare everything you can the night before. If most of your meal, even the dessert, is ready to go the morning of, you can comfortably focus on what I like to call The Thanksgiving Trifecta: turkey, stuffing, and gravy. If you get those things right, nothing else really matters. But if you get those right AND you have delicious side dishes, your family will be begging you to host every year.
To get you started, I have a few of my family's recipes that are not only easy but perfect to prepare on the eve of Thanksgiving. Give them a try, or use them as inspiration to achieve your own successful holiday menu this season.
We all know that Thanksgiving can be hectic. Even if you plan meticulously and use steps like I've outlined above, tension may still find its way into the kitchen. But that's ok, because no matter what happens it's still the most fulfilling holiday of the year.
Thanksgiving's trademark is being thankful for everything you already have. There aren't any presents and there's no pressure to create a list of personal goals to keep during the upcoming year. Instead, you acknowledge all of the wonderful people and things in your life. It's not about you, it's about everyone else, and that's something I really enjoy. When you get to show those thanks to the people you love over a meal you've prepared, it's even better.
We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and the best of luck to all of you who are taking on the role of host this year.
Stop by the shop sometime soon and let us know how your Turkey Day went!
- April, and The Boston General Store team
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