Thanksgiving Menu Planner
I don’t know about you but I thought the year was going along great and then poof! It’s Halloween!. For me, Halloween has alway been the red flashing sign that the Holiday Season is around the corner!
This is usually how the AHA moment happens for me… I’ll be looking on Facebook having a good laugh looking at my friends’ costumes, then it hits like a windstorm…. Thanksgiving is less than a month away! What am I going to do this year?
The Holidays can be stressful! You want to entertain and be with your family and friends… The question is: How do we get it all done without creating a lot undue stress?
Believe me, I get it! And, I’m here to help.
A Thanksgiving plan is the key!
I’d like to share with you my Thanksgiving menu planner. It’s kind of my ritual. I use this same agenda type for any big meal or party event that I am creating.
This is a basic outline that you can change to meet your own needs. For example, most years, I do most of the prep cooking the weekend before Thanksgiving. November 18 – 19 is the weekend of my bikini competition so I’ll be switching things around a bit this year. Stay tuned for more fun news on that 🙂
Friday, November 10
- Make your guest list and make the calls
To some folks, two weeks before an event may feel a little close for comfort. I have found that I get the most timely and firm RSVPs with an invitation about 2 weeks ahead of an event. If it’s a BIG event, I will send out a ‘save the date’.
I am pretty ‘easy’ when it comes to the guest list. I have learned over the years that it changes.
There is always someone that says: ‘Oh, by the way, my girlfriend is coming into town, so she’ll be joining us. Don’t worry, she doesn’t eat much….’
This year, I have a small party planned, somewhere around 6 people but I am buying a 12 LB bird…. Better to have leftovers than hungry peeps.
That brings me to my next tip for Friday, November 10….
- Create Your Menu
It’s important to give yourself at least an idea of what you’re going to prepare. Yes, you can change your mind 🙂
Here’s a menu idea for you:
~Balsamic Roasted Vegetables
- Order Your Turkey
I only eat organic meats so it’s important that my store know what I want on time. Further, you don’t HAVE to cook a whole turkey. Over the years. I’ve cooked:
- Cornish Game Hens
- Turkey Roulade
- A Vegetarian Feast for Thanksgiving.
Whatever you decide to do, making sure you have what you want when you want it relieves a lot of Holiday anxiety. Start placing your orders today.
- Order the Beer and Wine
Whether it be from your local store or your favorite winery, this is one thing you want to cross off your list early. If you order from your fave winery, mark on your calendar with the day it will arrive so someone can plan to be home.
Saturday, November 11
- Clean out the freezer and re-organize the cabinets and/or pantry.
Let’s face it; we all collect food stuff. I am very guilty of it! I hate waste so I save and freeze foods to makes dishes that I love.
This is what I have in my freezer right now:
- Shrimp shells to make seafood stock
- Chicken backs (from when I spatchcocked chicken)
- And I always have an over-abundance of frozen peas and spinach in my freezer.
Does anyone else do this? Let me know in your comments.
In any event, my rule is if it’s not dated, it gets tossed. If I KNOW I will use it, it gets reorganized. Maybe I should change the soup choice to shrimp bisque?? Hmmmm….. I’ll think about it – on to the next step.
2. Craft, what I call, ‘the basics’ shopping list.
So what do I mean by ‘the basics’ list? These are all the items that can be easily stored in the pantry or frozen until you need them. My Thanksgiving menu will be very close to what I shared with you above. This is how my ‘basics list’ is shaping up:
~Sun Dried Tomatoes in Oil
~Chicken and Veggie Broth
The idea is to beat the rush and NOT stress yourself with a huge shopping list Thanksgiving week.
3. Shop for the basics.
Now that you have your list, get going! You will feel so empowered when this step is complete because you’re ahead of the game.
Sunday, November 12
- Start the Thanksgiving Decor
I’m very lucky and grateful that my wonderful friend, Gina, does Thanksgiving decor for me. We spend Thanksgiving together; I cook and she decorates. It’s wonderful!
Now that I have told that story, you may want to consider asking a friend or family member to pitch in with the decor. It’s a lot of fun when everyone adds a little something to the festivity.
- Begin to Cook & Freeze
This is usually the day that I make the Cranberry Agrodolce. I’ll make the Orange Scented Carrot Soup and both will go into the freezer. I usually make the sausage stuffing the weekend before Thanksgiving. Since my competition falls on that weekend, I’ll make it on the 12th and freeze it. Depending on your personal schedule, you can choose what on your menu needs to br done today.
Here are a few things that you can cook today:
- Stock (if you enjoy making your own)
- Pie Crust
- Cranberry Sauce
- Meat Stuffing (that can you can freeze)
- The Brine (and freeze it)
Saturday, November 18
This weekend, we get down to the nitty-gritty. This is the BIG planning weekend! My motto is: The more organization I create today, the less stress I’ll have on Thanksgiving Day.
Here’s how my day usually plays out:
- Make sure I have all recipes ready to go.
Since my computer lives with me in the kitchen, I like to bookmark my recipes on my computer but you may prefer to print.
- Pick up the turkey
This task becomes doubly important if the bird is frozen. And let’s face it, even if you buy a fresh bird, chances are it will be partially frozen. Your market stores large orders, such as turkey day orders, at very cold temperatures.
- Shop for the rest of your menu.
When I cook an extended menu such as Thanksgiving, I handle list-making with extra care. I start by making a list by course. I start with the appetizers or salad that I’m going to serve and list those ingredients. I go onto the the main dish and side dishes, next, then dessert. Then I go back through the list and make a new list by market, if I have to go to more than one. Finally, I separate into supermarket departments: produce, meats, baking and spices, etc. This may seem like extra work but everytime I have utilized this method, I never miss anything that I need. Further, I tend to buy less because I am more aware of exact quantities in each recipe.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.
- Lay out all the serving pieces and check all the cookware.
I do this every year! I want to make sure that:
- My meat thermometer is functioning
- My pots and roasting pan are big enough
- My serving platters are not chipped
- The linen napkins are ironed
- The chargers are in top condition
I do this on the Saturday before because IF something is up, I have the time to resolve whatever the issue may be.
Sunday, November 19
Most of the tasks on this particular Sunday have to do with the home.
- If I am having guests from out-of-town, I make sure that the guest room is spiffy.
I love putting a bouquet or plant in the guest room so I usually do that on this Sunday. I buy nice, tight flower buds so that by the time the guests sleep in that room, the flowers are in full bloom and the room is fragrant.
- Time to chill the wine and beer.
Actually, my hubby, Roger does this task for me. He does all things that have to do with the bar. He chills the wine and beer. He ensures we have the right mixers, in the event that a guest would like a cocktail. He polishes the glasses and wine buckets. He really does EVERYTHING having to do with the bar! It’s wonderful! Again, it’s OK to ask for help when creating festivities.
- Prep multi-step dishes.
For example, one year I made my grain-free carrot cake; it’s my husband’s absolute favorite. I made the frosting and the cake layers. I wrapped everything individually and put them in the fridge. The day before the big event, I assemble the cake.
This year, I am making my Upside-Down Pear Cake because it’s fast and easy. It’s a one cake pan, Autumn beauty that I can pop into the oven when the bird comes out and serve at room temperature. Simple and simply delicious!
You get the idea….Get the baby steps done and the big day will be smooth sailing!
Tuesday, November 21
- Transfer the foods that you froze to the refrigerator to thaw.
- The brine
- Cranberry Agrodolce
- Meat Stuffing
- Start the prep for your side dishes. My ‘to do’ list includes:
- Prep the pumpkin for Pumpkin Quinoa Pilaf
- Bake sweet potatoes for mash
- Steam cauliflower for mash (yes, I am doing both for those of us that prefer low carb living)
- Chop all the vegetables for my Balsamic Roasted Vegetables
I pack it all awy in the fridge so it’s ready for me on Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 22
Now is when the ‘real cooking’ usually begins. Having planned and cooked ahead the way you have, you are SO far ahead of the game!
There are still a few things to do:
- Brine the bird
If you are roasting a 12 – 20 pound bird, start the brining process in the morning. If you are roasting a turkey breast, put the breast in the brine right before bed. Big birds can easily brine for a full 24-hour period but a breast really only needs 8 hours at most.
- Do the final prep
Some of my final prep ‘to dos’ are:
- Mash the sweet potatoes and cauliflower that you cooked on Tuesday so that all you have to do is warm them on the big day.
- Make the salad dressing
- Wash the salad fixings
- Make the gravy
- Set the table
- Do the final tweaks on the decor
You want to have as much done TODAY so that Thanksgiving can be a pleasure.
Thursday, November 23 – Thanksgiving
You did it! You are organized beyond belief so there’s very little work left to do. That equals lots of time to spend with friends and family.
Here’s what the ‘to do’s’ look like today:
- Preheat the oven
- Remove the bird from the brine; stuff and truss the bird. You can get a quick ‘how to’ on trussing here
- Put together the Pear Cake so it’s ready to go into the oven when bird comes out.
- Finish the prep for the Balsamic Roasted Vegetables so they are oven ready as well.
- Take the two mashes out of the fridge to bring them to room temp so you can reheat them right before serving.
- Put ou snacks like nuts and cheeses for folks milling around and dropping by.
- Let the turkey rest after roasting. Meanwhile, bake the cake.
- Once the cake is done, raise the temperature of the oven and roast the veggies.
- Have a glass of wine!
- Enjoy your loved and the feast that you created 🙂
Final Thoughts on Planning a Happy Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving should be just that….A time to give thanks! Create joy and great memories with family and friends! From the Nina Cucina family to yours ~ Happy Thanksgiving!