Every year Thanksgiving is crazy. I have such a huge family so it’s not easy putting the whole meal together. In the past, I’ve always had this immense pressure on myself to consistently try to outdo myself. Because in the past, my mom, aunts and uncles have always worked so hard to put together these incredible dinners and all I’d have to do is just show up and eat. (Which everyone here is well aware that it’s my favorite activity)
But in the past few years, my sister and I have started this tradition where we’ve taken over the holidays. I’ve always loved to cook, but actually taking over the official meal was a daunting task at first. Luckily, we’ve learned a few tricks along the way —
Ease up. Before, I would have all these ambitious plans on how I wanted my dinners to go. I wanted individual plating, crazy garnishes, soufflés, the works. So I spent hundreds of dollars and prepared day and night for a week straight and then I’d be really upset when the meal doesn’t go off without a hitch. (Hint: it never does) After a few humbling Thanksgiving attempts, I’ve learned that it’s important not to overwhelm myself with an overly ambitious menu. It’s better to have 6 incredible tasting dishes than 12 mediocre ones. TRUST ME.
Don’t try anything too crazy. Speaking of overly ambitious menus, this one year I tried making stuffed clams, risotto, crab cakes and chocolate soufflés for dessert. All dishes that I’ve never made successfully before. I didn’t really read though the recipes, so I didn’t realize the risotto I’d have to babysit the whole time, the crab cakes needed to be very carefully fried, and the soufflés had to be served IMMEDIATELY. (My family doesn’t know the meaning of the word immediately) This year, I stuck to my repertoire of tried + true recipes and only made one new dessert. Everything turned out not perfectly, but delicious. It’s important to stick to what your comfortable with particularly when you’re trying to make multiple dishes at once. Believe me, it was crazy having to run back and forth from the stove to the cookbook. I don’t recommend anyone try it.
Plan ahead. One year, I tried to stick to easy recipes that I was comfortable with, so I had apple pie, cheesecake, cheddar biscuits, stuffing casserole, roasted vegetables, stuffed mushrooms and twice baked potatoes. This turned out to be a disaster. Not only did all these dishes require oven time, but they had to be baked at different temperatures, had to be served hot and I needed the oven for the turkey. So dinner ended up being 2 hours late that year. Now I plan my precious real estate ahead of time. Luckily, I have 2 ovens so I dedicate for the turkey no matter what. The desserts, I make the night before so that all I have to do is reheat them right before serving and I try to make as many dishes as possible on the stovetop so that I don’t have to worry about making room in the oven.
Make ahead. Trust me on this one too. Anything that you can take care of ahead of time, do it. In addition to desserts, you can make mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and casseroles completely from start to finish the night before, cover them tightly and then just pop them in the oven to warm them through the day of. In addition, I try to have my hearty veggies chopped, my serving platters out, arrangements finished and if you’re eating in a dining room, the table set the night before as well. You’ll still have plenty to do during the big day, but if you can cross just a few things off your list ahead of time, why not?
Don’t panic. This one is important. At the end of the day, you have to keep in mind that this is just your closest family and friends coming over. They’ve seen you in worst positions before if a disaster arises, it’s not that big of a deal. This year, my corn bread bundt came out of the oven and I was in such a rush that I didn’t even notice that the inside was still batter when I dumped it onto the plate. Luckily my sister and I had a big laugh about it as we were shoving it back into the bundt pan and popped it into the oven. Like if one dish is a total flop, trust me, it’s not the end of the world. Your family and friends truly appreciate all the hard work that you’ve been putting in for them.