With Thanksgiving this week, what is your game plan? Do you take the task on solo or do you delegate? Do you do it all from scratch or do you go for ready-made? How do you organize your time? What shortcuts do you take to ensure you have time to enjoy your guests?
Here are ten of my tried-and-true tips for making a holiday meal a bit easier:
1. Start with Linens
In the past, I have been stressed at the last minute by wrinkled table linens or stained napkins. Having clean fresh linens takes time you don’t want to have to think about days before the food prep begins. Getting these prepped allows me to feel like I’m on the road to ready.
I often start, as many of you probably do, with lists and shopping. I set my table and put out the bowls and platters I will use with sticky notes inside indicating what they will contain. When the day comes and the guests are arriving I always want food and drinks out and ready for nibbling. Even though we are about to sit down to a huge feast of a dinner having something to nibble on as we mingle seems right.
This Hot Mushroom Pastry dish ticks all the boxes. Easy, quick to prepare, can be made ahead of time, can be served as a hot appetizer or even plated and served with the meal. Your house will smell wonderful with these just coming out of the oven.
Hot Mushroom Pastry
This is one of my favorite do ahead appetizers that you can freeze and simply place on your cookie sheet and pop into the oven as guests arrive. I’ve been making it for almost 20 years. The recipe was given to me by my friend Pam. I’m glad this recipe and our friendship has lasted the test of time.
- one box of puff pastry sheets
- 4 Tbs butter
- 1 large chopped onion
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 2 Tbs flour
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 Tbs sherry or port (I like port)
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Cut your defrosted puff pastry sheets into squares big enough to line the cup of a mini muffin pan. Fit each square of puff pastry into a buttered muffin pan. set aside.
- Add butter and onion to a sauté pan and cook until soft.
- Add mushrooms and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are tender.
- Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir in sour cream. Add the sherry then cook until the mixture starts to thicken.
- Allow mushroom mixture to cool slightly. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Scoop equal amounts into each pastry cup.
- Bake at 400°F for about 12 minutes
- Serve immediately or let cool and freeze until needed.
- Reheat from frozen on a baking sheet for apron 10 minutes at 300°F
2. Planning Your Menu
By now you probably have your menu established. Breaking it down even further with a timeline for the day is a big help. What goes in the oven where and when. Notes about where I’ve put things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes put something away in the pantry or in the mudroom or in the basement refrigerator and forget where I put it only to find a complete tray of food the day after Thanksgiving that was never put on the table. Making a list on a dry erase board or a chalkboard is a good idea.
3. Do It Ahead of Time
For me there’s nothing worse than trying to get everything plated and to the table hot while struggling to get the gravy made from the pan drippings. I can’t tell you haw many times we have scrapped the gravy and used store-bought. My friend Cara suggested that I make my turkey gravy ahead of time. She cooks turkey thighs or turkey legs by slow roasting them for a weeknight dinner long before Thanksgiving. She deglazes all the scraps and pan drippings and adds it to some turkey stock with carrots, celery, and seasoning. Reduce and strain the stock then add flour and make your gravy in the calm of any given weeknight. Freeze it and bring it out thanksgiving morning. Microwave and serve. Genius.
You could make several dishes days before. Prepare your dough for rolls in advance so it’s ready to pop in the oven. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Vegetable trays and even appetizers can be made ahead of time. How many pies, tarts or gallets do you make? I find making the pie dough ahead of time and having it prepped and ready in the refrigerator or freezer takes a load of stress off on Thanksgiving morning.
4. Serve What You Like
This is my favorite tip. Don’t be stressed out about following the guidelines of what a traditional Thanksgiving meal dictates. Make what you really love to eat. If you must have the turkey because your father-in-law needs something to carve, then by all means make sure you have a glorious turkey in the oven. If you love lamb roast put that on the table too. Or how about enchiladas? One year we ditched the turkey all together and cooked a lobster bake. It was awesome but kind of a bummer the next day when there were no turkey sandwiches. A holiday feast should be about bringing everyone together, gathering at the table, nourishing those you love with their favorite foods and fully celebrating that which has brought us all together.
5. Try a New Cooking Method
If the oven is full, incorporate your grill. This year we’re smoking a turkey. We’ve never done it before so I’ll let you know how it goes. We’re just going to go for it with no trial run, how bad can it be?? In years past we have often grilled our turkeys. I generally always start two days before by brining the turkey. I do it in a five gallon bucket. Luckily we have an extra side by side refrigerator. I just remove the bottom shelf and set the bucket on the refrigerator floor.
For the brine, I add about half a gallon of apple cider two oranges cut up a 1” piece of peeled fresh ginger 1 cup of Kosher salt and enough water to cover the bird. It will float so use a heavy dish to weigh it down. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. I used to heat the brine liquid to dissolve the salt then let it cool. I have found that it doesn’t make any difference when I don’t heat it so now I don’t bother. I simply stir the salt in with a whisk to dissolve it.
6. Save On Oven Space
You can accomplish this by preparing some of your dishes on the stove top. Last week I spoke about how to make sweet potatoes in the slow cooker. One of our all time favorite Dishes is bacon parmesan brussels sprouts. I start them buy steaming them in the microwave and finish them off in the cast-iron skillet on top of the stove.
7. Have a Signature Cocktail
You can make the batch ahead of time and be ready to pour when guests arrive. Offer drinks for all ages it’s easy to create a festive yummy mock cocktail but the little ones will enjoy. When I was little my grandfather would always have a before dinner cocktail when we had a festive gathering. Often times the only thing in my glass with a 7-Up but all he had to do was add a cherry and one of his silly garnishes like an umbrella or a little plastic monkey that would hang off the side of my class. I remember always feeling special because I was included.
Satsuma Orange Vodka Cocktail
For the satsuma infused vodka
- 1 cup vodka
- ½ cup sugar
- 6 satsuma mandarin oranges, peeled
- ¾ cup Grand Marnier
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ½ cup satsuma infused vodka
- 1 teaspoon pomegranate liqueur
- ¼ cup sparkling water or to taste
- Lime slice, for garnish
- Combine vodka, sugar, and satsumas in a food processor or blender; process until pureed.
- Refrigerate orange mixture for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve over a 4 cup measuring cup or large bowl, pressing to extract juice. Discard solids.
- Stir in Grand Marnier and lime juice.
FOR EACH COCKTAIL
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add satsuma vodka and pomegranate liqueur. Shake for 15 seconds.
- Strain into a cocktail glass and top with sparkling water.
- Garnish with a slice of lime.
8. Celebrate the Ease of Ready-Made
If you can just check one dish off your list by purchasing it ready-made at the Heinen‘s hot and ready department you’ll have that much more time to enjoy your guests.
I have so many favorites: ready-made deserts, cheese trays already cut and displayed beautifully, roasted vegetables from the salad bar, ready-made bacon that you can add to your dishes without having to take the time to fry it yourself.
My friend Cara also suggested that, to save time, she buys Bob Evans ready-made mashed potatoes. At first thought this seems like cheating but they are really pretty good. She puts them in a crock pot to keep them warm and ready to serve. You can doctor them up with your favorite mix-ins. I’m a huge fan of caramelized onions in mashed potatoes. It would make getting hot food to the table and reserving oven space a bit easier. I might just have to try this one.
One of my favorite ready-made hacks is to simply buy a delicious ready-made cheesecake and adorn it with beautiful snowy looking sugared cranberries. It’s always beautiful and big crowd pleaser. You can find the recipe HERE.
9. Find Your Hostess Gift at Heinen’s
Yes, you can bring wine or flowers but what about a special olive oil or scented hand soap. My favorite gift is special sea salts and funky herbs. The options are endless.
10. Stock Up on To-Go Containers Before the Big Day
We always like to send leftovers home with our guests. Ziploc and disposable takeout containers are perfect for sharing your feast. Don’t forget to add parchment, foil and plastic wrap to your shopping list. Thanksgiving would be a bad time to run out of these.
We hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday. ENJOY!
About the Author
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. Her Blog, Table and Dish is a website devoted to celebrating and curating the many ways that food binds us. Sally hopes that her recipes and images will inspire you to gather your friends and family in the kitchen to make memories, use the time to connect with busy kids, chat over mixing bowls, get messy, laugh, sing, set the table, clear the table, pass the salt, debate the days topics and pray. You can follow her here as a weekly contributor to 365Barrington and Heinen’s as well as via Table and Dish on Instagram and on her website at TableAndDish.com.
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Heinen’s Grocery is located at 500 N. Hough Street, between E. Main Street and Route 14 (next to Meatheads) in Barrington, Illinois. They’re open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit Heinens.com.