A few thanksgiving tips.

A Couple Thanksgiving Tips.

I posted this last year with a few edits for this year.
I have been a professional cook for about 20 years. I own a restaurant and I have hosted Thanksgiving on a number of occasions. I rarely post about food and cooking on the boards but I decided that this year I would share a few tips on Thanksgiving day entertaining.

Criticism is welcome as well as other tips.
!. When your guests ask about what to bring do not forget about appetizers. This is very important. For one you can still control The Dinner. Second you avoid guests asking to heat things up in your already over packed oven. And the apps arrive as the people arrive. Perfect really. The social eating and filled app table create a festive atmosphere. and keep the pressure off the kitchen if in fact the turkey or whatever is taking a bit longer than expected.

  1. Drinks are always an issue. Not that there are not enough but with 5 kinds of beer and wine and sodas egg nog all packed in your already packed fridge your workspace (kitchen) will have way to much traffic People all jammed in trying to get things and asking questions. and looking for cups and trash and all sorts of stuff. Have a drink table set up and some coolers. This will help immensely. Have a guest or two bring a cooler or a mini fridge or something. with ice and a small trash can nearby. This will keep the kitchen traffic way down. Another thing guests can help with.

  2. Let the guests help. 80% of the female guests will offer to help in some way or another. Have ready a few simple jobs. The want to help in order to do something and get socializing. Make it small and easy. Fill the ice cooler, put out some napkins. whatever. Just simple and easy and something you already had planned out for a guest to help with. You really don’t want a bunch of people all rummaging about your kitchen.

  3. Be ready for spills. They will happen. Have a wet washcloth and some paper towels handy. Keep it by the drink table/area . That is were they will happen. Something for the guest to do.

  4. Make several lists.
    A guest list. On that you can put specific jobs for them. And items they can bring.
    A menu. Look at it often you will not forget anything that way. It is so sad to remember after Thanksgiving dinner when it is all over and the cranberry sauce or whatever is still in the fridge.
    A list of ingredients.
    And any other thing you need to keep track of.
    Put them on the fridge and consult them often.

  5. Keep your kitchen clean. Stop every 30 min or so while preparing and do the dishes and sweep the floor. I do not care how far behind you are or what DO THIS.

  6. Do not attempt to many new dishes. I suggest only one really if you can. Otherwise stick with what you know. It is super fun making new dishes and looking up recipes, but do not get carried away. Just add one or two.

  7. Do not get over burdened with everything coming out at the same time. This is almost impossible with a full kitchen staff and several large ovens. Just wrap things with foil when it is ready and put it on the serving table . When the last item is ready uncover everything. It will be fine.

  8. Do not over burden yourself with the turkey. Get a thermometer and take the birds temp. Of all the 1000’s or recipes you will find and all the hubbub even a seasoned Thanksgiving entertainer can get quite overwhelmed. THE BIRDS TEMP TRUMPS ALL RECIPES. A plane unseasonal bird chucked into a 375 degree oven till the thigh reads 155-65 carry over temp will take it the rest of the way will make a better bird than any newfangled, brined, fried, stuffed, whatever that got over or under cooked. Of course you can improve on this a bit with some seasoning and your own style but just remember about temp.

  9. Above all relax. This is a fun holiday. Make it a non stress as possible. Let people help but try and stay organized and know what you in fact need help with. Keep clean and remember It is just family and friends. They love you and all will be grand.

Bonus.Tip, Make all your desserts the day ahead. And whatever else you can as well.
Just about everything will be OK made the day ahead. People are gonna overeat. Subtle nuances in the foods flavor and temp will go largely unrecognized. And the trade off is relaxation less stress and a more festive atmosphere.

Pro tip: Do not stay up late the night before. I do not care how far behind you are. Get some rest. go to sleep by 10 pm eat breakfast.

Keep up with the dishes. You probably don’t have enough for dinner and desserts for all those people coming over. Toss them in the dish washer immediately. Do them fast so you don’t have to many people helping in the kitchen.

Have fun

Really have fun
Mike…

Great advice.

Re: number one – every year I get invited over to a friend’s house, and they always say, " Don’t bring anything". I always bring an appetizer and a bottle of wine anyway, and they are always long gone by the time dinner rolls around.

Mike - fanTAStic. Thank you.

This is more about cooking in general, but could be useful for thanksgiving cookathons:

Mise en place!

Have all the tedious or common ingredients prepared, chopped, and put in bowls ready to use whenever. Most thanksgiving dishes contain chopped onion, celery, and carrots, so chop those beforehand so you don’t have to stop in the middle of preparing dish C to do something you already did for dish A and B. I also like to keep a small dish with an equal mixture of salt and pepper on hand for seasoning, since one usually follows the other.

Having everything in its place makes for a much less stressful kitchen vs running back and forth between the fridge and the pantry to look for the damn bay leaves.

The above regarding turkey temperatures is completely accurate. An unseasoned perfectly cooked turkey is a thousand times better than a perfectly seasoned under- or overcooked turkey.

A digital probe thermometer (like this one or this one) is perfect for this. You can leave the probe inside the turkey while it’s inside the oven, and have an alarm set on the unit to go off when a desired temperature is met. That way you don’t have to keep opening the oven to check the temp, which only increases the cooking time as all the heat is let out. You don’t have to go ultra fancy with them, anything around $15-$20 is fine. These are also good for grilling. Mine (the first one linked) has magnets on the base so I can just stick it to the grill lid and have it tell me when the steaks/tenderloin/etc are to temperature.

I highly recommend Happy Holidays from the Diva of Do-Ahead. Someone got us this for Christmas a few years back, and it’s got really great breakdowns of the timelines for doing every holiday meal ahead of time. She has a complete Thanksgiving dinner that you can make almost entirely ahead of time–you just roast the turkey, make the bread and gravy, and reheat everything the day of.

I also highly recommend a nice batch of sangria. Have a glass ready and waiting for the more highly-strung relatives as they come in the door. It’ll take the edge off them, and even if it doesn’t after a few glasses you won’t mind nearly so much. (Hint for those related to Baptists: calling it “homemade sangria” sounds far less sinful than “wine.”)

Have something for the kids to do that is out of the way, especially if there are only a few of them and/or they’re not on their home turf. Coloring books and crayons, activity sheets, that sort of thing. This year I found a balloon animal kit for DoctorJ’s little cousins to occupy themselves with. Or we have some kid-friendly Wii games.

Make sure you buy a newspaper on Thanksgiving day. Nobody will read it, but having it there to poke through the Black Friday ads will help keep people out from under your feet during prep and cleanup.

Pop by the Dollar Store and pick up a few of those little foil baking pans with the plastic lids. You’ll have a shitload of food leftover, and you’ll want it the hell out of your house. People won’t take much with them if all they have to take it in is a paper plate with some foil on top. If you have a nice sturdy stackable container, they’ll take a lot more with them.

My favorite tip: If you peel your potatoes and vacuum seal them they won’t go brown, and they take up a whole lot less space in the fridge than submerging them in water (in fact you really don’t even have to refrigerate them, but most people will anyway).

Great tips, all! I especially like the “mise en place” suggestion. I think chopping onion and celery will be on today’s to-do list.

I wonder what is the likelihood of my finding a probe thermometer in my somewhat small-ish town today?

All great advice, but I can personally attest to this one. For a number of years I offered to bring the dinner rolls. Now, I make the best dinner rolls in the universe (thanks, Betty Crocker), but they’re really only good if I have access to an oven for ten minutes.

I have NEVER had access to an oven for ten minutes. The result is cold, doughy rolls that are nothing to write home about.

I’ve started making the stuffing the day before and refrigerating it (none in the bird). It takes a lot of stress off for the big day. Also, see my thread about make-ahead gravy (for next year, of course, because you just wouldn’t listen, would you).

Mashed potatoes: unless you are sure of the outcome, I wouldn’t advise whipping them. Use a masher or a ricer to prevent gluey spuds, and add a small amount of warmed milk when mixing.

Target and Walmart both carry them.

w00t! I found one at Lowe’s. (Alas, we don’t have a Target, and there’s no way I’m setting foot in Walmart the day before Thanksgiving!)

I listened! We celebrated Thanksgiving last weekend, and I had done the gravy the weekend before and froze the results. What a difference to the stress level on the big day!

My tip from this year: it bugged the crap out of me to time everything just right and get it all onto the table at one time, and then to feel it cooling off as the turkey was presented and the words spoken. This year, we set out the cranberry sauce and the salad while the rest stayed in the kitchen, nice and warm. After everyone marveled over the beauty of the bird and we said grace together, we left the company to start in on the salad while my husband carved the turkey and I dished out the side dishes and brought them out. Everything was served while hot, and all work was done before I sat down to enjoy a hot meal myself.

Yes! Yes! Yes! This is so important it can’t be overstated. Restaurants do it, and since you will in effect be running a one day restaurant, take a page from them.

It carries over to everyday cooking too. I cook once a week for the whole week, and this makes it so much easier I can’t even begin to imagine how I did it before. Peel, slice, chop, before you even turn on the stove.

I don’t quite get the stress of this. Making the stuffing is my favorite part of the day. I find it relaxing.

Make that second favorite. Eating the stuffing is my favorite part.

To accurately/easily measure honey, molasses, corn syrup, etc first spray the measuring spoon/cup with PAM (type) cooking spray.

It’s not stressful for me, but it cuts down on what I need to do on T-day. Some people stress out because of family coming, etc., and the less work the better. I don’t even stress about gravy, as I know what I’m doing, but for some folks it’s tantamount to climbing Everest.

Wonder measure!!

I love that it’s on thinkgeek ! :slight_smile:

Wow. A town too small for a Target? I remember when there were towns too small for a Walmart, but that was in the late 80s. :slight_smile:

I can see that. For me it depends on how many guests I have, when we’re eating, and what time I get up. One year I toasted the bread, cut it up, and added the herbs the night before. That saved a good bit of time. I could have saved even more by cutting up the aromatics as well. But I wouldn’t dream of mixing wet and dry ingredients until the last minute. I guess I have an irrational fear that if I do so, all sorts of horrible things will happen.

Very cool! We have a device that is very similar. Unfortunately, it is used exclusively for my gf’s horse’s meds.