Saturday, November 5, 2011

How-To: Stress Less over Thanksgiving Dinner

Holiday dinners can be a daunting concept to a home cook. Last year, I undertook the task of making my small family of four's Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment. In the end it turned out well, but I came away with some lessons learned for this year's dinner.

1. Create a menu
The first thing I do when I go to plan a holiday dinner is search out the holiday editions of Cooking Light for the last couple of years. They have great dinner menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've had great success for the last couple of years doing that, so they're the first place I turn to. In fact, this year's menu is mostly from the 2011 Holiday issue of Cooking Light.  In lieu of that, you could always establish a list of basic dishes that you want to serve and then search for recipes online.

2. Print copies of all recipes.
Once I have all of my recipes selected, I make sure I get printed copies of them. It's much easier to find a recipe when it's on its own piece of paper, instead of having to flip through the magazine to find it. It also allows you to take recipe specific notes on it.

3. Read the recipes thoroughly to make a shopping list
Start by reading through the recipes and writing down everything the recipe requires, regardless of whether or not you have it in your pantry. I also like to write down the quantity needed next to each item, since I often have recipes that require the same ingredient. Once I've finished creating my list, I take it into the kitchen and start comparing it to what I have in my pantry.  The worst thing that can happen on the dinner day is to find out you don't have enough of an ingredient you need.

5. Reread the recipes and assess them for total time to make.
After the shopping list is compiled, it's time to sit down and reread the recipes again. As I go through each recipe, I make a list of discrete tasks that each recipe requires. Over the last couple of years, I've found that the prep times listed on recipes are not to be trusted. Each recipe almost always takes longer than it says it will. This step also helps me figure out what prep work can be done in the days leading up to the dinner gathering. At this point, I usually type up a 72-hour game plan checklist. Much of my prep work (cubing and toasting bread for stuffing, chopping vegetables) is done in the days before the dinner. I absolutely hate doing excessive amounts of prep work the day of the dinner, because it's stressful and there's often no time.

5. Do your homework.
Equipped with a shopping list and 72 hour-game plan, the days leading up to the event should be a breeze so long as the checklist is followed.

6. Take a tip from line cooks.
You know how line cooks at restaurants always have their orders in front of them? Use that strategy and find a spot to put all of the recipes so that they are easily located and readable.

What are your best holiday meal planning tips? Let me know in a comment down below! :)