Thanksgiving Day minus the stress may sound like an impossible dream to those who equate the prospect of coordinating food, decorations and the social aspects of a large group dinner, but with a little organization and planning, even the host will have time to savor the family get-together. Anxiety over dinner logistics and serving up impeccable delectables in the perfect ambience of family harmony usually interferes with achieving any of the desired culinary or emotional results of a happy Thanksgiving get-together. However, do-aheads and shortcuts for those who do not relish long hours in the kitchen and struggle with cooking can save the holiday, the feast, relationships and the host’s sanity.
First rule, keep it simple. Instead of trying to impress guests with gourmet dishes, fabulous garnishes and elaborate decorations, stick to the tried and true recipes, cold or ready-to serve appetizers. Gary Lyons of the culinary arts program at Fox Valley Technical College reiterates the advice of many professionals in warning Thanksgiving cooks to save new recipes for another day. Avoid getting so caught up in striving for perfection and the wow factor that there is no time to simply enjoy the party and spend time with family and friends. Delegating parts of the meal, decorations and cleanup among the guests equals a potluck Thanksgiving minus the stress so the host can savor the family time rather than being overwhelmed with details.
The old adage says, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” Sarah Stegner, owner of the Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook on Chicago’s North Shore, stresses that timing equals success in pulling off Thanksgiving dinner and advocates having a game plan. Decide on the menu, compare the ingredients with what is in the kitchen already and make a shopping list for needed items. Shop early to avoid the stress of the last-minute rush. Organize a timeline for which items can be made ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated and which need to be made fresh on Thanksgiving Day.
Cranberry sauce, gravy, sauces, sweet potatoes, casseroles and pies can all be prepared ahead of the big day. The ingredients for stuffing can be prepped early as well, ready for stuffing the turkey on Thanksgiving morning. Some people even bake the turkey ahead of time and just slice it and warm it on Turkey Day. Assemble a simple appetizer tray the night before, such as cheeses, cold cuts, fresh veggies and dip. Be prepared to flex with the hiccups in any event plan though and do not let a missing ingredient or a cooking mishap spoil the enjoyment of the day.
The important thing to remember is that while Thanksgiving festivities minus food is incomprehensible, it is about more than overindulgence. Family time is more important than the perfect menu and decorations. Gratitude plus togetherness equals the order of the day and what family memories are made of, more than exquisite decorations and gourmet food at the expense of a harried and stressed host. People will savor the quality time they spend together long after the aftermath of the Thanksgiving feast is gone and forgotten.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image Courtesy of Mark Dollner – Flickr License