I love hosting Thanksgiving. I love cooking the food, having friends over, and eating and drinking all day.
But Thanksgiving week used to be my least favorite week to work as a personal chef.
Grocery stores are a nightmare: the parking lots are full, everyone is frantic, the lines are long and I want to kick people.
Over the years, I have become smarter about planning Thanksgiving.
If you find hosting Thanksgiving to be stressful, read on. It doesn’t have to be.
Here are my best tips for making Thanksgiving a day that’s about family, friends, eating, drinking, and having fun – without all the added stress of cooking the day of.
1. Plan your menu. Seriously.
This is a day when people love to get ambitious in the kitchen.
More cooking = more stress.
Do you need 18 sides? Does anyone even like cranberry sauce? Why not stick to the stuff you actually eat? If you don’t even like turkey, why cook it? It’s cool not to stick to traditions. I don’t love turkey but I do like the smell of it roasting in the oven, and the ritual of cooking it every year. There is something comforting about this to me, even though I’m not a traditions person at all.
My menu looks like this:
- Turkey with Mustard-Wine Gravy (no smoking, but using the dry brining method. you should too. it’s the easiest thing ever and WAY less work than brining with the same results.)
- Sage Brown Butter Sweet Potato Casserole (recipe below)
- Sausage, Red Pepper and Fennel Stuffing
- Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
- Pumpkin Pie Custard
2. MAKE A LIST AND SHOP THE WEEK BEFORE
Not the weekend before. You want to remain stress free. Avoiding grocery stores is the #1 thing you can do to achieve this.
But your turkey, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, herbs, etc – these will keep in the fridge stored properly for a whole week, especially if you can get your brussels sprouts on the stalk.
Here’s my list:
- Turkey, 10-12 pounds
- 1 pound Spicy Italian Sausage
- Bacon, 1 pound
- Sweet Potatoes, 8
- Brussels Sprouts
- Red peppers, 1
- Fennel, 2
- Onions, 2-3
- Shallots, 2-3
- Cremini mushrooms, 8oz
- White wine
- Small bag pecans
- Sourdough bread (gluten-free would work fine) (place in plastic ziploc and freeze if shopping ahead.)
- Chicken broth
- Canned Pumpkin
- Butter, 2 pounds
- Coconut milk
- Panko breadcrumbs
I already have coconut sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, dijon. I will omit the parm cheese from the stuffing recipe and use sage instead of rosemary so that I don’t have to double up on it.
Maybe you get some crackers, cheese, olives, etc as appetizers or make some kind of fun dip – but don’t go crazy with this. Keeping it simple is key.
3. MAKE A TO-DO LIST FOR YOUR STAGGERED PREP
- Dry brine turkey (this means, season it with some salt and pepper. That’s it.) If I was making a veggie Thanksgiving, I would probably do something like this lentil loaf.
- If you are making cranberry sauce, this is the time to do it
- Bake sweet potatoes, mash w sage brown butter, coconut sugar and cinnamon, place in casserole pan (if you don’t like sweet potatoes, this make ahead mashed potatoes are a great idea)
- Cut your brussels sprouts in half, chop the bacon, place in the fridge in separate containers
- Make turkey broth with giblets if you are doing this. Make your gravy.
- Make stuffing: cook sausage + veggies, dice and toast bread cubes, store in the fridge so that it’s ready to assemble on Thursday
- Make the pumpkin custards (or pie, if you wish.) Don’t leave this to Thursday! Making pie in a crunch sucks!
- Roast brussels sprouts with bacon
- Set the table (this also sucks to do the day of)
- Take the turkey out when you wake up – needs to come to room temp before cooking
- Bake the turkey (don’t overbake, please. no more than 20 minutes per pound. people cook the shit out of turkeys and that’s why they are dry.) Take a cutting board out and a serving platter for when it comes out. When it’s cooked, make sure to give it 30-40 minutes to rest before carving. This is seriously important.)
- Assemble your stuffing – sausage, bread cubes, broth, place in a casserole pan. Bake when the turkey is close to being done.
- Bake sweet potatoes when the turkey is cooling so that they are piping hot.
On the stovetop, right before dinner, you should have:
- Gravy reheating in a small saucepan, gravy boat next to it so you can easily pour.
- Brussels sprouts re-heating in a saute pan (or use the microwave)
- Your counters should be fairly clean because you’ve been prepping all week.
- Set the turkey, veg, casseroles, on the counter and let people serve themselves. Keep the gravy and cranberry sauce on the table.
Thanksgiving would suck if you tried to make this all in one day. Especially if you are not a chef.
A little planning will go a LONG way into making this day enjoyable.
Oh, and here’s the most delicious sweet potato casserole recipe I was talking about. Sage brown butter is everything.
- 8 Sweet Potatoes
- 10-12 sage leaves
- 1 stick butter (It's thanksgiving, go crazy)
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/2 cup milk, cream, or coconut milk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
- 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (or gluten-free)
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (this is optional, i like the savory note it adds)
- 2 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
- Score your sweet potatoes with a knife and bake for 75 minutes at 375.
- In a small saucepan, heat the butter and sage on medium heat until the butter turns brown, 3-4 minutes.
- Place the cooked sweet potatoes, brown butter, coconut sugar, milk, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. You can also use an immersion blender here.
- Scoop the sweet potatoes in a casserole dish.
- For the topping, place all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Scatter evenly on the sweet potatoes.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375.
I hope you have happy, stress-free, and delicious Thanksgiving. I personally cannot wait to cook and eat allll of the food and celebrate with everyone!