2016 Thanksgiving Menu and Planning Tips

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Thanksgiving is almost here! It's just a short nine days away! Are you ready?

At this point, and especially after 2013, I feel as though I'm an old pro when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving. No longer do I have nightmares about under-cooked turkey or wake up in a cold sweat if I forgot to pick up ingredients at the store.


It all starts with setting a menu, which I do a few weeks in advance. That way I can change and edit if it needed, see what my guests what to bring and then also begin purchasing non-perishable items well in advance to keep the week-of grocery bill below astronomical proportions.


2016 Thanksgiving Menu 
The bolded items are what family members are bringing

APPETIZERS:
deviled eggs
Italian skewers
sausage balls with cranberry dipping sauce

MAIN AND SIDES:
turkey - whole
turkey breast 
gravy
maple dijon green beans
bourbon sweet potato casserole
apple cinnamon cranberry sauce
rosemary dinner rolls
cucumbers and onions in vinegar
corn and lima beans
sauerkraut and kielbasa
bacon mac and cheese
cornbread

DESSERTS:
slab apple pie
pumpkin pie
vanilla ice cream
whipped cream

Nearly everyone prefers the white meat of the turkey. In previous years we've purchased monstrously large birds, but to save ourselves that hassle, we decided to purchase a 12-14 pounds bird and then a separate turkey breast. My aunt will cook the turkey and I will do the breast.

 After the menu, I start thinking about seating, serving dishes and preparation.

Seating:
I've invited over 20 people this year, which might seem insane to some, especially because I live in an apartment, but we've made it work before and we'll make it work again. Currently, I have 14 adults and 1 baby as confirmed guests. Besides, the most important part of Thanksgiving is being with family (and/or friends) and enjoying the food, even if we're a little smushed together.

For years I've been dreaming of a new dining room table and last weekend we purchased one that has two removable leaves. At it's largest it seats 8 people. We're going to keep our old table and move it into the sun-room, which means we'll have seating for 12. Luckily my family doesn't mind eating while sitting on the couch.

Serving Dishes:
As tacky as it might seem to some, we also enjoy our Thanksgiving feast on heavy-duty paper plates. One day, when I have a house big enough to seat everyone at tables we're going to eat on real plates.

About 3 weeks before, I print out copies of the recipes I'm making, even if I've made it 10,000 times. I make a first list which includes every single ingredient (even if I have it in the pantry) and the quantity. The second go-round of the list takes off anything I have (ex. flour, spices, sugar, etc.) and combines quantities together so I can see that I'll need 2 pounds of butter and 1 gallon of milk or something similar.

Over the years I've amassed a decent collection of serving dishes so I'll pull them all out and mentally determine which recipes will go into what. If there is anything I need to replace (think cracked dish) I'll add it to a list and pick it up during a Home Goods/Target/Marshall's trip. The new table purchase meant I needed a table runner and some other decor which was all added to a list.

Cleaning and Prep:
The printed copies of the recipe help me with preparation. The cranberry sauce and stuffing recipes I use allow for them to be made and frozen up to 1 week before. I make sure to purchase those ingredients in advance and make them the weekend before Thanksgiving.

I take off work the day before Thanksgiving to prep the food. If its your first time hosting or the first time you're going to have a lot of people, I highly advise this. The first year I hosted, I worked until 4:30, got home a little after five, made dinner and then started prepping. It was nearly midnight before I even pulled out the potatoes to peel. Don't do this!

Cleaning and prep/assembly go hand in hand. I have a carpet cleaning company scheduled before Thanksgiving and we have the apartment cleaned weekly.

Grocery Shopping and 1 Day Before: 
I grocery shop as early as possible. I mean that in terms of days for items that will keep in the fridge or pantry and also in terms of time, meaning I prefer to be leaving the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving by 9 am.

I always make desserts and dinner rolls first. Mainly because they usually require refrigeration or resting, but also because if they don't turn out you have time to remake them or run back out to the store for a prepared variety.

Bread and dessert is followed by any appetizers and side dishes that can be cooked and reheated or assembled. The stuffing and cranberry sauce are pulled from the freezer and thawed in the fridge. The mashed potato recipe above can be made entirely the day before and warmed up in the crock pot or partially made. I prefer partially made so the potatoes are peeled, diced and covered in salted water.

I'll set out all of the serving dishes we'll use as well as set up the tables and add decor. A quick cleaning will also occur, sweeping and moping the floors, wiping down the kitchen and bathroom counters, cleaning the toilets again and a vacuuming the living room and dining room.

I'm going to be really ambitious this year and plan to have all of my food prep work and cooking done by 5:00 pm so I can schedule a manicure for 5:30. Wish me luck!

Thanksgiving Day:
I tend to dawdle around on Thanksgiving morning. I'll pull out anything that needs to be reheated about 2 hours before guests arrive so it can get to room temperature before going back into the oven. I'll watch the Macy's Day Parade, shower and get ready and then about 30 minutes before guests are supposed to arrive I'll put out the appetizers and preheat the oven.

I live on the third floor so people plus the oven running all day means my apartment can quickly get to nearly 80 degrees. Regardless of the outdoor temperature, it's become habit to open the windows and turn on the air conditioning.

My cats are also not very social so I'll make sure that food, water and litter boxes are moved into our bedroom so they can hide in there until everyone leaves.

If you're curious to see how my plan goes in a more structured timeline, I'm going to write it all down and share it with you. Since I'll need day of posting, I won't share it with you until after the holiday (unless by some miracle I get everything done and have time to post before anyone shows up).



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