My girlfriend and I are hosting our first ever real Thanksgiving dinner as a couple on Thursday, and I’m feeling more than a little overwhelmed. I love to cook, but mostly eat vegetarian, and the idea of making a huge, multi course, meat centered meal for a bunch of people I want to impress is FREAKING ME OUT! I’ve bought all the ingredients, and have some basic ideas of what I’m making (sweet potatoes, turkey, brussels sprouts, the usual suspects), but I’m hoping you could give me a timeline. When do I make what? How do I make sure everything isn’t freezing cold/has to cook at the same time? If you have any knockout Thanksgiving recipes to seal the deal, that would be awesome as well. Basically what I want to know is if you have any tips for fooling people into thinking I’m a competent adult.
Almost a Grownup
Fooling people into thinking you’re a competent adult is pretty easy. There are many signifiers of grownuphood, including having a job, a relationship, a dentist, an apartment you pay for yourself, or even just a professed interest in serialized television dramas. It looks like you’ve got at least one of these things covered, so I wouldn’t worry about being judged by a group of people who are probably just as uncertain about their own competency as you are—on a holiday where it is considered totally socially acceptable to eat canned green beans, no less. I remember my first solo hosted thanksgiving, when I tried to make dinner for 25 people in a tiny apartment where the kitchen equipment was limited to a toaster oven and a hot plate. I couldn’t find any of the ingredients, and didn’t start cooking until way too late in the day. We ate at 10 p.m. Everything was cold. Half of it was over or undercooked. But there was pie, so everyone was overjoyed anyway. Have pie, and you’ll do fine.
But none of this answers your question. Fortunately for you, the takeaway of my first failed Thanksgiving (aside from the healing properties of pie) is that having a clear-cut schedule can prevent even the most egregious culinary snafus. So, I now present to you the first official Ask a Glutton guide to Thanksgiving (or any big holiday meal, really). I’m assuming for the purposes of this exercise that your menu, in addition to the aforementioned sweet potatoes, turkey, and Brussels sprouts, also features the usual holiday standbys of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, rolls, and some kind of pie. You should obviously feel free to add and subtract the actual contents of your menu.
WEDNESDAY (THIS IS TODAY. STAY CALM. YOU GOT THIS.)
The night before thanksgiving is all about getting your prep work done in the most relaxed possible atmosphere. Put on some jams (I recommend Robyn, for obvious getting pumped reasons) and clean the parts of your house your snoopy guests will actually be looking at. Set the table, if you want. Assemble the sweet potato casserole and prebake, make the pies (this Martha Stewart maple pumpkin pie is completely amazing, although you should probably leave off the tiny piecrust leaf on top to preserve your sanity—I love you Martha, but I can’t BE you!—and Alice Water’s crazy simple apple tart with salted apple caramel glaze is ridiculously delicious). If you’re making your own rolls, make sure the dough is on its second rise in the fridge before you go to bed. Keep up the jams and drink lots of delicious wine. Eat some snacks. Brine the turkey, if you’re doing that. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
THURSDAY (THIS IS TOMORROW. YOU STILL GOT THIS.)
When you wake up Thursday morning, pull the rolls out so the dough can warm up and continue rising before its time to pop it in the oven. Depending on the size of your turkey, this’ll probably take about three hours. While it’s in there, make the cranberry sauce, and boil the potatoes you’re going to mash. In the last hour of cooking, you can put the Brussels sprouts in under the turkey, if you’re roasting them (which I hope you are, roasted brussels sprouts are my anti-drug). Otherwise, just cook them at the same time on the stovetop. Mash the potatoes during the final hour of roasting, and keep them covered so they’ll be warmed for when you’re ready for them.
It’s a good idea to get as many people involved in the business of Thanksgiving prep work as you feel comfortable cluttering up your kitchen with. People like helping! It helps things go faster, and makes it more fun. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have a kitchen assistant/drinking buddy on hand to help relax you; I find that there’s less pressure to be perfect when there’s a friend or trusted relation around to help do some of the heavy lifting.
When you pull the turkey out of the oven, tent it in foil and let it rest for 15 minutes, during which time you can cook the rolls and warm up the sweet potato casserole (now’s the time to add marshmallows, if you’re so inclined.) When the timer goes off, bring everything out into the dining room. You can turn off the oven and put the pies in there to warm up in the residual heat if you like. But you can always worry about the pies later; it’s time to eat!
Oh, and if all else fails? Order a pizza and play Bingo.
Previously: I'm Through With Eggs
Photo via liquene/flickr.