Thanksgiving (and Christmas!) is right around the corner and that means it's time for big dinners with all of the makings. I love hosting big dinners. Love, love, love it. It's crazy -- and I get a bit crazy the day of -- but I love to cook everything and I love the dance of getting everything cooked and ready at the same time. It's like a little bit of magic happened.
Magic takes work, though. Let me rephrase that: Magic takes planning. If you spend some time the week before your dinner preparing as much as you can, when it's time to eat you can sit down and ... eat. You can visit with your guests and eat dinner and put your feet up. That right there is proof that planning = magic.
Here's how I attack Thanksgiving (and Christmas)(and Easter) dinner:
Seven days before the dinner
Map out your entire menu. If people are contributing sides and such, write them down. For everything that you are cooking and preparing, write down each dish, then write down every ingredient you need underneath that dish title.
Go through your pantry and determine what you have and what you need.
Take your comprehensive list, and write it again, in the order that you would shop in the grocery store. (You call me crazy, I call me organized. Potatoes, potahtoes.)(I do this for my weekly big grocery shops. Those five minutes of organizing my list saves me at least twenty in the store. WIN.)
If you want a fresh turkey, make sure to book one.
Four days before the dinner
Take your turkey out of the freezer, if you have a frozen bird.
Two to Three days before the dinner
It's time to hit the grocery store(s)! You could wait until the day before, but why would you? Nobody needs that kid of torture.
You have your (very) detailed list in hand. Don't forget the cranberry sauce! (I often do, because I hate it and forget to include it.) Think of beverage options as well. Juice? Beer? Wine? Bailey's? Get everything while you can.
The day before the dinner
Wash and chop any vegetables.
Peel your potatoes and/or turnips and leave them in pots of water on the stove.
Prepare any casseroles that can be made ahead of time and place them in the refrigerator.
Get any desserts prepared and ready.
Prepare the stuffing if you have a recipe like I do that makes it a possibility.
Place all canned goods and other non-perishables on the counter so they are handy for the next day.
The day of the dinner
Make yourself a large pot of coffee.
Prepare your bird, and make the stuffing if you haven't done so yet. Stuff your bird and put it in to cook 4-5 hours before the dinner, depending on the size. We have a counter-top turkey roaster and it's one of the best investments I've ever made. My oven is free for me to cook anything and everything because the turkey isn't taking up all of the real estate.
Make any sides that need to be made the day of the dinner, and time them for when you want dinner to be served.
Get your coffee maker ready for the dessert hour, even though it seems a million miles away. Make a coffee station if you can -- mugs and sugar and spoons and everything you would be rustling around in the cupboard for after dinner.
Set the table with everything you think will be needed. I will sit down and imagine the dinner and what I would reach for. Salt and pepper, gravy boat, etc. I also think of how many side dishes will be happening and will make sure that there is a plethora of serving spoons on hand.
In those last moments when everything is coming up and ready, make sure that you have delegated ahead of time. My Father-In-Law is great with gravy, so that's his job. My husband is in charge of carving the turkey. Other family members jump in to pull items out of the oven and bring them to the table and it always (always) comes together.
And then I sit with everyone and enjoy a feast. Following the feast, I sit with the women in my family and share stories and laughs while the men clean up the kitchen.
That's how you do it.