Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away and like most people, I’ve already started to prepare for this massive food and eating holiday! Every year I look forward to Thanksgiving. It’s my all time FAVORITE food holiday because of the endless things you can cook and bake. I remember the first Thanksgiving I cooked for was back in college. My sorority did a joint dinner party with the fraternity next door. Since I had some experience with helping my mom prepare Thanksgiving dinner (we hosted many parties and my mom always made a huge Thanksgiving spread), it was decided that we would need 5 turkeys to feed all the hungry mouths and I added a ham as another option to the turkey. One turkey was roasted by my sorority sister, Jenn, that turned out a beautiful golden brown. I decided to roast the rest and the one ham at my off campus apartment. It was a long 2 days of brining the turkeys and preparing some side dishes. I don’t think I slept much the night before, but it was all worth it…the dinner party turned out to be an amazing success with a smorgish-board of things to pig out on!
Prepping for Thanksgiving dinner is much easier these days since I only cook one turkey (or 2 turkey breasts) and one ham (unless I am catering for clients). But I still start prepping for it as soon as it turns November on the calendar. I usually start by writing down ideas for different menu options. I never want to make the exact same thing as the year before, but I still want to keep the classics, adding my own twist. And depending on if I have any Vegans or Vegetarians at Thanksgiving dinner, I always make an all Vegan menu option as well.
So for today’s post, here is how I start planning for my dinner menu.
Step 1: Outline – breaking down the selection of ideas.
1. Cocktails & Apéritif
- red wine
- white wine
- holiday themed cocktail
2. Hor d’oeuvres
- vegetarian/vegan option
6. Main Course
- vegetarian/vegan option
7. Vegetable Side Dishes
8. Carb Side Dishes
11. Digestifs , Coffee, and Tea Selection
By breaking down my menu into the above sections, I can easily gather ideas and put them in their correct place. Also, depending on how many guests I am entertaining (or my clients are entertaining), I am able to see where I can add more dish options to a section or take out a section if it is an intimate dinner party with fewer guests. This is a great way to help you start planning your dinner party if you have never hosted one before. It takes a lot of the stress out of choosing which dishes to cook by placing all the dishes you’ve selected for your menu ideas in front of you.
Step 2: Choosing dish selections.
I always consider this step of my process the most fun! It’s where I get to show my creativity in the kitchen with new ideas or twists on classics. If you have a family recipe that’s been handed down to you, you should make the original version and also an “updated version” of the family recipe. This makes the recipe your own and adds your signature to not only the dish, but still keeps the “tradition” of Thanksgiving dinner, family, at the forefront. When choosing dishes to put down in your outline, make sure they are all things you can make and won’t stress you out. If you have family or friends coming over earlier in the day, give them a dish to make (recipe included) or ask them to make their variation of the dish at their home and bring it to the dinner party.
Step 3: Narrowing down your dish ideas to create a Menu.
Once you know how many guests your are entertaining, you can start to narrow down your dish ideas to create your Thanksgiving Menu. For me, I always cook for my company. If I know my guests personally, I usually know what they like and don’t like (or what guests may have food allergies). This is a good way to help you cross out dish ideas on your outline. For example, I know a guest of mine is lactose intolerant and a few of my soup options call for milk or cream, I will opt out of those ideas. Instead I will choose to make a soup that has vegetable stock base and no cream. Since I will be only making one soup, I want all my guests to be able to enjoy it. Other sections on my outline calls for me making more than one dish for that section, so I can always have a milk or cream dish in that section and not feel as if I’ve compromised my ideas.
If you are having your guests arrive earlier in the day (say around 11am or noon) to help out with the cooking or to come over and enjoy some Thanksgiving Day football, it’s a good bet to have the hor d’oeuvres section on your menu be a fruit and cheese basket with mixed spiced nuts and cocktail crackers, as well as Mediterranean olives and vegetable crudites platter with dips. Noshing on these things won’t fill up your guests, but will satiate their hunger till dinner is ready. You can also choose to have chilled shrimp platter with fresh cocktail sauce, mini crab-cake balls, or sausage stuffed mushrooms for guests (like the men) that just can’t do without some sort of meat during the day. These options are still light enough to have so your guests won’t be full when they sit down to dinner and their stomachs won’t be rumbling in embarrassment.
Step 4: Menu and Notice
Once you set your menu, look at what you want your guests to make if any at home or help out with during Thanksgiving day. Email them in advance the set menu and and again, send them the recipe you would like them to make at home with a short note to make it their own, or notify guests to arrive early so that they can help in the cooking festivities for that day.
This research and prepping should all take about a week or less to do. By the end of the week, once your email (or phone call) has been sent out to your guests, you can relax for another week before the real craziness starts…shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner party menu!
Note: Please visit me tomorrow to read more about ideas for shopping for your Thanksgiving Menu!
“Eating is Believing!”