Hi friends! How many of you are hosting Thanksgiving this year? Alan and I host about every other year, and I have at long last figured out how to host Thanksgiving without losing my mind and actually enjoy the day. With two tiny humans running around! The key is a Simple Thanksgiving Menu and doing EVERYTHING possible in advance.
My childhood Thanksgiving memories are of tables filled with so many dishes, there was hardly enough room for the dinner plates. Probably 20 different dishes. Nope, not doing it. I par this waaaay down.
That being said, I understand that Thanksgiving sides are basically your childhood memories served up in a baking dish. So, if there is a special dish one of my loved ones just must have for Thanksgiving, they are always welcome to add to it the table. Case in point- Alan and all his siblings would revolt if the table was missing their mom’s corn casserole, so she is always kind enough to bring it.
I like to do a cheese and charcuterie board in lieu of traditional appetizers. It doesn’t have to be huge- you are about to have a full on Thanksgiving feast, after all. But it can be assembled ahead of time and easily adapted to the size of your crowd. For a guide on assembling the perfect cheese board- you can see the post on our Thanksgiving Cheese Board here.
For many years, Alan and I swore off turkey. The year we got married, I roasted a turkey. I had just turned 30, cooking was my thing, and I figured turkey was something I should have in my arsenal. It was a success- beautifully golden brown, juicy, but still, meh on flavor. Our Thanksgiving proteins since have varied between duck, cornish game hens and beef tenderloin. Until last year when I made Bon Appetit’s latest roast turkey recipe. This is the protein that will live in my children’s Thanksgiving memories. Because I will roast a turkey with this easy, sugar/salt dry brine every year, forever. Hands down, most juicy, most flavorful turkey ever. There are exactly one gazillion turkey recipes out there. This is the best. You are welcome. Here is the link.
Photo Credit: Bon Appetit
Let’s be honest, people are there for the sides. Personally, I am 100% there for the dressing. It took me a few years to figure out a winning recipe that I was in love with. But my Ciabatta Herb Dressing is the one I will make every year for eternity. It’s so rich and herbaceous and we cook in a cast iron skillet, so it gets these gorgeous caramelized edges. And the sturdier structure of the Ciabatta bread gives it a fantastic texture. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
The green bean casserole. The constant of the Thanksgiving table. But is there maybe a better version than the one with condensed soup and canned green beans? Yes, my friend, yes there is. And this is it. A creamy homemade mushroom sauce bursting with flavor, fresh green beans and topped with these CRISPY FRIED SHALLOTS!!!! Here is the link to our version of Green Bean Casserole.
I know, I know, sweet potatoes are mandatory- but they aren’t my favorite. Although now that I have kids, I have a twinge of guilt that they are not getting the ones topped with marshmallows. My six year old’s eyes would light up at the sight- so I MIGHT do a small dish of the traditional ones. But the grown ups are getting this Roast Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese and Thyme.
I will make a double batch of this Cranberry Chipotle Chutney and use a small portion as an accoutrement for the cheese board and serve the rest with dinner.
I’ll round out the menu with a simple green salad with a bright, acidic vinaigrette. And also Pilsbury Crescent Rolls, because for my darling husband, it would not be Thanksgiving without them. Desserts I will either delegate or purchase. Every host’s dirty little secret is that they didn’t cook EVERYTHING.
I’ll put out two wines – light ones, nobody wants to deal with the proverbial Drunk Uncle. Check the alcohol content and choose something 13.5% or lower. I like a French Beaujolais for red and a Sav Blanc or Pinot Gris for white. You need something light and acidic to balance out this heavy Thanksgiving feast. When people ask what they can bring- wine is a great answer!
This is not a comprehensive or perfect schedule, but these are the tips I have picked up over the last decade that make Thanksgiving Day enjoyable. Feel free to delegate a few of the dishes or put your house guests to work.
Purchase pre-chopped veggies whenever possible if the quality is good. Pre-chopped onions and butternut squash and pre-peeled garlic save A LOT of prep work time.
One week before
- Inventory your pantry and fridge. Also, clean out your fridge. You are going to need fridge space for all your make ahead dishes.
- Make sure you have all the serving pieces, linens and wine glasses on hand. If you are expecting ten guests and realize you only have eight wine glasses… “Add to Cart”
- Print out all your recipes and make two lists. One for non perishables and one for everything else.
- Shop for ALL non-perishables. Print out your recipes and check your list twice. Don’t forget to stock up on things like paper towels, dish soap, aluminum foil, saran wrap, parchment paper and the like. Also make sure you have to-go containers for folks. Curbside pick up or grocery delivery for bonus points!
- If you need to prepare any guest rooms- do that now
Three days before
- Shop for all remaining ingredients. I now add extra olive oil and whipping cream to the list. I always seem to send someone to the store for more darned olive oil or whipping cream. Maybe I’ve decided at the last minute to make homemade butter or my mom wants homemade whip cream for the pies. Or I’m ready to make salad dressing and I’m down to two tablespoons of olive oil. Buy extra.
- Put turkey in fridge to thaw.
Two Days Before
- Brine Turkey. It needs a minimum of 12 hours, but it can go up to two days and the longer it brines, the more flavorful the bird.
- Make the Cranberry Chutney.
- Assemble Green Bean Casserole and Herb Ciabatta Dressing so they are ready to go in the oven the next day.
- Make the Butternut Squash. It can simply be reheated.
- Slice the shallots for the Crispy Fried Shallots. Store in plastic bag in fridge.
- Set the table
- Set out any other serving dishes you’ll need with post it notes for what they are for.
- Plan your oven/cooking schedule. Even if you have two ovens, this is important. Remember the turkey is going to need to rest at least 30 minutes and can rest up to an hour, so you can pop your sides in the oven when the turkey comes out.
- Enjoy a quiet cup of coffee all by yourself (most important)
- Wash and dry lettuces for salad. Do this early, so the greens are good and dry. Salad dressing slides right off wet lettuce leaves.
- Remove the turkey, the Ciabatta Dressing, the Green Bean Casserole, the Cranberry Chutney and the Butternut Squash from the fridge, and set out to come to room temperature.
- Make the Crispy Fried Shallots for Green Bean Casserole.
- Assemble the Cheese Board.
- Make Salad dressing (if making).
Here are all the printable recipes! Except the turkey. Bon Appetit does a great job of explaining the process so I’ll leave that to them.