Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many foodies, but it can also be an enormous source of stress. After all, you’re making a whole holiday smorgasbord from start to finish, and usually for far more people than you're used to serving. That said, there are a few Thanksgiving cooking hacks that can make your life easier – here are just a few of our favorites.
1. Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is definitely the number one cooking hack to make your Thanksgiving meal go off without a hitch. Start by making a menu about a week in advance and reducing any redundancies: you probably don’t need three sweet potato dishes or five pies. Whittle your list down to the actual dishes that will make it onto the table, then make a detailed shopping list accordingly.
Once you get your groceries home, make life easier for yourself. Organize your fridge based on what is going into which dish, so that it's easy to reach for the right ingredients. And the day before, you can even do a bit more prep.
“I like to cut and prep all my veggies and herbs the day before and then store them in zip lock bags to maximize refrigerator space,” notes Tricia Williams, executive chef and founder of Food Matters NYC. If you have reusable glass mason jars that you can use, that’s even better.
2. Use Shortcuts
Shortcuts might sound like a recipe for disaster, especially on Thanksgiving, but they can actually be your saving grace.
Williams recommends using store-bought pesto to add a bit of zing to your vegetable dishes. “If you wanted to roast root veggies, such as spaghetti squash, you can give them a quick toss in pesto to liven up your holiday meal,” she says.
Another great shortcut that American expat in Lebanon Amy E. Robertson of Gardenias in Beirut swears by is the two-hour turkey, a technique she she discovered through her parents' Safeway brand turkey, which came with the recipe.
“The short of it is that you roast the turkey without stuffing at a really high heat, so it takes only two hours (or even less, depending on the size),” she says. “It is brushed with olive oil, so it was also perfect for my dairy-sensitive daughter.”
While Robertson notes that stuffing baked in a casserole dish isn’t as tasty as stuffing cooked in the bird, “That difference is minor if you add enough drippings/butter, and the difference in my day is HUGE.”
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3. Outsource When Needed
Contrary to what your grandmother might have told you, you don’t need to make everything from scratch, so long as you use reputable sources.
Bob’s Red Mill makes a mean cornbread muffin mix, and Whole Foods Market carries everything from pre-made pie shells (including vegan and whole wheat options) to organic stuffing mix.
Whole Foods also makes it easy to buy some elements of your meal already prepared and ready to serve: if you’re a master turkey roaster but not much of a baker, you can buy your pies (vegan ones are available) right from the catering section of the store. If, meanwhile, your pies have won awards, but you’re worried you won’t be able to make all of the sides you want to serve, Whole Foods sells cranberry relish, vegan maple sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, and even a whole roasted turkey.
Thrive Market is another great resource for shortcuts: from mixes for making organic, vegan gravies to a delicious maple poultry glaze to brine bags and mix, this online resource is a go-to for all things Thanksgiving.
4. Ask for Help
Even if you’re hosting Thanksgiving, there’s no reason you should have to do everything on your own.
Have a friend who loves mixing drinks? Ask her to create a token Thanksgiving cocktail for the party. If your brother-in-law is just dying to help out but isn’t too confident in the kitchen, have him assemble some simple hors d’oeuvres.
Most people are thrilled to bring something or participate in some way, and allowing your friends and family to help out with the meal can bring you even closer together at the holidays – and it gives you one more thing to be thankful for.
5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
You burned the Parker house rolls. The salad somehow never made it out of the kitchen. Your niece and nephew found the bowl of whipped cream you planned to serve with the pumpkin pie and turned it into their appetizer.
Whatever unforeseen circumstances may arise when you're planning and serving your Thanksgiving meal, a zen attitude is the best one to adopt. There's no reason you need to buy into Hollywood's portrait of Thanksgiving as one huge family argument. Brush off any mishaps, and enjoy the time you can spend with your friends and family -- that's the most important thing, after all.
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