The U.S. Thanksgiving celebration is a week and a half away, and I’m extra thankful this year because not only will my son be home from university for almost a week, but he is also bringing two of his friends to stay with our family.
Both of our guests are from far out of state, making a trip home a time-consuming and costly proposition for them for less than a week’s visit. I know I would be sad if my son couldn’t make it home and would want another family to “adopt” him and give him a warm and happy celebration, so I am honored to fill in as Thanksgiving Mom for these two young men. All three of the young men (I am trying to remember not to refer to them as “the boys”) have younger sisters, so they have been very kind to include my daughter in their plans for outings and excessive video-game-playing.
We’ll have Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents’ house, then I will be hosting the Thanksgiving meal for my husband’s side of the family on the day after Thanksgiving. Both sides of the family pitch in food and since I will be have two extra young-man-sized appetites to take care of, I am already in full-on food preparation mode. I don’t want to have to do the stress-rush thing at the last minute.
In case you’re hosting Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time, or perhaps hosting house guests, I thought I’d share some of my preparations in case it might give you some ideas to lighten your load. Let’s start with the star of the show…
Turkeys tend to go on sale at this time of the year, and I like to purchase not only what we’ll need for Thanksgiving and Christmas but also some extras to cook throughout the year. I keep my turkeys in our large upright freezer and thaw & cook them as needed. Turkey meat purchased on sale at this time of year is some of the least expensive meat I can get for the family, and thankfully we all like it!
The problem with cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is the amount of time and space it hogs in the oven, making it difficult to cook or reheat other dishes. My maternal grandmother always used a separate turkey roaster (like this one) for “the bird” and I purchased one for myself many years ago. It’s been a great investment not only for turkey but also for other roasts and large batches of stew to feed a crowd.
We also enjoy having deep fried turkey sometimes, and my husband is a first-rate turkey fry guy! We were gifted the equipment several years ago and used it to fry multiple turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners at the church we served previously. (Fried turkey is less common in the suburbs where we used to live than it is in the small community we now serve.) My entire family loves fried turkey, so we’re excited to have it at our family party this year.
If you’ve never fried a turkey, I strongly advise getting some experienced help the first time you try it. Turkey fryers can be dangerous if used improperly, so make sure you understand the flash point of your oil, that you properly thaw and dry your bird, that you use the proper amount of oil to avoid boil-over, and that you follow safety precautions.
We don’t usually have ham at Thanksgiving, but this year we’re having one at each celebration to accommodate the preferences and appetites of our guests. I’ll cook both hams in the slow cooker to avoid drying them out and to save oven space for other things.
Both mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole can be made ahead and cooked or warmed up the day of the big meal. I learned to make both about twenty years ago from the ladies at “30 Day Gourmet” but there are recipes galore if you do a quick internet search. Keeping the turkey and ham out of the oven allows me to cook the potatoes on Thanksgiving Day.
I’ve already sung the praises of 30 Minute Yeast Rolls (that actually take more like an hour, but whatever). I’ll be making multiple batches to have in the freezer for our various meals.
Did you know that cakes can be baked and frosted ahead, frozen, and then thawed before serving? A quick perusal of the freezer case at the grocery store will tell you it’s true. I already baked my father’s chocolate cake recipe in a disposable 9″ x 13″ pan, frosted it, wrapped it, and stashed it in the freezer. It’s not for Thanksgiving dinner, just something to have on hand to feed the boys…er, young men. I’m also planning to bake some cookies to freeze for enjoyment over break and have stashed the makings of real food cheesecake parfaits in my fridge.
Setting the Table
Over the couple of decades that I’ve been a pastor’s wife I have managed to collect some basic table ware that can be adapted to various occasions. For the meal I’m hosting this year I’ll use glass plates, iced tea glasses, cloth napkins, a table cloth, and basic flatware that I already own. About the only thing I need to make is the centerpiece, and I’ll do that using vases I own, candles, and natural elements. I’ll probably set the dining room table for our Friday meal before we head out for Thanksgiving day so I can come back and just focus on the last-minute food.
When the kids were younger I skipped the glass dishes and used disposables, also known as non-breakables! A festive plastic table cover, a paper turkey centerpiece, and disposable table service made it less stressful when there were little people at the table. If you go the disposable route, have a permanent marker on hand to put names on cups so you can return lost beverages to their owners and avoid wasting cups.
Boys Young Men
This is where having a well socked pantry pays off! I already have a crowd-sized batch of taco filling in the freezer and have browned & frozen some meat that will be ready to make pasta sauce or taco joes in a hurry. I have a casserole on standby in the freezer as well. And I have ricotta cheese that I purchased on clearance so I can make lasagna. I don’t want to have to interrupt my last-minute Thanksgiving preparations or dirty up a lot of extra dishes to make our regular meals, so cooking ahead is sure to save time and my sanity!
I hope this gives you some good ideas for ways you can get ahead on Thanksgiving Dinner preparations and spend more time with your family and friends over the holiday. What suggestions would you add to my list?
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