Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving Cooking Roadmap

I’m a one-day cook. Meaning, on the holidays, I tend to do everything that day. I don’t do a lot of prep. Not because I don’t like to, but even with an additional refrigerator and deep freezer, I often don’t have the space to cook that much food in advance. Plus, I tend to forget things if I do them too far ahead of time.

A few years back, I was hosting a particularly large gathering for the holidays. Sick and tired of stressing over last minute flubs, I decided to make a schedule for the day. I plotted out my dinner, and then made a roadmap as to what needed to be done and when. I tried to be as nit-picky as possible, since it’s usually the little things that end up getting forgotten. I broke the schedule up into half hour increments, going to 15 minute increments closer to serving time. That ended up being the best holiday dinner, at least from a kitchen point of view. I knew what to do and when, and when someone came in and asked how they could help, all I had to do is point to the chart. My husband and family, who thrive on structure, loved it. Of course, they also loved the fact that I wasn’t nearly as cranky since things went much smoother.

I don’t know why I didn’t do the chart the following year...or every year since. Just too busy, I guess. When I think of all the mini-disasters I’ve had during the holidays since then, I realize that carving out the time to plan would have been well worth it. So, this year I decided I would make a schedule again. When I mentioned this idea on the Lotsofkids Household message board, the ladies were very excited at the prospect and asked me to share my schedule when it was done.

I purposely make quite a bit of food, since I always plan to send my guests home with a generous amount of leftovers. I also like having a fridge full of leftovers to coast us through the weekend (as well as having some food to tuck in the freezer for later meals). Thanksgiving is wonderful, but after all that cooking, I want to stay out of the kitchen for a few days.

When making a cooking schedule, it’s really is important to have your full menu in front of you. I find that one of my greatest time-savers is to pre-measure water for boiling pasta, potatoes, etc. earlier in the morning, and just leave the filled pots on the stovetop with a lid on (to keep anything from falling in). Then just turn the heat on at the appropriate time. Also, when figuring out what should occur at what time, take into account how much help you plan to have. On my chart you will see that at certain times there is a lot scheduled–almost too much. That’s because I know I will have helpers in the kitchen during that period, so 2-3 people will be able to handle various jobs. If you are flying solo, you should keep that in mind when pacing things out.

Like Denise noted in her post, this menu was created heavily utilizing what I had on hand and building around it. One of the ways I manage big holiday meals on a limited grocery budget is that I plan out the menu over a month in advance. Then, over the next few shopping trips, I pick up items for the dinner along with my regular shopping. This really helps, as I am not hit with the high cost of the holiday shopping all at once, but rather it is spread out.

Our Menu

Devilled Eggs
Cream Cheese Ball with crackers
Veggies & cheese cube tray with hummus dip

Turkey w/ Sausage-Apple Stuffing
Beef Roast
Mashed Potatoes and homemade gravy
Meatball Rotini Lasagna
Fried corn with bacon
Vegetable medley with homemade cheddar cream sauce
Homemade & canned cranberry sauce
Brown & serve rolls
Sweet Potatoes (being brought by a guest)

A couple of key notes. We do instant flavored mashed potatoes. I love fresh, but several of my kids with texture issues don’t. Also, I am utilizing boxed stuffing which will be dressed up; it will not be cooked in the turkey but rather baked in a casserole dish alongside. The mac&cheese will also be from a box. The bacon for the fried corn will be pre-cooked from the freezer.

Pecan pie
Banana split pie
Butter cookies
Other pies (to be brought by guests)

Again, I don’t do a lot of prep. The night before I will brine the turkey. I also plan to make the cookies a day or two before. Below is a picture of my schedule. You can click on the picture to view it in PDF format, or you can click HERE and a smaller, graphical version will open in a new window. I created the chart in Word. When I first did this years ago, I just made a straight typed list and every item was crossed-off as it was completed. I did the checkbox this year just to be fancy. If anyone has any questions, post in the comments.


Denise said...

Thanks so much for sharing this!!! I need to make a schedule like this too. I will have a lot of "helpers" this year & it would be great to be able to refer to a list at a specific time to know what needs to get done next.