- Begin by writing down your vision or how you'd like your dinner to pan out at least by the beginning of November. Jot down the menu, attendees, seating arrangement, children's table, libation, dinnerware, etc. By doing this, you are giving yourself plenty of time to create the perfect menu so, if there are any last minute changes like Aunt Sue wanting her famous ambrosia salad added to the dinner table, you're prepared. The key is to remain calm and organized throughout the entire process.
- Definitely ask for help! My mother is notorious for not wanting to ask anyone for help when it comes to cooking this very important meal. She believes she can handle it all on her own and after 8 hours of cooking, colorful language, and the famous brow wipe of sweat, the table always looks wonderful. This can be avoided if help is enlisted from the attendees; not necessarily in cooking (if you are kitchen territorial like I am), but definitely in bringing one of the dishes to relieve your timeline a bit.
- Set the scene. One of the things I enjoy doing while preparing the meal the night before is listening to smooth jazz instrumentals, lighting some pumpkin scented aroma therapy, and putting my all into the dishes my loved ones are about to attack on the following day. Things like macaroni and cheese can be prepped the night before, also your green bean casserole can sit overnight, the bird definitely has to be prepped and seasoned, and of course, if there are any pies or cakes- those can be prepped the night before as well.
- DO NOT attempt to cook a frozen turkey. When meat is frozen and placed in an oven to thaw rapidly, bacteria grow at a higher rate. The chances of becoming sick are increasingly higher because the internal temperature will take longer to reach its desired range. In this favorable condition, bacteria can grow at an exponential rate, therefore causing all of your loved ones to get sick. Thaw your bird two nights before. The afternoon before you should season as desired, and the morning of Thanksgiving it should sit at room temperature for at least two hours, then depending on the size of your bird and your dinner time, place your bird in the oven at the appropriate time.
- DO NOT go crazy with sides. Let's face it- we are a carnivorous generation on that day. I've had vegetarians eat Turkey on that day and say that is the only day they eat meat. The stars of the show are your turkey, ham, and prime rib should you decide to go that route. Most households serve the traditional turkey and ham. For the sides, you should plan on inviting the usual five guests: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans or green bean casserole, candied yams, potato salad, and of course, the stuffing. These five sides go wonderful with a beautifully seasoned turkey and a perfectly glazed sweet ham.
- DO NOT attempt a new recipe on Thanksgiving day. This day screams tradition from the Charlie Brown specials to the infamous Thanksgiving Day Parade. Trying something new that you're not even sure your family will enjoy will only damper the special moments and memories you are trying to create. In the military, we learned K.I.S.S. which translates to "keep it simple stupid" but I have changed the last S to sweetheart. If you follow your traditional menu items that family members look forward to every year, you will have a crowd of adoring eaters that will sing your praises and tell you what a great job you've done, yet again.