Strategy for the day itself
Plan to use the mise-en-place method to set up a self-serve beverage station and/or bar, depending on the crowd, so it’s easy for guests to make their own drinks without interrupting the kitchen operations. Make cocktail napkins, glasses and goblets, an ice bucket with tongs and stirrers handy. Stock the bar with standard liquors (gin, vodka, rum, etc.) as well as a few mixers, such as club soda, tonic and juices, that can easily be used for non-alcoholic drinks as well. Open bottles of both red and white wine, with reserves and a corkscrew nearby. Slice lemons, limes and arrange other fun garnishes, such as skewered cranberries or a dish of cherries, so guests can customize their drinks.
The day or night before, (re)familiarize yourself with all planned recipes and then prep as many of the ingredients as possible. Vegetables can be washed, peeled and cut, garlic can be peeled and chopped or minced, then measured and properly stored. Measure dry ingredients such as spices, herbs and breadcrumbs, storing them in labeled, lidded containers, plastic baggies or prep bowls covered with cling wrap. Prepare and then store broths, salad dressings and sauces. If you plan to set out appetizers for guests to tide them over before the main event, prepare the platters, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight. Baked goods such as cookies, pumpkin rolls, pies, fresh breads or muffins are easily completed in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, allowing you to simply warm them in the oven before serving, if necessary or desired. With all this prep work, and the dirty measuring cups and spoons, cutlery, etc., out of the way before the day even begins, there’ll be nothing left for you to do but cook! Practicing mise-en-place will severely cut down on the typical disarray of Thanksgiving Day.
An extra step that will save precious time and turmoil is to write down a cooking timeline for the entire menu. Each individual dish will generally have its own cook time, so by planning ahead you’ll know when to start on each element. This goal is more simply achieved by working backwards from the estimated start time of the meal so that everything will be complete around the same time, ensuring each element is hot as it’s being served. Post your timeline in a central location so that all kitchen helpers have access to the plan.
Before the cooking begins, set up stations or areas for each dish. Stock the area with the pots or pans needed as well as the appropriate utensils, cutting boards, trivets, oven mitts and so on. Post the recipe on the wall or cabinet above the workspace for easy reference as well as its pre-planned, desired start time. Then, set out each individual, pre-measured, pre-chopped ingredient, in the order in which they’ll be used, and let the games begin!
A version of this story first appeared in the Journal-Gazette on November 20th, 2016.