Thanksgiving Prep Work
The other day I was having coffee with a good friend, listening to her as she lamented that she wishes she loved Thanksgiving, but that it truly unnerves her. Every year she feels like she goes down the mental rabbit hole of what to make and when, having dreams of checking recipes but not being able to read them, dreams that everyone is sitting at the table and she only has half finished dishes and raw turkey, dreams that not even the pie comes out well. She confided that every year it feels like she has gone through some sort of amnesia. She knows how to cook all the food but always ends up feeling like she is chasing her tail and inevitably running back to the store at the last minute for two random ingredients.
I looked at her and asked, “Do you write a prep list?” Blank stare was her only answer.
A prep list is something we cooks take for granted. Every night after service, as we’re putting away our mis en place, we write down what needs to be made the next day, your prep list (or listy as it is called by friends). And then we drink a beer (maybe two) and head home (hopefully).
The next day come into the restaurant, and no matter the repercussions of what happened after you left work, you can always rely on the list generated when you still had your wits about you. Just read it and start prepping the ingredients needed for service.
The first summer of farm dinners at Bare Knuckle, I was gripped with anxiety. How to make all this food, where to buy it, in what order should it be cooked, am I good enough, who will even come, we have HOW many people signed up?
And then a wave of calm over came me when a voice in my brain reminded me, “write your listy.” And suddenly, I knew what to do. Write down the dishes I was going to make. Then write down all of the components and what needed to be done to prep them and when that should be done. Then write down the ingredients that need to be purchased to make said food. And then go!
It sounds simple, but when your brain is whirling, it is difficult to stay focused on the specific dish and not jump around. It is a matter of discipline, forcing yourself to not move ahead when a thought about dessert pops into your mind. Finish the dish, what will it look like? What’s the garnish? But as you conquer your own brain, then no matter what happens, you can trust your list.
Explaining all this, my friend and I sat down to write her listy. Here’s what came out.
Dishes to Be Made for 8 people Serving at 4:30pm
- Sausage Apple Chestnut Stuffing
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cranberry Relish
- Brussels Sprouts and Wild Rice Salad
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple Pecan Dressing
- Apple, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie w/ whipped cream
- Go Shopping—use prep list to generate shopping list
- Put Away Groceries
- Make Pie Dough
- Drink a glass of wine
- Make Stuffing
- Make Mashed Potatoes
- Make Cranberry Relish
- Cook Wild Rice (onions, garlic, white wine)
- Roll Pie Dough
- Assemble Apple Pie and Freeze
- Cure Turkey overnight with Green Salt
- Make Wild Rice Vinaigrette
- Cut and Roast Sweet Potatoes
- Make Maple Pecan Dressing
- Bake 2 pie crusts
- Drink a glass of wine and hug your husband
- Temper Turkey (bring it to room temperature before roasting) @ 8am
- Roast Turkey @ 12pm
- Shave Brussels Sprouts
- Make Pumpkin and Pecan Pie
- Whip cream for Pies
- Visit with Relatives
- 30 minutes before serving (3:45-4 pm)
- Heat Stuffing
- Heat Mashed Potatoes
- Dress Sweet Potatoes and Heat
- Heat Wild Rice
10 minutes before serving
- Enlist help to make gravy
- Toss wild rice with Brussels Sprouts and Vinaigrette
- Platter cranberry relish
- Transfer all dishes to table
- Carve Turkey
- Let everyone else do the dishes.
I hope this helps make your Thanksgiving, and any dinner party, more organized and easier to execute. For the record, I write a prep list for any dinner that has more than three dishes to it. I love lists. And I always add extra little things because the only thing I love more than lists is crossing things off of lists! I generally front load the tasks, so that if something unexpected comes up, there is time to finish the things you couldn’t get to the day before. And go shopping before Wednesday evening. This is all storage food and so there is no need to be a part of the crowds on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I generally make this in this large of a batch because it keeps forever and is addictive to sprinkle on just about all things. If curing a chicken, use only 1 tablespoon or so. For a turkey maybe a ¼ C.
- 2 C salt
- ½ C sugar
- 1 bu parsley
- 15 sprigs thyme
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- 1 orange, zest
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- In a food processor blend all ingredients
- Eat the orange that you just zested while the rest is whizzing around
- Store in a Tupperware in your fridge for months on end
- The day before roasting your bird, sprinkle all over with the green salt and rub into the skin and cavity
- Allow to sit uncovered in your fridge overnight
- Brush off any excess cure and pat dry
- Roast in a hot oven until done
This recipe is from my dear friend Lizzie Hollinger. When I first saw it I was a very nervous Nelly because I’ve always cooked cranberries for relish. But like all new recipes I try to follow them to the “T” the first time assuming I’ll make changes for the next time. This is my favorite cranberry relish of all time, no changes necessary.
- 1 lb fresh cranberries, washed and nasty ones removed
- 1 lg orange
- 2 apples
- 1 ½ C sugar
- Cut the orange, rind and all but removing the seeds, into chunks
- Cut the apple, skin and all but removing the seeds, into chunks
- Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until evenly chunky
- Put in the fridge for a day, turning occasionally
- Taste and add more sugar if too tart
- Will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks