I remember the first time I made Thanksgiving dinner. I was 16 years old. Before that, I helped my grandma prepare dinner each year. That year, I volunteered to do it because she was not feeling well. We decided that having her lift the turkey was not a good idea. I was so nervous. It seemed like such a daunting task to make all of those side dishes. I planned, made tons of lists, and thought I was over prepared. It turns out that I forgot a bunch of necessary ingredients. It all worked out and we had a great dinner filled with family and food.
If this is your first time preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I completely understand how you are feeling. I think over the past 13 years I have figured out a pretty good system that works well for us. I want to share our menu and my schedule with you to give you a general idea of what I do to prepare and organize limited oven space.
1. Save your grocery list on your computer. I have a grocery list saved for the past few years. It lists all of the menu items we have as well as all of the ingredients that go into the dish. When I say all, I meal all. Including things like salt and butter. Everything. That way I can check off what we have and make my grocery list from there. Next year you will thank me.
2. Set out all baking dishes and serving ware. I like to make sure in advance that I have all of the dishes and utensils that I need.
3. Buy two good thermometers. One that you can leave in your turkey and one that you can put in the stuffing. I like to have one that has an alarm so I know when the meat reaches the needed temperature. I have this one.
4. Prep in advance.Cut celery, onions, and any other vegetables the day before. I also make cocktail sauce and macaroni and cheese the night before but bake it before dinner. I also mix my biscuits without adding the liquids and store it in a bag in the fridge.
5.Don’t be afraid to buy parts of your meal. I know that I am a proponent of scratch made everything. Sometimes we just need to be able to admit when you just can’t do it all. I buy my stuffing cubes. I buy them from Mediterra, a local bakery, but I really hate cutting all the bread. It is worth it.
6. Make the pie first thing. As soon as I get up, I heat the oven and make the pie. Once the pie is in the oven, I start working on the stuffing and the turkey. By the time I finish prepping the turkey, the pie is done and I can stick it in the oven with the thermometers.
7. Make the side dishes when the turkey is cooking. Wash and peel the potatoes, make the cranberry sauce, and prep any other side dishes.
8. Take some time to enjoy the day. When I was younger, I thought that I needed to be working the entire time. It caused me to not enjoy the day or the resulting meal. Now I try to get everything done in the first 2-3 hours so I can sit down and relax until the last 45 minutes until we eat.
9. Finish everything else AFTER the turkey is out of the oven. Most of our side dishes cook in about 30 minutes. That is how long I let the turkey rest before cutting it. I remove the turkey and stick the macaroni and cheese and other casseroles or veggies in the oven. I typically bake the biscuits in the toaster oven while I make the gravy. They only take about 12 minutes.
10. Make food that you are confident making. Holidays are not the time to experiment with 5 new recipes. Make things that you know how to make and limit new recipes to 1 or 2.