Thanksgiving is an exciting holiday that brings together family and friends around a magnificent food-covered table. But, there’s always a small level of anxiety associated with the day. And, no, we're not just talking about how you’re going to manage to get along with your family and perhaps your not-so-great in-laws (though there is that, too), but more about menu planning and time management.
To gain some professional insight into the matter, we turned to Jennifer Reese, author of the recently published cookbook Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Her book is filled with homemade recipes and suggestions about what to make from scratch and what you’re better off buying (cost, time, and quality are all factors).
For Reese, Thanksgiving is the “over-the-river-and-through-the-woods holiday when we expect grandma (or someone) has been toiling all day in the kitchen to give us a wholesome feast.” Rational or not, she believes that it’s deflating to be served a pumpkin pie out of a plastic clamshell — homemade is just so much better.
Thanksgiving is different from other holidays, where store-bought goods are more acceptable (and perhaps even welcomed — hot dogs, anyone?). Though she recommends trying to make most of the meal yourself, she offers some tips for cutting corners and saving time. Check out her tips below and then get cracking with our Ultimate Thanksgiving Countdown to help you with recipe ideas and more.
When to Start Planning?
Start planning now — but not because you’re anxious. You shouldn’t be anxious! Do it because you’re excited and because Thanksgiving is fun. Browse through cookbooks. Buy a cool new tablecloth. Consider serving oysters Rockefeller, change your mind, then change it back. This is your chance to make your friends and family very, very happy; to put your own stamp on a great national feast. Enjoy it.
I wouldn’t say that there’s a strict timeline like they show in magazines, but I do whatever I have to do to reach my end goal — which is to be dressed, coherent, and holding a glass of wine when guests walk in the door. There’s little more discouraging than arriving at a party to find the hostess in her jogging bra frantically trimming green beans. If the beans aren’t trimmed by the time the doorbell rings, there will be no green beans.
Shop early in the week, preferably on Monday, then do everything you possibly can the day before Thanksgiving. Everything. Stay up late and bake the pies. Wash and trim the vegetables. Put the pot of water on the stove for the potatoes. Set the table. Clean the bathroom and tell the kids they have to use the yard. You won’t be sorry.
No one pays that much attention to cranberry sauce, so go ahead and buy a can if it lowers your blood pressure. And there’s really no need to get fancy with the stuffing. Pepperidge Farm isn’t as delicious as homemade, but in a lot of American households it’s beloved and traditional. So that’s a corner you can conceivably cut. Also, buy the appetizers if you need to. They carry less symbolic weight than, say, pie, which really should be homemade. Click here to see Reese's Pumpkin Pie recipe.
Quick and Easy Gravy at Home
The whole concept of prefab gravy is perverse. Gravy is the natural byproduct of roasting a turkey and it seems crazy to buy a can of Heinz or a packet of the revolting powder when you have pan drippings. As to how I do gravy, I make broth with the turkey neck and a stick of celery. This simmers gently for a few hours while the turkey roasts. Then I deglaze the roasting pan with the broth and add some flour and milk to produce a thick, creamy sauce. I personally like thick, almost floury, gravy, though I am in a minority here.