Thanksgiving 2017: Game Plan

a table filled with a medley of thanksgiving dishes: from left to right, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing, salad, sweet potato casserole, lasagna, brussels sprouts

The Countdown

Thursday, November 9: Just two weeks until game time. Send out an email to all of your guests with either your suggested menu or no menu at all, and ask everyone what they want. Ask for volunteers to cook certain dishes if you don’t feel like cooking everything yourself.

I sent out an email to the whole fam (Thanksgiving at our house is just Mom, Dad, sister, me) with my suggested menu. Then I asked if they were cool with this menu or if they wanted to make any additions or subtractions. My sister is always in charge of making cocktails, Dad’s got the cranberry sauce, Mom and I tag-team the rest.

Saturday, November 11: Finalize your menu. Figure out everyone’s tasks, make a list:

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

Turkey Breast

Pumpkin Kale Lasagna

Cranberry Sauce


Mashed Potatoes

Cornbread Stuffing

Green Beans

 Kale Cranberry Crunch Salad

Apple Pie

Create a menu that suites your family and your traditions. Here’s the reasoning behind my menu: We do not need a whole turkey for just four people, my sister is a vegetarian so she always gets lasagna, cranberry sauce is everything, Dad likes gravy and mashed potatoes, I suck at making stuffing and want to get it right this year, green beans and kale salad because I genuinely like green things, and I always make pumpkin pie but I’m switching it up this year people!!

Get your wine this weekend if you don’t already have a hundred bottles in the house. Or,  get your wine even if you have a hundred bottles because Thanksgiving wine should be chosen specifically for the holiday, not dug up from your basement in some last-minute effort. Get a dry, lively, acidic wine that has a relatively low ABV. Don’t experiment with earthy, spicy, or natural wines. Get a red and a white if you have guests coming with unfamiliar tastes. Everyone in my family likes red, and we all like Lambrusco on Thanksgiving. It has a bad reputation for being too sweet, but ask your local wine seller for a good recommendation. It’s fun, spritzy, and perfect for the holidays.

Order your turkey. I ordered mine from Whole Foods and scheduled it for pick-up on Monday, November 20. Even though I ordered two weeks ahead, this was the earliest pick-up time they had available, so order your turkey ASAP!

Sunday, November 12: It’s actually time to start cooking. Make your pie dough and chicken/turkey/vegetable stock and freeze them. I doubled the recipe for Melissa Clark’s All-Butter Pie Crust from NYT Cooking because I’ll need an upper and lower layer for my apple pie. I have to swap out regular butter for vegan butter because Mom is lactose-intolerant, so your crust will be much better than mine. I googled around for some good vegetable stock recipes (again, my sister is a vegetarian) and figured out that you basically throw a bunch of vegetables in a large pot, get them a little browned and caramelized, then pour two quarts of water on top and let it simmer for as long as you’ve got. I used an onion, carrots, celery, scallions, parsley, rosemary, and bay leaf and simmered it all together for about 2 hours. It’s done when all the vegetables have lost their color and their flavor has leeched out into the stock. Allow to cool, drain, and pour into a freezer-safe container.

Morning of Saturday, November 18: It’s the weekend before the big day! Make your cranberry sauce, it keeps well and improves with time. We like a spicy cranberry sauce and we always use red wine, so I usually tell Dad to do some adaptation of  Jeff Gordinier’s Cranberry Sauce from NYT Cooking.

Evening of Saturday, November 18: Do your Thanksgiving grocery haul this weekend on either Friday or Saturday night. I’ve found that this is the least-crowded time to go to the grocery store and, honestly, browsing Whole Foods is my idea of good Saturday night.

Monday, November 20: Make gravy if you’d like to get ahead on things. You can make it from the pan drippings on the day of, but since I’m making a vegan gravy for my vegetarian sister and lactose-intolerant mom, I can make it ahead. I’m trying Melissa Clark’s Vegan Mushroom Gravy. Make your salad dressing and put your turkey in the refrigerator to thaw.

Tuesday, November 21: Wash, dry, and chop vegetables that need it. Make the cornbread for your stuffing tonight and leave it out to stale.

Wednesday, November 22: I get a half day of work today, so I’m home early enough to make lasagna. I assemble everything then put it in the refrigerator. Pumpkin Kale Lasagna is so, so good that it’s really not just for my sister, it’s for us meat-eaters too. Assemble the cornbread stuffing with the day-old cornbread.

Thursday, November 23: IT’S FINALLY HERE! Make your pie, lasagna, stuffing, turkey, dress your kale salad, whip up mashed potatoes, and sauté your green beans (in that order). Make a timeline of the whole day, when you’re going to wake up, when you’re going to take breaks, when you’re going to eat lunch. Figure out which dishes can rest for a while (pie, turkey, lasagna, raw vegetables) and which dishes need to be made closer to the time you want to eat. You’ve got this. You’ve got your game plan, you’ve made some dishes ahead, your sister is pouring another round of cocktails, and it’s going to be the best Thanksgiving ever!

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