First, Choose Your Menu


If you’re planning on making a Thanksgiving dinner, whether for yourself, your family or friends, or for a special someone, the first thing you have to do is plan your dinner. That means making a menu. It doesn’t have to be complicated, even if you are having a gang of people for dinner. All you need is a main dish, usually a protein; a starch, which can be bread, potatoes, beans, corn, or rice; and at least one green vegetable or salad. That’s a classic bachelor menu: meat and two veggies.

You can, of course, get a lot more elaborate, even if you’re only cooking for yourself. Additions can include an appetizer, a second starch (try not to go too heavy on the starches), a dessert, soup, or cheese. If you spread the courses out over several hours, it won’t get too hard on your gut or your blood sugar.

Recipes. Once you have your menu, it’s time to get together your recipes. These can be formal ones, or you can just wing them. In any case, you need to figure out what you’ll need from the store and the timing of when things need to be prepared and/or cooked. If you figure out what things can be made ahead of time, you can save a lot of hassle on the big day. These rules apply to any feast or even a weekly dinner. Make sure you create a grocery shopping list to make sure you don’t leave anything out. Convenience stores do a lot of business on holiday mornings when the other stores are closed. You’ll pay through the nose for little things you forgot.

Shopping. Try very, very hard to not go anywhere near a store or farmers market on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (or any other holiday, for that matter). The crowds will be ridiculous. This is another good reason to plan ahead. Perishable items can be bought at some other time, like Monday or Tuesday of that week. Remember, the freezer is your friend. If you can buy your ingredients early and stash them in the freezer, you’ll be a lot better off.

And so it begins. If you have a frozen turkey and a more elaborate menu for a group of people, you’ll want to begin your preparations on Saturday before. Frozen turkeys take at least two to three days to defrost in the refrigerator, depending on size. Then you’ll want to brine your turkey for a day or two. That way, on Thanksgiving morning, your bird is ready to go. Bread, desserts, and some side dishes can be put together in advance so all they have to do is heat up before serving. Also, ingredients can be prepared by getting the washing, trimming, and cutting out of the way and then storing them in a tightly sealed container or storage bag in the refrigerator. This doesn’t apply to all ingredients, some of which will oxidize, like potatoes and apples. But you’d be surprised how many things can be done in the evenings leading up to the big event.