Only two weeks until the greatest food holiday of them all (at least in America)! Around these parts, I enjoy hosting Thanksgiving (or Thxgiving, if you will) — despite my tiny San Francisco kitchen, one-bedroom apartment, and lack of an actual dinner table. If the food, drinks, and company are good, it seems like everyone has a good time, so I discard the formalities and invite everyone who may or may not have a place to go. I have hosted 14 people and managed to get 6 dishes on the table at the same time — and you can, too. True, I don’t have kids, but perhaps you could
lock them in a cupboard like Harry Potter enlist them to help in age-appropriate ways.
If you’ve never hosted a holiday or dinner party, though, you might be freaking out. You have your grocery list, and at least an idea of what you want to cook, but how do you get everything on the table at once? How do you keep everything warm? How do you grocery shop for all of this? And most importantly, where do you start? Oh, and you also have work, house cleaning, and maybe a family and/or social life to contend with.
1. Start NOW, if you haven’t already.
You have 14 days to prepare for Thanksgiving. That’s more than enough time — but starting now ensures that the work is manageable, and on Thanksgiving day itself, your work has been pared way down. This is also a good time to start deep cleaning your kitchen and wherever you’ll be entertaining your guests. I love Apartment Therapy’s guide to cleaning for a party — they give you a schedule for deep cleaning, maintenance cleaning, and day-of straightening up. (This works great if you have minions to whom you can delegate chores!) Also, check out The Kitchn’s list for putting together a dinner party clean-up kit for spills and other small disasters. Having a plan for cleaning frees you up to focus on cooking.
At this point, you should have a guest list, an idea of what you’ll be cooking and whether or not anyone is bringing dishes or wine, and whether your guests have allergies or food aversions. (Pro tip: don’t cook things your guests are allergic to. Killing your guests is somewhat frowned upon in modern society.)
2. Make a master grocery list.
I like to make a spreadsheet with each dish’s ingredients listed. Once I have that ready, I can easily see whether there are overlapping ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, bacon, bourbon…the usual). You’ll also get a sense of things you can purchase now or perhaps already have on hand (dry ingredients), versus things you need to get closer to the event (meat, fresh herbs, dairy, fruit, vegetables).
3. Know your limits.
Never cooked a turkey? Maybe you want to enlist help from someone else — or break from tradition and roast a chicken, prime rib, or a pork roast. Or maybe you have a teeny tiny kitchen — then figuring out how you’re going to manage oven and stove-top time is going to be absolutely key. Don’t have enough serving dishes or spoons? I guarantee one of your friends or family members can loan you something. Do you have budgetary concerns? Ask your friends and family to take care of a side dish or the wine — in my experience, people are more than thrilled to help, as long as you’re not barking orders like Marney.
4. Break everything into manageable chunks.
Unless you’re a complete novice in the kitchen (in which case, KEEP IT SIMPLE!), you should have a pretty good idea of the different steps involved in each recipe. For example, I’m making a savory tart with butternut squash. I can make and freeze the tart dough now, and I can roast the squash 1-2 days ahead of time. I can make this pear soup a few days ahead of time, reheat, and add the toppings. I’m also making gougeres — fancy cheesy poofs — which can be flash frozen, unbaked, and baked straight out of the freezer. Anything I don’t have to do the day of, and any dishes I can get out of the way ahead of time, saves time for things like “showering” and “putting on party clothes.”
Don’t be afraid to put out a cheese and charcuterie platter, either, that require virtually no time or effort. Two cheeses, salami, prosciutto, some jam or dried fruit, and pickles of some variety — done. Similarly, no one is going to be mad if you put out frozen, pre-made appetizers, unless of course you forget to bake them.
5. Make a schedule.
Now you know what can be done ahead of time and what’s left to do on the big day. Pick a time that you want to put dinner on the table, and count backwards from there. If your turkey is going to take 6 hours, then you need to start cooking AT LEAST six hours prior to dinner, and frankly, I’d advise starting even earlier. Other things to consider are what temperatures your food is supposed to bake or roast at — if you need to bake one thing at 350 and another at 425, you’ll have to work around that. (Tenting things with foil and using warming plates helps a lot.) If you’re making an oven-hog like a turkey, consider making other dishes that utilize the stove-top.
Write the schedule out, including everything you can do ahead of time, put it on your fridge, and stick to it.
6. Plan for at least one thing to go awry.
Something may go wrong (broken oven door, guests of honor not showing up/getting delayed, dropping the food on the floor). Oh well. Make a double batch of this punch, put a pizza place on speed dial, and let it go.
What are your best tips for hosting a big party? (For more recipes and DIY, don’t forget to like Frolic & Detour on Facebook!)