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Aaron Hale's Blog

Thanksgiving Tips and Timeline!

Before I get to Thanksgiving…let me take a moment to ask you to tune in next Thursday – Veterans Day – November 11th to The Rachael Ray Show.  McKayla and I will be on the show – on a day that is very important to me and all Military members and their Families.  Please take the time to thank a Veteran for their service and sacrifice, but also thank their families as well, as they sacrifice too. Thanks!

I’ve got a few tips to help make your Thanksgiving Dinner one that your family will have fond memories of many years from now.  Preparation is the key to success.  Let’s start with a timeline and a suggestion to get some of your Dessert Table covered with the delectable delights like our full size Pecan Pie, luxurious fudges and chocolates – only found at E.O.D Extra Ordinary Delights (see, there’s your first tip to success!).  Order early to avoid supply chain issues.  Our confections are perfect for your Thanksgiving Dessert Table, or as the perfect gift for the sweet lovers on your Holiday list!!

Tips for the perfect Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving dinner, especially if you’ve never done it before, can be a bit stressful. Making sure the house is presentable and the food is warm and tasty is no small feat, so to make sure everything gets done in time, planning is key. Don’t stress..plan instead.  Even if you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person, this is the one time of year that you might want to consider mapping out a good game plan so you can actually enjoy the big day with your family and friends.

Delegate when you can: you shouldn’t have to do it all yourself.  Get the immediate family involved in prepping, setting the table, etc., and have the visitors bring a dish if you need help.  Most people like to feel like they are contributing anyway.

Food processors make the prep work faster.  Any chance to make things easier will help!

Almost every part of the Thanksgiving Menu has elements that can be prepared in advance or completely finished before the big day, allowing time to prepare homemade food, keep your sanity and have a clean kitchen when our guests arrive. 

You might even think that is way too much work. But, by spreading it out into manageable pieces over a few days, you won’t feel rushed or worried about missing something or getting it all done in time. 

You might even ask: “is the food still fresh if I make it in advance???” That is where planning the proper menu comes into place, which includes choosing items that hold well or actually get better if made ahead. 

Also, anything made from scratch is going to be fresher, better quality and less expensive than purchased or catered items. Heck, those are usually made in big batches and stored in advance as well, sometimes even with preservatives to keep them “fresh” for you – not in MY kitchen. So, if you want to do it yourself and make it a success, here is how to make it a stress-free Thanksgiving.

Get a Head Start

Check kitchen equipment: Check for a meat thermometer, pie and casserole dishes, trussing string, enough pots and pans, a potato masher, and anything else you might need to pull off cooking Thanksgiving dinner. If you haven’t used your oven in a while and it tends to be finicky, make sure it still works!

Delegate Side Dishes

This is the time to finalize who’s bringing what. And even if you’re not doing a potluck-style Thanksgiving, if guests offer to bring something, don’t turn them down. An extra side, casserole, wine, cheese and cured meats for appetizers, and of course, ice, are all welcome things at Thanksgiving. 

With a little advance planning, all your prepping dishes can be clean and put away only leaving the few last minute items. And bonus:  the kitchen will be looking nice before guests arrive!  Plan your turkey method: A turkey doesn’t have to be roasted in the oven; you can deep-fry, smoke or grill it to free up oven space, but figure out what you want to do and make sure you order the turkey. Make sure your roasting pan is big enough and that it will fit in the oven!  Here’s a link to the Butterball Helpline for any questions you have (never hurts to have an expert!)

Think through your oven and stove space

Make sure not all your side dishes need last-minute oven or stove time, and consider swapping in a few dishes that can be served at room temperature. Don’t forget that you can keep foods warm in lots of unexpected places too!

For timing large meals like Thanksgiving, I always like to work backwards, giving myself an hour of extra time before guests arrive.  I start now by creating a Thanksgiving timeline. This allows me to spread the prep work out over a few days so I can do a little each day if needed or prep for an entire day depending on my schedule. You must be realistic in your estimated timing for this to work. We live in the age of multitasking, and this does not usually help us focus, so for each item give yourself an extra 5-10 minutes of grace period.

Sample Timeline and Tips:

Today:  Order Pecan Pie and other delectable delights like fudge or sea salt caramels for your dessert table from E.O.D

8 Days Before Thanksgiving:  Make Your Lists

Make two shopping lists: The first list is for things you can buy now. Pick up all the ingredients that will last the week before Thanksgiving. Make a second list of everything you’ll need on your second (and final) shopping trip. Figure out what dishes you’ll be making ahead and make sure it’s on the shopping list for this week.

Check for ingredients: Now that you have a shopping list, look through your fridge, pantry, and freezer to make sure you have any other ingredients that you assume are on hand — salt, pepper, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and all those other staples. Don’t forget to check expiration dates!

Clean out your fridge: Your fridge is going to house Thanksgiving central, so clean all unnecessary things out, or plan to eat them up soon!

7 Days Before Thanksgiving:  1st Shopping Trip

Shopping trip #1: Grab your first shopping list and hop to it! It’s also a great time to hit up the liquor store to stock up on wine and drink essentials.

6 Days Before Thanksgiving:  Thaw the Turkey!

If you bought a frozen turkey, start defrosting it in the refrigerator now!

Saturday/Sunday: (4-5 days before):  Start Cooking

Make-ahead is your friend: So many parts of Thanksgiving dinner can be made ahead. If you want to use turkey stock in your gravy and Thanksgiving dishes, make this now.

Prep the Serving Dishes/Platters: 

Pull out, organize and wash if necessary all dishes and serving items. Once labeled, it will aid your helpers as you can easily say, “Please, get me the 2 bowls for stuffing”, and they will be able to grab the correct ones. If you need extra items, purchase them now. Then, place the dishes on the table where they will be served to make sure everything fits and is easy to access.

Placing dishes in advance makes sure you have enough serving pieces and space).  Don’t forget trays for appetizers and desserts, too!

Make favors: If you choose to do something a little extra special and out of the ordinary, ORDER NOW to present each guest something from to take home.   Planning in advance is the key…don’t wait until a week before – order now!.  This simple gesture makes this extra treat simple and fun for all. It’s always nice to include a small personal thank you card to send guests on their way with a little something to remember the evening and let the good time carry through the season!  A Thanksgiving favor placed in a basket by the door lets me thank each guest and give a little something special to remember the day, not to mention really adds to the festive atmosphere!

Monday: (3 days before)

Finish shopping list #2.   Grab everything else you’ll need for the big day!

Defrost: Start defrosting anything else you’ve made ahead and frozen.

Dishes to make now: Cranberry sauce, gravy, compound butters, and pie crust are good items to tackle now.

Things to prep: Chop up vegetables and bread for stuffing (IF you haven’t already made it), toast nuts, and measure out spices.

Prep the Bar: If doing cocktails and appetizers  – serve them at the bar – separate from the dinner area.  You may need to put an additional table in this space as well. If you can, rearrange the furniture to make a separate eating space for a dinner table and the cocktails appetizer space. Don’t be afraid to move things around and make them work for you. Folding tables make for easy extra dining. 

Tuesday: (2 days before)

Set The Tables:  If you have two tables to set to accommodate all the guests, remember to make this work for you, not everything has to match. Setting the table in advance makes sure you have enough server ware and space for everyone.

Keep the “centerpiece” simple. With Thanksgiving, there is lots of food on the table, so perhaps a few mini pumpkins and fall leaves is all you need to add a little color and texture to the table without taking up too much space, 

Prep It, Prep It Real Good

Peal, chop and blanch any vegetables to store in a zip top plastic bag

For example, bake an easy breakfast casserole for the big day, so you can concentrate on the Dinner, not breakfast.

Prepare dessert sauces

Vacuum the house

Clean out the front hall closets and make space for coats and shoes

Wednesday (1 day before)

Make your desserts: Bake your pies and desserts (or make it really easy and order Pecan Pies from E.O.D in advance!).

Clean and trim your vegetables: Wash salad greens, trim green beans and mushrooms, and generally take care of as much vegetable prep as you can. Make your salad dressing now, too.

Start your bread or roll dough: Start your doughs now and stash in the fridge to proof overnight.

Things to consider making ahead: If you have the time, make your stuffing and other casseroles today (If you didn’t get to them on Saturday or Sunday!).

Thanksgiving Morning

Prep your potatoes: Peel them and put them in a pot with enough water to cover. They can sit that way at room temperature until you’re ready to cook them.

Bake your bread and any other desserts.

Chill your drinks: Also check to make sure there’s enough ice in the freezer.

4 Hours Before Thanksgiving Dinner

Turkey: Get it into the oven now and this will give you about three hours of roasting time for a 15-pound turkey (start the turkey earlier if it is larger). Remember that turkey can rest and stay warm for quite a long time, and a warm bird is easier to carve than a hot one.

Blanch vegetables and make mashed potatoes: Blanch or precook any vegetables so they’re ready to be finished at the last minute. Make your mashed potatoes and keep them warm in a slow cooker.

Prep your stuffing and other casseroles: If you haven’t already done so, prep stuffings and casseroles so they’re ready to go in the oven.

2 Hours Before Thanksgiving Dinner

Take the chill off premade foods: Take any premade stuffings or other dishes that need to be reheated out of the fridge so they start to come to room temperature. Also take out any pies (unless they’re made of custard or cream) and compound butters so they come to room temperature.

Plate up appetizers: Assuming guests are arriving soon, get those appetizers — especially cheese, which should be served at room temperature — onto platters so they are ready to go when the first guest arrives.

Set up cocktails: Get ice into a bucket, juice citrus fruits, and prepare anything else you need for cocktail hour.

Make whipped cream: If you’re using whipped cream to top pies or drinks, make a batch now and throw it in the fridge.

1 Hour Before Thanksgiving Dinner

Turkey: Your turkey should be done by now, so move it to a serving platter or carving platter and let it rest. If you’re serving it carved, do it about 30 minutes before dinner and cover it with foil to keep warm.

Gravy: If you are making gravy from the drippings, do it now. If you have make-ahead gravy, get it into the saucepan.

Reheat: Start reheating dishes in the oven.

Finish vegetables: Finish sautéing or grilling the vegetables.

Fill water glasses and pitchers: Designate someone to fill up water glasses and pitchers.

Clean up the kitchen: If you have the luxury of time or a helpful guest, get the sink cleared and the dishwasher running.

Right Before Thanksgiving Dinner

Heat up gravy: Heat up your gravy and transfer it into the gravy boat.

Plate everything up: Get some help transferring everything into their designated serving platters and place them on the buffet or dining table.

Heat up pies: Place pies in a turned-off but warm oven right before you sit down for dinner and they’ll be the perfect temperature for dessert.

Get ready for tea and coffee: Fill tea kettles and coffee pots with water and get everything set up for dessert time.

Empty the dishwasher: If your dishwasher is done running, empty it so it’s ready for the post-dinner load!

And then it’s time to eat! 

I hope these tips will help make this the best Thanksgiving ever for you and your family.  I know I have many things to be thankful for…I hope you take the time to give thanks for the blessings in your life.

Aaron Hale
US Army SSG EOD (Ret) Founder of
Extra Ordinary Delights

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