Hosting Thanksgiving: Menu And Planning

Thanksgiving dinner

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? We always go to Jeff's parents' house for dinner on Thanksgiving day, and last year we started a tradition of hosting my family on the Saturday after. I feel like we get the best of both worlds that way. I make a nice dessert for Thanksgiving day, which is easier with my work schedule (my holiday doesn't start until Wednesday afternoon). And then, along with help from my family, I put together a big dinner for Saturday, with plenty of time from Thursday evening until our early Thanksgiving dinner is served Saturday afternoon.

I've been going over last year's menu and tweaking it and tailoring it for this year. For dinner at Jeff's parents', I'm making an apple tart recipe from work that my mother-in-law requested. I tasted it often during development (it's so good!) and am excited to add it to our Thanksgiving meal. (Last year I made a cheesecake topped with cranberry curd and chocolate.)

Here's what I've got planned for the whole meal on Saturday…

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Parker House rolls

Salad (mixed greens, apples/pears, dried cherries/cranberries, goat cheese, balsamic)

Mashed potatoes
Butternut squash
Spinach gratin
Brussels sprouts
Cranberry sauce

Pumpkin layer cake (I want to do a Milk Bar-style cake)
Something apple (maybe this tart)
Cheesecake (if I'm feeling ambitious enough)
Ice cream
Whipped cream
Sugared cranberries
Cranberry curd

Cranberry rum punch
Cider (hot/sparkling?)

Now that I have the menu down (or mostly down), the challenge is to decide who's doing what and when everything will be made. Turkey and gravy go to Dad. Last year I made turkey stock in advance for the gravy and will do that again if I have time. Mashed potatoes must be made by my mom; no one makes better mashed potatoes. Desserts are definitely made by me. And then everyone can pitch in with the other menu items, table setting, etc. 

As far as figuring out when everything will be made, there are some things I can do way ahead, like the Parker House rolls, some I can do a little ahead like the pumpkin cake and the caramels, and some that can be prepped ahead to speed things along. I like to do as much as possible ahead of time so the day of doesn't feel crazy and because our kitchen isn't super-spacious or functional -- it's tough when there are a lot of people in there trying to make such a big dinner.

I go through each recipe and put together a shopping list with absolutely everything we'll need. I make lists for the things I'm going to make ahead and a final list for the absolute last things we need to pick up as close to Saturday as possible, the things that need to be as fresh as possible.

I also like to figure out what order things need to go in the oven or on the stove and make sure to plan accordingly so I have the right heat sources available at the right time. Obviously, you want nice hot rolls, not rolls that have been baked and sitting. And the gravy always needs to be piping hot. 

I like to get my place settings organized and figure out which platters, bowls, and serving utensils will be used for which dishes. My mom and I both have Le Creuset pumpkins, which definitely get filled with something to add a festive element.

Also important and so not fun is taking time to clean out the fridge and freezer to fit all the food you'll be storing and prepping for the big meal, not to mention all the containers of leftovers you'll need to squeeze in after.

In the midst of all this, there's also getting the house clean and ready for company and planning the other meals we'll eat when my family arrives on Friday. We need something easy for Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast. I'm still thinking through those things!

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you need some Thanksgiving dinner ideas, feel free to check out my Thanksgiving board on Pinterest. And for even more tips, check out "Giving & Thanking" in this month's issue of Bon Appetit. Oh, and stop back on Wednesday for a giveaway you won't want to miss!

Are you hosting or going somewhere for Thanksgiving? If you're making something, have you figured out what you're making? Do you have any tried-and-true Thanksgiving tips?