OK. Game day is almost here. Maybe your Thanksgiving is super-small this year, or maybe it’s huge and outdoors. Either way, Test Kitchen Director Belle English is here with a number of hacks, tricks, tips and time-savers to get you from here to November 26th (when, yes, you should take a nap and order pizza!)
1. Set the Table
This is not the time for paper plates, insists Belle, and you can do the work of cleaning up your good flatware and plateware in advance. “Set it ahead of time,” she says. “Definitely do that. Even three days, four days if you can, if you have the space.”
2. Use Those Sticky Notes
It’s time to be “that person”: Use sticky notes to denote which platters and serveware you use for what. “Do it a couple days in advance so there’s no guesswork day of,” says Belle. Because the last thing you want is to be trying to find space in the sink to scrub a Brussels sprouts platter someone accidentally used for appetizers at the last minute.
3. Get Those Non-Perishables Early
Break down the grocery list by day. Can you get a ton of the non-perishable items in advance (or order a full turkey dinner for delivery)? “Get as much ahead of time as you can,” suggests Belle. In fact, “prioritize your non-perishables in terms of shopping. Everything’s gonna last longer than you think it will.”
4. Can You Roast It in Advance?
Planning ahead can include vegetables. “Everything’s roasty and toasty this time of year,” says Belle. “Your veggies don’t have to be the freshest unless it’s a delicate salad.” So do any roasting in advance. She spells it out: “You can roast something like Brussels sprouts 50 to 75 percent of the way and then finish them just before serving.” Yum. Same goes with toasting nuts, seeds and bread cubes for stuffing.
5. Make Dressings (and all the Garnishes) in Advance
That homemade salad or vegetable dressing you just have to have in advance? Make it in advance. Same goes for pie dough, pies, mirepoix and cranberry sauce.
Sensing a theme here? You can deseed a pomegranate in advance, add a few tablespoons to a bowl of water, and keep them fresh. Fry sage in advance; it stays crisp for a while. Bacon can be made that morning, to be layered into vegetable dishes. (Belle wraps hers in foil to keep it from “sneaky fingers!”) Even our make-ahead mashed potato recipe, says Belle, “is an amazing make-ahead recipe.”
You’re going to want fresh vegetables. Why not make the work of serving them fast and easy? “Shaving Brussels sprouts on a mandoline is my favorite way to eat them,” says Belle. So do a quick sear or fry, or serve them raw in a salad. But slice ’em thin, because everyone will want something fresh.
7. Can You Rethink Your Bird and Gravy?
OK, yes, a photo of the full, glorious bird is a surefire Instagram hit. But doesn’t your peace of mind matter, too? You could be making your turkey ahead, as Ina does. You could spatchcock it or break it down, as Belle does. (Think: moist, evenly cooked, with plenty of brown, crisp skin.) You could pop it in the oven overnight and have savory dreams. Or you could grill it, as chef Timothy Hollingsworth does. Decide to make it simpler this year.
An excellent Belle tip? Batch out a cocktail. She loves that this applejack punch features “autumnal liqueurs, and feels very fall. ” It’s one less thing to do, and possibly a way to cut down on the amount of wine you have to buy!
9. Outsource Dessert… or Do Chocolate
Ask someone else to bring the pie. (Think of it as a little gift to yourself!) Belle will often set out brittles or chocolates in lieu of dessert. “Sometimes I’ll set out some really high-quality dark chocolate. It’s all you really need.” And as per usual, she’s right.