thanksgiving for dummies plan

Whether you’re hosting for the first time or the twentieth, this Thanksgiving for Dummies guide, complete with recipes and tips from host-chef extraordinaire, Elana Horwich will help you streamline everything.

From classics with a twist like olive oil potatoes, ancient grain stuffing and herbed brussels sprouts (pie too!) to the easiest turkey ever, we’ve got your full menu worked out, as well as Elana’s four-day plan below to make it all work!

Our Thanksgiving for dummies guide will teach you a few insights that will help you stay sane through it all. Here’s the game plan…

Thanksgiving For Dummies: A Day-by-Day Prep Plan

Read this list before beginning Thanksgiving preparations. This way you know what is coming your way, which is key to staying calm and executing a successful holiday. Each prep tip can be done on its own, on separate days or you can complete the advance list for each recipe all at once and store as directed.

3 to 4 Days Prior: Grocery Shopping

Don’t underestimate the the time it takes to grocery shop, or it’s importance. Think of yourself as an artist setting up a studio. Print all recipes, taking your time to procure all the right ingredients—so you can begin to paint your culinary canvas—step-by-step over the next few days.

I advise beginning the Sunday before Thanksgiving, especially if you work during the week, then picking up only the turkey last minute. Many ingredients (onions, bread, tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, and Brussels sprouts) don’t need the fridge, particularly in the chilly fall, so don’t worry about having enough space. Leave food on your counter in pretty bowls to remind you of the beauty you are creating.

You will find the most delicious vegetables at the farmer’s market, but if there isn’t one conveniently located for you, get the best—preferably organic—produce you can find. The flavors start with the quality of the ingredients.

1 to 3 Days Prior: Sides + Pie

Multigrain Stuffing with Portobello Mushrooms + Fennel
Prep the bread: Cut and stale the bread as described in the recipe.
Cut everything: Cut the mushrooms and fennel into ½ inch and ¼ inch cubes respectively. (If you are not roasting now, store separately in fridge.) For the sauté, chop the onion, celery, and sage. Thinly slice the leeks. (If you are not sautéing now, store together in fridge.)
Cook veggies: Roast mushrooms and fennel as described in the recipe. Sauté the onion, celery, sage and leeks, using the thyme and chicken sausage, if desired, as described in the recipe. Store all of these cooked veggies together in the fridge in one container.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
Prep the broth: Make homemade broth, defrost broth you have in freezer or make cheater’s broth as if not using homemade broth.
Ready to go: Follow steps 1 through 6 in the recipe. You are essentially making the whole dish, without the final baking of it, which you will do last minute.

Tuscan Garden Grove Brussels Sprouts (GF, VG, V)
Prep: Cut all the ingredients. Store together in fridge.

The Easiest Turkey Ever
Prep: Dry the turkey and rub salt, pepper and olive oil on it and stuff the cavity with vegetables, as described in steps 1-6 Prep the juices, as much as you can before making the turkey. Steps 1-3.

Grain-Free Sunshine Pumpkin Pie
Prep pie: Make the pie crust. Store in fridge if you’re not making the pie now.
Prep veggies: Bake the pumpkin and the kabocha squash. Cut open the pumpkin and the kabocha in half and remove seeds. Scoop out the flesh for a total of 3 cups. Store in fridge if not using immediately.

Follow steps 3-11 to finish the filling and bake the pie. Store in fridge, until ready to plate.

Thanksgiving Day

This list is assuming you have one oven. If you have more than one oven you can cook the Brussels sprouts, stuffing and mashed potatoes last minute, closer to game time.

5 Hours Before Dinner
+ Let turkey come to room temperature.
+ Complete all recipe steps to assemble the stuffing.
+ Dress Brussels sprouts and roast in the oven. (Note: If you have doubled your recipe, it could take longer. Cook until well brown-ed, soft and caramelized. When done, let come to room temperature.

3+ Hours Before
+ Get your turkey in the oven. Once it’s done, let it rest so it tenderizes, and carve it at the last minute.

1 Hour Before
+ Put the stuffing in the oven, covered for 30 minutes. Note: You will finish cooking it uncovered, which is in your notes below.
+ Bake the olive oil mashed potatoes, covered in the same oven, until hot. (Recipe calls for 30 minutes, but since it’s been in fridge, will take longer, about 40. You want it really hot!)
+ Check the turkey. When done, let it rest loosely tented. While resting, finish the gravy juices.
+ I like the pumpkin pie cold, but if you want it at room temp, take it out now. If it is on a springform pan, take it out and plate it while still very cold.

30 Minutes Before
+ Remove cover from stuffing and finish baking uncovered.
+ Cover Brussels sprouts and place in oven until reheated, about 20 minutes, or serve at room temperature.
+ Chill out and have a sip of wine. The part is more fun when you are relaxed. Don’t be timid to ask friends and family to help in the kitchen. There are always a handful who love to help. It helps to break the ice.

Go Time!
Heat up the pan juices for the turkey, while you plate all of your food and bring it to the table. Carve your turkey and serve with hot pan juices. Have a glass of wine or two, or even a shot of tequila—you deserve it!

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  1. What a good list. Thank you.

    Dalila P | 11.21.2019 | Reply

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