This is a blog from Alexandra Eidenberg, founder of www.GoToProGals.com, President of The Insurance People and Executive Director of eWomenNetwork Chicagoland. Eidenberg shares fun tips on cooking, eating and enjoying Thanksgiving. Check her out more here.
I love the Holiday Season. It is by far the most joyous time of year, and Thanksgiving is the best part because it is one big relaxing, cooking, eating fest. Me and food are like 2 pees in a pod. We flock together like birds of a feather. Yummm! I have been hosting Thanksgiving for 4 years now, and I pretty much have it down to a science. Sunday grocery shopping, Wednesday food prep and Thursday cooking, enjoying and over eating.
Thanksgiving grocery shopping always includes multiple stores. I like to go to Family Fruit for all the produce, Jewel for the Bird and canned goods and Trader Joes for prepared stuff like cut broccoli. The problem with Sunday grocery shopping is that everyone else and their brother is there too. However, shopping earlier means you do not have fresh items by Thursday and waiting until Monday means there might not be any goo stuff left. It is a zoo most of the time so I like to plan my course through the store prior to going there. It is like a video game mission where you have to get all the check points, but never back track. Make a list, stick to it and do not hesitate to zoom past others that are browsing lackadaisically.
Tips for quickly and efficiently doing your holiday grocery shopping:
1. The store you go to last is the one where you buy the most perishable items.
2. Know your isles and make your list by sections. Fruits & Veggies are at the front of all stores so make that the top of the list, booze is at the back of the store so make that the bottom of the list. So on and so forth.
3. Always smile. A lady on a mission can be seen as unfriendly, but if you smile at the same time you seem urgent yet kind.
4. Stick to your list when shopping for a holiday. Your fridge is going to get super full with all the ingredients so do not get diverted in sections considering what you might need for day to day items. Plus, if you planned your portions right you will have leftovers for a week and will not need your usual day to day items.
5. As you fill your cart, keep like items together. It will make it easier at check out, during the bagging process and for car loading.
6. Know your recipes. Even if it is something you always make have the ingredients on your list so you do not miss them. Going back again is not going to be make for a good day.
7. Do not hesitate to get prepped food like pre-cut broccoli, chopped walnuts, etc. It is a little bit more money, but it saves a ton of time and energy which you will not have a lot of when cooking for a large crew. Time is money so use it wisely!
8. Utilize helpers. Got a spouse, maybe some kids? At the least they should be on unloading the car duty. If one of them is great at the store, bring them with and divide and conquer. No one said you can not use 2 carts at once!
9. Reuse recycle always! Make sure to have your reusable bags on hand. I stash mine in the car so I never forget them.
As a business owner I make my own schedule so I take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off so I can do all my food prep! If you do not have this luxury that is a major bummer, but maximize on your time when you get home and use those helpers from #7 in my grocery tips.
The biggest things to prep on Wednesday are the veggies, casseroles and getting your bird into the brine mix. Trust me getting some of this stuff out of the way will make things much less stressful day of. Some of my favorite things to do on Wednesday are below.
1. Peeling and chopping the potatoes is not a fun activity. Get your helpers on this task. It is a great one for 10-14 year olds. The peelers are not as dangerous as knives and it keeps them helping but out of the way. You can always move a bowl and garbage can into the other room and have them work away from the hectic kitchen.
2. Bust out your mixer. I use an 6 quart Cuisinart to do all my veggie chopping for me. This thing can wiz through whatever veggies you could not find pre-cut. I like to do my stuffing veggies in it and all the onions that most of the dishes need. Have your zip block bags ready to hold everything. They take up less space in the fridge.
3. Always wash your dishes as you go along. A great way to start is with an empty dish washer.
4. If you are lucky and live in a colder climate like Chicago use your natural fridge as needed. ie. Back porch. Make sure it is cold enough out!
5. Get your brine together. Boil the water, add your stuff in, let it do its thing and then ice it down. The bird typically brines for 24 hours so do not put the bird in the brine too soon, but do have it ready. I use a few garbage bags and a mid-size cooler to put the bird in. It is perfect for that outdoor fridge.
Prepping is super crucial for any big cooking undertaking. When you get up in the morning and realize all you have to do is put stuff together and cook it off you will be a super happy camper. Knowing the size of your oven is extremely important. I like to fit 4 casseroles in at once so having rectangular dishes is key. Cook things in waves. Items like cranberries and potatoes can cook early because they do not take long to reheat. Items like corn pudding have egg whites and need to be whipped up last minute.
When it doubt looking and feeling sassy while knee deep in the kitchen is always a way to make things better. I have several fun aprons that compliment any outfit and you can switch out as they get dirty. Matching rags/towels that you can hang off the side is always an added bonus too. I prefer to do feminine themes with pinks and purples, but you can add in your own flare.
If you are uber lucky and have paid help day of that is great, but if not know your key players. By the time your guests are there your kids are going to be on play mode and your spouse is likely hearing the end of their helping capacity. Moms, Grandmoms, Aunts, Cousins, etc can be easily recruited by sharing a cute apron and having tons of nice towels on deck.
No one likes a hostess that does not hang out at their party so make sure you spend the majority of your time with guests and pace your drinking. Just like you need to know the size of your oven, you need to know your booze limit. If you can handle a bottle of wine, great, but if you are a one glass sassy sissy that is ok. Milk your drink all night. No one will know or care! You have to be semi-sober to pull off the evening so do not mess this part up. We have all been to a party where the hostess/host gets loaded, and well, that story is not worth sharing because it never ends well.
Why is it that Americans eat and drink more during the the holidays versus any other time of year? Well after all your hard work the people better eat a ton. Being a fan of cooking and a total foodie, no one has to pull my arm to encourage eating, but I think the holidays are a time of indulgence and we allow ourselves a little extra room to fit more in. Maybe more than a little in my case.
What are your best holiday cooking tips? How do you make it through and have a great time? The holidays are a blast and together we can make them amazing. “It Takes Teamwork to Make the Dream Work!!”