How to coordinate a large meal

Around the holidays you always find articles about how to simplify making a large meal. What different foods to choose so that they can be made the day, or days, before. Or perhaps by choosing dishes that don’t need a lot of tending. But what if you do want to make that large meal that really can’t be made the day before, and does need some attention in the cooking process? To me, it’s like fitting pieces of a puzzle together. I’ll take you through how I pulled off making the base of a Thanksgiving meal for 9 adults and 3 kids this year.

At least a week before, sit down and decide what you’re going to make. I decided on roast turkey, creamed corn, sweet potato casserole, red quinoa with roasted butternut squash, gravy, and lemon french dressing. Once your menu is decided, take a sheet of paper and write down EVERY SINGLE ingredient for each recipe and the amount of it you’ll need. Nothing else. Now evaluate what you have at home and what you’ll need to buy. Now you have your shopping list; make sure quantities are listed on there too.

Next, you need to figure out what can and can’t be made ahead, or what needs to marinate. For the turkey recipe I use, it gets spiced up to two days ahead. Sweet potatoes can be roasted ahead of time, and dressing can be made a head of time. But really, for the rest of what I wanted to make, it would need to be made the day of. So here’s what I ended up with:
Sunday: do bulk of shopping. Still forget to pick up a few things.
Tuesday: pick up turkey and prep it with herbs and spices. Cover and stick in the fridge.
Wednesday: roast sweet potatoes, make dressing. Realize you need more butter.
The turkey needed to go in around 1:15, so I used that as the time point I needed to work around. In the morning, I prepped the sweet potato casserole base, and put it in the fridge. Next I work on the red quinoa with roasted butternut squash. I got the squash mixture in the oven about 1/2 hour before the turkey needed to go in. Once that came out, put the oven up to the turkey temperature and when the oven was ready (really around 1:30) put the turkey in. That needed to cook for a total of 1 hour and 45 min. During that time I finished up the quinoa dish. Did dishes so that I wouldn’t have a massive mess to clean up afterward. And realized we’d never bought corn because the supermarket was out of it on Sunday. Run to the store. Make creamed corn. Rested a bit. Close to the time the turkey was due to come out, I took the sweet potato casserole bases out of the fridge to warm the glass of the baking dishes a bit and prepped the topping. Once the turkey came out, I slide the sweet potato casseroles in. Conveniently enough, the turkey needs to rest for 30 min before carving and the casseroles take 30 min to bake. During this time I also made the easy gravy from ‘Joy of Cooking’.

At this point, everyone had arrived. All the dishes were ready and serving spoons had been doled out to the dishes that other people had bought. Really, it isn’t hard to do something like this, but it does take patience and planning. It also takes the ability of knowing how much you can make reasonably, and knowing what to cross off your menu. The only dish I added from last year was the quinoa dish for a vegan and vegetarian who celebrated with us. I know this is about the amount of food I’m capable of managing without burning something or forgetting something. Yes, I am capable of making mashed potatoes, but it isn’t something important to me, so I always ask someone else to bring it. Usually this works, but if you have a year like we did last year where the mashed potatoes person never showed up… well, life goes on. It’s only mashed potatoes, right?


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