You know what’s headed our way at breakneck speed? Thanksgiving! Did you know some people already have their Christmas trees up? Are you nervous because you’re still trying to figure out Halloween costumes? Yeah, me either. Just kidding.
I always feel way behind despite making the best efforts to be on top of it. I think we all try our very best and our very best should always be enough, but where we can add some changes to make our lives easier, we should certainly attempt it.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was my holiday. And by my I mean I was doing the bulk of the cooking and baking by the time I was 16. Slowly I took over almost entirely. It’s my favorite holiday for a reason: I love food and I love family. Combining them for one major food fest is my literal dream come true. Whether it was baking the dinner rolls from scratch or seeking out the exact butter I needed, I always wanted to make it a delicious event.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent every year perfecting the menu, making the grocery list, shopping for the ingredients and the actual prep and cooking time. There were some complete fails where I forgot about a dish altogether until I looked in the fridge and saw the lone ingredients hiding under other things, or the time I thought the turkey was done, when in fact it was not done, or the time I made rolls from scratch and forgot about them in the oven until we smelled the smoke.
They all make funny memories, but we want to do better. (And I’d prefer memories where there’s no food burning or liable to make you sick.) So It is because of the extensive years of experience I’ve had with this holiday that I’m able to share some of my favorite tips and tricks to make the holiday a breeze whether you’re hosting or you’re helping.
In addition to some tips and tricks, I also want to share a recipe with you that I make almost every year to use up leftovers. It’s seriously a hit when you’ve had enough of the traditional leftovers. And by just shopping for those ingredients when you shop for the main meal, you’ll cut out so much stress.
So without further ado, here are my best tips and tricks to make your Thanksgiving a breeze:
1. Plan ahead.
This seems so elementary, but it’s so true. This is where future you will thank past you. If you are hosting, create a timeline for cleaning, decorating, shopping and reread your recipes so you can make some in advance. If you're just making a few dishes, then save the recipes, make your shopping lists and plan on the dishes you’ll want to use.
To make it even easier, use a grocery delivery service if one is available to you or arrange for grocery pick up. The closer you get to the holiday, the crazier it is in the stores. I like to stay away unless I go during an off time.
2. Buy large Ziplock bags for leftovers.
I don’t know about you, but we always have too many leftovers, which I love because that means we get to cook once and then laze around the next few days with family. But I realized early on that fridge space becomes so scarce. To combat this, I started storing leftovers in large Ziplock bags. They stack easily on top of each other, they barely take up any room, you can keep food fresher by pushing out much of the air and, best of all, you don’t have to look for matching lids and containers.
3. Spatchcock your turkey.
I have no idea why more people don’t do this! If you spatchcock your turkey, you not only reduce the cooking time dramatically, but you also lessen the risk of undercooking it. It is one of my biggest tips for Thanksgiving.
To those who aren’t familiar, it means to cut out the backbone of the turkey, push down on the breast bone and cook it flat. It cooks and browns more evenly and it cooks in a fraction of the time. If you adopt just one of these tips, this is the one to adopt.
4. Set the table the night before.
Whether you go all out with china or you keep it simple with Chinet, do yourself a favor and set it all out the night before. There’s nothing worse than having hungry people and looking for a serving spoon instead of relaxing and eating.
5. Utilize a crockpot.
The thing that always gets cold the fastest is the mashed potatoes. I like to make them the day before, then add a little more butter and cream and put it in the crockpot to keep warm. It’s one less thing to think about and super helpful.
6. Protect your dining table.
If you have a wooden dining table and want to keep stains and spills from ruining the wood, line the table first with newspaper and then the tablecloth to add an additional layer of protection. I cannot tell you how many times this has been helpful to us.
You don’t have to do everything, nor should you. If you find yourself out of time, energy or interest, get someone else to do it or get it store bought. There is something heroic in taking care of your sanity. I have done this many times without shame. Then end goal is for everyone to have a great time, including you.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving!
And now for the leftovers...
Herb Turkey Pot Pie
- 2 pie crusts (store-bought or homemade)
- 4 to 5 cups shredded turkey
- 1/2 cup each of chopped onions, carrots, and celery (or buy a premade version of soup starter in your vegetable section)
- 2 tbsp. garlic paste
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 4 to 5 sprigs of thyme
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 to 3 sage leaves
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
- 1 package frozen corn
- 1 package frozen green peas
- salt and pepper to taste.
- egg wash for top plus additional ½ tsp. each of dried oregano and parsley
Preheat oven to 375 and line one of the pie crusts in a pie pan. Use a fork to make holes in the crust. Set aside.
In a large dutch oven, add in oil and brown onions, carrots, celery and garlic until light golden brown. Add in all herbs.
Add in the shredded turkey and salt and pepper to taste. Let the entire mixture cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour and stir. Add in the cream and let the mixture slowly thicken.
Add in the peas and corn and stir. Check for seasonings and add more if necessary. Remove herb stems and bay leaf and let mixture cool slightly.
Add mixture to the pie shell and cover with the other pie crust and decorate as you’d like.
Add vents to the top to allow steam to escape.
Use egg wash to glaze the top crust and sprinkle top with ½ tsp each of dried oregano and parsley.
- Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes until the crust is browned and cooked through. Allow to cool and enjoy.
From Z to A with Zara Abbasi
Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit.