So you’ve finally got the cooking chops to host your first Thanksgiving. The one problem? Your kitchen is actually tinier than the closet in your college dorm room.
Sure, it’ll be tough, but it doesn’t have to be disaster. These tips will help you pull off a flawless Thanksgiving meal, even if your counter space consists of a cutting board placed over your sink basin.
1. Streamline your meal
I’m kind of a Thanksgiving overachiever, but honestly, this usually means I find myself deep in the weeds on the day of the big meal. Save yourself from my mistake by simplifying your feast.
You may feel the urge to make every single side dish you’ve saved from your mom’s old Martha Stewart Living magazines, but trust me — you only need a few.
Try to stick to one green side, one orange side, one starch and the turkey. For dessert, one pie will do nicely — the world isn’t going to end if Aunt Enid prefers pumpkin and you make pecan. Everyone will just be relieved that their host is having fun, not crying on the kitchen floor with pots and pans stacked in a dangerous maze around her.
2. Plan ahead
Planning things ahead of time will save you from so much stress. Schedule your time wisely throughout November, planning your shopping days well in advance, along with any food items that can be prepared ahead of time.
You also should take a look at your menu and figure out your day-of oven schedule. This will prevent any last-minute disasters — you don’t want to end up burning your green bean casserole or making your guests wait until 10 p.m. for the turkey to finally be done.
3. Stick with basic tools
When creating your menu, pay attention to what kitchen appliances you’ll need to use to create your meal. Food processor, stand mixer, immersion blender and rolling pin? That’s a recipe for disaster in a small kitchen.
A cutting board, chef’s knife, vegetable peeler and potato masher should see you through the day just fine. No space to roll out dough? Try a press-in tart dough or graham cracker crust for your pie. Simpler techniques will keep your kitchen calm and let the true flavor of autumn’s bounty shine in all of your dishes — after all, does anyone really want cranberry foam on their sweet potato soufflé?
4. Maximize prep space
This might be a good time to invest in an over-the-sink cutting board. They also make burner-cover cutting boards, but those seem a little risky to me. I’m not keen on the idea of putting wood or bamboo over or directly on top of a burner that may have accidentally been left on. On the other hand, if you turned your dinner table, desk or dresser into a countertop, you wouldn’t be the first person to do so.
5. Set up so cleanup is easier
Peel potatoes and carrots directly on a paper towel. Keep a bowl handy for scraps. Keep a garbage can out right next to your cutting board so you can scoop scraps directly inside. In other words, set up your prep station so cleanup is faster and easier.
6. Bus your station as you cook
Don’t leave one big mess to clean up at the end. That will just make your kitchen feel smaller as the day goes on, debris-strewn walls closing in on you like Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie inside the Death Star trash compactor. Instead, clean up your workstation after each step before moving on so you’re not always hunting for a clean, clear space.
7. Put your convection oven to use
If you happen to have a countertop convection oven instead of a full-size oven, congratulations. You’d be surprised at how much this baby can do. Remember to reduce your cooking temperature by 20 to 25 degrees, but do cook for the same amount of time as your recipes direct. Always use the lowest rack possible.
You may be able to get away with roasting a turkey in there. Buy a smaller bird and butterfly it. You may need to cook the legs and thighs separately. Since they take longer, roast those first, keep them covered so they stay warm and then roast the breast, bone removed, separately while the thighs rest. Tent the breast with foil so the skin doesn’t brown too quickly.
Sometimes you have to face the facts and realize you can’t do everything. Sure, you’re technically capable of cooking a 10-course feast, but will you actually survive the day if you put yourself through the ringer?
Thank God for the grocery store. Between the hot foods bar at your local Whole Foods, online resources and restaurants in your town, it’s easier than ever to get other people do some of the cooking for you.
And there’s no shame in the potluck game. Thanksgiving is all about community, right? If you’re hosting the meal, someone is bound to ask, “Can I bring anything?” Now’s your chance to actually take them up on their offer.
Either way, you’ll free up some space in the kitchen so you can add a homemade touch to your semi-store-bought meal.