Countdown to Turkey Day 2011: November 4 The Soft Menu Plan

Heather says:

Yay! Another pen and paper exercise or maybe if you’re wired weird and serving a bunch of people it’ll be a Google spreadsheet. I’m still being teased for that, if you must know.

Today’s exercise is not the final menu.

Divide your sheet of paper into three columns.

Label them:

  • My ideal menu
  • My guests’ ideal menu
  • The Great Compromise

Alternately, use this handy Home-Ec 101 Thanksgiving Menu Planner Printable.

This Thanksgiving Menu Plan has three versions.  Start with your ideal Thanksgiving dinner. If time and money weren’t an object, what would you want on your Thanksgiving table?

Just for fun, I’d love to hear what you’re planning for Thanksgiving this year.

Leave a note in the comment or a link to your own site, if you’re of the blogging persuasion.

The second column is the one that would make everyone happy (you know with Granny’s Waldorf Salad, Aunt Teppy’s Green Bean Casserole, etc). After these two are complete you pull from both to make the compromise that is the reality of the holiday.

On the compromise menu make sure you include at least one item that will bring you joy. Know full well as you add that item to your list that everyone else may hate it. It doesn’t matter; add it to the list anyway. A holiday meal is a lot of work and what is the benefit of being the host / hostess if you don’t get something out of it?

Thanksgiving Dinner

Why is it that some holiday meals feel like a potluck while others have a unified theme?

It’s all in the menu plan.

When planning a menu for a large meal, look for flavor ties between dishes to create a flow.

Take a peek at my holiday dinner spreadsheet for a good example.

The Cajun seasoning of the turkey is part of the sausage of the cornbread dressing and sausage is also in the collards. I swapped out the pecans for almonds in the apple, sage, cranberry dressing to tie it with both the broccoli salad and the green beans.  Cranberries are in the sauce -duh- the apple, sage, cranberry dressing, and in the broccoli salad.  This works best if there are very different textures with the involved dishes. Crisp turkey skin, contrasted with soft dressing, or the crispness of stir-fried green beans next to the soft baked feel of the apples in the other dressing.

It’s not the easiest technique for me to explain, so feel free to ask questions in the comments. Not every dish in your menu has to fit the flow, but it’s best if they don’t come from too far afield. If it seems out of place, see if there is a way to alter it slightly so it carries some component of the other dishes. In my example the mashed potatoes receive turkey gravy and the macaroni and cheese was topped with  bacon (also in the broccoli salad) and green onions (onion flavor was in many of the dishes).

Have fun! Of course, maybe I’m the weirdo here who enjoys thinking about food almost as much as eating it.



7 Comments

  1. ihavetriedit on November 6, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I think I’m going to make ‘sweet potato pie” this year….found a great recipe in REAL simple magazine. Can’t wait to try it!

  2. janlnye on November 6, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I’m planning on working for Thanksgiving. Which means I get to eat nommy hospital cafeteria food! Now you know why I was so happy to come be your kitchen elf and eat real Thanksgiving food!

  3. KhrystannDuch on November 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Heather, you have now gotten me though 4 thanksgivings!!! This will be my 5th. It is because of your guidance that I have been able to create the perfect menu and time plan and have followed it each year to perfection! I am forever grateful and you have earned yourself a leaf on my TG tree because of it.

    I am no longer an active blogger, (formally known as Domestically Challenged (and later The Duchess of Cookies) at Another Day in Paradise) so I will post my menu here instead of linking to my blog:

    Cranberry Champaign Salad

    Butternut Squash – Apple & Pear Soup

    Roast Turkey Breast

    Stuffing with the works

    Garlic-Smashed Taters

    Green Beans

    Sweet Rolls

    Gravy

    Cran-Orange Sauce

    Pumpkin pie

    Dutch Apple pie

  4. KhrystannDuch on November 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Heather, you have now gotten me though 4 thanksgivings!!! This will be my 5th. It is because of your guidance that I have been able to create the perfect menu and time plan and have followed it each year to perfection! I am forever grateful and you have earned yourself a leaf on my TG tree because of it.

    I am no longer an active blogger, (formally known as Domestically Challenged (and later The Duchess of Cookies) at Another Day in Paradise) so I will post my menu here instead of linking to my blog:

    Cranberry Champaign Salad

    Butternut Squash – Apple & Pear Soup

    Roast Turkey Breast

    Stuffing with the works

    Garlic-Smashed Taters

    Green Beans

    Sweet Rolls

    Gravy

    Cran-Orange Sauce

    Pumpkin pie

    Dutch Apple pie

  5. KeterMagick on November 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I think of coordinating and contrasting flavors in a meal as the difference between an all-you-can-eat buffet place and a fine restaurant….both might serve the same dishes, but the difference in coordination and contrast will be noted and appreciated by your mouth! Here’s what I watch for in each dish:

    + Spiciness – is it hot (pepper, warm spices like cinnamon, onion, garlic) or cool (green spices like sage, rosemary, mint)?

    + Acid balance – does it have a lot of lemon juice or vinegar, or feature an acidic food like tomatoes? Be careful not to overserve acid foods – not only will it encourage indigestion, it makes for poor variety.

    + Sweet/savory/bitter – what’s the top note of the dish? This is what makes it sparkle or be overpowering. Vary this in a dish or two, for example, veer away from herbs and vanilla with a single side with a citrus top note.

    + Fattiness/astringency – you should always plan one or two items that clean the palate. For example, cranberry sauce is a traditional side because it is sweet, acidic, and cool, and therefore contrasts well with a meal full of spices that can be a bit bitter (sage, rosemary) or warm (cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg), and typically tends to be high in fat.

    Now arranging these flavors is a bit of an art and has a lot to do with pleasing your audience. For example, if you don’t know people’s food preferences/sensitivities, plan for variety from spicy to mild, sweet to savory, rich to diet-friendly, and concentrate the flavor extremes into side dishes served in smaller quantities. Have plenty of “grazing” options available (salad, fruit, nuts, cheese, gluten and dairy-free items) so guests can mix and match or go meatless for themselves. If you know your group shares a similar taste, such as everyone loves spicy or ethnic influenced food – by all means cater to that, but throw in a dish or two that go in a different direction for variety. In either case, watch the flavor and heaviness “amplitude” of your meal – you don’t want to swing wildly between very light and mild to very heavy and spicy with the introduction of each new course…one should blend into the next without jarring the palate or the stomach and reach its crescendo with the main serving of meat and primary side dishes, then taper off into dessert and/or after dinner beverages..

    • KeterMagick on November 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      Lastly, beware of the “themed” dinner unless you are really certain that your guests will like (and can eat) the themed foods. If you find yourself using the same ingredients and spices in the majority of your dishes, you are doing a theme whether you realize it or not…stop and plan in some variation, especially if you are going off in an unusual direction. I’ve seen some very creative themed dinners centered on seafood and strongly ethnic spicing that ended up delicious – but left little for some guests to eat due to food sensitivity or dietary restriction.

  6. Carolyn Wesner on November 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Okay, all my meals feel like potluck…it’s like a restaurant at my house all with separate orders. Although, I used to do monochromatic meals – mostly all white food in the bad old days.

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