Thanksgiving might be only a little over a week away, but that doesn’t mean you need to start stressing—even if you haven’t given thought to what you’ll be serving just yet.
When it comes to filling her grocery cart when shopping for holiday meals, cookbook author and former Bon Appetit Test Kitchen director Carla Lalli Music tries her best to simplify things. Mainly, this means removing 25 to 30 percent of what’s in her cart before checking out, as her years of experience has taught her that it will always be too much.
“With menu planning, it’s always the same,” Carla told me. “People get really excited and think they have to impress people with quantity when really it’s actually about being together and having a good time at the table.” It’s a lesson she’s learned firsthand through being a cook. “I used to try to do really fancy, restaurant-inspired holiday meals,” she said. “I’d start prepping things three days in advance and it’s just not fun.”
In addition to simplifying your menu, Carla encourages people to accept help from others, especially if they’re offering it. Doing it all doesn’t make you a better host. “The holidays are about everybody sharing, so let people bring a side dish,” she said.
Lastly, Carla recommends letting go of this notion that all of your food needs to be served hot at the same time. “This is one of the hardest things to do, especially if you just have one oven and four burners,” she said. “Organize your menu so that you have things that are better at room temperature (like roasted vegetables) and things that are good cold (like a big salad). Focus on what really needs to be hot, like your roast, gravy and potatoes. Everything else can be staggered throughout the day.”
Carla’s newest cookbook, That Sounds So Good: 100 Real-Life Recipes for Every Day of the Week, offers go-to recipes for every situation and whatever ingredients you already have on hand. The book highlights the fact that there’s a different type of cooking that happens on weekdays versus weekends. “When I cook on weeknights it’s indoors, and on the weekend I’m leisurely cooking all through the day under the sun,” Carla said. “I wanted the book not to be organized by ingredient but instead organized by occasion, situation or how much time you have. I wanted to think about time and teach people how to use time in the most efficient way.”
A well-stocked pantry is central to fuss-free weeknight cooking, because if you’re short on time heading to the grocery store will only add unnecessary stress. Carla recently collaborated with Foxtrot Anywhere, an ecommerce company that delivers curated gift boxes nationwide. She created five different gift boxes and bundles as part of the partnership, and they include copies of her new cookbook plus some of her favorite pantry staples (like Jacobsen Salt and Tutto Calabria Rosa Marina Sauce). “I chose to work with Foxtrot because we are totally aligned in terms of having this desire to bring really excellent, beautiful, special food products into people’s homes so that they are empowered to cook more, to entertain and to share meals with their loved ones,” Carla said.
Carla’s collaboration with Foxtrot is part of a series of Tastemaker Collections, with previous collections curated by magazine editor and television personality Nilou Motamed and Snaxshot founder Andrea Hernández. Carla’s boxes range in price from $65 to $200 and will be available through the holiday season.