We have been hosting Thanksgiving for a while now. Enrico’s family in Italy doesn’t celebrate the holiday, and my parents are far away in Ohio. Since we often make the trek to our family farm for Christmas, Thanksgiving is usually spent on our own or with friends.
I’ve been making the whole menu for ten or so years, and last night, as the girls and I were making the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, I was thinking how doing Thanksgiving was totally not intimidating anymore. Sure, part of it is practice, but here are some other ways we keep it sane.
Stick to the Tried and True
We don’t try new-fangled recipes. We make our family’s traditional dishes every year.
Since we don’t eat the stuff but once a year, it’s not like anyone gets sick of it. And the kids really look forward to the same tastes and smells.
Make it Early
Just about everything, besides the turkey, can be made ahead of time. Cranberry sauce can be stored in the fridge for days, as well as some of the more labor-intensive dishes like stuffing. Last night, Sofia and I completed all but the last step of the mashed potato recipe.
Sometimes I’ll even make the pie filling ahead, then just pour it into the pie shells the day of.
Don’t Deep-Fry the Turkey
When I started out doing Thanksgiving, the turkey was the thing that instilled the most fear. When you have guests, timing can be sometimes a little tricky (nothing that isn’t solved with some wine and music, though).
I looked at all sorts of cookbooks and consulted turkey gurus, but now I just cook the bird according to the package directions. This morning I didn’t even turn the turkey, and I barely even basted it, and it came out just the same!
Same simple cooking method goes for the cranberry sauce: we love the whole berry recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray package, and it couldn’t be easier.
“If you can buy something that tastes homemade, go for it,” says cooking teacher and friend, Shirley Tenhover, who recommends the ready-made Bob Evans mashed potatoes.
If you are hosting Thanksgiving, I agree that you should feel completely justified in giving yourself a break. In years’ past, I’ve used those store-bought mashed potatoes or steam-and-serve green beans. And the roll-and-bake pie crusts are just as good as anything I could make.
Fresh Turkey-Juice Gravy is Overrated
I have come to the conclusion that making the gravy from pan drippings and the just-right combo of flour thickener and broth, while everyone is waiting and the turkey is getting cold, adds a level of stress that is not worth the taste pay-off.
One year I tried to avoid the heat-of-the-moment marathon by making gravy ahead of time. The New York Times’ recipe, which went on and on about how a good gravy enriches the entire meal, required buying separate turkey parts and making home-made broth in a two-day process. When it came time to finally serve the meal, nobody even said a word about the gravy.
This year I just poured store-bought gravy into a ceramic pitcher and it was delicious.
Skip the Veggies
What? Yes, it’s true. Besides a bowl of crunchy raw celery, we don’t bother most times with a cooked vegetable dish. Green veggies are not the real stars of the Thanksgiving show, so why try to crowd the stage?