It’s that time of year–Thanksgiving! I love Thanksgiving. It is a pure joy to me–a feast about friendship and thankfulness and food. What could be more lovely? Girlfriend agrees with me–she says that Thanksgiving is one her favorite holidays, too. It doesn’t hurt that we share it with her best friend, whom I refer to as Boyfriend, and his parents, as well as a dear friend of mine whom I’ve known since I first moved to Seattle. We all pitch in, eat too much, talk, laugh, eat some more, and then hang out and talk into the night. The adults have wine and the kids have sparkling apple cider. There’s nothing but good about the day.
Don’t get me wrong–it does require preparation in order for me not to be a frazzled mess. Although I love cooking and baking, I don’t like getting too tired to enjoy the meal. Over the years, I’ve come up with various preparation strategies that make the actual day go much more smoothly and allow the actual day to be a series of enjoyable tasks, interspersed with a glass or two of wine and hanging out with the family before our pals arrive.
Our meal,like many Thanksgiving meals has elements that are traditional and remain the same each year. We’ve all had Thanksgiving together so often that we know the specific dishes that are looked forward to and that must be included. But, we don’t like to be too dogmatic, so we have other dishes that are added or altered each year. For example, in the “must-have” category: mashed potatoes. In the “changes each year” category: veggie side dishes. We always have turkey, but I often change the way I cook it each year. I like to dabble in different ways to roast it. But, the general principles remain the same.
Several years ago, I started a Thanksgiving dinner binder that holds all of the recipes we have each year, including the ones that we add or subtract, and that includes (most importantly) notes on changes and substitutions and reactions from each year. This binder lives in my kitchen cupboard most of the year, but around this time of year it comes out and has a fairly permanent place on my kitchen counter. The xeroxed or hand-written recipes are encased in plastic sheet protectors so I can use them every year and they are still readable.
When I first take it out each year, I spend some time reminiscing about past year’s meals and thinking about how much fun we are going to have. I also make a list of things each person needs to bring. We usually do the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and the pies. The others do the potatoes, veggies, salad, wine, and sparkling apple cider. We check in with each other about any new allergies that have occurred in the intervening year. This is usually an issue with our family–we seem to always be discovering new food allergies. Which is awesome. Not. Then I develop a “to-do” list.
On the to-do list is what needs to happen in order for the dinner to happen. Firstly, though: I don’t do anything that is stressful to me. I gave that up years ago. Therefore, I’m not someone who has a super-complicated meal that takes days and days to prepare because that isn’t fun for me. It is fun for some of my friends, and I think that is terrific. We all need to do what is best for us. For me, this holiday is time for me to slow down and be fully immersed in the process of cooking and baking. I love it. I don’t even have any book tour commitments this upcoming week (except for some radio interviews), so I get to just hang out, cook, and bake to my heart’s content.
I was at my hairdresser’s the other day, chatting about Thanksgiving, and she was talking about this year was going to be her first year to actually be in charge of the Thanksgiving meal. Usually her sister does it, but her sister and family were going out of town, so it was up to my hairdresser and her family. She was really nervous–but I told her that the meal should be fun and not something that was too stressful. We talked about how our moms would be wrecks by the end of the cooking process on Thanksgiving and how we didn’t want that to be us. So, I gave her some pre-prep tips that she said were helpful. And, I thought they might be helpful to you!
Need recipes? Of course, my book Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats, is full of them! I have also created a list of recipes that can be found on my site:
Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup–recipes to make your Thanksgiving deliciously gluten-free
Thanksgiving Preparation, Gluten-Free
* Plan your menu. Starters to desserts. Including wine, drinks, coffee or tea afterwards.
* Create a shopping list from your menu. Include non-food items–like candles.
* Make sure you have all of the equipment/tools you need (brining bag if using, roasting pan, pie pans, etc)
* Decide how you are going to do your stuffing (if using). Plan the bread that you will use for it. Either put the bread or the ingredients to make the bread on your shopping list.
* Order your turkey (if you already haven’t). Be sure your turkey is gluten-free. The self-basting turkeys are NOT gluten-free. Ask your butcher or look at the labels or do online research to see what turkey would be good for you. Our family gets a Heidi’s Hens organic turkey each year–we love it!
* Alternatively, check into the gluten status of your turkey alternative. Many vegetarian turkey substitutes contain gluten, so you want to make sure yours doesn’t. If you want to make something, might I suggest the Cheese and Nut Loaf from the Greens cookbook, by Deborah Madison with Edward Espy Brown? I have made it several times over the years–it is soooo good!
* If you are having pie, make your pie dough, line your pie pan, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. If you are having more than one pie, do this for each pie. I know I usually tell people not to use metal pie pans, but this time of year is an exception. I have some metal pie pans that I use for this purpose each year. The metal pans freeze well and you don’t have to worry about them breaking.
* Shop for your ingredients. Get them all. Don’t leave anything for later–that’s just going to stress you out. Monday is a nice day to shop–the stores are busy but not quite as insane as they are going to be on Tuesday or Wednesday.
* If your turkey is frozen, start the defrosting process in the fridge (don’t leave it on the counter to do it–that’s dangerous). If you are brining your turkey, make sure you have a brining plan including when the turkey will go into the brine, when it comes out of the brine, how long it needs to dry in the fridge. I’m not sure if I’m going to brine this year. I’ve been brining our turkey each year with a hybrid brine of Martha Stewart’s brine and the Chez Panisse brine for about 8 years. But, this year I may experiment with not doing it and see how it goes.
* Start the chopping process–this will happen leisurely over the course of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I take this opportunity to start chopping the veggies and nuts that are used in the meal. For example, I have onions, celery, mushrooms and pecans that go into the stuffing (recipe in my book). I chop these in the days before Thursday and put each one into a ziploc bag. Just do a little chopping each night and by Thursday: Voila! Done.
* Make the bread for the stuffing (if you are making it). Slice and toast the bread. I do this by slicing the whole loaf, setting the oven on low heat, around 200 degrees F, and then putting the slices on a couple of large cookie sheets and sticking them in the oven for about 15 minutes. Then I turn off the heat and leave the bread slices in there overnight (or when I get to them). This ensures crusty bread cubes later.
* Do any brining you need to. The turkey will need to dry overnight in the fridge on Wednesday night, so you should be brining your turkey tonight or early on Wed.
* Making cranberry sauce? Start that now. I usually make my cranberry sauce, put it into a mold in the fridge, and then totally forget about it until after Thanksgiving. I’m not kidding. It’s a joke with us now. I make a fab cranberry sauce, so I’m not sure why I can’t remember it each year. I think dAhub secretly likes that I forget to bring it out because then he gets to have it with leftovers for the next week.
* Take your turkey out of the brine, wash it, and set to dry uncovered in the fridge. Even if you don’t brine your turkey, unwrap it, wash it (rinse it in cold water), pat dry, and let sit uncovered in the fridge overnight. This is help the skin be crispy.
* Take the bread slices out of the oven, cut into cubes, and put in a ziplock bag to use tomorrow in the stuffing.
* If making dinner rolls, make them up until the rising point. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. You will bake these tomorrow.
* Make your pies. Pies are fine made the day before, so I make them now. Place the frozen pie crust-lined pan in the fridge and let defrost for about 1 hour. Make your pie fillings. Fill and bake your pies, 1 at a time (unless they have the same baking time/temperature)
* Wake up a couple of hours before the turkey needs to go into the oven. We have our feast at about 5 pm, so things are much more leisurely for our day. dAhub and Girlfriend usually sleep in. The house is quiet and there is a festive anticipation in the air. Take out the rolls and let rise a bit more at room temperature. Take the turkey out of the fridge and let come to room temperature while you make your stuffing. Put the giblets and neck in a saucepan with water (if you like to make giblet gravy–which I do) and put on the stove to simmer all day. Bake your rolls while you make your stuffing. My stuffing includes some stove time, so I need to let the stuffing cool to room temperature.
* Preheat oven to dinner roll baking temperature
* If you stuff your turkey, remember that room temperature stuffing goes into a room temperature turkey. This is the key to safely cooking a stuffed turkey. Also, stuff the turkey loosely–do not overstuff. Place remaining stuffing in a baking pan, cover, and put into fridge. You will bake this as side dressing later.
Shameless self promotion: This past week, I have been doing book signings at a local grocery store. They have been making the stuffing recipe from my book as a sample for folks to try (along with one of my pies). Everyone has gone nuts over the stuffing–no kidding. They LOVE it. Literally–people come from all parts of the store, saying that they heard about the fabulous stuffing (and pie) that was available for samples. I am so pleased–it’s based on my mom’s stuffing recipe–but I have to say, it never would have dawned on me that people would like to eat stuffing just by itself, outside of the Thanksgiving meal. Seriously, people came back for seconds. It’s so wild (and gratifying to watch).
* I then truss the turkey. Prepare the turkey as desired. I rub butter all over the skin, and then salt and pepper all over. I don’t add herbs, but you are welcome to. I especially like thyme with turkey (versus the more common sage).
* When the rolls are done, remove from the oven, place on rack to cool, and preheat oven to turkey roasting temperature.
* Place turkey in the roasting pan along with any extras you like. We usually have a 12-ish pound turkey, so I like to put 1 cup of white wine and 1 cup of water in the pan with the turkey. This gives some starter roasting liquid with which to baste the turkey. I also do something I heard about on The Splendid Table years ago: I start the turkey breast down and roast it there for the 1st hour. The theory is that the juices go into the breast and make it more juicy than it would be otherwise. The only problem with this is you have to turn it over after an hour. I dedicate 2 oven mitts to this process which then immediately go into the laundry basket.
* Roast your turkey for the required amount of time, basting as needed (I baste every 15 minutes). I have a thermometer that I stick on one of the turkey legs (be sure it doesn’t hit the bone). The thermometer needs to get to 165 degrees F for the turkey to be considered safely cooked. When the thermometer reaches 165 for the turkey, I then stick it in the stuffing to make sure the stuffing has reached 165, as well.
* Important note: Clean as you go along. There is nothing worse than having a lovely dinner and then having to come to the kitchen and clean up. I just do it as I go along and it is sooooo much easier. Also, it allows our small kitchen to be ready for the guests to do their preparations when they come.
* While the turkey is roasting, I make the stove top things. Boil the potatoes for the mashed potatoes, cook any veggies for sides, assemble the salad. I do this leisurely–I set up a comfy chair in the kitchen and listen to the radio while everything is bubbling away. Starting at about noon, I break out the wine and treat myself to a glass of wine while I do my thing. When guests start arriving, I move the chair out of the kitchen, offer each guest a glass of wine, and the guests do their thing in the kitchen.
* Don’t forget to delegate. Sometime during the day, have someone set the table (this can be done the night before). I was lucky enough to have inherited my grandmother’s lace tablecloth and her linen napkins. I also inherited my grandparent’s dining table, so they all go nicely with each other. dAhub and Girlfriend are in charge of setting the table and tidying the house while I am happily puttering away in the kitchen.
* When it’s time to take the turkey out of the oven, that’s the time for last-minute cooking of other stuff. The turkey should be allowed to rest (which allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat) for about 45 minutes. During this time, bake your leftover dressing, make the gravy, take the cranberry sauce out of the fridge (heh), mash the potatoes, whip the cream for the pies, etc.
* Carve the turkey, gather your loved ones, and feast!
After the dinner
* Send guests home with leftovers. Our guests know to bring their own containers for leftovers–we divvy up everything so each of us has some to snack on in the days after Thanksgiving.
* Keep the bones from the turkey for stock. I put all of the bones into ziploc bags and then use them to make stock. Turkey stock is A-Maze-Ing. Seriously. It’s the best stock ever. You just throw the bones into a large stockpot, cover with water, and simmer for several hours. Cool, skim off the fat on top, strain out the bones, and use as desired. I freeze the stock in 2 cup amounts–this way I have special stock on hand for the upcoming holidays.
* Clean the pots and pans, put leftovers in the fridge, start the dishwasher, fall into bed, happy and sated.
(Clip art from: graphicsfairy.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive)