You say you’ll cry at least three times; I get it. It’s a lot, cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You will use absolutely every single dish and flat surface in the kitchen and beyond, and when you serve it up you probably won’t even be hungry. While it’s tempting to drink while prepping, go easy on the Chardonnay or you’ll really have a mess on your hands, in more ways than one.
My first Thanksgiving dinner I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I never paid attention to what was going on in the kitchen while growing up. The only job I had and did was to empty the dishwasher, I was absolutely expert at that. Once married I wanted to do adulting, and that meant inviting Grandma Collins and MaryAnne and Ethel to that first dinner, yikes. I kid you not the turkey wasn’t cooked through, so whatever you do you are sure to do better than that.
It’s not only an all-day affair, it’s actually kind of an epic hot mess. And the funny thing is no one even really likes turkey, so you’re smart to have steaks. Uncle Jim’s turkey will be just fine. Steak and turkey, great leftovers for Friday, steak and eggs for breakfast (or pie, duh), turkey sandwiches for lunch.
The shopping starts a week or so ahead if you plan, it’s also something you can do on the fly if your kind of like the rush of tequila, tequila can make you do things quick without thinking too much. You need all kinds of things and if you’re serious you need to make stock. Stock for the gravy, gravy is the bananas.
Seriously, start by cutting up the four loaves of white bread into small squares excluding the crust the night or two before. Get up early, like the crack of dawn and bake off the pies. Peel all those potatoes and cook and mash and keep warm over a Bain de Marie after you’ve sautéed the celery and the butter and the onions for the stuffing. Oh, and the sweet potatoes should be baked on Wednesday and sit overnight. Green beans need an ice bath. Cranberry sauce you need fresh and cooked, do that all ahead of time, like Tuesday. Ask your kids to make the place cards and set the table and pray. Have store bought frozen gravy secretly stored in the freezer and fake packs of dried gravy mix secretly stored in the pantry, the kind you just mix with water in case the gravy goes bust, you can fake it with a little bit of the pan drippings and butter and wine and maybe some whole milk.
Back to the table, I’ll be in London, and you’re serving yourself and eight other guests, including your oldest brother and your dad, oh boy. I’ve been prowling the net to get you set up, and here are a few of my picks, being delivered now through Wednesday:
Ugh, and now I’m getting tired, so here are three recipes to get you started, even though I know you already make best mashed potatoes ever:
Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 butternut squashes, about 3 lb. total weight, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 yellow onions, quartered
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, quartered, and cored
5 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup half-and-half
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
4 teaspoons minced fresh sage
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and the oil. Line a shallow baking dish with aluminum foil and arrange the squashes, onions, and apple in it. Brush the cut sides of the squash halves and the entire surface of the onions and apple with the honey mixture. Bake, turning all the pieces once or twice, until tender and well browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, let cool, and then scoop the squash flesh out of the peel and chop coarsely. Chop the onions and apple.
In a medium soup pot over medium heat, combine the squash, onion, apple, stock, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Partially cover and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and place over medium heat. Stir in the half-and-half and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Divide the soup among warmed shallow serving bowls. Evenly sprinkle each portion with the pistachios and sage and serve immediately.
Classic Mashed Potatoes
5 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large uniform chunks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (you know I simply feel this and add more)
1 2/3 cups whole milk, heated to simmer
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Salt the water, bring to a boil over medium heat, cover partially, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are very tender, about 40 minutes. Drain.
Return the potatoes to the pan and place the pan over low heat. With a potato masher, mash the potatoes thoroughly. With a wooden spoon, fold the butter into the potatoes 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. Gradually stir in the hot milk. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Still using the wooden spoon, stir the potatoes until they are light and fluffy.
Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot. (I always make them ahead, like first thing in the morning, and hold them over a Bain de maire).
Bread Dressing with Celery
¾ cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
4 cups finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups finely chopped celery, including some leafy tops
5 teaspoons poultry seasoning (I use Old Bay Seasoning)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 lb. firm white sandwich bread slices, stale or slightly toasted (I use white Pepperidge Farm and cut the crusts off and lay the cubes on a zillion cookie sheets all over the kitchen and butler’s pantry on like Tuesday evening)
6 cups chicken stock (must be scratch!)
½ cup minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the ¾ cup butter. Add the onion, celery, poultry seasoning, and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (This is what makes the house smell like Thanksgiving!).
Using a serrated knife, trim the crusts from the stale bread and cut into slices into ½-inch cubes. In a very large bowl, combine the bread and the onion mixture.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Whisk in the stock. Stir the stock mixture into the bread mixture. Add the parsley, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper. Stir well, breaking down the bread cubes to form a soft mass.
Bake the dressing alongside a turkey in a 325-degree F oven: generously grease a 4-qt baking dish. Spoon the dressing into the prepared dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the dressing is steaming hot, lightly browned on top, and well browned on the sides and bottom until moist, 30-35 minutes longer. Serve hot.
(I used to stuff the bird with dressing, now I prefer baking it separately or making two batches and two turkeys and stuffing one bird).
To bake the dressing in a turkey, loosely stuff the turkey’s cavities with dressing and truss the larger opening. Increase the roasting time of the turkey by 35-45 minutes. Any dressing that doesn’t fit gets baked as above.
Most of all, have fun with it, you’ll be surrounded by love, gratitude, and warm appreciation, and you’ll have steaks.
Love you always and forever,