Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sane Thanksgiving Cooking

My mother taught me how to cook (except for breads, cakes, pie and pastries - she's a quickbread girl and that's about it), and that includes our quintessential Thanksgiving meal. She also taught me not to get so frantic over doing something awesome for a meal. Keep it simple. Just roast a turkey, serve some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, a veggie, maybe some rolls, and a pie for dessert. Phrased that way, it's not quite so intimidating, is it? Even when you're multiplying by a factor of 6 or something.

How to Sanely Produce a Thanksgiving meal:

Step Zero. Figure out how long it will take the turkey to defrost, and make sure it will be ready.

Step One. Bake pumpkin pie(s) and cornbread one night before. Also, hard boil a half-dozen or more eggs. Feel free to make the cranberry sauce, too. Your call. Ditto if you plan on making a yam or sweet potato casserole type dish - cook the yams/sweet potatoes the night before so they're ready when you need them. Maybe buy a couple baguettes as your backup bread. If you make your pie crust from scratch, now is the time.

Step Two. Bake any other pie(s) the next morning and clean up before starting everything else. Meanwhile, simmer turkey neck, maybe giblets, in a pot of water with a stalk of celery for however long you feel like it. Congrats, you just made broth. Make yourself some oatmeal and a pot of tea and relax and figure out how long you're going to cook that poultry. If you are stuck offering guests breakfast, keep it simple - oatmeal or something similar, toast/bagels and cream cheese or jam, and tea or coffee.

Step Three. Prepare cornbread stuffing - melted butter or broth, sage, onion, cornbread, any other herbs that strike your fancy. Maybe set the table for later.

Step Three. Put turkey stuffed with stuffing in oven at the appropriate calculated time. Put lard, butter, or vegetable shortening on breast. Additionally, take a paper bag and cut it to lie flat, then 'oil it' by rubbing it with the same sealant. Put over turkey. Make the cranberry sauce (cranberries, water, sugar) if you didn't last night. Take last night's hardboiled eggs and peel, then slice them lengthwise, smush all the yolk pieces together in a bowl with some mayo or yogurt and whatever seasoning strikes your fancy (dill is nice), and decant back into the half-egg shells. Congrats, you just made deviled eggs. Chop up some pieces of vegetables, and toss all that on a platter with a hunk of cheese, knife, and crackers. Open that jar of salsa and that bag of tortilla chips. That's your nibblies! Serve them in the living room, since the dining table is already set.

Step Four. Ignore turkey for appropriate hundreds of minutes. Occasionally, consider basting. Maybe even actually baste. Assemble any casserole dishes and put them in the oven at the appropriate time. Watch a movie, this is supposed to be a fun day for you, too. Put your feet up, you've been standing a lot and those deviled eggs are good.

Step Five. At an appropriate time based on when you plan to serve, cook mashed potatoes and one or two side vegies of your choice. Want some extra stuffing? Throw the rest of your stuffing into a pan, make sure it's nice and moist with broth or some turkey drippings or both, cover with foil, and pop in the oven. Make gravy, either from Bisto, or scratch, as the spirit moves you.

Step Six. Are you a roll or biscuit aficionado? You can make a plain biscuit from scratch in about 20 minutes (or cook biscuits from a can) - while the turkey is cooling after you pull it out of the oven. No joke. Or pull out the backup baguettes and warm them in the oven or microwave. Meanwhile, delegate opening any booze to someone else. Then, chow down.

In my experience, the people for whom Thanksgiving is more burden than anything else are the ones who expect themselves to produce a stuffed turkey, and potatoes, and a yam dish, and a green bean casserole, and brussel sprouts in a bacon maple reduction whatever, and a rice dish, and asparagus, and corn on the cob, and pumpkin, cherry, pecan, and apple pies baked from scratch, and a jello salad, and bread pudding, and bread/rolls/biscuits, and hot hors d'oeuvres. PARE IT DOWN. Whatever your signature, it'-ain't-Turkey-Day-without-it dish is (mine is cranberry sauce and the mashed potatoes) make sure you've got that precisely how you want, and then MANAGE the delivery of the rest. Steam your veggies in the microwave. Or cook the extra stuffing that way. Buy the canned cranberry sauce. It's the cook's day, too.

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