I do it every year.
When the November magazines show up in my mailbox, and the glossy cover photos showcase updated Thanksgiving classics, I think, “Maybe this is the year to tinker with my menu.” I start to daydream about change. That brown-sugar glaze looks amazing. Maybe I should add another vegetable dish, like that one with the Brussels sprouts and pancetta. Wow. Check out that pear and custard pie. Do you think it’s crazy to make four different desserts for my family of six?
But then, when I'm forced to make a decision, I can never deviate from the tried and true. I came up with this menu a few years back, after much trial and error. And it is, quite simply, Thanksgiving perfection. I can't bring myself to part with or add one single dish.
1. It’s a symphonic menu - meaning, it is more than the sum of its parts. If I remove even one dish, the meal loses something. If I add a dish, I have too much food. Put together, it’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet, crispy and creamy, fresh and rich. It touches on every Thanksgiving must-have, sometimes in unexpected ways, without overwhelming the table with any one food group. Bonus: It's a gorgeous meal, with all the reds and oranges and greens and browns.
2. Almost every dish can be made the day before Thanksgiving. Even for people like me who love to cook, this is a sanity saver. It allows me to enjoy the day of Thanksgiving, and spend most of it playing games with my children or going on a frosty hike through the woods, instead of standing on my feet in front of the stove for eight hours. You might say, it enables me to have a slice of Sabbath with my pie – and Sabbath is fuel for a thankful heart. Bonus: If you only have one oven, a menu like this is almost a necessity. Having the side dishes already prepared and ready to reheat in the oven while the turkey rests takes a lot of mental gymnastics out of the day.
3. It's all tasty enough to make you want to slap yo mama. Or whatever they do where you live. In Minnesota, if a meal is really amazing, someone might say, "Uff-dah." Which is Swedish swearing. Or so I've been told. I'm not native.
Are you ready? Here we go: the ultimate Here, Taste This, Thanksgiving edition.
Alton Brown's Roast Turkey
Nothing trendy here. No figs in the stuffing or deep-frying the bird or roasting it upside down. Nope, it’s just turkey, Alton Brown-style. It’s brined – which is really the key to taking a turkey from OK to O-WOW – and then cooked at high heat in your oven. The recipe videos are especially helpful to me. (And highly entertaining. "Stuffing, by and large, is evil.") I watch them every year – it’s my own Thanksgiving tradition – so I can be re-educated about the science behind cooking a 15-pound bird in my oven. Also? If you doubt me, believe the good people on the Food Network’s website. This recipe has five stars and almost 3500 reviews.
Cheater method (which I'm totally doing this year). Get yourself an already brined turkey from Trader Joe's, then follow the second half of Alton's recipe. (Alton, forgive me, but I know not what I.... Actually, I totally know what I'm doing, and brining, while genius, is a butt load of work. This is much easier. Thanks for your understanding.)
White Wine Gravy
Gravy is one of those dishes I feel free to play with, but this recipe is close to what I do. I really like the white wine undertones in this. I don't serve wine at Thanksgiving, so I don't offend my conservative Baptist in-laws. But this gravy almost makes up for it.
Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Seriously. These are a revelation. And so easy. I especially love that I can make them on Wednesday and then pop them in the oven to warm on Thanksgiving and yet they lose nothing in the process. They are just as good the second day as the first.
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
From one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food. A medley of carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and garlic are roasted at high heat the day before Thanksgiving. (Note: If the aroma of this dish could be made into a perfume, I would wear it.) Just reheat before serving. Again, nothing is lost in translation.
Green Bean, Watercress and and Crispy Shallot Salad
Another Everyday Food contribution. This is a simple salad -- blanched fresh green beans tossed in a light lemon-Dijon vinaigrette and topped with pan-fried shallot circles. Best: It's best served room temperature. Nothing to reheat here. Just prepare the different parts on Wednesday and toss before serving on Thursday.
image courtesy Muffet/Flickr Creative Commons
Zesty Cranberry Sauce
I love cranberry sauce, and this homemade version is so good, I sometimes eat it for dessert. (True story.) I can't find the recipe online; I've had it so long, I'm not even sure where I got it. But it's easy and short, so I'll just give it to you here.
1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine everything in a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to pop, about 8-10 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nannie's Pumpkin Pie
In my opinion, pumpkin pie is more necessary than turkey for a real Thanksgiving. I know some people don't like it, to which I say: What is WRONG with you freaks?
Maybe it's because you don't have my Nannie's recipe for pumpkin pie, which has the perfect blend of sugar and spice. According to family lore, Nannie got the recipe off a Kroger's can of pumpkin in the 1940s, when food was being rationed for the war. It has simple ingredients and it's easy to make and it's practically fool-proof.
15 oz canned pumpkin
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients well. Bake in an unbaked pie crust at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, and then 350 degrees until set, about another 45 min.