I put together this post to help you cook a great Thanksgiving dinner and remain in a happy state so that you can enjoy everything about the holiday: the planning, the cooking, and finally, the actual day with your love people. For me, Thanksgiving means cooking in my pajamas with my coffee, the aroma of butter simmering with onions for the stuffing, making pumpkin pies and watching bits of the televised parade in New York so we don’t miss the Rockettes. My daughter, now 14, is fully on board with this plan. You can say we’re two peas in a pod. My mom shared these traditions with me when I was a girl and old photo albums show grandmas dressed up in heels and pearls and always a roast turkey at the center of the table.
I’ve cooked a Thanksgiving dinner probably twenty times so far. The key is planning ahead and doing everything in your power to stay away from the grocery store frenzy. Start stockpiling things like onions, butter, broth, cranberries, potatoes, flour and yeast NOW. Buy your turkey this weekend and let it sit in your refrigerator, it’ll be just fine in there, waiting a few days.
My dinner always includes a roast turkey (and I have very few photos because once it’s cooked, it’s gravy making time!), bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, gravy, and a salad or roasted veggie. Oh, and wine—this year cru Beaujolais. And pie, don’t forget the pie. And the whipped cream. Ok. That’s it.
Take a minute and remember what makes Thanksgiving special for your people. Now that I think about it, I need a can of that jellied cranberry “sauce” for my son (plain, no berries), and something to put out for an appetizer— I’m going easy this year: apple slices (try the Rosa Lyn – hard and crisp, just right tart-sweet balance), almonds, cheese and sliced dried figs. Also on my list, some sliced sourdough and lettuce for day after sandwiches.
I hope this post helps you get started with your planning, shopping and cooking so that you can enjoy your holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving 101 from RIPE:
If you want a one stop reference, I recommend Rick Rodgers’ Thanksgiving 101. (He has a Christmas 101 too!)
Don’t brine the turkey. Seriously, you have enough going on. Let the bird sit out at room temperature for an hour or two in the morning while you are baking a pie or watching the parade. Stuff with a couple carrots, lemon, onion, sprig of rosemary or some crumbled sage, rub with some butter, salt and pepper inside and out, and cook it.
- 325° F oven, 15 minutes per pound (more like 20 min/lb if you stuff with bread stuffing). You’re going for internal temp of the thigh in the range of 165 – 175, breast 160° because it is leaner. (Temp will continue to rise about 5 – 10 degrees out of the oven while it’s resting, but nobody likes an underdone turkey, so shoot for temps given.)
- Set turkey on a rack in a roasting pan (no rack? use some canning jar rings to raise the bird off the bottom of the pan), then ladle in 2 cups of broth. Keep an eye on things every hour or so and add more broth to the roasting pan as it evaporates. This is your gravy making goodness, so you want it to be there, but not get burnt. I keep a pot on low simmer most of the day—some for turkey roasting, some for stuffing moistening, and at the end, for gravy making.
- No need to baste, in fact, basting too often causes the oven temp to drop adding to your cooking time and the chances of a dry bird. So, minimize it. When I’m checking on the broth level every hour or so, I might baste, mostly because it smells so good and I need to justify keeping the turkey baster.
- After roasting, let the turkey rest at room temperature and make Ree Drummond’s gravy with the pan drippings.
Make some stuff in advance:
Cranberry Sauce (make this up to a week in advance)
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pecans (assemble the day before and refrigerate, bake day of)
Perfect Pie Crust for the pie you like, or the Pâte Brisée from the Brandied Pumpkin Pie, below
Veggie prep and/or make salad dressing
Brandied Pumpkin Pie from Gourmet magazine 1992, or your favorite pie
Parker House Rolls (you might want a double batch…)
Bread Stuffing—you can wing this one: dried bread cubes or ripped chunks (get a bakery levain or sourdough if you can—I use the crust too because it’s my favorite part), melted butter and onions, sage, salt, poultry seasoning, come celery, some broth, into buttered baking dish to heat through when there’s space in the oven. Recipes everywhere, pick one you like.
Celery Root Mashed Potatoes. Or just buy russet potatoes, peel and quarter, plop into boiling salted water and cook at low simmer until tender. Send through a potato ricer into a warmed bowl and and stir in warm milk, cream and butter.
Gravy. Did I mention Ree Drummond’s gravy?? You don’t have to use the giblets.