It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is only a week away! Thanksgiving is my absolute FAVORITE holiday. The smells, the oven cranking away, the fall leaves, the long weekend with family all make me so happy. I love cooking and planning and have come across some great classics in my dozen or so years cooking turkey dinners! I’m a person who can get absolutely LOST on the NY Times Cooking section.
Here I’ve compiled some tricks, tips and some of my favorite recipes!
If you are hosting, start planning now. Thanksgiving needn’t be fancy or overblown, but it does require advance planning to make it all go smoothly. Make sure to figure out how much oven space you have and when things are going in and coming out! Even if you’re bringing a dish to someone’s house, make sure there is room in the oven. One year my lovely friend Aole brought homemade bread…that needed to be baked. It took way longer than expected and we were all waiting to eat and cook the rest. Thank god we had plenty of wine!
Make as much ahead of time as you can. Buy pre-chopped veggies. Make sure you are delegating jobs (kids and in-laws are wonderful for this) and breathing!
Before I embark on my crazy day in the kitchen, I move my body. A nice walk, a short run, an Aaptiv yoga workout or an early spin class really help with my mood and my energy levels. Make it a family affair if you must, but prioritizing your health needn’t take the back burner, even on a holiday.
This picture was me four years ago, cooking two turkeys and cracking myself up.
If you are cooking a turkey, get a good quality bird. Don’t settle for a Butterball or a grocery store turkey if at all possible. They are filled with artificial colors, flavors and are processed (not to mention raised in horrifying conditions, ew). Find a good butcher or gourmet grocer where you can order an organic turkey or a heritage breed turkey. Whole Foods has organic turkeys, and even Williams-Sonoma sells them!
I’ve made several different turkey recipes over the years. I usually end up doing some sort of mix of different recipes cause I’m a rule breaker that way. Sometimes I brine my turkey (I just buy brining kit), and then I do this recipe from Tom Colicchio. It’s always a winner. Cause herb butter, amiright? (I make with ghee to avoid dairy!) However, I have been making Thomas Keller’s roast chicken for a while now which is so delicious, I am game to try his turkey recipe. But it definitely requires advance planning!
My turkey trick— and I am warning you now, this will be controversial– is to take the turkey out when it’s 150 in the thickest part of the thigh. All the recipes say 165. Don’t do it. Your bird will be overcooked and dry. Take it out early, place on a cutting board and cover loosely with foil. It needs to rest for at least 30 minutes by which time the internal temp will have risen. Check it again if you are paranoid, but it’s usually juicy and moist! This is particularly true with heritage breed turkeys which tend to cook faster and overdry if you aren’t careful. Definitely make sure you have a good digital thermometer for cooking meat and poultry!
Always remember- hot delicious gravy can save any dry bird!
Ah, gravy. I remember years of my mother standing over the stove with her whisk, the little bottle of Gravy Master and the can of Wondra flour, making gravy in the roasting pan. She made delicious gravy but I have discovered two things:
- You can make amazing gravy AHEAD OF TIME. You can use store-bought unsalted chicken broth and then just add the pan drippings after the turkey cooks! Brilliant!
- Even better, make mushroom gravy. It’s so delicious, you don’t believe it. Last year, I made both and the mushroom gravy won out across the board. *My extra tip is to stir in a little miso paste at the end for that umami flavor. It’s the bomb.* You will never go back. And yes, I have even used gluten-free flour (my son has Celiac) and it’s still amazing.
I grew up with sherried creamed onions and chestnuts, but that is just asking for a household of gassy tummies, so I don’t make it!
I try to be healthy-ish on Thanksgiving, not because it’s totally required but because most of the food I like the best is more healthy than not. We avoid gluten and dairy, so most things aren’t sitting too heavy in our bodies. And it’s easy to make fresh and delicious sides that feature healthy veggies.
I always have a green vegetable, even simple steamed green peas. Or blanch green beans ahead of time, and then toss in a pan with ghee and almonds while the turkey rests. Brussel sprouts (with or without bacon) are going to be on my menu this Thanksgiving. Crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, caramelized Brussel sprouts with bacon and pomegranate. Not sure how I’m going to make them yet, but I’ll figure it out. I’ll use this recipe as a guide.
I always have a squash or sweet potato. My favorite recipe for acorn squash was brought to my attention by my brother and sister-in-law. It is so good and goes with everything on Thanksgiving. I avoid making sweet potato casserole anymore because it’s just too darn sweet. The best part of avoiding sugar is that a plain sweet potato tastes like candy!
As for mashed potatoes, well, this gets personal. I love them, but I love cauliflower-leek puree more. Throw some cauliflower and chopped leeks in a pan, steamed them gently. Then throw them in a Cuisinart with some vegetable broth, salt, butter/ghee, and fresh cracked pepper. Blend away and it’s phenomenal!
Here is a great dairy-free mashed potato recipe in case you are a potato lover!
Stuffing: technically I don’t stuff my bird anymore. I just find it so labor-intensive and I don’t necessarily find that it changes the flavor much. I am an old-school Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix person, with lots of celery and butter/ghee. Make it ahead of time and pop back in the oven with extra broth while the turkey rests. If you’re not into bread stuffing, I made a wild rice wild rice and quinoa stuffing that was excellent.
I don’t find salads very necessary or interesting on Thanksgiving. They always feel like the friend no one wanted to be invited to the party, but is there anyway. So I usually don’t make one, but a nice tri-colore salad with arugula, radicchio, endive, oranges, walnuts and parmesan would make sense here.
It’s a must. And this recipe for pumpkin pie is the absolute best one I’ve ever tasted!
Apple pie is another Thanksgiving classic, served with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.
I don’t go healthy with the pie, I just enjoy it. Or eat more turkey! But this year among my guests are a diabetic, a Crohn’s sufferer, a Celiac, and a Keto dieter, so I may also be making this.
I could talk for hours about Thanksgiving but the main thing is to CONNECT with others and express GRATITUDE for all the blessings we have in life. So no matter where you are spending the holiday and with whom, make sure to take a minute or two to look around, breathe, be present and take it all in.
And for heaven’s sake, if you are cooking, make sure after dinner you sit your ass down and let others do the cleaning up. You’ve earned it!