Hosting your first Thanksgiving feast? A menu of familiar dishes for which everyone will have expectations, plus the pressure of making a complicated meal in a timely manner, can make even the most experienced cook say "you take over".
Build Your Skills Gradually
How do you think Grandma got so good at cooking Thanksgiving? Practice! If you're just starting out, there's absolutely no reason that every item on your menu has to be made by you, from scratch. Your first year, focus on just the turkey, stuffing, and gravy—have guests bring the other dishes. Once you feel that you've mastered these three essentials, the next year do some other dishes. Before you know it, you'll have experience with the entire menu.
If you've gone the frozen turkey route, calculate the defrosting time - you might have to start soon.
Never thaw a turkey at room temperature, because bacteria can grow on the turkey's surface. Simply transfer the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator and wait, wait, wait. It takes one day of thawing time in the refrigerator for every four or five pounds of turkey. A 20-pounder will take five days to thaw; a 16-pounder about four; and a 12-pounder three.
Spiced Pecan Hostess Gift
Makes about 4 cups
4 cups unsalted pecan halves
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon chili paste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine pecans, maple syrup, 3 teaspoons salt, pepper flakes, chili powder, cayenne, and chili paste. Toss to coat.
Spread nuts in a single layer on prepared baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, toss with remaining teaspoon salt and let cool. Serve immediately or store, at room temperature, in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Check your shopping list and buy non-perishable items.
If you're serving pie for dessert, make the crusts now. Prepare the dough, roll it out, and place it in the pie dish (don't forget to crimp the edges). Put the dish in the freezer. When the dough is completely frozen, wrap the dish tightly with plastic.
My two-week countdown to Thanksgiving helps you get organized, so that the day
of the feast is easy and relaxed.
TWO WEEKS AHEAD
Browse your recipe collection to work out a menu. What are your favorites: Where is there room for a little experimentation?
Pick up some turkey wings in preparation for making and freezing a big batch of turkey stock. (recipe below).
Start planning your table decorations.
Creat one big master shopping list, dividing it into three sections: buy-non perishables (wine, canned pumpkin, frozen turkey). items for the one-week-ahead grocery run, and perishables to buy on November 23 or 24.
Check that you have all the kitchen equipment necessary to make the turkey and other dishes on the menu.
Golden Turkey Stock
4-1/2 pounds turkey wings, cut in half
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large celery chopped
6 fresh italian parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange wings in large roasting pan. Roast until deep brown turning once, about 2 hours total.
Transfer wings to a large bowl. Spoon 3 tablespoons turkey fat from roasting pan into pot (reserve roasting pan). Add onion, carrot, and celery to pot. Saute over medium heat until vegetables are golden, about 20 minutes. Add turkey wings to pot. Add 2 cups of water to roasting pan; place over 2 burners and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Add liquid to pot. Add remaining ingredients and enough cold water to cover wings by 1 inch.
Bring water to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, simmer uncovered until stock is very flavorful and reduced to about 8 cups, about 2-1/2 hours. Strain stock into large bowl. Cool 1 hour, then chill until cold, about 3 hours. Spoon off fat from surface before using. Can be made 3 days ahead or frozen two weeks ahead.
Forget about juggling bake times and wedging casseroles around the turkey in the oven. Using your slow cooker is the secret to an easy Thanksgiving Dinner.
BALSAMIC ROOT VEGETABLES
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 pound parsnips
1 pound carrots
2 large red onions, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Peel first 3 ingredients, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Combine parsnips, carrots, onions, and cranberries in a lightly greased 6-qt. slow cooker; layer sweet potatoes over top.
2. Whisk together sugar and next 4 ingredients in a small bowl; pour over vegetable mixture. (Do not stir.)
3. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 to 5 hours or until vegetables are tender. Toss with parsley just before serving.
Gravy requires just four ingredients: pan drippings, poultry stock, flour and seasoning. For every common gravy problem, there's an easy solution.
Lumps? You can usually avoid them by stirring flour with stock or water before adding to the drippings. If not, you can try a stick blender or hand mixer to break up lumps, or pour gravy through a strainer and break them up with a wooden spoon.
Too thick? Whisk in more stock. To thin? Add on tablespoon or flour or cornstarch into a little stock and whisk continuing until you achieve the desired thickness.
Too salty or fatty? Simply add more stock and re-adjust the thickness. If you have time, you can chill, skim off the fat and then reheat.
After the big meal, refrigerate leftover gravy in containers to use later on delicious turkey sandwiches!
Follow these quick-fix guidelines - and the rest is gravy.
The trusty cast-iron skillet - probably a staple in your grandma's kitchen - is reclaiming its place on the stovetop. A good one has a slick surface so you don't need to add oil to get a nonstick surface. Just make sure it's properly "seasoned" before you use it for the first time - a simple process of applying a vegetable oil coating to a clean, dry skillet and baking it for an hour or so in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. (Handle with care, skillet will be hot).
Cooking in cast iron can actually increase the iron content in your food. Eggs scrambled in a cast-iron skillet can have up to three times as much iron as raw eggs. Plus it's the champ when it comes to conducting and holding heat evenly at any temperature, making cast-iron skillets a chef's favorite.
And for a surprisingly low price, this cookware is a must-have because it can last for generations. Just ask your grandma.
Making vinaigrette from scratch is surprisingly simple, once you know the basic formula.
There's no need to buy salad dressing when all the ingredients for a vinaigrette are in your pantry. And when you make it yourself, you can adjust the recipe according to taste, or create something new.
Basic vinaigrette is three parts oil and one part vinegar. That's it! Olive oil and white vinegar are classic, but it's fun and easy to experiment with variations. Try using grapeseed or nut oil, with flavored, balsamic or champagne vinegar. Or, for a flavorful twist, add a teaspoon of mustard, minced garlic and fresh herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper, chopped shallots or capers.
Then simply shake the oil, vinegar and added flavorings to create a flavorful mixture - a container with a lid that twists on is ideal for this. Pour over your salad, toss and enjoy. Refrigerate leftovers in the same container. But when you make vinaigrette yourself, your family will taste the difference - and leftovers just aren't likely.
Bring out the early flavor of autumn's root vegetables.
Root vegetables are one of fall's best bargains, and they're deliciously versatile, especially when roasted. Stock up on carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic - not to mention parsnips, beets and turnips - for flavorful side dishes and tasty additions to salads, pastas and risottos.
To roast root vegetables, peel and cut into uniformly-sized chunks (one-inch cubes are ideal) and spread out on a foil or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir to make sure vegetables are evenly seasoned.
Roast at 400 degrees F stirring every 15 minutes. Vegetables are done when they're lightly browned on the outside and tender inside when pierced with a fork (about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size). Make a large batch on the weekend and store in containers; then you can enjoy the rich flavor of seasonal produce in different dishes throughout the week.