I was 31-years-old and still eating at the kids table for Thanksgiving. So I staged a rebellion and now we get to host Thanksgiving for Jennifer’s extended family, which is fine. It’s actually my favorite holiday, it’s like Christmas without being shot in the wallet. Anyway, historically I’m the better cook – Jennifer had near zero cooking skills when we first married – but she is great now. Though I’m a little more creative still. That being said, once Thanksgiving was moved to our house, Jennifer has a DNA sequence that kicked in and made her totally responsible for the perfection that shall be Thanksgiving Dinner for everyone. Which is a polite way of saying she became Batshit Crazy on a short term basis related to this one meal.
Normally I advise medication or running when faced with a Batshit Crazy wife, in this case though, I recommend assistance and letting it all wash over you.
Some basic tips about the meal itself:
(1) Arrange whatever seating pattern to enable both you and her to sit together, closest to the kitchen. This is so either one of you can get up and get something. Also it means you can put one hand on her thigh to direct her not to get up yet again.
(2) It’s your job to Alpha her into at some point sitting the hell down and actually eating dinner.
(3) If she’s still in motion, serve food onto her plate as well as yours.
(4) You carve the turkey.
(5) If it’s a big gathering, have multiple bottles of the same wine open. Stops people preferring one over the other and “missing out” yada yada yada. Drink your wine and be quiet lol.
(6) Prep as much as possible ahead of time.
(7) House cleaning happens the day before Thanksgiving. Direct everyone in the family to help with this.
(8) Thanksgiving morning, the turkey goes in the oven…. and you both go get some exercise.
(9) Heat up the plates. Seriously, what is the point of cooking hot food for HOURS and then everyone putting it on COLD PLATES.
(10) Before the meal. Nuts, cheese, crackers, spicy salami and shrimp. Leave it out, watch the hordes come.
Anyway, some brain dead easy, minimal cooking skill required ideas to help out. Jennifer: Intended for those of you out there who are NOT master chefs. I’m sure there are many who cook a fabulous gourmet Thanksgiving…this is not for you
Fried Corn – Open as many cans of sweetcorn as you need. Drain off the liquid in the cans and rinse in a colander. Dump all the corn in a fry pan and heat it up with fairly generous helping of butter, a small dollop of minced garlic, and a pinch of salt. There’s a side dish right there. Takes about 6-8 minutes of heating up and people freaking love it. Jennifer: Somehow magically better than just dumping the corn into a bowl and heating it in the microwave. Butter and garlic, a nice hot pan, and voila- yummy.
Grilled Vegetables – Choose whatever vegetables you want. Suggest yellow, orange or red peppers. Onions. Squash. Chop into medium sized pieces. Mix all up together in a bowl with just a little olive oil and a seasoning (Mrs Dash Garlic and Herb, we also love a Red Curry mix too). Thread the vegetables onto long metal skewers and head out to the grill. Grill them all up good right before serving. This works great with any BBQ dinner, and is also doubly great for Thanksgiving in that oven and stovetop space is always at a premium on Thanksgiving. It also gets you outside
and away from the relatives with some fresh air.
Mashed Potatoes – Peel the potatoes, chop them up and boil them for 20 minutes. Drain the water off. Pro Tip…. return the pot with no water to the stove for another 20-30 seconds and let the boiled potatoes dehydrate a little more. Water has no flavor. Remove from the heat, sprinkle a ton of seasoning in there of your choice, casually mash the potato with some milk and the secret ingredient to make it creamy and evil… some cream cheese. Shush don’t tell anyone. I do mean casually mash it too. Don’t pound the crap out of it and for all that is holy and good do not whip it in a blender or use a power tool of any kind in there. Damn you savages. Just cover it and it keeps nice and warm for ages.
Cream Cheese and Chutney – Oh this is before the meal and served with crackers. Plate, slab of room temperature cream cheese, surround cream cheese with a moat of chutney right from the bottle. Cream cheese and chutney is amazingly good on a cracker. Total prep time… 30 seconds. Damn straight. Jennifer: Mango chutney from Harry and David. To die for. Sweet and spicy at the same time.
Turkey: I swear by Alton Brown, the God of Turkey, and his brining method. Alton Brown’s whole spiel is here. It requires brining the turkey a day ahead of time, but it’s a fabulous way to keep from drying out the meat. I use a nice clean cooler to brine the turkey in. The brine requires a lot of ice, and really will stay cold. If you’re worried, freeze water in plastic bags or bottles to add into the brine- it will keep it cold but not dilute the brine. The other trick is to not overcook the turkey. I don’t stuff my turkey, I cook the stuffing/dressing on the side, so what I’m about to say is for an UN-stuffed turkey. (Putting the stuffing inside the turkey makes cooking time longer) Alton’s recipe starts at a hotter temp for half an hour and gives a cooking time of no more than 3 hours for a 14-16 lb bird. If you cook a turkey at 325F, you should be cooking it for 15 minutes per pound. Put a double thickness of aluminum foil over the breast after the first half hour to prevent it from drying out. Once you do that, DO NOT KEEP OPENING THE OVEN! The more you open and close the oven, the more the temperature fluctuates, and the more of a guessing game the total cooking time becomes.
Stuffing: There are hundreds of recipes for stuffing out there. For the basics, buy a bag of dried, cubed stuffing bread. Follow the directions on the back for how much stock to moisten it with. The stuff that makes it taste good…brown a “roll” of loose sausage (chopped into little yummy bits). Into that browned sausage and its drippings add: a good sized diced onion, four or five stalks of diced celery, and some fresh sage and rosemary chopped up. Once the veggies and spices are cooked add them into the bread and stock mixture and pop it into the oven. My stuffing is cooking for the half hour that the turkey is resting.
Gravy: I suck (really, truly) at making gravy from the pan drippings. Like disastrously suck. Like, mommy, what is the black stuff floating in the grease in that gravy boat kind of suck. So I make the gravy while the turkey is cooking and treat it like a separate dish. Ingredients: Smoked turkey legs (my store only carries them during the holidays), turkey or chicken stock, big hunks of celery (4ish stalks) and a big onion chopped into big hunks, fresh thyme and a couple of bay leaves. Put everything but the stock into a nice big skillet and brown them all, then sprinkle 4 tablespoons of flour over everything and stir it up for a few minutes (cooking out the flour taste). Then add the stock slowly while stirring the whole mess, with the goal being to get the flour mixed in without turning it into big gobs of goo. I usually end up using about four cups of stock total. Let the whole thing simmer until it’s half the volume you started with, then pick out the big bits and strain the rest into a gravy boat (or in our house at our first Thanksgiving…oops break out the Pyrex measuring cup because we don’t own a gravy boat!).
Desert… I am legally required to cook my famous Bread Pudding of Ovulation every year. You can make it the day before, and just heat up again 350F for twenty minutes.
Ice cream, coffee, whatever.
Anyway the most important thing about cleaning up… get a set of new plastic containers and just load them up with the leftovers and make sure everyone one on the way out. Otherwise you’ll be eating turkey leftovers for the next nine days. I know kids are starving in Africa and all that, but damn.
The next morning….
Use the leftover stuffing to make omelettes with. Sounds weird I know… just try it.
Jennifer: Mmmmm stuffing omelettes. So good.