Cooking Game: Thanksgiving Dinner

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.


  1. Mrs. Ironwood, who can’t cook her way out of a refugee camp with a can of Spaghetti-Os, insisted before we got married on doing one (1) complete T-day dinner solo, just to prove to everyone that she could do it. She did a fine job, and she’ll never do it again. Now I do the entire dinner and exile her to the hostess role with a pitcher of cocktails and appetizers. Her only job after that is to greet people and make sure we don’t run out of toilet paper.

    I love the cooking — fresh yeast rolls, two turkeys (one traditional, one smoked) six pies, a pumpkin chevre caramel pecan cheesecake, fresh cranberries, mashed potatoes, ambrosia, and a mile-long pickle tray. And a nice Full City Yergecheffe or zingy Costa Rica for coffee – Kenyas are too rich and Columbias are too mellow.

    And then the tryptophan overload . . .

    Mrs. I makes up for missing the Thanksgiving dinner cooking by doing the Black Friday shopping, which she approaches with the determination of a master strategist on campaign. Me, I sleep in and then deal with the piles and piles of dirty dishes . . . eventually . . .

  2. I’m gonna try AB’s method this year. That man is the God of Culinary Alpha. So sexy.

  3. Mashed Potatoes: Simmer chunks of Yukon Golds in Beef Stock. Throw in a peeled, quartered onion if you want. Under cook slightly; do not let them get mushy. Mash just enough to break them up, then add equal parts butter, half-n-half and sour cream, and whip. Do not add too much liquid, or they will go runny. Do not overwhip, or they will go dry.

    Gravy: Melt some butter, and sift the flour in to that, stirring until evenly coated. Now add turkey drippings, and stock from the potato pot as needed. When you start to add the stock, the flour/butter mixture (a very light roue, actually) will actually get thicker and drier at first. Finish with half-n-half for added richness.

    A better cook than I could probably do wonders with the leftover potato stock and turkey shreds.

    Candied yams: over medium low heat, melt 3/4 of a stick of butter; add juice from half a lemon; one to three tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce, and brown sugar until thick and syrupy. (I’m guessing at the quantities here, this is a guess and by golly recipe for me.) Peel and VERY LIGHTLY parboil the yams, then quarter and lay in a shallow casserole. Pour the glaze over the yams, and bake at 350 degrees, basting with glaze frequently. Just before serving, dot with tiny marshmallows if you insist.

  4. I don’t like ‘Food Holidays’.

    Food Holidays make people crazy.

  5. I use AB’s method, too.

    The fried corn would be even yummier if you swapped the butter for a spoonful of bacon grease. ;)
    You can take the girl out of the South…

  6. It started with my Grandmother; then my mother took over. Now I have the position of feeding the multitudes.
    My grandmother was a full blooded german haus frau. (Grandfather had no chance. He just provided the sperm) Catholic to boot. That meant not only did she create a meal, she created a meal for an army. The table was and is 15 feet long and seats 20. And that’s just the adults. It stretched through two rooms and had the dinner piled high in every available space. The side tables weren’t left out of the festivities either. I was too young to remember what all was supplied. I just remember that I couldn’t move very well when I left the table.
    My father and mother took after my grandparents. Six kids, the relatives and all the guests that we could squeeze in. I learned to cook from my parents and Thanksgiving was one of the primary reasons.
    Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, provolone: I can’t even think of all of the cheeses that were put out. Green onions, radishes, ripe olives, carrot sticks, cauliflower; who said you have to mix it up to call it a salad. Salami, pepperoni, sliced beef, sliced ham rolled up so that it’s easy to walk by pick up and stuff. Spinach dip, sour cream, cheese ball rolled in crushed nuts: My wife makes great dips. Pretzels, potato chips, pickles, spiced pickled eggs, deviled eggs; all of the above were just the appetizers. Come noon the table was full of the wonders of the imagination. Dinner wasn’t until about four so everone was able to fill up and still have time for the meal. But, that has to wait. I’m late for work.

  7. My husband is a chef trained at the Culinary Institute. We also usually host Thanksgiving although not this year. :) We took it over mostly because my mom was getting older and to stop her Thanksgiving insanity. The ultimate enabler she would cook everyone’s favorite side dish. There would be like 10 of them! DH instituted a simplified menu similar to yours. He also uses the AB’s method and when the weather is good he smokes the turkey outside.

  8. Craig from Belvidere says:

    Black Friday Turkey Burritos:

    On Friday take all the leftover turkey dark meat,
    Warm in pan with a little butter and olive oil.
    Add a small finely chopped onion
    Season with salt, black pepper, garlic, chile powder, chopped jalapenos, oregano and lots of cumin.
    Add some water and simmer all the spices into the meat.
    Add a small amount of flour to thicken (or use masa harina if you have it)
    Lightly cook a tortilla in an oiled pan (most tortillas are undercooked from the factory so this is important).
    Put tortilla on plate, dollup on the turkey, sprinkle with shredded cheese. Roll into a burrito shape.
    Eat up.
    Throw away the turkey carcass and get your refridgerator shelf back.

  9. I wonder how many blogs devoted to getting laid like tile also tell you how to cook a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, complete with recipes?

  10. I’ve been handed the position of chef for Big Family Dinners since about high school ’cause I had the time and like to cook.

    Here’s a recipe for mango chutney:
    I like the one from Claudia Roden’s cookbook of middle eastern foods best, but this looks like a nice analogue. (Ok, and I use red wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar).

  11. Athol, may I suggest that you compile all of your food and cooking blog entries into an ebook and sell it for something like $1.99. You could include a photo of you and Jennifer looking jaunty in Santa hats, holding spatulas and a wooden spoon. I would buy it. :)

  12. Happy Thanksgiving to the Kay family! Bon Appetit and wishes of much goodness coming your way in this holiday season.

  13. anonymouse says:

    Corn? From a can??? Please oh please use frozen at least… get the super sweet white corn, a little milk, butter, and sugar, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. You could probably add the garlic too :)

  14. I second the cooking ebook – the recipes are pure gold and well suited for those who otherwise can’t cook worth a damn, but who really should now and then, men and women both.

  15. (9) Heat up the plates. Seriously, what is the point of cooking hot food for HOURS and then everyone putting it on COLD PLATES.

    OMFG yes. We don’t do turkey for thanksgiving, because I’m not thankful when I have to eat turkey. We make prime rib. and NO I’m not cooking something like that for hours to eat it cold. warm the plates. I find that running them through the dishwasher with the “heat dry” setting works the best if you time it right.

  16. We’ve thought about a little cookbook. Maybe…

  17. Two questions, if you’re game.
    1. Is there a Kiwi equivalent to American Thanksgiving? I’m guessing not, since the circumstances of early colonization were quite different for the two places.

    2. I’ve wondered this since some of my first readings of your books and blog. How much does your and Jennifer’s family know about what you write, and does it ever make for awkward holidays?

  18. @Athena – nope nothing equivalent to American Thanksgiving in New Zealand.

    Jennifer’s parents know what I write about and have copies of both books and read the blog once in a while I assume. It was awkward for them at first, they are a very sweet conservative Christian couple. However her parents are also very smart and down to earth as well. Once it became clear that the book was actually earning real money and that lots of marriages were being genuinely helped, everything was just fine. Winning covers a multiude of sins it seems.

    Orginally I think her mother’s concern was wether or not Jennifer was being forced to have sex and her father was worried that she was enjoying it. Having successfully broached the topic though, they are both open and supportive about it. They slowly read more and more of the books. A month or two ago her mom very shyly told me that the post about Jennifer getting a facial was her favorite.

  19. I’m sorry, but “very sweet conservative Christian couple,” and her favorite post being about her daughter getting a facial??? OMG, my anxiety just went through the roof, and its not even my mother! LMAO. Wow. I don’t know if I could do it. I don’t want my parents contemplating my sex life any more than I want to contemplate theirs.

    I have a ton of cousins, some nosy aunts, some dr-uncles, etc. I can’t imagine if they had access to that. *shudder*

  20. @Athena – Alpha’s can do anything they want and women love them for it. ;-)

  21. This is most interesting:”Orginally I think her mother’s concern was wether or not Jennifer was being forced to have sex and her father was worried that she was enjoying it. ”

    In my family and most of those I knew 20 yrs ago when I was a newlywed, my parents would have been the opposite. Mom would be worried about whether or not I was enjoying it, and Dad would have worried about my physical well-being. :))

  22. I’m also mildly kidding on that one Athena. :-)

  23. Oh good. Lol

  24. This made me chuckle… Thanksgiving is all very new to me (yes I am a Brit) but my husband is an American. When he moved here so we could get married he bought he love of Thanksgiving with him. Last year we hosted a big dinner party for all our friends. Ever since they have been enquiring about the next Thanksgiving so it would seem he is slowly infected the UK one person at a time.

    Oh and he always makes his own Pumpkin Pie something I had never eaten before he introduced me to it…. I was very suspicious of it but I was wrong, it is bloody delicious stuff.


  25. @Molly

    Good for him! I turned my Swedish wife and her family on to pumpkin pie. My grandmother’s recipe uses molasses.


  1. […] Athol gives tips for the Thanksgiving dinner (which apply just as well to the Christmas meal): once Thanksgiving was moved to our house, […]

Speak Your Mind