I learned something important about cooking Thanksgiving dinner the first time I did so for a large crowd five years ago: be realistic and plan ahead. Deciding on a whim to make homemade eggnog the day of may not be the best idea, for instance. Want to brine your turkey? First make sure you have an appropriate container in which to do so. But with more than a week to go there is plenty of time to get on track for a delicious, stress free meal.
If you haven’t already, finalize your menu and recipes this week. Keep in mind what you can find at the farmers market or co-op over the weekend. There is an impressive, beautiful selection of produce, desserts, wines, breads and more available right here in our county. Take advantage of these foods and producers; I’ve learned while traveling and cooking at the holidays that you can’t find such quality and freshness everywhere.
Once you have your menu, recipe and ingredients set, you’re halfway there. Now, just do a little prep each day leading up to the big dinner to avoid a mad scramble on turkey day.
Make a list of the tasks and recipes you might be able to prepare over the course of the next few days. Post the list in a visible spot in the kitchen so you can cross each item off as you go and see what still needs to get done.
Today, chop veggies. Look at your recipes and see what you’re going to need. Divide them into resealable plastic bags based on each dish. While you chop, cook your cranberry sauce, which will do fine in the fridge for the next few days.
Cranberry Orange Sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 pound cranberries
½ cup sugar or maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of cloves, salt and pepper
Combine everything in a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the cranberries start to pop, lower the heat, cook another 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.
Focus on the stuffing – which if you ask me, is the next best dish after pumpkin pie. I don’t stuff my bird, but rather divide it up into muffin tins for easy to serve, realistic portions. Check your favorite bakery for day old or even pre-cubed bread.
Apple and Onion Stuffing
Makes 10-12 servings
1 stick unsalted butter
4 ribs celery, chopped or 1 large celery root
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage or poultry seasoning
About 12 cups stale bread, cubed
3 cups broth
½ cup dried cranberries
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the celery, onion, apple, a pinch of salt and herbs or poultry seasoning. Cook about 5 minutes, until veggies have softened. Pour in broth and toss in the bread and cranberries. Cook another 5 minutes then stir in the egg and parsley. Divide among lightly oiled muffin tins. If preparing ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. When ready, bake covered with foil, for 20 minutes in a 375F preheated oven then another 20 minutes uncovered. They’re done when browned and crispy.
If you’re planning to serve turkey tomorrow, get that set now. Clean the bird, season and stuff with aromatics as you like, season the skin, tie it up and set in the roasting pan in the fridge. You want it ready to go in the oven without worrying about details tomorrow.
Then, if you have any sides you could prepare now, do so.
Turnip and Potato Purée
Makes 4-6 servings
1 ½ lbs turnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 ½ lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup milk
Cover the turnips, garlic and potatoes in a medium pot over high heat with the milk and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until veggies are tender. Drain and with an immersion blender or food processor, purée until smooth. Alternatively, you could mash. Mix in thyme leaves to your liking and melted butter, if you choose. This reheats well in the oven.
The big day. Your bird should be the priority at this point. Be sure to let it come to room temperature before getting in the oven – this will reduce roasting time and help ensure even cooking. Plan to take it out of the oven at least an hour before guests arrive – giving it time to rest and you time to make gravy, heat up prepared dishes in the oven, and carve the bird. Finish off any quick cooking dishes today as well.
Sautéed Brussels sprouts
2 cups Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped herbs
Over medium high heat, sauté the Brussels sprouts in the olive oil. Cook until just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add ½ cup water to the pan with the lemon zest. Cook until the water has evaporated. Toss in the cheese and herbs.
Originally published in our Harvest Watch column in The Rutland Herald on November 19, 2013.