I wanted to give you a few ideas for Thanksgiving, easily my favorite holiday of the year. I wrote last year about Christmas which, as an overall season, certainly is the my favorite. But when it comes to a single holiday, Thanksgiving reigns supreme.
There is no better day to throw open wide the doors of your home and ask everyone in. I’ve been doing this for years, in different forms, and it is always one of the best days of the year. Last year we sat 35 people at a single table. (Creating an”L” shape was the only way to make it work.) We had a blast and so can you. Here’s a picture of the table before the chaos began:
Note that you don’t have to have plates or silverware or anything that matches. Who cares?! If you can’t create such a long table, no worries! You can do your meal buffet style, as we used to do in my home growing up. We have a huge extended family and would sometimes have many more than 35. Using paper plates, then sitting anywhere we could find, the holiday was just as wonderful. So don’t let anything deter you. It’s about food and fellowship. Whatever you space you have, it will work.
I like starting this type of meal in the late afternoon. You have plenty of time during the day to get ready, it’s less stressful than trying to get everything ready by noon. Do some of your prep the days before, you might even work in an afternoon nap before people show up! Also, the meal can be eaten after dark, by candlelight. We do cocktails and appetizers at 5, then finally hit the table between 6:00 and 6:30.
For me, there is only one way to get through such a day and maintain my sanity: a list. Below is an example of the type of list I create. I spend a lot of time on it the night before, making sure it works perfectly. Then on Thanksgiving itself, I don’t have to think much, I just follow the list. Subsequently, I can enjoy myself the day of. My iPhone or kitchen timers tell me when I need to do something. I follow the list and it enables me to spend at least a little time talking with people before we all end up at the table. This was last year’s list:
I also refrain from drinking until we sit, to make sure all the food comes out right. You can be assured, however, there is a rather large martini waiting in the freezer. As soon as people start filling their plates in the kitchen, martini is out and in the shaker. Then in the glass. Then I am off and running to catch up. (I don’t worry so much about dessert. It pretty much handles itself.)
It’s a genuine pleasure to open your home and have both people you love as well as friends of friends come over. Of course, that is not the main reason Thanksgiving is the best. Thanksgiving is my favorite because it is All. About. The. Food. So let’s talk some food, people!
Click below for many amazing recipes!
The first important note about turkey: for years, given the amount of people I feed, I bought a 22-24 pd Turkey. It always was fine. But my friend Ben Baker, a wonderful fellow who is an excellent cook, convinced me a few years ago that two 12 lb turkeys was a much better way to go because smaller birds tend to be better in every way. He brought two over for Thanksgiving one year and he was right. So, now, I do two 12 pounders, side by side, and could not be happier with the result. He also taught me hands down the best recipe to use for your turkey:
The link below is without a doubt the best way to cook your turkey. Ever. You have to get your Turkey a few days before to start the dry brine (Yay! No pain in the ass wet brine, this is much easier) but getting your turkey a few days before is worth it. Trust me. You and everyone you know will be happy. And it’s easy! Click the link for the recipe and enjoy:
Turkey in a bag:
IF and only if you have a turkey and it is only the day before or the day of, a Reynolds Oven Bag is the way to go, with a few tweaks. Don’t avoid the Judy Bird above for an easier way – I promise, the Judy Bird is easy! And perfect! But if you are grabbing a turkey the day before, do it in a bag following the directions below and all will be well. It makes a great au jus as well.
Everyone has their favorite sides. I wanted to give you links and recipes to a few of my own favorites, ones you might be interested in trying.
For me, stuffing makes Thanksgiving. I love all kinds and usually make at least two kinds. Find a good, basic stuffing recipe and you can transform it into anything. Growing up, my mom made an incredible “Cajun” stuffing that was filled with fresh gulf shrimp, lump blue crabmeat and all kinds of cajun spices. My friend Nancy Schnebly turned me onto a wonderful Chorizo stuffing a few years ago I make every year. (Soy Chorizo is shockingly tasty and makes a very good vegetarian version.) Another wonderful friend, Janet Batchler, gave me a recipe a few years ago I also love that has, among other things, bulk sausage and dried figs. Growing up in the south, I never before put fruit in stuffing. That was way too ‘yankee’ for me. But her recipe was amazing and I love it.
My favorite recent recipe, one that people tear through with intensity, is a recipe from Food and Wine for Lemon and Pine Nut Stuffing. It also includes mushrooms, never a bad thing. While the recipe is for stuffing muffins, I think it works better in a regular 9 X 13 pan. Try it however you like, you will not be disappointed. Click below for the link:
Butternut Squash Gratin
My good friend Brian Seveland brought this side dish last year and it was a huge hit. It’s quick, easy and incredibly good. I don’t think I will have Thanksgiving or Christmas without it ever again:
Raw Cranberry Relish
There are many ways to do cranberries. I always do two versions, a more traditional cooked cranberry sauce (with bourbon!) and then this recipe, my favorite, a raw cranberry relish. This stuff is incredible and lasts for a few days. I love it on just about anything and also eat it by itself with a spoon:
**Claudette Washington’s Macaroni and Cheese
This is the one. The recipe everyone begs for and pines for. It’s the best macaroni and cheese you will ever have. I don’t want to hear about the use of Velvetta. Deal with it. Used this way, in this recipe, Velveeta makes the smoothest, creamiest, most amazing mac-n-cheese you have ever had. Hide the box and no one will ever even know.
I first had this mac-n-cheese at a huge party the night of my high school graduation. The party was at Kecia Huff’s house and a friend of Ms. Huff’s, Claudette Washington (one of the nicest people I have ever met) made a huge tray of this macaroni and cheese. 4 friends and I stood over the tray and ate most of it before anyone else could have any. I woke my mom up at 3 AM, before heading out to an early breakfast party, to make sure she called Claudette the next day to find out how to make it. While I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly over the years, given one ingredient she used is now hard to find, the recipe below tastes just the same. I started making this in college and have been asked to make this, over and over, ever since. It is by far my most requested dish.
This recipe makes a huge vat of Mac-n-cheese but you will have little left over. What you do have left over freezes beautifully. You will not be sorry. Do not skimp on the seasonings. They also make it the best.
World’s Greatest Pecan Pie
I don’t remember where I found this recipe but it is killer. I tend not to be a fan of traditional pecan pie, because the actual pie part of it is way too gooey and sweet. This recipe is terrific because the chopped pecans fill the pie top to bottom… it is a pecan bonanza! And the spices are stronger and much better than the traditional pie. I makes this either as a full pie or as small individual tarts (made in muffin tins.)
Give this a try, it is terrific. And don’t forget the World’s Best Whipped Cream recipe, (scroll down), which is perfect for this.
Have a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving! And let us know your favorite foods and traditions on this wonderful day. Comment below.