I love to cook. And I love to have a day off of work. But, despite the fact that preparing Thanksgiving dinner recipes is relatively easy, I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes, I dread the work involved. I just want to hang out with my family and friends, have time at some point during the meal to take a stroll on the beach boardwalk, and not have to work hard getting even a simple meal on the table. So, over the years, I’ve developed a handful of strategies that have made my Thanksgiving dinner preparation a bit easier. Hopefully, these will make your Thanksgiving dinner recipe preparation a little easier too!
1. DON’T STUFF YOUR TURKEY. While stuffing the turkey really makes the stuffing moist, there are ways to recreate the same result without stuffing it in the turkey. Who needs to worry about scooping out all of the stuffing? It just delays the meal.
So, when you trim the fat from the turkey neck and other areas, keep the fat and lay it over your stuffing and cook your stuffing in a separate casserole dish. You’ll get the benefit of the fat flavor and it will also keep the stuffing moist while it bakes.
2. MAKE GRAVY AHEAD OF TIME USING THE TURKEY’S NECK AND EARLY DRIPPINGS FROM THE BIRD. There is no need to wait for the bird to finish cooking before you make your gravy. I learned how to make gravy from the Executive Chef at one of the restaurants I worked for and he made exceptional gravy. Brown chunks of carrots, onions and celery with the turkey neck in a large pot. Add stock (chicken stock is fine) bay leaves, peppercorns, sage and other spices you like. Make a roux in a separate pan using basted dripping from the bird or you can even make it ahead of time as early as you like (even the day before) by browning butter with flour (in our home, I use potato, rice and corn starch because my son must eat gluten -free). Add the roux to the broth, continue to reduce and strain completely right before serving.
3. USE OR CREATE A SECOND OVEN. If you don’t have a toaster oven, buy one now. You can find one for as little as $30 and it can work as a second oven for baking pies, side dishes etc… Along those lines, it’s fine to microwave vegetables (asparagus take about 8 minutes microwaved in water), and to make as many dishes as you can on your stovetop.
4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO COOK AN ENTIRE BIRD. I went to a dinner party once where the hostess who was also a chef roasted several turkey breasts and a batch of turkey legs. She sliced up the breasts in no time and served the legs whole and it made an easy, quick, interesting presentation on the table.
5. ROAST YOUR VEGETABLES TOSSED WITH A LITTLE OIL. Roasted vegetables are so delicious so why muddy up their flavor with sugar, flour and other ingredients? Some easy examples: Acorn Squash cut into halved rings and roasted with butter and brown sugar, Brussel Sprouts roasted with Seedless Grapes and Walnuts, Roasted Carrots with Butter and Herbs du Provence, Asparagus roasted with Fresh Thyme and Truffle Salt. Even Broccoli can be roasted with exceptional results – just simply scatter grated Parmesan and Lemon Zest on top after roasting.
6. MAKE MASHED POTATOES WITH RED ROSE OR GOLD YUKON POTATOES. No peeling required!
7. MAKE AS MANY RECIPES AS YOU CAN AHEAD OF TIME. Corn Pudding, Wild Rice Salad, Cranberry Relish, Pie etc…
8. LET PEOPLE BRING A DISH AND LET PEOPLE HELP WITH CLEAN UP. You don’t have to do it all. Let friends and family bring a dish. Good options: Salads, sides, dessert and wine. Guests love to help. Last year, I went to a dinner at a friend’s house and she had 60 people over for a buffet dinner. Usually, she brings in help. This time, she opted not to. At first I thought, “Wow, no help tonight”, but she made everyone aware that she had no help, and several of us happily pitched in. With that many people available to help, clean up was a snap.
9. THERE IS NO NEED FOR FANCY, FILLING APPETIZERS: No one will be hungry for dinner if you serve too much upfront. Put out simple but interesting cheeses, cut fruit, olives, cornichons (mini-pickles), crackers, cut vegetables and nuts.
10. SET UP A PRE-DINNER DRINK STATION AWAY FROM THE KITCHEN. Before I started doing this, everyone always came into the kitchen when I was just starting to get my groove on orchestrating the meal. As they arrived, I’d have to stop what I was doing and get each person a drink one by one. Now, I let them serve themselves by putting the drinks (wine, punch or other) and the glassware outside of the kitchen. It’s also a great idea to put out glass “charms” which identify whose glass is whose as this cuts down the number of glasses you’ll have to wash at the end of the meal.
Thanksgiving is such a wonderful, American tradition and I am really looking forward to it.
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