Did you know it’s 25 days till Thanksgiving?! If you haven’t already started planning you still have time but don’t put it off too much longer. Good planning will completely change how much you as the host can enjoy the big day. Take it from me, there have been past years where I spent 16 hours on thanksgiving day in the kitchen and never got to sit and eat with my family!
So years ago I got known for my turkey. Picture perfect, golden brown, and sweet delicious skin. This lead to me offering to make the meal for the family .This was ok with me because, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I don’t like the holiday or the food. Well, that might be a bit harsh. You see I am all for being grateful for the bounty which is bestowed upon us but I feel the commercialized holiday has kinda gotten away from that. Then there’s the food. Turkey is usually dry and even if it’s moist it’s a bit boring, not to mention trying to cut it off the bone is not fun. Then there’s stuffing which is either dry in a pan or soggy in the bird. Don’t even get me going on sweet potatoes, but I’ll just say “childhood drama” lead me to not liking them. Then there’s a super tart cranberry sauce. Why? What’s the flavor balance to that? Just seems odd. Moving on we then have pumpkin pie. Again, NOT a pie fan. Well, I think you get the point. So I just don’t like the flavors and textures. So I happily started making the meal. I really got into it. It was lost of dishes. They all offered up something different as far as skill and technique and being busy in the kitchen gave me an excuse not to eat.
It was maybe my third or fourth thanksgiving I did for my family (at this time was about 14 people) that it all went horribly awry. I spent 3 days prepping. Then in all my brilliance I told everyone I would be making breakfast and lunch for the whole family that day to keep them out of the kitchen. So now on the biggest cooking day of the year I am making 3 full meals for 14 people. I started at 6 am and was finishing the last dessert at about 9pm. After that I swore off thanksgiving. (I should probably tell you that at the time I was working full time in retail so not a good plan to have my one day off that week standing in the kitchen all day.)
It took many years, actually it wasn’t until I met my husband that I would even humor thanksgiving. He loves the meal so how could I say no. I kept it low key the first few years but still didn’t love it. I tired different things but as for the meal itself I just wasn’t thrilled, until last year.
With the whole year being about expanding my food knowledge and technical skills, I started digging thorough recipes and put together my menu. I wasn’t going to be pulling any punches on it and all but one recipe was new that I had never done before!
How did I do this? Did I survive? Did I like it? Did my opinion change about the food itself? Well, it all started with planning…oh, and not working retail anymore.
I pulled my recipes together more than a month ahead. I reviewed all of them and made both my shopping list and any notes about additional things I would need to make. (For example the cheesecake crust was going to need a batch of my ginger snaps to make the crust.) I then discovered at the farmers market that in order to get my free-range turkey from Farm on Wheels (my meat purveyor), I was going to have to order it in advance and the earlier the better. (This is the most import pre-planning you need to do is order your bird! That also means you need to know your headcount.)
After having my headcount (it was just going to be my husband and I), then ordering the bird, it was time to take a breath and not worry about it. Then a few weeks before I took all my recipes and broke them down for what could be made in advance. I then figured out how far in advance I could make it. I then put that all on a calendar so each day leading up to thanksgiving I knew what I needed to make. This may all sound like a lot but when you do as much in advance as you can it will make the actual day much more enjoyable. One side note. If you’re going to be cooking all week learning up to the big day make sure you have something quick and easy for dinner leading up to the day so you’re not trying to cook each days dinner as well as do all your prep cooking.
The end result? I actually liked it. The big ah-ha moment was a turkey roulade! Boning a turkey can seem like a daunting task but there are lots videos on how to do this and lots of written instruction if you prefer. However, boning the bird in the beginning is way easier then doing it hot out of the oven! The next part about this means that You have an even thickness of turkey that cooked evenly. Best of all, to serve you simply slice! LOVE IT! Add to all that it’s the perfect way to cook the stuffing inside the turkey as well and not worry about E. coli or any of that nasty stuff. Instead of the thick goopy sweet potato casserole I went with the roasted sweet potato slices with walnuts, fried sage, blue cheese dish that my husband loved! For the cranberry sauce I did my triple berry sauce which uses cranberry, raspberry, and blackberry. Some years I even throw in blueberries. This combination still gives you lots of cranberry flavor but makes the sauce more interesting in it’s flavor profile and not so tart. Then for the pumpkin pie, I opted for a pumpkin cheesecake and wow! What a dessert it was!
So now I am planning this years menu, thinking happy thoughts, remembering being able to sit and enjoy the dinner with my husband and seeing if you think about what you don’t like about a dish, you can usually find a recipe that tackles that issue.
In the end, it was all about a good plan.