With less than a month to go before the biggest cooking day of the year, I feel like it’s time to start thinking about exactly what we’re all going to make (besides an awesome turkey, obviously). Thanksgiving, unlike any other holiday, is about one thing and one thing only: food. It’s a day that can make a cook or a baker out of the biggest kitchen-phobes we know. So whether you’re stressing about hosting a dinner for thirty or simply showing up at a distant relative’s house for a few hours, I’m going to give some suggestions of what you can bring to the table, how to minimize the stress, and how to always impress.
It’s good to know how many people are coming to Thanksgiving so you can order the appropriately-sized turkey in advance. If you’re not used to cooking for large groups of people, plan your menu and know what kinds of cookware you’ll need for each dish so you’ll be ready with all of the right tools.
It’s also important to be strategic when planning your menu. You want to make sure it’s balanced. There may be three different kinds of squash recipes you’re dying to try, but you’re going to have to pick one. I know, it’s agony, but you’ll thank me later. You’re also going to have to decide which side dishes to puree. You don’t want to end up with too much mushy food on the table. It’s true that there are so many exciting recipes out there this time of year, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re eager to show off this Thanksgiving and you don’t have seven sous-chefs standing in your kitchen, this is my advice. Pick one show-off dish that you know is out of your comfort zone and may take a bit longer and keep everything else as simple as possible.
Last year, at age 28,was my first year of brining, basting and cooking that large bird. And I realized something: cooking Thanksgiving dinner is no joke. It requires a lot of planning, formulating and hard work. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. I’m not trying to scare anyone off, but my number one piece of advice is to recruit people to help you. Even if they don’t know the difference between tongs and a spatula, just have them stand there. It’s called moral support.
I’m not sure if the tears streaming down my face as I tediously peeled pearl onions the night before the big feast were from the pretty little purple and white onions or from the fact that I was alone and stressed out of my mind over preparing a meal I’d never made before for fifteen people. I also recall staying up all night searching the web for clues as to whether or not I’d ruined my bird by brining it with the gizzards intact. Gizzards stress me out. Apparently, it’s not a problem.
The morning of Thanksgiving Day my friend Dana came over to bake an apple pie that ended up winning the dessert competition of the evening. Having a fun friend to drink mimosas with and laugh while I fumbled around with a big raw bird was just what I needed.
My early memories of Thanksgiving, no matter whose house we were at consisted of my Nana, my mom, my aunts and cousins and siblings happily bustling around in the kitchen, laughing, smiling, and drinking white wine while the men were outside playing football on the already-frozen grass. I remember as an eight-year-old being offended by the gender stereotypes. And though I loved to help in the kitchen, I’d go play football just to make a point. Some of my memories are less-than-perfect. One year my cousin and I made creamed onions that turned out so horribly my cousin spit hers out like a bullet on to her plate at the table sending us into fits uncontrollable laughter. Another year, the turkey was still raw when my dad began to carve it. So my point is that Thanksgiving is actually not just about the food. It’s about the family and the friends-as-family we share it with. So the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy.