Thanksgiving just doesn’t happen on Thursday. It requires some planning, especially when you are expecting 16 guests, and everyone is still recovering from two years of pandemic hermitage.
This year involved some of the usual prep work. Two weeks ago, I placed the order for the bird from the local chicken/turkey farm. I’ll pick it up later today, after my morning run and then give the bird a 3-day bath in salt and lemon. I use Ina Garten’s dry brine recipe, but I triple the recipe for my much larger bird.
A number of those celebrity cooks, including Ina, confess that they actually make the bird ahead of time. Here’s Ina recipe for the make ahead turkey. In Appetites: A Cookbook (an excellent book), Anthony Bourdain suggests making two birds.
“Prepare a stunt turkey and a business turkey,” Bourdain wrote in his book. Prepare a smaller, more artful turkey that has all the trimmings that people know and love including “chop frills, rainbow pinwheels of skewered citrus fruit slices, maraschino cherries, curly kale, lit sparklers, and crisp, new $100 bills and/or gold leaf.” And while they’re admiring your artistry, you can carve up the larger ready-to-eat bird in the back.
Of course, Thanksgiving involves more than just the turkey. People feel very sentiment about all those side dishes. So, we wrote out our menu, and I gave the guests various assignments. We will do the lion share of the work, but with my brother bringing the stuffing and my mom bringing the potatoes, it makes the day a whole lot easier.
Then we look at the menu and start preparing dishes can be done way ahead of time. Steve make the cranberry sauce this weekend. We’ll roast the pumpkin tomorrow and make the mash. The pie will be made on Wednesday. I did almost all of the food shopping this weekend, including 3 pounds of cauliflower at the Farmer’s market for the Cauliflower gratin and a huge bag of Brussel sprouts for the roasted sprouts with bacon and onion. I’ll make those veggies on Thursday morning, in between the Turkey Trot 5K and the bird in the oven. When the bird is resting, I’ll warm up the side dishes and veggies in the oven.
All that is the usual Thanksgiving dinner. The recipes are in plastic sleeves in the holiday binder in the cookbook cupboard. (What? Doesn’t everyone have an OCD holiday recipe binder?) This year, I’m making my life more difficult by setting a fancy table.
Usually, I throw a table cloth over the dining room table and a Target foldout table. I’ll bring out the fancy plates, which aren’t that fancy — just some hand-me-downs white plates with a platinum rim. I’ll put the plates and cutlery on the kitchen counter and create a buffet with all the food. It’s a fine system that works well, when you want the food to be the star of the show. But this year, I want to play.
So, I’m setting up the table and side table ahead of time. We’ll still put the food on the kitchen counter, but people can take their plates into the kitchen to load up. Since my table cloths are different colors, I’ll pull it together with matching burlap table runners. I’ll put some mismatched candlesticks, random bud vases, and water jugs down the middle. Nothing is going to match, but that’s cool. For drinking, I’ll have Mexican water glasses and wine glasses from Crate and Barrel.
And then the next day, we’ll eat leftovers and make turkey broth.
What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?