Nope, I was not abducted by aliens, although wouldn’t that make a terrific story and an even better excuse for rudely and abruptly just NOT BLOGGING for a couple of years? No, I have many other, less exotic reasons for disappearing from Blogdom. Maybe at some point I will even share those thrilling stories, but right now we have FAR more important issues to deal with!! Thanksgiving, everyone’s favorite day, is but one short week away. Actually, it’s a normal week, it will just feel incredibly short. And that is why I have chosen to resurrect my once believed dead BLOG!
I have a couple of new tips to make your Thanksgiving a day of enjoyment and actual relaxation, even though you are in charge of the entire meal and your tiniest mistake will be remembered in perpetuity. “Remember the year Mom forgot to take the Yams out of the oven? HAHAHAHA”.. That was in the 80’s but lives on. Why not “Remember the year mom made that unbelievably fantastic Chocolate Pie that was so good it brought tears to our eyes?” AH, but that is not how the human brain works, particularly when it comes to something stupid that Mom did! You male chefs– fathers, sons, husbands who are at the helm of the Thanksgiving Feast–you too know the stunning memories that our families possess when it comes to dredging up minor culinary boo-boos of the past! So let’s just not worry about that (you won’t, will you???) Let’s try to avoid all those little big-important-meal mishaps by doing as much as is possible ahead of time!
If you are new to my Blog, you can refer back to Thanksgiving Blogs and see that I, typically not a model of organization, become obsessed with planning when it comes to this meal. I have been making Thanksgiving Dinner since the late 1960’s with maybe 3 exceptions in all those years. In the early years, when the kids were little, my Mom and I did the whole meal every year. We would stay up nearly all night doing the preparations, because of course, at that time, we were working women. I didn’t have the luxury of planning every task out in excruciating detail, putting the tiniest item on an index card, assigning a time and date for its completion, and having my table set four days in advance! As you will read, I also put serving dishes on the table with tiny slips of paper indicating what goes in that dish. You are rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You are about to log out and search for a sane person with Thanksgiving tips. So it does hold true, I think we can see, that a task will expand to take up the time allotted to it. Now that I have all the time in the world, that is exactly what I use!
My Thanksgiving planning has evolved to this because of one thing: I want Thanksgiving Day to be very relaxing and enjoyable for everyone involved. I don’t believe guests enjoy seeing their host become increasingly wild-eyed as the day progresses. I don’t believe they can comfortably enjoy their little appetizers when the sounds from the kitchen are no longer happy, thankful, sounds, but rather are thinly disguised threats from the host to maim the next person who lifts a lid or licks a spoon. When guests start considering dialing 911, you have officially failed as a Thanksgiving host!
So my answer is to plan ahead and do everything possible in advance to make Thursday relaxed and easy for the cook and guests.
I make my gravy stock 5 days ahead by baking turkey wings and boiling them for stock. This takes a HUGE last minute task out of the picture. Additionally, regardless of how huge and fat your turkey may appear, sometimes they are annoying stingy with their precious bodily fluids, and you barely get enough juice to make one urn of gravy, let alone the VAT I feel is necessary! If there is but one urn of gravy, what are the guests going to have on their potatoes? Cuz I’M HAVING GRAVY. So having your turkey stock all ready is a great relief and you can then prepare the gravy on Thursday morning before the turkey comes out of the oven.
We have a pretty standard menu for Thanksgiving, except for mixing up the side dishes and adding new pies. Yes, my tradition has become to make any kind of pie that someone requests. About a week before Thanksgiving, I request pie orders from all guests, and provide some suggestions for new pies I may have discovered. . I always make the standard pumpkin and pecan, but if someone requests key lime, and they do, I make one. Maybe only one person wants that, but THAT’S OKAY. It’s Thanksgiving. They can have their own darn pie. This year we have pumpkin, pecan, chocolate (See my post about Emeril’s Chocolate Pie… it is awesome – the pie, not the post), sour cream custard peach, deep dish apple, cherry, and banana cream.
So it is turkey, as giant as we can find, (refer back to the Story of Turkules)… stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, GRAVY, a cranberry salad with grapes and whipped cream from MY grandmother’s recipe), and a couple of side dishes. Sometimes we serve just plain green peas, sometimes sauteed asparagus with garlic, green beans with bacon (one of our guests, Mischelle Oslin, usually brings this delicious side) or something entirely new. This year I am going to do a corn pudding/souffle type dish.
So my tip today is about the mashed potatoes!! Simple part of the meal, definitely!! But for some reason we always end up doing it at the same time we are doing everything else. Boiling potatoes, making the gravy, slathering the yams with caramel sauce, warming up a vegetable, sticking rolls in the oven, whipping cream for pies…. HEY, WHOA. How big is your stove top? Are you one of those people with 15 burners and two grills ON their stove top? Lucky you! But I don’t have one. So burners are at a premium, as is TIME at the point in the preparation of the meal where VOILA, everything is ready to be tended to RIGHT NOW! The turkey is done, quick get the gravy made! Someone, mash the potatoes! Put the yams back in the oven, get the cranberry salad dished up. So let’s get the potatoes out of this scene altogether.
Obviously you know how to make mashed potatoes! We use russetts, we like them because they don’t get pasty like red or yellow potatoes can when mashed. And I say mashed in a generic way. DO TRY RICING your potatoes if you don’t already. There is no lump so sneaky that it can escape the dreaded ricer! I takes a little longer, but the potatoes will be fluffier and will not be lumpy. Now if you are among the lump-loving potato people, ignore this. I have seen actual recipes for “Lumpy Mashed Potatoes”. If you like ’em lumpy, WHY mash them at all? I have nothing personal against the lump-loving-potato people, I am just not one of them! So peel your russetts and slice into quarters or so, bring water to a boil , and cook until tender. Drain them and put them back into the pan with two (2) (deux) (dos) sticks of salted butter. I know. This depends on how big a batch of potatoes you have, obviously, and how little you care about your vascular system. Put the potatoes through the ricer and when all are riced, add about 1 cup of cream. Combine potatoes and butter and cream JUST until combined. If you over- stir they can get a pasty consistency. We don’t like lumpy or pasty. We are picky potato people! Put your finished potatoes into a casserole or baking dish (or two if needed), cover with tinfoil, and refrigerate. About two hours before dinner is served, take the potatoes out of the fridge . One hour before the turkey is to come out of the oven, bake the potatoes, covered, in a 350 degree oven. If the turkey takes longer, or you have a delay, turn down the oven and leave the potatoes in until right before serving. They are already in their serving dish, they are ready to go! They will be fluffy and buttery and hot. Perfect! So why didn’t I think of this before 2012? Well, let’s be honest here! I didn’t think of it at all! It was a tip I saw in Taste of Home!!
So you are quite possibly thinking that these are not very healthy recipes. Well, first, it is ONLY one day of the year. You would have to be hanging on the brink to have this meal be your final undoing! But more importantly, we want to emulate our forefathers to whom we owe this great holiday. We want to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, minus killing our own turkey. We are honoring those hardworking men and women who carved out this country, and remember, many of them lived well into their 40’s!!