When I was in elementary school, Thanksgiving day was one of my favorite days of the year.
Everyone was nice to me all day and I could eat as much as I wanted. We usually went to my Grandma Pauline and Grandpa John’s ranch house. They had a brick fireplace that made the house toasty. Next to the brick fireplace was a wooden crate full of matchbox cars and other toys that always seemed new and fascinating. Grandma put a “pickle” tray on the table to snack on, including dill pickles and black olives that I always put on all of my fingers before eating them off one by one. After stuffing my self with Thanksgiving dinner, including a turkey drumstick hopefully, I would hover in the kitchen. If I hung out during clean up and the annual Tupperware lid search, I was guaranteed more bites. No matter where I stood, Grandma would call me over if she couldn’t quite fit the last bit of stuffing into a plastic container. “Wee-Beca, come eat the last little bite of this.” I would obediently follow her voice and open my mouth like a baby bird for her to stuff it with whatever she had crammed on the spoon. She was a missionary for many years and never wasted anything. I loved to eat and always felt concerned about the source of my next meal. Plus I love food, so it was a match made in heaven. After I helped dry dishes, Grandma served up a big slice of pumpkin, apple, pecan, cherry or berry pie. Vanilla ice cream or cool whip was always added. If I asked for a second piece, Grandma would ask where I was storing all the food, in my hollow leg? I just smiled and scampered off to play. When I got older, I read Anne of Green Gables, but it was always a similar experience.
Thanksgiving is almost here and everywhere I look, I see tips and suggestions for easier recipes or unique sides or remakes of classics. You can find out how to brine or deep fry or grill your turkey. Honestly, it’s a bit much for me. What’s wrong with the classics? We all love them. Are we so bored that we have to invent new recipes every year for a holiday that’s seeped in tradition?
I love Thanksgiving dinner so much that I often make at least one turkey for eating and freezing for recipes. Then if I go to someone else’s house, I don’t feel bad about limited leftovers. Here are my best tips for a simple, easy Thanksgiving.
- Buy a decent turkey, look at the label. You can get fresh turkeys, even farm grown, for quite a bit more, but frozen isn’t bad.
- Buy it now and let it thaw in the fridge for about 3 days before Turkey day. If you wait until the weekend before, your choices will be more limited and the lines will be insane.
- If you’re experienced cooking a turkey, then by all means, do something fancy. If you’re not, you can’t go wrong with a stick or two of melted butter (not margarine), a can of chicken stock and some sage for basting. Add another can of chicken stock if you want more gravy. Baste every 30 minutes. Check out the Butterball website for very easy turkey directions (like how long it needs to cook, the temperature, and how to tell if it’s done).
- If you don’t want to stuff your turkey, add some large pieces of onion and lemon or orange quarters in the turkey cavity. The flavor isn’t overpowering but adds a little something more.
- When the meat is cooked, let it sit for about 30 minutes without cutting it. It will help seal in the juices. Also, remember that the turkey doesn’t immediately stop cooking when you remove it from the oven. So baste one more time when you take it out.
Dressing and Stuffing
- There is a difference between dressing and stuffing. Dressing is made outside the bird and stuffing is, well, stuffed. Again, there are so many variations I wouldn’t know where I start.
- I’m not above boxed stuffing; it tastes great cooked in the juicy turkey.
- I like to make dressing and stuff as much as possible in the bird. Then I bake the rest based on the instructions on the box. When the turkey is cooked, combine the stuffing and dressing and bake in a separate dish together until the dressing is still moist but not soggy (usually 15 to 20 minutes).
- Gravy is not that hard. I promise. Don’t be scared.
- If you’re not confident, just buy it in a jar. No one needs to know; there’s no shame in saying it’s just too much to figure out this year.
- Remember that extra can of chicken stock you added to baste the turkey? This is where it’s helpful.
- There are two standard ways I make gravy: cornstarch or roux (butter and flour) as thickening agents.
- The trick to cornstarch is to mix the cornstarch VERY well with a small amount of turkey drippings. Then add the cornstarch/dripping mix to the rest of the drippings in a frying pan and whisk and simmer until the cornstarch thickens the gravy. If it’s too thick, add a little water or more chicken stock if you have it.
- Or you can make a simple roux and use the drippings. Roux is a fancy French term for the equal mixture of butter and flour. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a frying pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp. flour. When it turns a golden brown, add the turkey drippings and again whisk and simmer until the roux thickens the gravy. If the gravy isn’t thick enough, make more roux in a separate pan and add to the gravy pan.
- As my niece Gracie would say, See, easy peasy pumpkin pie, you don’t even have to try!
- Please, please, please make your own cranberry sauce. It’s SO easy and you can find my cranberry sauce recipe here.
- You can make it in advance and freeze it in plastic containers or glass jelly jars. Then just thaw overnight in the fridge the day before.
- I love pie! Pie is also not that hard. I love the old school Betty Crocker recipe that uses shortening. No matter what recipe you use, consider these tips.
- Make extra dough. In 30 years of baking, I have never been able to get my pie crust to be exactly the right size and shape. Use the leftover dough to make “goodies”, pie crust cinnamon rolls.
- Spray the pie pan with baking spray to prevent sticking.
- Roll out your dough between plastic wrap. It makes it non-stick and very easy to transfer to the pie pan.
- If you can’t bear the thought of a top crust too, make a French apple crust with brown sugar, softened butter and flour.
- Thanksgiving is about hanging out with you family or friends. There’s always a random person or two. It’s sometime me, but I always feel welcomed and invited. So invite someone who might not have a place. Even if they already have plans, they will love that you asked.
- Let people bring something, wine or sparkling cider is always easy.
- Also, think of the friend or relative that likes to help. Don’t set the table before they get there so they have something to do. Thanksgiving is not about perfect.
- For some healthy perspective on the relative who drives you crazy, check out the very worst Thanksgiving letter at Awkward Family Photos. It will give you a new love and appreciation for that person.
- If you want some beautiful pictures and recipes, check out this post from Cookinandshootin here.
- Wear stretchy pants. Sit at the kids’ table. Enjoy yourself!