An Easier Thanksgiving (or any holiday meal)

After more than a decade of being the maker of the Thanksgiving feast, I MP900386628finally figured some things out this year that made life a lot easier!  I’m calling them my Thanksgiving Lessons Learned. These tips can be helpful for any holiday or party preparation.

  1. Know exactly what you’re making and have the timing and oven and stove top usage planned and also the pots and pans you’ll be using. You want them clean, located and ready to go when you need them.
  2. Before you start cooking, get out everything you need. I used a cooking class tip of putting everything except the turkey (but including all herbs and spices) on a cookie sheet, like a cooking “kit,” the kitchen pros call this mise en place.
  3. I made sure the salt and pepper shakers used for cooking were filled, the oven-mitts were by the stove, trivets on the counter for when I took things out of the oven and I even made sure I filled the hand soap container at the sink. I didn’t want to have to search for, or refill anything on the fly!
  4. While the turkey roasted, I got out the serving dishes and utensils I wanted to use and even wrote what was to go in each with a sticky note. With people helping you (as they should), it’s easier to say “hand me the dish that says ‘cranberries'” than to say “that one, with the little flowers and the do-hickey on it.”
  5. I broke with tradition and didn’t make mashed potatoes. With all the peeling, cubing, boiling, draining, mashing, etc., they can be a real pain only to get cold almost immediately! Instead, I combined a variety of vegetables and placed them ALL on a lined baking sheet, drizzled olive oil, salt and pepper over everything and roasted them at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes while the turkey sat after its roasting time. The veggies stayed hot throughout the meal, were a whole lot healthier than butter-and-cream-laden mashed potatoes and have been great for leftovers. Doing all of the vegetables this way, on ONE pan at the SAME time was a huge time- and stress-saver.

    On the right, I roasted halved baby potatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic cloves and a little bacon, mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper. On the left, I sliced and seeded an acorn squash, dressed it the same way but sprinkled a little brown sugar mixed with some cardamom in the last few minutes. I did this all on one baking sheet, at 375 degrees, for about 20 minutes (turning everything over twice) while the turkey rested and the gravy was being made. Next year, I'll also add baby carrots for additional color and flavor. See? Another lesson learned!
    On the right, I roasted halved baby potatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic cloves and a little bacon, mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper. On the left, I sliced and seeded an acorn squash, dressed it the same way but sprinkled a little brown sugar mixed with some cardamom in the last few minutes. I did this all on one baking sheet, at 375 degrees, for about 20 minutes (turning everything over twice) while the turkey rested and the gravy was being made. Next year, I’ll also add baby carrots for additional color and flavor. See? Another lesson learned!
  6. For the turkey, I mixed softened butter with salt, pepper and snipped rosemary needles and spread half the butter under the breast skin, placing a couple of sage leaves under the skin on each breast for flavor and looks. I then spread the rest of the butter mixture on the outside of the bird.
  7. To roast the bird, I played off of a lucky mistake I’d made the year before. After placing the bird on a rack and pouring about 1 cup of water in the pan, instead of making a loose, aluminum foil tent over the bird, I covered it completely, wrapping the ends of the foil over the edges of the roasting pan. I cooked it this way, basically steaming it, for the first half of the time suggested on the wrapping (for my 14.5 lb. bird, I was supposed to roast it for 4 hours). Then I completely uncovered the bird for the remainder of the time. THIS CUTS 1 HOUR OFF THE RECOMMENDED COOKING TIME (mine was done in 3 hours instead of 4)! And it makes for a moist, flavorful, beautifully-browned turkey that practically falls off the bone. To know it was done, I relied on the pop-out needle that came with the turkey but I also checked the internal temperature at the thigh with a reliable thermometer. I could hardly believe it cut the time down so much but it did!
  8. In addition to making a bread stuffing (my husband would have rebelled had I not), I also made a unique rice stuffing my Grandmother used to make with her roast chicken for Sunday suppers. See that recipe below.

This year’s Thanksgiving meal was quicker, easier and better than any I’ve made before. With some planning but also some variations on the usual, I wasn’t exhausted, overheated or cranky by the time we were ready to serve. That’s something to be thankful for!

Easy and Exotic Rice Dressing

2 cups rice
4 cups water (or low sodium chicken stock)
2 bouillion cubes if not using chicken stock
1/4 cup pinion nuts
1 TBS butter
Approximately 1 tsp. Cinnamon
Approximately 1/2 tsp. Allspice

Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling the pan around so the butter spreads out. Brown the pinion nuts in the butter until they are golden and toasty but watch them because they go from perfect to burned in a split second!.

Quickly pour in the rice and stir the grains and pinion nuts around to get the nuts off the bottom of the pan and to also spread the butter around on the rice.

Add the bouillion or water and spices and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan and let it sit about 20 minutes until the water is absorbed.

Taste the rice to see if you want to add more cinnamon and/or allspice. Neither should be the predominant flavor but they should enhance the rice and add a slightly exotic but homey flavor. Even though the rice is cooked, you can still add the spices but make sure you distribute them throughout the rice before serving.

 

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