Dear Claire, With so many dishes that require different cooking times, what’s your strategy for organizing it all, so that all of my Thanksgiving dinner is on the table at the same time?
A: I hate that last-minute scramble before a meal, especially when you realize that the potatoes aren’t actually cooked, but the green beans are getting cold and turkey is already carved. After years of frustrating dinners, last Christmas I finally nailed it. Here’s what to do:
First, plan a meal with easy side dishes – and make sure that no more than two of them require last-minute attention. Then, working backwards, write up a schedule. If you want to serve dinner at 7pm, and your turkey will take three hours to cook plus 20 minutes to rest and 10 minutes to carve, then you need to put the bird in the preheated oven at 3:30pm. You can fill in the rest of the dishes from there.
Here’s the liberating part: make as much as you can in advance. Last Christmas we made the gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and braised cabbage in the days leading up to the feast. I deliberately chose braised cabbage (instead of greens beans or Brussels sprouts) precisely because it can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave or oven. When suppertime came, all we had to do was reheat the works, sauté some Swiss chard, and carve the beast.
And remember that big roasts like turkey, ham and lamb can always rest for up to 40 minutes (if you need some extra time) and potato dishes usually hold their heat very well (so time them to be ready a little ahead of schedule). And don’t forget to delegate, delegate, delegate. Thanksgiving is a family affair: children can set tables, dads can carve turkeys, aunties can stir gravy!
Dear Claire, I don’t like pumpkin. Is there something I can sub-in for my Thanksgiving pie and other desserts?
A: Is it the pumpkin you don’t like or the spicing of traditional pumpkin pie? If it’s pumpkin, then try subbing in roasted and puréed butternut squash. Roast halved squash in a large baking dish, covered with foil, at 400F until fork-tender. Scoop out the flesh and purée it in a food processor until very smooth. Once you’ve mixed in the other filling ingredients, pass the whole filling mixture through a fine-mesh sieve before pouring it into your pie shell.
But if that aromatic blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg is what sets you off, then think of chai spices and season the pie with ground cardamom, ginger and a pinch of black pepper.
If none of these sound like happy solutions to your pumpkin problem, forget tradition and make a chocolate paté. No matter what the occasion, no one would ever turn down a luxurious slice of dark chocolate with cream and fruit.
Dear Claire, I’d like to try something different for Thanksgiving this year, and I was thinking about barbecuing my bird. Any suggestions?
A: Interesting idea, especially if Thanksgiving weekend turns out to be a warm and sunny one. You’ll want to flatten or “spatchcock” your turkey, which means taking out the backbone. You can do it yourself with some poultry shears and elbow grease, but you can also ask your butcher to take care of it. This way your turkey will lie flat on the grill and cook evenly and much more quickly. As well, cook the turkey using indirect heat – leave one side of the grill on, and cook the turkey over the other side. Lid closed of course!
You’ll need to bake your stuffing in a separate dish in the oven, which is my preferred way of cooking stuffing anyways. Try this delicious sweet potato stuffing recipe – it makes lots!
Dear Claire, I’m in charge of sides this year, and don’t want to bring mashed potatoes. Can you suggest some new and tasty dishes that will make me the family star?
A: For a simple switch, instead of plain old spuds try celeriac and potato mash, a delicious twist on the classic. Feeling daring? Try an herbed white bean purée instead – looks like mash but tastes like French bistro. Or for a change, how about tarragon couscous? We love toasting the couscous first.
As for veg, I’m a big fan of green salads (again, because they are no-cook) and make-ahead sides (see above!). A salad packed with dates and bacon goes great with turkey, is easy to transport and is sure to wow the family.
If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org