Since I’m the chef in the family, I’m responsible for roasting the Thanksgiving bird and feeding the great hordes. It used to stress me out, but over the years I’ve actually learned to enjoy it! How? I’ve learned to simplify, streamline and fudge some things, allowing me to pull off the ultimate feast – and please my epicurean family – without making my life more difficult than it needs to be. That leaves me time and energy to try something new if I want.
If you’re expecting a small group, there’s no need to cook enough for an army, so cut the excess! Less cooking and cleaning means more time to relax and enjoy everyone’s company. Skip cooking a big bird and try cooking a stuffed turkey breast instead. A three-pounder will easily feed six people.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by thinking “it won’t be Thanksgiving unless we have ______,” but you know what? More likely than not, no one will miss it – and dinner will still be great.
Choose two side dishes that complement the turkey and won’t complicate your life. Instead of preparing several vegetable side dishes, roast a mixture of veggies to satisfy everyone’s wishes.
Perhaps the most challenging part of a Thanksgiving dinner is organizing it. Orchestrating what goes in the oven, on the stovetop and in the microwave – and timing everything so all the dishes come out piping hot at the same time – is the work of a maestro (or a madwoman!). To streamline the whole production, prepare as many make-aheads as possible.
I used to think mashed potatoes only tasted good when the potatoes were mashed and fluffed at the very, very last minute. How wrong I was! Instead of receiving praise for my culinary excellence, I was rewarded with sweaty last-minute panic – and chastised for letting the rest of the food get cold! Trust me, potatoes are just as tasty the next day. When you’re almost ready to eat, just microwave them in an eight-inch (20-cm) dish on medium, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes.
Even if you can’t make the whole dish ahead of time, do as much prep work beforehand as possible. Peel and clean all vegetables, such as turnip, parsnips and potatoes. Keep them in cold water so they don’t turn colour. Measure out ingredients needed for baking or making gravy. Stuffing is a natural make-ahead – it gets a lot of mess out of the way and the flavour only improves as it sits.
I find the most stressful part about cooking a large dinner is the time it takes to clean up – especially when cooking side dishes. If you don’t want to spend all those extra hours in the kitchen, make the deli counter at the supermarket your sous-chef! Round out your feast with a tangy beet salad, mixed bean salad or that bright green Kentucky-style coleslaw. Tofu and grain salads are also tasty additions to your table.
Dessert is another course I’m willing to cheat on. I love pumpkin pie, but making it from scratch can be time-consuming and patience-sapping. And between all the chocoholics and picky eaters, I’m always (politely and longingly) asked if anything else is available. If you want to please your guests – without having to make several desserts – round out your dessert table with a selection of store-bought squares and brownies. Or buy pre-mixed dough and bake cookies at home without the muss and fuss.
Try something new
Even though tradition plays a big part of the annual Thanksgiving feast, consider trying a new twist on an old theme! Experiment with new methods and flavours. Want some inspiration? Why not…
• Make like a vegetarian and try tofu turkey, also known as Tofurkey.
• Try deep-fried turkey – it’s a tradition in the Deep South and produces the moistest and most crispy-skinned turkey I’ve ever eaten. You can buy turkey fryer kits on ebay.ca or canadiancamo.com. I recommend reading up on this adventurous cooking method before you try it.