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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

26

Ask a Glutton: I Need to Trick Everyone Into Thinking I'm an Adult This Thanksgiving

Dear Glutton,

My girlfriend and I are hosting our first ever real Thanksgiving dinner as a couple on Thursday, and I’m feeling more than a little overwhelmed. I love to cook, but mostly eat vegetarian, and the idea of making a huge, multi course, meat centered meal for a bunch of people I want to impress is FREAKING ME OUT! I’ve bought all the ingredients, and have some basic ideas of what I’m making (sweet potatoes, turkey, brussels sprouts, the usual suspects), but I’m hoping you could give me a timeline. When do I make what? How do I make sure everything isn’t freezing cold/has to cook at the same time? If you have any knockout Thanksgiving recipes to seal the deal, that would be awesome as well. Basically what I want to know is if you have any tips for fooling people into thinking I’m a competent adult.

Almost a Grownup

Dear Almost,

Fooling people into thinking you’re a competent adult is pretty easy. There are many signifiers of grownuphood, including having a job, a relationship, a dentist, an apartment you pay for yourself, or even just a professed interest in serialized television dramas. It looks like you’ve got at least one of these things covered, so I wouldn’t worry about being judged by a group of people who are probably just as uncertain about their own competency as you are—on a holiday where it is considered totally socially acceptable to eat canned green beans, no less. I remember my first solo hosted thanksgiving, when I tried to make dinner for 25 people in a tiny apartment where the kitchen equipment was limited to a toaster oven and a hot plate. I couldn’t find any of the ingredients, and didn’t start cooking until way too late in the day. We ate at 10 p.m. Everything was cold. Half of it was over or undercooked. But there was pie, so everyone was overjoyed anyway. Have pie, and you’ll do fine.

But none of this answers your question. Fortunately for you, the takeaway of my first failed Thanksgiving (aside from the healing properties of pie) is that having a clear-cut schedule can prevent even the most egregious culinary snafus. So, I now present to you the first official Ask a Glutton guide to Thanksgiving (or any big holiday meal, really). I’m assuming for the purposes of this exercise that your menu, in addition to the aforementioned sweet potatoes, turkey, and Brussels sprouts, also features the usual holiday standbys of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, rolls, and some kind of pie. You should obviously feel free to add and subtract the actual contents of your menu. 

WEDNESDAY (THIS IS TODAY. STAY CALM. YOU GOT THIS.)

The night before thanksgiving is all about getting your prep work done in the most relaxed possible atmosphere. Put on some jams (I recommend Robyn, for obvious getting pumped reasons) and clean the parts of your house your snoopy guests will actually be looking at. Set the table, if you want. Assemble the sweet potato casserole and prebake, make the pies (this Martha Stewart maple pumpkin pie is completely amazing, although you should probably leave off the tiny piecrust leaf on top to preserve your sanity—I love you Martha, but I can’t BE you!—and Alice Water’s crazy simple apple tart with salted apple caramel glaze is ridiculously delicious). If you’re making your own rolls, make sure the dough is on its second rise in the fridge before you go to bed. Keep up the jams and drink lots of delicious wine. Eat some snacks. Brine the turkey, if you’re doing that. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

THURSDAY (THIS IS TOMORROW. YOU STILL GOT THIS.)

When you wake up Thursday morning, pull the rolls out so the dough can warm up and continue rising before its time to pop it in the oven. Depending on the size of your turkey, this’ll probably take about three hours. While it’s in there, make the cranberry sauce, and boil the potatoes you’re going to mash. In the last hour of cooking, you can put the Brussels sprouts in under the turkey, if you’re roasting them (which I hope you are, roasted brussels sprouts are my anti-drug). Otherwise, just cook them at the same time on the stovetop. Mash the potatoes during the final hour of roasting, and keep them covered so they’ll be warmed for when you’re ready for them.

It’s a good idea to get as many people involved in the business of Thanksgiving prep work as you feel comfortable cluttering up your kitchen with. People like helping! It helps things go faster, and makes it more fun. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have a kitchen assistant/drinking buddy on hand to help relax you; I find that there’s less pressure to be perfect when there’s a friend or trusted relation around to help do some of the heavy lifting.

When you pull the turkey out of the oven, tent it in foil and let it rest for 15 minutes, during which time you can cook the rolls and warm up the sweet potato casserole (now’s the time to add marshmallows, if you’re so inclined.) When the timer goes off, bring everything out into the dining room. You can turn off the oven and put the pies in there to warm up in the residual heat if you like. But you can always worry about the pies later; it’s time to eat!

Oh, and if all else fails? Order a pizza and play Bingo.

 

Previously: I'm Through With Eggs

Photo via liquene/flickr.

Emily Beyda is a part-time writer and full-time snack enthusiast who lives in a treehouse in the Hollywood hills. Ask her anything.



26 Comments / Post A Comment

Elle Marie@twitter

For optimal Thanksgiving sanity, I suggest pre-making AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

I made Pioneer Woman's make-ahead mashed potatoes and a homemade green bean casserole (no cream of anything soup allowed in my kitchen) on Monday, and they just have to be re-heated on Thanksgiving. I'm prepping my stuffing ingredients tonight and just need to assemble stuffing and bake my pre-brined turkey tomorrow, and reheat everything else. And my husband will make bread dough for rolls tonight (bread machine dough setting for-the-win) and put them in the oven to bake once the turkey comes out. I baked pecan pie on Monday and a pumpkin pie last night.

You can also ease your workload by encouraging guests to bring things - give them specific assignments, like "bring a big bowl of mashed potatoes" or "bring a leafy green salad and your favorite salad dressing" to ease your overall workload. Make stuffing but don't cook it in the bird - it makes the turkey take longer to cook, and just makes every cook crazier than needed. Plus you get more yummy crunchy bits when you bake it in a casserole dish.

A. Louise

@Elle Marie@twitter Seconded - make those mashed potatoes the night before (tonight!) too, pop 'em in a casserole, and then put them in the oven once the turkey comes out. I make mine w/ loads of butter and cream cheese and then thin them with a touch of milk, so when you pop them in the oven they puff up just a bit like some kind of magical mashed potato souffle and all the lumps seem to melt away.

Seconded on the stuffing too - once for sanity, second for health reasons especially if you're new to the turkey game - you don't want uncooked turkey juice on your stuffing that could make people sick.

Cook it on the side, and have it close at hand to stuff bites in your face in between gulps of wine so you don't get too drunk (just me? anyone? Stuffing is the centerpiece of my meal. Forget the turkey all together.)

Sella Turcica

@Elle Marie@twitter Pre-making rocks. I'm doing my stuffing in the crockpot, because- massive amounts of stuffing. Anything that needs to be pre-cooked gets cooked before. It goes in for 2-4 hours on low (watch it, it may bake faster in yours) then sits on warm until you eat.

allendaniel

awesome .............. :)@a

ru_ri

This is great--really helpful reminders. Thank you! But what about GRAVY? Gravy is my favorite part of the meal.

I usually cook the neck and giblets in about 4 c of water (you can do this the day before or as the turkey roasts) to make broth, then do a flour-based gravy with butter and the pan drippings, as well as chopped-up giblets and neck meat. If I happen to be drinking dark beer I add some of that as well. And of course the broth. And a little soy sauce for depth. Does anyone do cornstarch gravy? I am curious about it but also a little trepidatious.

While I'm blathering (I'm cooking for eight tomorrow and feeling a bit nervous), any opinions on spatchcocking? I did it last year and the meat came out really moist and tender, but it didn't look as impressive as a big ol' bird with stuffing and all.

leonstj

@ru_ri - I do a really big friendsgiving every even numbered year (in odd numbered years I just hang out in bars by myself - it sounds kind of depressing, but you end up hearing fascinating stories, and people have a really nice spirit when you talk to strangers) and I'm very much pro-spatchcock.

I saw someone explain once that the middle of your oven is not quite as hot as the edges, so the dark meat (which has a higher temperature to be 'done' than white mean) is on the outside in the hotzone, and the sensitive breast meat is in the cooler zone. Plus, because the whole thing cooks faster, the meat closer to the surface doesn't dry out as much.

As much as you lose that few minutes of cool carving, when you bring a plate full of delicious, super-moist turkey!

ru_ri

@leonstj Thanks for the explanation! That makes sense.
Hope you report back here on your Thanksgiving bar conversations--I bet you'll get some good stories.

silly*goose

@ru_ri
My secret gravy trick is to make good stock ahead of time, and then heat it and whisk in beurre manie at the last possible minute. I guess it's not really "gravy", then, but it's a medium-thickness, creamy, meat-ish sauce that reads as gravy and is ZERO STRESS. And even if you don't have good stock already made, you can deglaze the roasting pan with white wine or tetra-pack chicken broth of whatevs, and it's still pretty low-stress.

ru_ri

@silly*goose Wow, this is brilliant! Thanks much. Going to try beurre manie posthaste!

OhMarie

I feel like there is a critical sentence or words missing in here: "When you wake up Thursday morning, pull the rolls out so the dough can warm up and continue rising before its time to pop it in the oven. Depending on the size of your turkey, this’ll probably take about three hours."

ru_ri

@OhMarie I think it means that it will take the dough about 3 hours to warm up and continue rising--but you're right, what does this have to do with the size of the turkey?

Stevie

@OhMarie Pretty sure we're missing "Prepare the turkey and get it in the oven..." in the middle of those two sentences. I hope they fix it, or this poor LW will forget to cook his turkey!! :)

OhMarie

@Stevie Yeah, I think that's what we're missing too--also what temp the oven should be at (I've seen low and slow or high or my own favorite, high then low).

TheLetterL

Yes to all the advice to make things ahead of time. I'm making the pies, the cranberry sauce, and the squash tonight and getting as far as I can with the prep work for everything else.

On a more philosophical level, I think you will impress your guests more as a calm and confident host that by making any fancy, stress-inducing dishes. Given that...

KNOW THY AUDIENCE. If your guests are looking for traditional dishes, don't knock yourself out coming up with something overly complicated or creative. Presenting a solid version of a classic dish will win them over just as well. And if they actually look forward to the easy version of something, like canned cranberry sauce? Don't waste your energy making it.

KNOW THYSELF. Hate baking but love making drinks? Everyone else brings the pies and impress them with a signature cocktail. It's fine.

KNOW THY BATTLEGROUND Tiny apartment oven? See if the turkey actually fits. (uh, not that this happened to me...) (although, seriously, just hack the legs off and roast them separately, it's fine) Use all your appliances to their advantages.

karenb

i did thanksgiving this year (canadian) in my tiny apartment kitchen, and while it was only for two, and i roasted a chicken instead, my big trick was spreadsheets. i made a chart! put the time in 15 minute increments down the left, all the stuff you're making across the top, and then you can slot the steps for the things you're making in at the correct time, which will help you see if you have too many things at once, and need to start something sooner/later.

also, there will be things that are happy to be microwaved or roasted, that will save your sanity and space on your stovetop.

Gulfie

@karenb Suuuuuch great advice! I'm not doing anything this year but when I am, I am the sort of person who will need to set things up like this.

FlufferNutter

We're going out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving this year, but I'm sort of sad not to be making my favorite cranberry sauce recipe. It's from an ancient issue of Sunset Magazine, and has Earl Grey tea in it! Maybe I'll make it next weekend... it's so, so good.

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/spiced-tea-cranberry-sauce-10000001547047/

RNL
RNL

Here's the ticket! Don't worry if things are not warm. Room temperature things are fine. They really are, especially with hot gravy over top.

Here's another ticket, which may be too late for this person: Ask people to bring things! Things like potatoes and other sides. Then make them use their casseroles to take leftovers home.

Finally, make a schedule. Like this one, above, but I would say the Glutton's is a bit over-simplistic and doesn't account for a lot of fiddly things that experienced hosts can just roll with. Write a bit long list of everything that needs to get accomplished by 5:00 Turkey day, and then work backwards from there.

YOU WILL BE GREAT. Smile. Have fun. Pink champagne will solve everything.

I leave this with you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foA0MGUbYH0

avocadosandwich

@RNL Haha I had the same idea as you without noticing. Whoops!

Weasley

I thought there was a step by step guide here on the Hairpin a long time ago that was perfect but I can't find it. Did I just dream that?

adorable-eggplant

Dudes, two words: crock pot.

Also, pies are labor intensive: switch to crumbles, i.e. messy pies.

avocadosandwich

Yay, it's now the time of year when I can share this video, aka "Just Put The Fucking Turkey In The Oven"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foA0MGUbYH0

avocadosandwich

Aaaand I just realised that RNL beat me to the punch. Go RNL!

RowenaGrans00

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JoanRKoch

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peahen

You kinda lost me at "make 2 pies from scratch starting right now."

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