A few of my friends are hosting their first Thanksgiving this year and asked if I would pull together some favorite recipes and tricks I’ve learned over the years.
I have been cooking the family Thanksgiving meal since I was a sophomore in college when I discovered my love of cooking. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to put up much of a fight – neither of my parents love to cook – and my family are all willing kitchen assistants. In those fourteen years, I’ve cooked for intimate family parties and for big gatherings of neighbors and friends. I’ve used themes to inspire the menu from eating the rainbow to a Tuscan Thanksgiving feast. Through these experiences I have learned the following:
Incorporate as many make-ahead dishes as possible. You don't win a trophy for cooking the most dishes simultaneously at Thanksgiving.
Don’t over-complicate things. Truffled lobster mac’n’cheese is not a necessary starter course. People want the classics and James Beard will likely not be coming to dinner.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. I’m terrible at baking so I always ask guests to bring the pies. You don’t want me to make pie.
Draw up a game plan that revolves around the time your turkey will be occupying the oven. Every hour leading up to serving time, you should be able to cross an item off your list.
Lay out your serving vessels in advance with post-it notes specifying which part of the meal it serves. I learned this trick from my mom and the one time I didn’t do this, disaster ensued. Just do it.
Assign point people to keep an eye on certain dishes so nothing falls through the cracks. It’s crazy to think one person can keep track of nine dishes at once. Don’t try it.
The best Thanksgiving celebrations involve good music, dancing and games. Have a good playlist queued up, your speakers tuned and some board games on hand.
The secret to the best mashed potatoes is a generous helping of crème fraiche, butter and sour cream. I know crème fraiche and sour cream are basically the same but I swear you need to have both. This is the one day out of the year that I don’t think about eating healthy. Pile that dairy on – every spoonful makes the dish taste even better. Oh, and lots of salt.
Here are some of my favorite recipes that I return to year after year:
Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Turkey
You can never go wrong with the Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are so well-tested, they never fail to deliver. This turkey is juicy and succulent and perfectly cooked every time.
Cranberries with Orange Zest and Port
This is such a simple recipe but it really elevates the cranberry sauce experience to a new level. If you buy good Port, serve the leftover with dessert.
Chestnut, Leek & Apple Stuffing
I’ve been making this recipe since 2008 and it is a huge hit every year so I will probably never stop making it. You can also assemble this one a day ahead and bake before serving which is really nice. It's also a REALLY yummy leftover and great in sandwiches!
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Guys, if you've never had brussels with pancetta (Italian bacon), you have not lived. Please make this. Also Scott Conant is a genius and all of his recipes are divine.
I usually add a roasted root vegetable dish, mashed potatoes and a salad – and dinner is served!
Remember to take time to breathe and enjoy the company this holiday. The best part of Thanksgiving isn't the food, but feeling gratitude for the people we celebrate with. Happy Thanksgiving everyone ❤