My Grandmother's Recipe Box
Thanksgiving. A beautiful day to celebrate and give thanks with your friends and family. Also known as: a year-long lead up to a day filled with at least six out of seven deadly sins including gluttony, wrath and sloth. You know it’s true. No Thanksgiving goes smoothly. There is always some sort of cooking disaster like burning the rolls (my mother’s signature move) or some annoying relative who inappropriately “over shares.”
No matter what you do, how much you organize, how much you plan ahead, or how much you pray for a smooth day… It ain’t gonna be. However, there are some tricks that can minimize the carnage.
I think we can all agree that the foremost trick to having a near disaster free Thanksgiving is to plan ahead. Make a list and check it twice. Grocery list, guest list, floral list, music list, drinks list, table setting list… List, list, list! And it’s important to delegate. Let someone else help. My mother usually does 90% of the work but typically she delegates out setting the table, lighting the candles, filling the glasses with water… Stupid jobs for stupid people, I am sure, is her theory. Nothing serious because she doesn’t trust any of us to do it correctly. She usually just has my sister and I do menial labor and then she will come in and put the finishing touches on everything. I am 45 years old and to this day I have never made Thanksgiving dinner. I have been my mother’s assistant to Thanksgiving dinner but the reigns have never been passed over to me and probably never will be unless my mother drops dead, God forbid, and we will have to retch that spatula out of her cold dead hands. Ha ha,ha, I’m laughing as I write that. (Relax, my mother would be laughing too.)
However, this year is my first year to make Thanksgiving by myself and when I say “by myself” I mean my three male Filipino caregivers will be morphed into chefs, bakers, florist and decorators. I have had 45 years of “Thanksgiving observation” and my skill retention will be put to the test this year in Provence as I attempt to “do Thanksgiving.”
I will rely 100% on my Thanksgiving cookbook, Surviving Thanksgiving. Every single one of my family secret recipes are described. My great grandmother’s green beans with bacon. Check. My mother’s famous cranberry sauce (Yolanda Hadid’s favorites). Check. Our family secret stuffing recipe with a surprising ingredient. Check. Sweet potato soufflé from a down-home Southern source. Check.
I am also going to rely heavily on every “tricks of the trade” I can find. These tricks can come from home cooks to professionals. I have started a compilation but I would like all of you to contribute your best Thanksgiving tricks/tips in the comment section so everyone can share their Thanksgiving advice!
I have started a little compilation:
Our beloved Stephen leads our Thanksgiving advice: “I follow the Libby’s back of the canned pumpkin pie recipe, except I: 1) use duck eggs 2) double the spices and 3) bloom the spices in half a stick of melted butter 4) add 1 tablespoon whiskey to the filling (helps evaporate moisture more quickly and amplifies flavor).”
Stephen continues with his holiday spirit advice: “Guests like to help. I know this, every etiquette/hosting guide says this. Every lifestyle personality urges “get your guests in on it! It’s more fun!” Bull and shit. I would like to be that person who opens his kitchen, passes a spare apron, and says, "Oh, darling! Chop these carrots however you feel regardless of how I’d like them! Even though you just pet my dog, don’t worry about washing your hands since there are two people blocking the sink arguing about abortion. But that’s not me. I'm a solo act. I feel it’s a strength and I at least recognize this; but in the scheme of things, it's probably a weakness. So, maybe in 30 years when I’m alone on Thanksgiving, I’ll reassess. For now, the model remains: "Darling! Get the fuck out of the kitchen."Bold
But this is just the beginning of Stephen’s Thanksgiving advice. Pop over to Stephen’s blog HERE to read the funniest most realistic advice on Thanksgiving you could ever hope for! You will not be disappointed!
My friend Amy M. is up next with her Thanksgiving advice. Amy is a former editor of Gourmet Magazine and not only knows how to make something taste good but look good also! Amy suggests: “1. Take the time to make turkey stock for your gravy! It doesn't take long and makes a huge difference in flavor. There is an easy recipe on p. 377 of the big Gourmet yellow cookbook. Also, my booze of choice for gravy (in addition to the requisite white wine) is a medium Madiera. 2. If having a large crowd, instead of cooking 2 turkeys which is very cumbersome roast one larger bird and a boneless turkey breast (size of both depends on total number of guests). It's much easier to focus on one bird and then roast a breast--which takes much less time--as most people choose white meat anyway. Dark meat lovers are usually few in a crowd. 3. Many side dishes can be made ahead but not mashed potatoes (no no no). Purists prefer a food mill but I usually don't have the patience for such w/ a large amount so usually use an old fashioned masher. Make sure you warm the butter/milk/cream mixure so it's hot when you add it to the potatoes. (Some people swear by an electric mixer for mashing which is what my mother always used but you have to be gentle and not overdo.) 4. re: dessert: if you're going to make homemade pies, please please please take the time to make your own pastry. My favorite is Dorie Greenspan's "Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough" on p. 442 of her book "Baking, from my home to yours" one of my favorite baking books--a MUST for any baker!”
My idol, the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten masters Thanksgiving by offering her advice by keeping it simple. You can read all of Ina’s Thanksgiving advice HERE but here is a little snippet.
Ina advises: “1. Make a game plan. I take a big piece of paper and write my timing on it, working backward. If I want to serve the meal at 4 o’clock, I think, the turkey must go in the oven at noon, come out at three, and then rest for an hour. Then I look at the carrots and parsnips: make them in advance? Yes, they can be reheated while the turkey rests. I pencil that into the schedule. I make sure that there are some things in the oven, some things atop the stove, some things I can make in advance and reheat, and some things I can serve at room temperature. 2. I love to order cookies with people’s name on them as place cards. They are from Eli’s Zabar ($24 for six, elizabar.com). 3. Ask each guest to bring a dessert. They will feel like they are part of the team (and they’ll enjoy their favorite sweet).”
This last bit of Ina’s advice is the complete opposite of my mother’s advice. If a guest brings flowers or dessert to my mother’s Thanksgiving… She will kill you. I have written a complete rulebook in my Surviving Thanksgiving cookbook of what not to do at our house for Thanksgiving titled, “My Mother Will Kill You If You…” You can order the book HERE. It is available in softback and as an e-book if you want it delivered today on your device.
This brings us to my mother’s Thanksgiving advice. My mother says: “My only really great trick is the one that I use for making all sauces/gravy. I learned it in cooking classes in Springfield, Missouri and have used it forever. 2 Tablespoons melted butter to 2 Tablespoons of flour. Mix together with a fork and blend it into your liquid with a whisk. If the liquid needs to be thicker make more of this mixture. You can increase the amount but it is always the same equal amount of butter to flour. My other trick if you can call it that.....is before any holiday or event I try to do my best to be really organized with the food and the preparations. Even though I might not look organized to anyone else I am to me! This is really the most important part of any party, holiday or even the evening dinner. Before Thanksgiving I make a list of everything I need to do...even the smallest thing like making sure the napkins are ironed. Remember the Thanksgiving that I didn't do that and I had a meltdown...I really was not organized or completely prepared...Even as much as I wanted to blame everyone else it really was my responsibility for the meal and that included the napkins....the details do matter. So get prepared, get organized and then you can enjoy the meal and have fun!”
True story. My mother literally had a nervous breakdown over unironed napkins one year. It was about 11 years ago and we are still talking about it/scared about it. But don’t confuse that napkin meltdown with her other meltdown regarding the year my sister brought a store-bought pie to Thanksgiving dinner.
Okay, so now it’s your turn. What are your best tricks to a fabulously seamless Thanksgiving, if there is such a thing. There isn’t but we can at least try! Leave your tricks/tips/advice in the comment section so we can all share. Happy almost Thanksgiving! Gobble gobble!