You may be wondering what right an English girl has to be talking about that most sacred of American holidays, Thanksgiving. Before moving to America I had little clue about what went on at Thanksgiving. My only references were the odd episodes of Friends – what had stuck in my mind was the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes and strange jello shapes. The first year we lived in California I basically made all my usual Christmas dinner favourites but gingerly tried some of the local specialities. The next year I got a little more acclimatised and added homemade pumpkin pie and a homemade Chinese five spice and pumpkin ice cream to our menu.
Creating our own Thanksgiving traditions
This year I’m going to be heading to a little cabin in the woods in Tahoe with my brood. What I love about Thanksgiving, as a foreigner, is that I’m free of the chains of family tradition so I can basically cook and eat whatever I like, with whoever I like. I can then keep my old family traditions for Christmas.
I love the fact that, unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving is pretty uncommercial (if you ignore the huge inflatable turkey currently residing in the front garden of a house down our street). I love the tradition my good friend introduced us to of everyone taking turns to say what they have been thankful for this year before dinner is served. And, of course, I love the leftovers and the long weekend of family time.
How to enjoy Thanksgiving without being a kitchen slave
So, how do you keep the spirit of Thanksgiving without becoming a slave in the kitchen, spending a fortune and throwing away lots of leftovers? Here are my tips and also all the recipes I like to make at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d love to know what your traditions and recipes are too.
My biggest tips are:
1. Get as much done (and washed up the day before). Store chopped veggies in bags in the fridge as they take up less room than bowls.
2. Sit down and make a list of what needs to cook when, and at what temperature so that you don’t have to keep referring to individual recipes on the day. List what needs to be done in half hour increments throughout the day and cross them off as you do them.
3. Delegate the dish washing, the drinks and ask people to bring a couple of dishes for you.
4. You will be in the kitchen a lot so clear your counter tops of anything you don’t need.
5. Get your serving bowls and platters out in a stack and warm them to keep food hot (a couple of minutes in the microwave for a stack or plates or a few empty bowls is all you need and saves precious oven space.)
6. Put some good music on, if you are cooking you choose. Of course, a glass of bubbly or a cocktail while you’re cooking doesn’t hurt either.
7. Write your grocery list in order of where things are in the shop – veggies together, refrigerated things together etc. It will help avoid you zig zagging all over the shops.
8. Plan a few leftover recipes (see below) and make sure you have the ingredients to add to your leftovers to hand so you don’t need to go back to the shops for a few days.
9. This is controversial, but I never make an appetizer or starter (beyond some smoked salmon on rye bread with lemon or a few warmed spiced nuts) for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I want to be hungry for the main event so I don’t want to waste precious tummy space that could be better used for Turkey, sides, dessert and wine. It also frees up my mind and my kitchen to focus on the main part of dinner.
10. Pull out your storage containers(and their lids when you find them) ready for leftovers, to save you rummaging through cupboards after dinner.
11. Use your phone to set alarms for the key times throughout the day, that way you don’t have to keep checking the clock and your notes.
Make sure you have the right tools to hand
You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe, along with a few of the ingredients, through the UK and US Amazon links below. Just click on the red links and you can add the item straight into your Amazon cart to buy later. If a price is shown in dollars and you are in the UK, it will take you through to the Amazon UK item in pounds once you put it in your cart. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools. You can also buy my other bits of essential kitchen equipment through this post
Sharpen your knives. Get a good peeler , a good potato masher and a solid roasting pan. Treat yourself to some Maldon salt
Heirloom bronze turkey is the best. You get what you pay for so try and order one from a farm or a good butcher or grocery store. A 10lb bird should be enough for 6 people.
Rest, rest, rest your turkey after cooking! 30 minutes is ideal. Cover with foil and leave somewhere warm before carving.
The last few years I decided to bone and roll my turkey which cuts the cooking time massively and makes it so much easier to carve. There are tons of YouTube videos on how to bone it or you can buy one ready boned, which most butchers will do for you given a few days notice. I’ll be totally honest, boning it yourself is a bit messy and not for the faint hearted, but I did like the chance to unleash my inner surgeon and it felt like a big achievement to do it myself. I use this recipe for a porchetta style rolled turkey, filled with wonderful fennel flavour, from Martha Stewart. It worked a treat and the bones make this wonderful gravy. Best of all, it cooks really fast and most of the messy work can be done the day before.
For me, the sides are the best bit of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always make huge bowls of them as I love nothing more than having the dinner again the following day. I always enjoy it best the next day when I can lazily re-heat things. Here are my favourite sides:
- Champ made with celeric (celery root) and potato
- If you or your guests are low carbing, or you just want to balance out the potatoes, I urge you to try my cauliflower mash
- Cranberry sauce – I make mine a day or two before. Often I make a big batch and freeze it weeks before in small containers. We have it with pancakes as well as with our roast dinner so it is handy to have.
- My favourite stuffing recipe is here.
- For a change from a bread-heavy stuffing, try this fennel and lemon freekeh.
- Roast pumpkin wedges with a herb crust. I found this recipe in Ottolenghi’s Plenty book and it was a hit. Leftovers are great stirred into risotto or torn into a salad of shredded kale and turkey. In this recipe, I left out the mushrooms and used butternut squash in place of pumpkin. I chop my squash and make my crust the day before. Then roast it and leave it somewhere warm on the day or just pop it back in the oven to reheat (no need to refrigerate it) for 5 minutes before serving.
- Carrot and swede (rutabaga) mash
- Baked fennel, I posted this on here last year. It is pretty indulgent but then, if Thanksgiving isn’t time to pull out the stops then I don’t know when is.
I make this pumpkin pie, obviously. Last year I mixed the canned pumpkin with my spices, spread it onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and roasted it (200c or 400f) for 20 minutes before adding it to my other pie filling ingredients. The roasting woke up the spices and added a lovely toasty complex flavour to the finished pie. It also reduces some of the liquid making your pie less prone to a soggy bottom.
And this amazing pumpkin ice cream recipe from Jeni’s ice cream. I used canned pumpkin in place of roasted to save time and it was amazing.
These salted caramel pots are also great make-ahead puds.
I know lots of you will be making my apple crumble too.
I have a feeling that my Sticky toffee pudding may make its way onto a few tables this year too.
My pumpkin chocolate loaf is a great thing for Thanksgiving morning or for dessert.
Of course you’ll be making your ultimate sandwich (buy the best bread, spread it with leftover bread sauce, mustard, cranberry and turkey, apply to face).
My green herb sauce is just the thing for your leftovers sandwich.
This Thai salad is another great use of leftover turkey.
Make sure you store your leftovers well in containers like these so that you can have quick easy meals in the following days.
Be sure to keep your turkey bones for broth too.