Step 1: Menu Planning.
The first thing I always do when hosting a gathering is to decide what to serve. These days I usually have a few vegetarians in the mix so I need to make sure there is enough for everyone to eat. I gather up all of the recipes I will need into one place. This step also includes deciding what you would like to have others bring/contribute to the meal. This year I had one friend volunteer to make the desserts (3 unbelievable pies) and everyone else brought wine (lots and lots of wine).
Thanksgiving 2011 Menu
Chips and French Onion Dip
Maple Bourbon Pickles
Entrees and Sides
Fall Vegetable Patties (vegetarian option)
Green Bean Casserole
Spinach in Beurre Blanc
Grandma's Dinner Rolls
Garlic Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Eggnog Ice Cream
Step 2: Shopping Lists and Purchasing
Here I go through all the recipes I have compiled and list which ingredients I am going to need to pick up. This gives me the chance to go through the pantry and double check that I have all of the staples that I need as well.
I usually end up doing a couple of shopping trips to pick everything up. I start with drinks and non-perishables the week or so before the event, and buy the perishables about 4 or so days before.
There are certain items you need to think of even farther in advance--like the turkey or ham for the big holidays. I ordered my turkey this year towards the end of October/beginning of November from Brooklyn Victory Garden. They brought in turkeys from the local Oink and Gobble Farms.
Step 3: Set Cooking Plan and begin pre-preparations.
Next up I decide which items I can start cooking/prepare in the days before the event and which need to be done at the last minute. Here's what I cooked in the days leading up to Thanksgiving:
2 Days Before:
Make Cranberry Sauce
Make the ice cream base and refrigerate
Make turkey stock from turkey neck
Caramelize onions for dip
1 Day Before:
Make dinner rolls
Make ice cream
Prep veggie patties
Boil potatoes and rice them
Roast sweet potatoes and mash
Make onion dip
Tie and rub/prepare turkey
Cook turkey (once cooked allow to sit before carving and drain juices and separate to use for gravy)
Prep green bean casserole and cook
Set out serving wares
Set out appetizers/drinks
Last minute (the final prep before serving--this is a great time to learn how to delegate and ask for help from you guests!):
Reheat potatoes and mix with milk and butter
Reheat sweet potatoes and mix with milk and butter
Make beurre blanc and add spinach
Fry veggie patties
Step 4: Enjoy!
Don't forget to take the time to enjoy your own meal and your company. Proper planning before the event allows you that time. You can leave the dishes for later after the guests have gone.
1 package fresh or frozen cranberries (12 oz)
1 1/4 c. cherry juice
3/4 c. turbinado sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup
zest from 1 lemon
zest from 1 orange
1/2 stick of cinnamon
1/8 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
Mix together the cranberries, cherry juice, turbinado sugar, maple syrup, lemon and orange zest and the cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium-high, bringing the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium to allow the sauce to simmer. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, remove the cinnamon stick, then stir in the orange juice. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
Garlic Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes
whole garlic cloves
fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375.
Peel the sweet potatoes and chop them into 1 1/2" cubes. Toss together with a few whole cloves of garlic, whole sage leaves, salt and pepper.
Spread the sweet potatoes, garlic and sage onto sheet pans in a single layer. Roast for about 45-60 minutes, tossing every so often, until the sweet potatoes are tender and slightly brown.
Once the potatoes are roasted, mash together with the garlic and sage and mix with milk or cream and butter. Add more salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
This is how I've prepared my turkey for the past two years and it has turned out really juicy and delicious. The first thing I do is pull out the neck and giblets. A couple of days before Thanksgiving I use the neck and vegetables to make a turkey stock. I save the giblets for the gravy and use the liver to make a pate (great for an appetizer or quick, simple dinner).
The day before Thanksgiving I mix together some room temperature butter with fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme), and maybe some minced garlic or fennel pollen. Then I lift the skin of the turkey and rub this mixture underneath, between the skin and meat, avoiding rubbing it on the outside of the skin. Then I salt and pepper the outside of the turkey well (sprinkling some salt and pepper into the cavity of the turkey as well). Then I place the turkey on the roasting rack in the roasting pan and put the whole thing into the refrigerator uncovered overnight (this helps to dry out the skin of the bird, making it extra crispy once roasted).
The next morning I get up and turn on the oven to 475 degrees. Once the oven is preheated I place the bird in for 20 minutes. Then I take about 1/2-3/4 c. of turkey stock and add it to the bottom of the roasting pan and turn down the oven temperature to 275 degrees. I will then allow the turkey to cook until the thigh meat reaches 160 degrees (this takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes per pound. Check the temperature often).
While the turkey is cooking I heat up turkey stock in a saucepan to a boil, then add the giblets. I allow these to simmer for about 45 minutes, then remove the giblets.
When the turkey has reached temperature I pull the turkey out of the oven and use the roasting rack to tilt it up towards its side to allow the juices on the inside of the bird to drain out. Then I set the bird aside and cover. The juices I place into my pyrex measuring cup and allow the fat to separate from the juices. Once it separates I use a spoon to carefully take off the fat and place into a separate bowl. To make the gravy I will use some of this fat made into a roux with flour, then add the juices, then add the giblet soaked turkey stock to finish it off.
Once the turkey has rested for around 20-30 minutes it is time to carve and serve.