Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday. No endless decorating. No endless shopping. No endless wrapping. And from my very unscientific survey, there is no holiday with fewer Pinterest-y craft ideas to torment me. Plus, Thanksgiving is all about two of my favorite things—gratitude and food. Even so, Thanksgiving dinner can be a little daunting. Never fear. For each of your holiday meal challenges, I have a solution.
Thanksgiving Dilemma: I’ve never cooked a turkey before.
Strategy #1: A no-fail turkey recipe. For years, my go-to turkey recipe has been Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey. This technique calls for a brine, but don’t let that scare you if you haven’t done it before! It is extremely easy and practically guarantees that your turkey will be perfectly seasoned and moist. Trust me when I tell you to invest in an instant-read meat thermometer. It is vital to making sure your turkey is cooked through without being overcooked, and I promise that once you own it, you will use your thermometer all the time. Thanks to ours, all the meat cooked at my house is not only more delicious, but safer as well.
Strategy #2: Pick a different entrée that is both simple and satisfying. There is no rule that says you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving. A spiral ham with a tasty glaze to fancy things up will do the trick. I like this Glazed Ham with Cherry Sauce.
Thanksgiving dilemma: I stayed out way too late on Thanksgiving Eve socializing with friends. Now I have just minutes to prepare an appetizer for the family potluck.
Strategy #1: Three simple items from the grocery store make an elegant contribution–a jar of red pepper jelly poured over a block of cream cheese, served with an assortment of crackers. Ta-da!!
Strategy #2: Crostini. Again, just a quick stop at the grocery for a loaf of baguette (or if you’re lucky, already sliced and toasted bread), and you’re in business. You can top crostini with nearly anything. Chopped, salted tomato and basil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A smear of blue cheese, a slice of apple or pear, and a drizzle of honey. A bit of goat cheese topped with prosciutto and fig jam. Everyone will think you are a genius.
Thanksgiving Dilemma: There’s no more room in the oven, but I still need to make a show-stopping side dish.
Strategy #1: Use the stovetop. This is my very own recipe for the perfect fall vegetable–Brussels sprouts, and it is delicious, if I do say so myself.
Charred Brussels with Pecans and Parmesan
1 1/2 to 2 lbs fresh Brussels sprouts
2 TBS olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan
Trim stems of sprouts and cut in half (quarters if exceptionally large). Heat olive oil in skillet until nearly smoking. Add sprouts and allow to brown, stirring occasionally to get color all around. Add about 1/4 inch of water to pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp each to start and adjust at the end). Cover pan with a lid and allow sprouts to steam for 5 minutes. Remove lid and check doneness with a fork and taste for seasoning. Sprouts should be fork tender but not mushy. If not, steam a few more minutes until they reach desired doneness. Sprinkle with pecans and parmesan. Cover pan with lid for 30 seconds or so to melt cheese.
Use fresh parmesan, not the kind in the can. Seriously.
Cooking time varies a lot based on the freshness of the Brussels sprouts. Don’t worry if they take more than five minutes.
Getting the sprouts sufficiently brown is key. You want them to be very brown or at least the cut side, just this side of burnt.
Strategy #2: Use your slow cooker for all day flavor that needs exactly zero attention from you. My family’s favorite vegetable is green beans, but only prepared the way Granny does it. Little do they know that these Slow Cooker Green Beans taste like Granny made them even though she didn’t.
Thanksgiving Dilemma: My family likes to have the same dishes every year, but I want to mix it up with something new.
Stragegy #1: Make a new-to-you version of the classic Jello salad. Who doesn’t love a dish that has more sugar than dessert, but we still call it salad? Jello salads are a must at my family’s holiday gatherings, but the same old thing is boring. Instead, how about trying a new one this year? Our family favorites include Sawdust Salad, the “green stuff”–originally known as Watergate Salad, and this amazing Strawberry Pretzel Salad.
Strategy #2: A twist on the classic deviled egg. The possibilities are truly endless. I will be adding Avocado Bacon Ranch and Caesar Salad deviled egg varieties to my menu. YUM.
Thanksgiving Dilemma: I need a dessert that dazzles but doesn’t take all day to make.
Strategy #1: Simplify the pumpkin. I will admit that pumpkin pie is already pretty simple to make, but you can’t beat ten minutes of prep for the ooey-gooey goodness of this Pumpkin Pecan Cobbler. Be sure to have some vanilla or cinnamon ice cream on hand to top it off.
Strategy #2: Bread Pudding. It seems magical how a few simple ingredients can turn into such a luscious dessert, but it really is true. This simple recipe takes minutes to put together and can easily be doubled for a crowd.
Chocolate Bread Pudding
1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs, whisked
splash of vanilla
1 c. half-and-half
1 c. chocolate milk
1/2 day old baguette
handful of pecans
good quality chocolate bar, chopped
Whisk together sugar, eggs, and other liquid ingredients. Mix in cubed bread. Fold in pecans and chopped chocolate. Pour into square pan that has been sprayed with oil. Bake at 350 for about 55 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
I hope these recipes solve some of your holiday cooking dilemmas or at least help simplify your Thanksgiving preparations. May your cooking be successful, your table be full, and your company be delightful. Happy Thanksgiving!