Thanksgiving is a really intense meal that can easily be awesome or crumble like a spoonful of dry stuffing. Having taken some culinary arts classes and by watching my mom make the Thanksgiving spread from the safety of our kitchen bar stool, I have some experience in the war zone known as the kitchen.
Whether you’re providing a single piece to the Thanksgiving table, or doing some major DIY work and preparing the whole thing by yourself, here are some tips to help you cook up a flawless Thanksgiving.
Now before we start, there is a lot of debate whether you call this side dish “stuffing” or “dressing.” After some research, I’ve discovered if you cook the bread in the turkey, it’s stuffing, and if you cook it in a pan on the side it’s called dressing. Either way, this dish is the underdog of the Thanksgiving plate. Everyone expects it to be basic, bland, and boring because usually it’s a bunch of stale bread.
Don’t let your stuffing fade to the back in this feature presentation. Stuffing goes through a lot to be a star player in your dinner (I’m sure you wouldn’t like being cooked inside a turkey) so make sure it has some of the limelight it deserves. By throwing in some extra herbs and spices you can give your stuffing a starring role. To prevent it from drying out, you must add a liquid. You can get creative with this by using different juices, stocks, or even wine (as if you need another excuse for wine). “The Joy of Cooking” has a recipe that includes chorizo sausage, but I consider that optional if the spicy meat isn’t your thing.
There is something magical about mashed potatoes in which words cannot properly describe. When done right, these starchy gods are fluffy, creamy, and can warm you up inside like an oversized blanket. Done wrong, these can easily become pasty, gummy, and will probably make a nearby infant break down in tears.
My important tip: use real cream and real butter. Now is not the time to watch your waistline. It’s Thanksgiving, be thankful for tasty food. Ree Drummond has a classic mashed potato recipe that will make a heavenly light shine down upon your dining room table. If you’re looking to spice them up, adding some cayenne or garlic will definitely add a little flair to the potatoes.
We are now approaching my favorite item at the Thanksgiving table. It’s also one of the easiest things to make and one of the hardest things to screw up (exactly the reason why I make it every year). The magical thing with this sauce is that you can just add random things as the process goes along and it will all stew together with perfect harmony. Plus, cranberry sauce will make your leftover turkey panini a sandwich to die for.
Cranberry sauce is actually pretty basic; you put the cranberries, water, and sugar in a pot and bring it to a boil. After that, you simply add some spices and whatever else your heart desires. I personally use Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe as a base and put my own twist on it. I prefer to use more orange zest and then add a splash of brandy or orange liqueur to kick it up a notch.
With all of these starches and beige colors, it’s time to add a little freshness to your plate. While the options are endless, my go-to veggie side is a classic roasted string bean. It’s not difficult at all. Roasted string beans are easy to make, absolutely delicious, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. This is my personal recipe and trust me, if my younger sister can do it, you can too.
All you have to do is buy some fresh green beans, trim the gross tips off and put the beans on a baking sheet. Toss them in some olive oil, coarse salt and pepper, and add a dash of garlic powder. Bake them to your desired doneness in a 375 degree oven. They’ll come out a little crispy, perfectly salty, and will overall be delicious.
You can’t have turkey without gravy, it’s a fact of life. Plus, if you’re going through the trouble to roast the turkey, you might as well use the rich flavor of the “turkey drippings” left in the pan. You can find a gravy recipe anywhere, but Ina Garten’s is extremely tasty. If you’ve ever watched the “Barefoot Contessa” you know she only uses “good cognac” and “good wine” but as a college student you may not have access to that. Don’t let that stop you, the booze isn’t a breaking point for this gravy. The foundations of this recipe will have you and your turkey bound for glory.
To some, roasting a turkey is like another Tuesday in the kitchen, to others though (like me) it’s a bunch of opportunities where everything (and anything) can go wrong. When I see that bird, I become anxious and foresee dry turkeys and bitter family members.
Don’t be like me.
Believe it or not, Butterball has an amazing website to help you cook your turkey to perfection. If you plan on roasting, frying, grilling, or smoking your turkey, they have a guide for you. The website features charts to help you easily find cooking times and temperatures based on your turkey’s weight, while also providing some other important tips. Another major piece to make your turkey spectacular is the aromatics, or whatever fun things you plan on putting below your turkey in the roasting pan. Your basic aromatic ratio (technically known as mirepoix) should always be two parts onion, one part carrot and one part celery. You can change it up by adding some fruits such as apples and herbs such as rosemary or thyme.If you’re looking for a recipe, Alton Brown has a simple but flavorful roasted turkey that is sure to be a hit.
With these items on your table, you will definitely have some satisfied eaters. From my table to yours, happy Thanksgiving.