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Thanksgiving at the Last Moment
A Feast in 3 Hours — A Holiday Special
I like to throw a holiday feast at the last minute if I want to. I like to have friends over for dinner, when it isn’t Thanksgiving.
What if you have only three hours to do all the shopping and cooking for a big dinner party?
No problem. Writing this post took me longer than making my feast; that's instructive.
For those of you who are old hands at tribal dinners, the big revelation is the stovetop turkey, so skip ahead.
For those of you who are shaking your head in dinner-party disbelief, here is the lowdown:
Aside from a couple recipe tricks and Betty-Crocker-shopper-shortcuts, most of my time-saving wizardry and cooking grace is because of tools I use— and the visuals of how you serve it on the table.
The right kitchen tools make the time fly by. They are the same things I use every day whether I'm scrambling eggs or making a grilled cheese sandwich. Sharp knives and cast iron cookware . . . nothing like it.
The table setting is what makes holiday meals appear as if Grandma slaved for hours. The character of old linens, china, and silver are often right out of your family's legacy— or your local thrift shop's legacy.
Cooking Tools to Live and Feast By
I’ve included links to my tool list, not to send you on a shopping spree — (although, be my guest) — but rather, so you can see photos of everything.
There’s similar items in your cupboard or a neighbor’s or the thrift store. These tools are exactly what you need to make the work go quick.
8-10" very sharp Butcher Knife
Long Wooden Spoon
Whisk with a long handle (gravy, roux)
Big 15" Iron Skillet (for the gravy, and browning the turkey parts, and sauteing veggies)
Round Dutch Oven for anything you're baking or stove-topping
7.5-9 quart Oval Dutch Oven for the Turkey: cast iron, enameled, that’s the ticket
Baking Dish, for the yams or the stuffing
16 oz Glass Gravy Boat, so everyone can drool
Wood Carving Board for the bird
2 1/2 Quart Serving Dish, ovenproof, a couple of those
Real salt and pepper shakers
Butter dish on the table
A pitcher of ice water
Wine bottles on the table
Tablecloth That Fits Your Table
Plastic sheeting or cloth under the table cloth, so it doesn't matter what gets spilled.
My favorite part.
Candles: Tea lights in a muffin pan are fine! Or, one lone taper candle like a solitary signal.
Lay out something pretty along the middle of the table from the outside: pinecones, low-cut flowers, branches, seashells, feathers, driftwood, fall leaves.
Or, go urban. Marbles, nails, bottles. Unexpected mementos.
Proper Table Settings
Fork goes on the left, napkin underneath.
Cloth napkins, clean, happily mismatched, and any design, are nice.
Knife and spoon on the right.
Wine glass and water glass are set above the knife and spoon.
You can use mismatched plastic cafeteria dishes, but if you set "a proper table," it always looks inviting.
Can I Make Turkey on the stovetop, instead of in the oven?
Yes, you can.
Once you try it, you will never use the oven again. Who the hell has a giant oven or two ovens? That's what takes all the time and stress! This is a game-changer.
Here's my easy version:
Buy turkey PIECES from the butcher: the breasts, thighs, wings, legs
Brown them in a large skillet
Place in a Dutch oven with a bunch of roasting veggies and herbs.
Splash in some white wine or vermouth, put the lid on, and cook for an hour.
About Browning the Turkey Parts
Brown the pieces in the big fry skillet; you can do them one or two at a time.
Then place them in your large oval Dutch oven with the veggies and herbs. (E.g.: Onions, carrots, celery, turnip/potato/yam, parsley-sage-rosemary-thyme). You're going to use the drippings in the fry pan to make your gravy.
Forget the Thermometer!
This is not candy-making. You do NOT need a thermometer. It will be perfectly obvious after an hour that the bird is done, and you can simply let it settle for a half hour.
Get the Turkey Parts from Your Friendly Butcher
DO NOT cut up the turkey yourself; are you kidding? You're trying to save time. For eight famished people I bought a full breast, a leg, and a thigh-- and there were leftovers.
I would call the butcher TODAY to order these parts, because they have to prepare for so many people. You can always pick it up early and freeze it until the day before. It will defrost like chicken.
You don't need to buy the giblets-- See easy gravy recipe below. Great, eh?
Carving Anxiety Is Irrelevant
Don't worry about carving a stovetop-cooked turkey. The bird isso tender you can carve it with a spoon.
The visual trick is to place the pieces on a wooden carving board-- it looks like the big feast everyone expects. Put the white meat on one side, dark meat on the other. Have a couple big serving forks on the board.
Use any sort of knife to cut away pieces. No matter how raggedy your sawing skills, on a wood cutting board, the turkey looks like a king's feast.
Cranberry Sauce with Cointreau
Open a can of cranberry sauce.
Put in glass bowl, so people can see the beautiful red fruit.
Slosh on a little bit of Cointreau onto the sauce and stir together.
Sprinkle a couple pecans on top or grate a little orange rind off a fruit.
Place on your table with a big spoon. For bigger parties, fill a couple bowls.
This is Mark Bittman’s famous sneaky gravy. Many of us became his fans because of this delicious sauce.
Gravy is so good on a daily basis. Make an little, each time you fry bacon!
You'll be able to add more drippings to your gravy after you take the turkey out of the Dutch oven and put the meat on the cutting board.
You’ll scrape all the grease and bits from the Dutch oven into your skillet with the "made-ahead" gravy waiting.
Stir it up over low heat with your long wooden spoon.
Boxes of chicken stock work just fine; it doesn't have to be turkey stock.
Use whole milk, don't use thin milk for gravy.
The longer you cook the onion and your roux, the browner it gets. That's where the color comes from.
The butter won't burn because the drippings are your extra oil to prevent that.
Your gravy boat should be big and see-thru, glass. A 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup is fine!
Stuffing with Pecans, Raisins, Celery and Onions-- & Biscuits on Top
This is a shortcut-shopper showstopper.
A bag or two of Pepperidge Farm or Trader Joe's Stuffing Mix (or any other bake-alone herb flavored stuffing mix
A roll or two of Refrigerator Buttermilk Biscuits. Trader Joe’s are good.
You could make home-made stuffing and biscuits, of course. But if you're looking for compliments and saving time, this will garner just as much breathless appreciation. They are the easiest cheat of the 3-hour cook.
Pre-seasoned stuffing mixes are a lifesaver. Yes, use the seasoned kind; they've figured it out and you won't cry because you overdid the sage.
Extras for the stuffing:
You don't need fancy extras to make it special: the best nuts are pecans. The best dried fruit is plain ole' raisins.
You can buy chopped up celery and onion anywhere (mirepoix) saving you all that trouble and tears... just saute the diced alium in butter or lard 'til they're barely translucent, and add to the breadcrumbs.
Don't skip the sautéed onions and celery, no matter what your opinion about them on their own— they are what makes stuffing taste like stuffing.
One bag of bread crumbs goes further than you think.
The biscuits will send your guests over the edge. After you pile the stuffing into the baking pan, ready for the oven, lay a roll of those refrigerator biscuits on top, just like the photo. Bake 'tll brown.
Serve it in the baking dish you made it in.
Creamy Yams with Sour Cream and Maple Syrup
This is a basic sweet recipe, with a little extra kick:
5 pounds sweet potatoes or yams (about 10 medium or 5 large), peeled
⅓ cup maple syrup
¾ cup sour cream
4 teaspoons puréed chipotles, tomatillo sauce, or Hatch chiles — any salsa verde.
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Peel the sweet potatoes, put on cookie sheet with a spray of oil and bake until soft, ~40 minutes. It might take less time if you cut them up first. Use a fork to test them. You could also boil them til soft, and then drain well.
In a separate bowl, while the yams are cooking, combine the maple syrup, sour cream, salsa verde, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.
When the sweet potatoes are done, puree them in a food processor with your sauce. Pulse it a few times, you don’t want it to turn to sauce.
Potatoes should be light and fluffy. You could also use a potato masher or a ricer.
My other favorite yam alternative is mashed buttery brown sugar yams with miniature marshmallows melted on top. That is what love tastes like.
Last Thing You Do: Mashed Potatoes
Potatos are last because they grow cold the fastest. However, I finally have a trick to keep them warm, as you’ll see.
The last half hour of your preparations, boil and mash your potatoes with lots of butter (one stick, for sure) and milk/cream/sour cream, plus plenty of salt and pepper.
Now, to keep the Massie’s warm:
Place the mash in a metal bowl that will fit inside a big metal stock pot or pasta pot. Run a couple inches of water into the stock pot, and place the metal bowl of potatoes into the pot. Now turn on the stovetop flame and simmer the pot water gently. Keep covered. It acts like a steam tray to keep your potatoes piping hot.
Mashed potatoes look extra cozy in a round serving dish.
If you love pie and make pie, nothing can get in your way. Everyone will love you. I once had a Thanksgiving party that was nothing BUT pie and it was a dream come true.
However, if you want to branch out, or have pie alternatives, let me introduce you to an Unusual Homemade Dessert That Satisfies Like Pie
Indian Pudding and Ice Cream is easy-peasy and blows everyone away
Pick an Indian Pudding recipe that doesn't involve a double boiler. Since you're not roasting a turkey in the oven, you have plenty of room and time to bake sweets.
Beaucoup de Beaujolais
Jared Rutter schooled me on this: Nouveau Beaujolais wine is a Thanksgiving celebration because it is an annual harvest released in early November.
After your supper, you might sipping warm mulled wine or cider. It’s so good when you’re outside.
Buy Cab Sav in a box. Or a gallon of apple cider.
Empty the liquid into a large pasta pot and heat slowly with any mulling spices you enjoy: cinnamon sticks, whole star anise, allspice berries, whole cloves, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, dried orange slices.
Wrap your own spices in a cheesecloth bag to float in the heating wine. Or buy a little package of the seasonal mulling spices. They work with cider just as well.
Sit Down, Hold Hands
Hold hands around the table, tell everybody you love them, and dig in!
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“Buy a bird no larger than 12 pounds. Cut it into at least 10 pieces, and cut carrots, onion and celery into large chunks. Season the turkey pieces and brown them in a neutral oil like grapeseed, working in batches in a large heavy pot with a lid. When all the turkey is browned, add the vegetables to the fat in the pan, along with fresh thyme and sage, and cook briefly. On this aromatic bed, arrange the dark meat, then put the white meat on top. Splash in a tablespoon or two of stock or white wine, bring to a quiet simmer and cover tightly. Cook for one hour, until the thighs register about 170 degrees; splash in a little more liquid as needed. The meat will be juicy and aromatic. The vegetables can be pushed through a sieve into a saucepan, thinned with more stock and served as gravy.‘