I probably should've done this post last weekend, but I wasn't thinking about Thanksgiving last weekend, nor was I enjoying delicious leftovers last weekend. I'm not someone who cooks. I can make a few things that aren't too bad, and I can read and follow directions, but I am by no means a good cook. I don't have an inate understanding of the chemistry of cooking and I'm not one who just throws a few things together and voila, delicious! My husband Bob is often quite good at that sort of thing, but I've noticed that unless they're really experienced, people who cook that way have at least a 50% chance of whatever they're making turning out not so great. I prefer to read the directions and make things that are just pretty good every time.
Because we are usually involved in endless performances of The Nutcracker, Bob and I have been on our own for Thanksgiving for most of the years we've been together and we've gotten pretty good at it. I've learned that everything you need to know about cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be found on the package that the food comes in, on the Food Network website or in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I bought the BH&G Cookbook one year when we spent Christmas at Bob's family's cabin in Wyoming and Bob and I were the only people to arrive in time to buy all of the food and plan the meal. I had no idea what I was doing and there are no interwebs at the cabin, so I figured that a book that's been around for a million years had to have a good recipie or two and it does!
Here are our Turkey Day Basics (or Christmas Day if you like to repeat Thanksgiving on Christmas, and I do)...
This is the easiest thing ever and you can make it a day or two ahead and it just tastes better. If you follow the directions on the bag of Ocean Spray Cranberries, it will tell you to boil a cup of water and a cup of sugar, add the cranberries, reduce the heat and boil until they cranberries are soft. We do that, but then we add some orange zest, the juice of half and orange, and the tiniest bit of nutmeg to give it that special something. We then use our amazing Bamix Immersion Blender (thanks, Mom!) to blend it all together so it's not lumpy. If you like a chunky cranberry sauce, you can skip that step. Before we had the amazing Bamix, we just used a regular blender and that worked just fine, but it was a lot messier.
Raw meat gives me the willies, so this is Bob's area. When doing a whole turkey, we consult Better Homes and Gardens and then Bob basically follows their recpie, but ends up basting with little bit of orange juice. I think he got that from his mom, and I thought it was weird the first time, but our turkey was delicious and it didn't taste a bit like orange juice. The last couple of years, it's just been us and one or two other people, so we've just done an extra breast. We call it an extra breast becaue that's what my mom calls it when she has to do a whole turkey AND an extra breast because she always has about a hundred people at her Thanksgiving. Anyhow, we've used Ina's recipe and it is easy and very tasty. If you're like me and you want to watch a video just to be sure you know what you're doing, you can find that here.
I learned this one from my mom. It's all about Pepperidge Farm's Herb Seasoned Stuffing Mix (the bag with the blue trim). I just follow the package instructions for the casserole version, but I add a finely chopped apple and a handful of cranberries to the celery and onion mixture. This year we made two pans of stuffing; one to take to our friends' house and one to have at home, and the one we cooked in a casserole with a lid came out much better than the one cooked in a pan covered with foil. Duh. I should have known that, but like I said, I don't really cook. Anyhow, this stuffing is awesome every time and it tastes like Thanksgiving. If you have a bunch of vegetarians at your Thanksgiving, and we often do, you can make this with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and nothing is lost.
Gravy is a giant pain in the ass and I don't even really like gravy, so I'm happy to skip it, but Bob thinks it's an essential component to a Thanksgiving meal. The first year we did our own turkey, it took at least two phone calls to each of our mothers to get the gravy done. All of those giblets and whatnot are seriously gross and I generally want nothing to do with making gravy. If you have to make it, you can do it the Rachael Ray way. This gravy is easy, there are no giblets required, and it tastes just like gravy.
The secret here is not to make your own crust. Seriously, why bother with that? If you just let Pillsbury do that, apple pie is the easiest thing in the world. This I learned at that Wyoming Christmas at the cabin from my brother-in-law Dan's girlfriend, Sarah. She gave us her pie making shopping list over the phone and I was skeptical at first, but her pies came out great. I usually either consult BH&G for the pie filling, or I just use the recipie on the refridgerated (not frozen) pie crust box. Each box comes with two crusts, so you can do a bottom and a top crust and the whole thing is very pretty and almost disaster proof.
Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Green Beans
Mashed potatoes are easy. Just look up a recipe in BH&G (there are several) or at foodtv.com and follow it. Bob and I don't like sweet potatoes, so we never make them. If we're having guests and they ask what they can bring, we always suggest sweet potatoes because then we don't have to deal with them. If it's just us, we skip them altogether. If anyone has a good sweet potato recipe, I'd love to have it on hand, just in case. My favorite green bean recipe is from the Food Network, but I can't find the recipe right now. Basically, you just steam or blanch the beans and then set them aside until just before you're going to eat. Then you saute a shallot in some EVOO, heat the beans in the oil, add some salt and pepper and you're good to go. People always carry on about my delicious green beans and I feel like a fraud because there is really nothing easier.
I'm off to enjoy what's left of our leftovers, including a big slice of apple pie!