You may be wondering what right an English girl has to be talking about that most sacred of American holidays, Thanksgiving. Before moving to America I had little clue about what went on at Thanksgiving. My only references were the odd episodes of Friends – what had stuck in my mind was the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes and strange jello shapes. The first year we lived in California I basically made all my usual Christmas dinner favourites but gingerly tried some of the local specialities. The next year I got a little more acclimatised and added homemade pumpkin pie and a homemade Chinese five spice and pumpkin ice cream to our menu.
This year I’m going to be heading to a little cabin in the woods in Tahoe with my brood. What I love about Thanksgiving, as a foreigner, is that I’m free of the chains of family tradition so I can basically cook and eat whatever I like, with whoever I like. I can then keep my old family traditions for Christmas.
My youngest son was born here so I will always cook a Thanksgiving feast wherever we may be living in the world. I love the fact that, unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving is pretty uncommercial (if you ignore the huge inflatable turkey currently residing in the front garden of a house down our street). I love the tradition my good friend introduced us to of everyone taking turns to say what they have been thankful for this year before dinner is served. And, of course, I love the leftovers and the long weekend of family time.
So, how do you keep the spirit of Thanksgiving without becoming a slave in the kitchen, spending a fortune and throwing away lots of leftovers? Here are my tips and also all the recipes I like to make at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d love to know what your traditions and recipes are too.
My biggest tips are:
1. Get as much done (and washed up the day before). Store chopped veggies in bags in the fridge as they take up less room than bowls.
2. Sit down and make a list of what needs to cook when, and at what temperature so that you don’t have to keep referring to individual recipes on the day. List what needs to be done in half hour increments throughout the day and cross them off as you do them.
3. Delegate the washing up, the drinks and ask people to bring a couple of dishes for you.
4. You will be in the kitchen a lot so clear your counter tops of anything you don’t need.
5. Get your serving bowls and platters out in a stack and warm them to keep food hot ( a couple of minutes in the microwave for a stack or plates or a few empty bowls is all you need and saves precious oven space.)
6. Put some good music on and, of course, a glass of bubbly or a cocktail while you’re cooking doesn’t hurt either.
7. Write your grocery list in order of where things are in the shop – veggies together, refrigerated things together etc. It will help avoid you zig zagging all over the shops.
8. Plan a few leftover recipes (see below) and make sure you have the ingredients to add to your leftovers to hand so you don’t need to go back to the shops for a few days.
9. This is controversial, but I never make an appetizer or starter (beyond some smoked salmon on rye bread with lemon or a few warmed spiced almonds) for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I want to be hungry for the main event so I don’t want to waste precious tummy space that could be better used for Turkey, sides, dessert and wine. It also frees up my mind and my kitchen to focus on the main part of dinner.
10. Pull out your storage containers (and their lids when you find them) ready for leftovers, to save you rummaging through cupboards after dinner.
I have been told by a reliable source that the Whole Foods heirloom (bronze cross) turkey is the best. It is 4.99 per lb and a 10lb should be enough for 6 people.
Rest, rest, rest your turkey after cooking! 30 minutes ideal. Cover with foil and leave somewhere warm before carving.
The last two years I decided to bone and roll my turkey which cuts the cooking time massively and makes it so much easier to carve. There are tons of YouTube videos on how to bone it or you can buy one ready boned, which most butchers will do for you given a few days notice. I’ll be totally honest, boning it yourself is a bit messy and not for the faint hearted, but I did like the chance to unleash my inner surgeon and it felt like a big achievement to do it myself. I found this recipe for a porchetta style rolled turkey, filled with wonderful fennel flavour, from Martha Stewart and followed that. It worked a treat and the bones make this wonderful gravy. Best of all most of the messy work can be done the day before.
Last year I had a brain wave and bought a bigger turkey than I needed at Thanksgiving. Then I boned and rolled it as per the above recipe. Then, before cooking it, I cut it in half, freezing the uncooked rolled turkey with the stuffing inside ready for a totally stress free Christmas. I also froze the gravy too. It worked so well and I loved having such an easy Christmas.
For me, the sides are the best bit of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always make huge bowls of them as I love nothing more than having the dinner again the following day. I always enjoy it best the next day when I can lazily re-heat things. Here are my favourite sides:
- Roast potatoes – as taught in my Roasting Pan Dinners class
- Cranberry sauce – I always use Nigella’s recipe and make it a day or two before. Easy peasy.
- Bread sauce – an English thing but I’ve won over my American friends with it so would love to spread it further on these shores. It is a warm nutmeg and clove infused thick sauce made with milk and thickened with breadcrumbs. It is so good spread on turkey sandwiches instead of mayo. Again I turn to Nigella’s recipe.
- Roast pumpkin wedges with a herb crust. I found this recipe in Ottolenghi’s Plenty book and it was a hit. Leftovers are great stirred into risotto or torn into a salad of shredded kale and turkey. In this recipe, I left out the mushrooms and used butternut squash in place of pumpkin. I chop my pumpkin and make my crust the day before. Then roast it and leave it somewhere warm on the day or just pop it back in the oven to reheat (no need to refrigerate it) for 5 minutes before serving.
- Sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta. Again Nigella! I get the pancetta, chestnut mixture cooked earlier in the day. Or even the day before. Then I quickly boil sprouts and plunge them into iced water then drain them and keep them ready to assemble at the last-minute. This year I might roast my sprouts instead of boiling them.
- Baked fennel, I posted this on here last year. It is pretty indulgent but then, if Thanksgiving isn’t time to pull out the stops then I don’t know when is.
- The combination of my roast carrot salad and roast beetroot and quinoa is perfect, both are prepped well in advance and best served at room temperature which is always handy when oven space is at a premium or if you are transporting them.
- If you or your guests are low carbing, or you just want to balance out the potatoes, I urge you to try my cauliflower mash
I make Pumpkin pie, obviously. And this amazing ice cream recipe from Jeni’s ice cream. I used canned pumpkin in place or roasted to save time and it was amazing.
I also have my eye on making this pancake cake but haven’t quite decided yet. I like that the pancakes can be made and frozen ahead of time (with parchment between each one). I think you could also use bought lemon curd mixed with crème fraîche as an easier filling. I just think the lemon would be so refreshing after a heavy dinner.
Once you’ve made your ultimate sandwich (buy the best bread, spread it with leftover bread sauce, mustard, cranberry and turkey, apply to face). Make sure you store your leftovers well so that you can have quick easy meals in the following days.
My pumpkin pancakes are a yummy breakfast to use up any leftover canned pumpkin
Thai turkey salad – Toss leftover turkey with a pile of raw shredded veggies (carrot, cabbage, kale) and/or rice noodles and dress with this Thai dressing (just shake the dressing ingredients in a jar, taste and adjust. It will keep in the fridge for a week):
- 2 inches of fresh ginger grated (I use a Microplane so you don’t need to peel it)
- 2 limes, juiced (around 2 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoons unrefined toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (I like Mae Ploy brand)
- 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce – I like Squid brand)
Or try this LA inspired salad with leftover turkey, I posted this last year and make it regularly.