Thanksgiving: The Feast

The Feast.

Thanksgiving is a cook’s Super Bowl. It’s an opportunity to break out all the favorite dishes and go nuts. Rather than a typical meal with one or two side dishes, Thanksgiving calls for at least five – and that doesn’t include dessert. It’s also an opportunity to cheat a little on the healthier options I usually cook and add a little butter. Besides, there is nothing more relaxing to me than cooking all day.

I’ve had the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a couple years now, but this year was my best yet. My whole family flew out to Chicago to celebrate and SeaJetCook in action (get it?!). This year, my lineup included a beautiful turkey with gravy, sourdough bread stuffing, a tangy cranberry pear sauce, sweet potatoes in orange cups, a skinny scalloped potato gratin, steamed green beans, fluffy biscuits, and two kinds of pie: the obligatory pecan and pumpkin.

I’m going to do this series of posts a little differently than normal. This post won’t actually include any recipes. Instead, it’ll be a play-by-play of how I organized the day. Don’t worry, I’ll include links to all the recipes, too. But the most daunting part of planning Thanksgiving is figuring out how to make everything by yourself in one oven. So here’s my game plan. Enjoy, everyone!

A Few Days Before the Big Day

Get all your groceries, including the turkey. You can also get all your veggies and keep them in the crisper in the fridge. Only potatoes and onions need to stay out on the counter.

I generally like getting  a fresh turkey instead of frozen. But if you do buy frozen, put it in your refrigerator to defrost over the next few days – it generally takes 24 hours for every 5lbs to defrost. If you’re in a hurry to defrost, you can put the turkey in a big pot of cold water (like my chicken recipe). It takes about 30 minutes for every pound to defrost in water.

The Night Before the Big Day

Double check that you have all your ingredients for the next day. There’s nothing worse than running to the grocery store on Thanksgiving Day while juggling 5 side dishes because you forgot something.

Clean the turkey. Remove everything from the cavity (giblets, neck, and plastic bag) and discard. Place the turkey in the sink and thoroughly rinse the inside cavity and skin with cool water. This helps remove any bacteria within the cavity or on the skin.

Brine the turkey in a large pot. This takes about an hour to prepare the brine, so don’t do it too late! Store in the refrigerator overnight. I’m all about brining these days. It’s makes the turkey perfectly moist and seasoned. Brine the turkey no matter how you cook it!

The Morning of the Big Day

8:00 A.M. Wake up and make a good breakfast for the family. Our tradition is Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

  • While the cinnamon rolls are cooking, start preparing the pumpkin for pie. Cut the pumpkin from the skin and steam for about 15 minutes. If you want to use canned pumpkin, skip this step.
9:00 A.M.Start making the pumpkin and pecan pies – this takes about 15 minutes. Make sure both are ready to go in the oven at the same time.
  • Start with the pumpkin pie. It takes 15 minutes on 425 degrees before you turn down the head to 350.
  • When you turn the heat down to 350, pop the pecan pie in. Both pies cook at 350 for an hour.
  • While the pies cook, peel and prepare the potatoes for the skinny scalloped potato gratin. Have the gratin ready to go in the oven as soon as the pies are done.
  • If you have extra time, skip ahead and start getting the sweet potatoes ready – these take a long time!
9:30 A.M.The pies should done. Take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool. Crank the temperature back up to 425 degrees and bake the Skinny Scalloped Potato Gratin for 45 minutes.
10:30 A.M.(with a little time buffer) Your gratin should be done, and the sweet potatoes and the stuffing should be prepared. Turn the temperature on the oven back down to 350 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes and the stuffing in the oven for 40 minutes.
  • Do some dishes, then go relax! You deserve it!
11:20 A.M.Pull the sweet potatoes and stuffing out of the oven and set aside to cool. Get the turkey out of the fridge and start getting it ready for the oven.
  • Place the turkey on a roasting pan and season with garlic salt, Italian seasoning, and melted butter.
  • Chop up some leftover veggies and fill the cavity of the turkey (I used 4 stalks of celery and 2 small onions). This adds flavor and moisture to the turkey, even if you’re not going to be eating those veggies.
11:30 A.M.Put the turkey in the oven at 325 degrees. Here’s a timetable for roasting the turkey from the USDA:
  • 8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
  • 12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
  • 14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
  • 18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
  • 20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
The Afternoon of the Big Day
11:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.Relax! Play board games with the family. Have a glass (or two) of wine. Put your feet up. Every couple hours check on the turkey and baste with more melted butter.
3:30 P.M.Check the turkey. If it’s done, take it out of the oven and let it rest so the juices can redistribute in the meat.
  • Turn the temperature up to 350 degrees and pop in some Pillsbury rolls. I know I cheated a little bit here, but those are so delicious and easy! They take 15 minutes to make. I don’t have a recipe for this one, so don’t forget them at the store.
  • While the rolls cook, get the gravy and the cranberry sauce on the stove. Both are easy to make and only take about 15 minutes.
  • After the gravy and cranberry sauce are simmering on the stove, prepare your green beans.
4:00 P.M.FEAST! Break open a couple bottles of wine, set the table, and dig in.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and can use my guide for next year. Until then, enjoy all the components by themselves! Turkeys are on sale now, so I already bought a couple small ones and stuck them in my freezer. Sometimes in January I’ll pull one of them out and have a feast, part two.

The Feast on my plate!

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