It’s TURKEY TIME and we’re together again…finally! Extraordinary times call for extraordinary meals, and this year is especially filled with gratitude and good meals at the family dinner table.
When is Thanksgiving in 2021? Thursday, November 25th! That’s right around the corner.
Whether you’re hosting a family gathering, a Friendsgiving or a neighborhood potluck, we come to gather and give thanks at this time of year and this year is special.
We may not have seen each other in a while, so this Thanksgiving it’s more important than ever that you, the host, enjoy your day as much as everyone else does!
I have a sure-fire plan that allows you to make sure that you have as much FUN on Thanksgiving as your guests.
Here’s how we’ll do it!
Avoid Shortages: Order Ahead
This year especially you want to make sure that you reserve the items that you need for your menu and that you pick them up in plenty of time. Pick up your frozen turkey as soon as you can (and put it on your calendar to order ahead for festivities in December).
If you’re choosing a fresh turkey, make sure you reserve it at the grocery store for pick up several days in advance. The same is true if you are getting your turkey from the farm or market.
Make sure you are ready to pick up your reserved turkey when the farmer is ready to deliver.
If Aunt Edna’s offers her pumpkin pie, accept!! If Cousin Ben offers to bring an appy, accept!!
If your best friend offers to help with the dishes, accept!!
You are the host, not the restaurant owner. This meal is about being thankful for our blessings and friends and family are those blessings.
Plan Your Menu
Turkey is the star, of course.
But choose the sides based on your oven space. If you have one oven, having six casserole dishes that need heated at the last minute won’t work out well.
Make use of your slow cooker, Instapot or warming drawer for extra help.
Break Down Everything into Its Smallest Part
If your appy is a cheese platter, have everything chopped and rolled so that all you have to do is assemble it.
Make your desserts ahead. Assemble your casserole dishes ahead, so all you have to do is bake them.
Make your gravy ahead and heat it on the stove while you carve the turkey.
Set your table in advance. If you are tackling a centerpiece, do this in advance.
Have a plan that lets you wake on Thanksgiving morning to a day with very few chores left to do!
My gift to you this holiday season is a foolproof, make-ahead recipe for the best, most delicious gravy…ever. This full proof make-ahead gravy recipe not only saves you time but is also the most flavorful gravy you’ve ever made!
In what you now consider to be a moment of questionable good sense, you have invited an extended group of family and friends to your house for Thanksgiving dinner. Oops. Before you know it you will be staring at a frozen turkey asking yourself, why me? Since this is a holiday steeped in tradition, it’s not one that is easy to improvise. After all, you can’t possibly substitute a store bought ham or frozen lasagna for a golden roasted, aroma-flowing turkey. Can you? Well….
Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving or a Thanksgiving, the love among guests is unconditional, and a perfect excuse to blend new holiday traditions with the old ones. What’s a Friendsgiving, you ask? That’s when you hold a turkey day celebration with friends instead of family, because you’re a college student, on a business trip or far away from loved ones. OR, it simply means you may decide to host more than one gathering this November.
Friends don’t judge, and Friendsgivings were made for fun experimentation!
I think it’s a beautiful display of gratitude, playing party host. Here are my tips:
First thing’s first, you have to plan
Since you are the host, you take on the star of the meal: the turkey and gravy. Choose from the million or so side dishes that are designed to accent the bird. Peruse your file box, favorite cookbooks and websites (I recommend Sur La Table) to assemble the yummiest recipes.
Now, call upon your most reliable friends to contribute everything that surrounds the main feast. I may just get my best friends, who just happen to be my recipes testers, to bring the best family style recipes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES.
Cardinal rule #1: Let your guests help!
A little bird told me that party guests actually love to help get food on the table!
Ask Aunt Edna…
to bring her scrumptious crab appetizer. (Closed-mouth Edna is never going to give away that secret recipe anyway.) When once-removed cousin Jack offers to make his broccoli and avocado gratin, laced with chopped pecans and garnished with candied lemon zest, take a deep breath. Instead, offer to email him your simple recipe for sautéed green beans. Hopefully, battle weary Jack will oblige with this creative and edible veggie side dish.
If you have time to prepare a perfect pumpkin pie a day or two in advance, good for you. However, in a pinch, the corner bakery offers a long list of mouth-watering holiday treats.
Direct your most kitchen impaired pal to make a well thought out choice when it comes to dessert. Bake Me a Wish is just one of many examples!
Every year I share my new tradition’s side dish recipes, like corn soufflé casserole and white raisin dressing with my best pals (write me at jorj.com if you’d like either of these emailed to you!) – and they share theirs in return. We try to find dishes that can be made in advance and then baked ahead of time and brought warm to the dinner. My favorite dressing for Thanksgiving was published to jorj.com last year, and I’ll be rolling it out this year too!
Pick a shopping day a week or two in advance
Check out specialty markets for hard to find ingredients like white raisins, aged sherry and new varieties of fresh herbs. It may shock you to know that early planning can be fun: autumn scented candles, cakes and coffees!
Start trying new things, and auditioning the possibilities….
GET IN THE MOOD! Make your first shopping day stop, your favorite coffee house. Order a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee and a fresh baked pumpkin and butterscotch scone. While you are there, buy a pound of coffee you will eventually serve to Friendsgiving or thanksgiving guests!With tummy full, stroll the aisles of your favorite food boutique for cranberry relish or chutney. Look for jars of pumpkin butter for a fragrant and appealing addition to warm, fresh rolls.
Visit the butcher at your grocery store, and place an order for your great big bird. His first question is, “Do you want fresh or frozen?” Both are full of flavor and easily prepared. My quick rule of thumb is to choose a fresh turkey if you have room to store him properly in your refrigerator and have the time to pick him up the day before. Choose a frozen bird if you have more freezer space than time to run errands. Remember, the bigger the bird the longer the defrosting time.
Shop…then get ready at home
Thanksgiving is the holiday that takes advantage of your best china and crystal. Take stock of your tableware early. Make sure you have enough for all of your guests. Coordinate the place settings, but remember, they don’t have to match — an eclectic table is loads of fun. Go antiquing for that tablescape!
F-U-N blends with functionality when you pre-plan the table. Do you have several gravy boats or pitchers? Can you find enough serving platters and utensils? Bring out any special place card holders, porcelain salt and pepper shakers and newly popular pieces like menu holders.
On shopping day, squeeze in a side trip to your favorite second hand store, antique shop or mall store china department to browse for some new fun pieces that will bring your table together. Find an antique mall near you, with this fabulous link!
With shopping day done, kick off your shoes and flop into that favorite chair. The menu is complete, the china sorted. You’ve purchased hard-to-find ingredients and bought all of the pantry staples you will need. Your favorite recipes have been texted or PM’d to friends and family. Guess what – you are well on your way to a stress free, yummy Thanksgiving Day… the start of your NEW TRADITION.
I talk a lot (yes, I hear you) about hosting holiday dinners, especially Thanksgiving. But, I realize a lot of you guys are the “bringers”. You have offered to bring a dish, or asked by your hostess to bring a dish, and don’t want to come empty-handed to the party! It’s hard to bring the traditional sides, because these are steeped in custom. (Heaven help me if I offer hubby a dressing casserole that doesn’t include white raisins!)
I thought I would give you a couple of my untraditional side dishes that are easy to make in advance, bake at the last minute, and that travel well. Here ya go and here’s a visual preview of the wonderfully tasty mess you’ll make:
Stuffed Tomatoes: Cut plum tomatoes horizontally and gently squeeze out some of the seeds. Take a knife and slash a couple of slits into the core of the tomatoes. Place them (slashed side up) into a baking pan, coated with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with seasoned bread crumbs, and top with Gorgonzola cheese crumbles. Bake at 375° until the tomatoes are soft and the cheese is soft and melty, about 25 to 30 minutes. You can prepare these tomatoes the day before. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and roast before you are ready to leave. These are wonderful served at room temperature.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aioli, Fresh Mint and Chopped Peanuts: The most important part of any Brussels Sprouts recipe is to blanch them first. This produces a soft sprout that is moist and flavorful. That said, the best way I’ve found to blanch sprouts is in the microwave. Remove any tough leaves from the outside, cut in half and place into a microwave safe bowl. Add a little water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for about 4 or 5 minutes. If you have a vegetable setting, you can use this to pre-cook your sprouts. Transfer the sprouts to a baking dish, coated with olive oil. Sprinkle with more olive oil, salt, pepper and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400° until the Brussels are soft and the outer leaves are beginning to char, about 25 to 30 minutes. You can prepare the Brussels Sprouts the day before. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and roast before you are ready to leave. For the sauce, combine ½ cup mayonnaise with 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 to 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce. Place the “aioli” into a squeeze bottle, mince up some fresh mint leaves and chop some roasted peanuts. When the Brussels sprouts come out of the oven, drizzle the sauce over the top and sprinkle with fresh mint and chopped nuts. These too, are wonderful served at room temperature.
Roasted Zucchini with Olives, Capers Parmesan Cheese and Pine Nuts: I hope you are seeing a theme with these veggie dishes! Cut zucchini into 1 ½-inch rounds and place into a baking dish that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Sprinkle with more olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the zucchini with pitted, chopped Kalamata olives, drained and rinsed capers, grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. Bake at 375°until the pine nuts begin to brown, and the zucchini is soft, about 25 to 30 minutes. Yup, these are great at room temperature also!!
And, finally here is an appy recipe that you can make in advance, assemble before you leave your house and place on the table when you get where you are going!
With Home Made Pita wedges and Crudité
Serves a Crowd
30 Minute Cuisine
There’s nothing like a light and healthy appy at the beginning of a calorie laden meal. This hummus is light and airy and has just the right touch of fall pumpkinness to make everyone happy!
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of ½ medium lemon, about 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
For Pita Chips:
4 whole pita chips, cut into wedges (about 32 total)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup
Petite green beans
Bell peppers, sliced into strips
Place the chickpeas, pumpkin puree, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, thyme and paprika into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to form a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the pumpkin hummus into a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the pita wedges onto a baking sheet. Brush with butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake until the tops of the pitas are golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Serve the hummus with warm pita wedges and crudité.