The Lazy Hostess’s Guide to an Easy-Breezy Thanksgiving
Longtime readers may recall the story of my first Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, but I’ll share it again anyway. I remember walking past an end-cap display at the Key Foods on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn, then backing up to take a closer look: Cans of pumpkin pie filling. Packages of graham-cracker crust. Could it really be this easy?
That year, I hopped off the bus in New Jersey triumphantly holding my addition to the family table: a pie. A homemade pie!
I’ve come a long way, baby — but not that long. Yes, I’ve gotten really good (if I do say so myself) at baking, cooking and improvising recipes. But anything Amy-made is marked by one telling detail: My meals are hearty, flavorful … and dirty as few pots as possible. I call my fare “peasant food.” I want to get it done with a minimum of flare and fuss. Fine, let’s call it what it is: I’m lazy.
Or, well, let’s re-cast that, so my therapist doesn’t scold me for using negative self-talk. I would prefer to enjoy my guests than spend a party sequestered in the kitchen. I am practical, and I want a realistic path to success at the holiday table. Better?
I know I’m not alone. Whether you spend your days in an office or wiping tushies, you have better things to do than straining lobster shells to make bisque, or whatever the heck Craig Claiborne was telling our parents to do in the 1970s. As Taystee said so memorably on Orange is the New Black, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
So if you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year for the first time (like me!) or the kabillionth, here are some time-saving tips from Kristine Kidd, author of Weeknight Fresh & Fast: Simple, Healthy Meals for Every Night of the Week, that’ll allow you to actually experience your day with your loved ones. (And if you were actually hiding in the kitchen? Well, you can still pretend you’re busy — and enjoy that chardonnay in peace while Drunkle Bill is impersonating the mayor of Toronto.)
Where to Let the Gourmet Store Do the Work:
“A lot of people think they need to put out something heavy, like cheese, but you really want people to save room for the good stuff,” says Kidd. “The old-fashioned thing to do was have a relish tray: olives, pickled watermelon rind. But these days, people are pickling all kinds of interesting stuff, and the olive selection is much better than it used to be.” Pretty bowls mounded with conversation-starters from the local artisan fooderie are more show-offy than anything you made by hand.
“It’s not that it’s difficult to make, but it’s a huge pain in the neck to time it right,” says Kidd. “Your turkey always takes a little longer than you think, and then your guests are there, and you run out of time.” But you no longer have to settle for jarred stuff: “grocery stores with to-go departments have started making gravy. You’ll still have your roast turkey with the nice smell, and you can throw in chopped fresh herbs to make it match.”
Unless you really love making it, the bakery version is going to be prettier — and certainly easier.
Where to Make Stuff Ahead:
• Side Dishes
As you’re planning your menu, look for side dishes that can be made ahead. A good example is Kidd’s green bean dish (click the link, then scroll down). “You blanch the green beans, drain them, and wrap them in paper towel and plastic. The day-of, all you have to do is warm them and top with vinaigrette and sliced red onions. It’s a side dish, it’s a salad, it’s all done.” This orange-sauced broccoli and peppers recipe will work similarly.
• Cranberry Sauce
While cranberry relish shouldn’t be more than 1-2 days old, a sweet cranberry sauce “is better when it’s been able to sit, because it thickens up and the flavor deepens,” says Kidd. “Make it this weekend — it takes 10 minutes or so — and it’ll be out of the way.”
If you can’t find a satisfactory version at the store, Kidd has a make-ahead version that serves the same purpose.
Where to Take Shortcuts:
• Potatoes and Vegetables:
“You have the turkey in the oven anyway,” Kidd points out. “For hours and hours. Cut up potatoes, yams, carrots, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, bell peppers — whatever you’ve got. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them on a cookie sheet for the last hour that the turkey is cooking. Voila: your whole meal’s in the oven.”
“I’d say if you’re going to put your effort into anything, it should be the turkey and the stuffing,” says Kidd. “That being said, you can take a stuffing mix, dress it up with fried onions, apples and sausage, and nobody is going to know the difference.”
“Some upscale supermarkets sell whole baked turkeys and hams. Some also have them all ready to go into the oven — seasoned in the pan, with simple instructions, so very easy for the nervous hostess.” If you can’t find these options but the thought of cooking a turkey fills you with nameless dread, make this genius move: buy a turkey breast and as many legs as you think people will want — and spend much fewer hours cooking them instead. “The best part of this plan is that the trickiest part of cooking the turkey is figuring out how to cook the dark meat all the way through without drying out the breast,” says Kidd. “If it’s already in pieces, well — who cares? You take each piece out when it’s done.” Pretend you carved it in the kitchen, and bring out the neatly-sliced meat.
My God. The woman is a genius.
What shortcuts will you take this year?
Gobble, gobble! Check out more Thanksgiving tips and tricks on Recipe.com!