I find myself often being asked if I can share my Thanksgiving traditions and recipes. And yet, I am befuddled that I can’t think of any that we constantly fall back on. Could it be perhaps that we never seem to have Thanksgiving in the same place? Quite possibly… Between my home, my parents home, my in-laws, and destination Thanksgivings, the menu never seems quite the same and certainly the meal and traditions differ from place to place. That being said, I am hosting Thanksgiving for my family, my parents, and my grandmother this year.. and I’ve decided to keep a little log of what I’m making, our table setting, and any other special details that I decide to add so that I can refer back to them next year.
On a totally non-food-related note, one thing that I like to do on or around Thanksgiving is to bring out the kids’s Elf on a Shelf, so that he can begin to watch over their behavior before Christmas. (If you have kids, you probably know what I’m talking about here. If you have no kids, feel free to skip over this part and go directly to the food links below!) Now, I am by no means one of those “crazy elf parents” that sets up their kids’ elves in elaborate displays and scenes, but I do try to move it around a little to peak their interest and keep them on their toes! Here’s a photo from the first year that our elf, Buddy, arrived at our Thanksgiving table a few years ago.. My little guy has grown up so much since then! But I digress.. back to the food. When I cook Thanksgiving dinner, I like to stick to a very traditional, classic menu. I try to plan my meal using whole and homemade foods as much as possible, while still trying to keep things simple and fuss-free, and avoiding any dishes that are unnecessary. (i.e. I’m preparing sweet potatoes, so I opted to not prepare any mashed potatoes) In years past, I’ve attempted to make additional menu items that I’m not completely comfortable with, such as homemade bread, (don’t worry, it’s on the bucket list of things that I want to learn how to make) but I’ve always found that adding anything to the menu that has a bit of a risk factor is probably something better saved for another day or meal. And with so many good bread bakers in our area, why mess with stressing myself out to prepare my own!
While we’re talking Thanksgiving, we must discuss turkey..
Any basic google search for Thanksgiving turkey pulls up a veritable plethora of methods and strategies for serving perfect juicy turkey. They can be stuffed, grilled, smoked, brined, based, flipped, spatchcocked, fried, salt cured, etc.. The list goes on and on. In my opinion, the simpler, the better. Although I’ve brined turkey in the past, (Here is a simple go-to recipe) I really find that it’s much more of a pain than what it’s worth. The method that I’ve found to deliver mouth watering, juicy turkey is to coat the bird inside and out, as well as under the skin, with an shameless amount of real butter. Yes, I said it. Butter. It helps to seal in the turkey’s natural juices, while delivering a golden crispy outside. I combine softened butter with herbs, salt, and pepper, which gives the turkey a nice rich flavor. I also fill the cavity of the bird with herbs, lemon, and onion quarters to give it additional flavor from the inside. Another quick tip: take the bird out of the refrigerator for about an hour before cooking to allow it to come to almost room temperature. It will take the chill off the meat, allowing it to cook quicker and more evenly.
And while we’re discussing turkey I need to make another point… stuffing. Please, please don’t cram your turkey with stuffing! In addition to the fact that it poses a potential Salmonella risk, it often ends up soggy and lackluster. Bacteria-soaked soggy bread cubes?? Nope. Not exactly what I want to serve on my Thanksgiving table. And who really wants to eat soggy stuffing when there are so many delicious oven baked stuffings with gorgeous crispy tops? Stuffing a bird also requires that it cook for a substantially longer amount of time, meaning that there is a chance that by ensuring your stuffing is safe to eat, you’re potentially overcooking your turkey, the main attraction of the whole meal! Ok, rant over…
Below are some links to the menu that I am planning as well as links to other seasonal recipes and foods that I can remember preparing from years past. I hope that you find something well suited to add to your own holiday table this Thanksgiving and Christmas season! Enjoy!
Thanksgiving Menu 2014
Additional Holiday Recipes
No Knead Onion Rolls (great for next-day leftover turkey sandwiches!)