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Turkey Day 2013: Lessons Learned

  • m

It's over. Right now you're probably thinking: never again. Or maybe it was so successful you want to do it all over again soon.

I'm somewhere in between. The feast was great. Everyone raved and competed for leftovers. But by the time I sat down to eat, I was not hungry. Price to pay for slaving for two days, cooking, tasting and worrying. Though seeing the family huddled together, being thankful and loving, was well worth the trouble, even if I ended up not eating much.

Lessons learned for me: (FYI: Turkey was dry brined for 3 days, left to air dry for 24 hours. Herb butter under the skin and all over. Started at 425 breast side down for 45 min).

- Buy small, make two if needed. I had to work with a 23-lb monster with "50% extra breast meat". Difficult to handle/flip.
- Rotate during roasting. It ended up cooking unevenly (one side cooked faster than the other). I forgot to rotate it during roasting, so when I took it out at 155, the other side was still at 140!
- Stuffing is not worth it. The uneven cooking was probably partially attributed to the stuffing inside. We had extra stuffing baking separately with some homemade turkey broth and a couple of eggs, and with some drippings added. I honestly thought it tasted just as good. Ended up mixing it with what came out of the bird.
- Butter roux beats turkey fat roux (for me at least). Convenient, and less of that greasy turkey taste. I realize this is a matter of personal preference.
- Stick to rubbing with butter. I added some olive oil to the butter, so the bird browned beautifully, but a little too fast.
- Dry brining really works. The meat (and there was a lot of it) was perfectly seasoned. Even though I had to cook it far longer than I ever had to before because of the uneven cooking, most of the breast meat remained moist. Although to be honest, I had better results with smaller birds cooked using the same technique.

I am thinking that for my next turkey roasting adventure, I will slow roast, covered in foil and then uncover and up the temperature for the last couple of hours. No flipping. And if someone insists on stuffing, I am handing them over the entire task.

At the end of the day, it was a success. But I am ready for some Asian takeout.

How was your Thanksgiving? And what are your lessons learned?

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  1. I don't have a lesson learned but an unusual occurrence.

    For the first time this year I made turkey stock ahead of time. On T day I reheated it - it tasted fine - and threw in the neck from the turkey. When it came time to make the gravy the stock had a burned flavor. ?? Nothing burned in that pot whatsoever. I went ahead and made the gravy. Still had an off flavor. Added a cup of white wine (which I don't normally do) and that solved the problem.

    Did the stock just over reduce? Is that what really rich turkey stock tastes like? Or did the neck put in that flalvor? Those are the only two things I can think of...

    And, I'm sorry, mazwe about your not wanting to eat. I get that feeling often when making something that takes all day to cook. Strangely not at T day, though. I suppose because I do it in pieces.

    3 Replies
    1. re: thymetobake

      Was there garlic in the stock? sometimes it can take on an off bitter flavor if cooked for a while.

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        Nope, no garlic or anything else. The stock was made with turkey thighs and necks only. There wasn't even salt in it until it hit the gravy stage.

      2. re: thymetobake

        Lesson learned- a bunch of gizzards and a couple of skinned necks gives you a stock that will not thicken. No matter what.

      3. For your unevenly cooked turkey, if it fits you can try sticking it in legs first.

        1. My biggest lesson - stick with what works -

          Turkey - low and slow, guaranteed success

          Rolls - I bought a few dozen rolls from a local bakery which were really not what I was looking for. Next year or for Christmas I'll probably make my own

          2 Replies
          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Another lesson learned along the lines of this same theme - I usually make traditional sage sausage stuffing. This year I thought I'd try biscuit stuffing and while it was nice to try it, I really didn't like the use of biscuits in this sort of dish so won't be doing that again.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              I've found over the years, if I gonna try something "new", I better make the "old' as well for the first year

          2. Lessons Learned:

            Low and slow is the way to go.
            Make more gravy.
            Be more specific with MIL about types of pies to bring.
            Don't brown the marshmallow topping under the broiler.

            13 Replies
            1. re: tcamp

              2 more things I did right:

              As long as you're roasting garlic for the mashed potatoes, roast some extra and freeze in a sheet for use on weeknights.

              Do the potatoes early and keep warm in the crockpot. So nice not having a big pot steaming up the kitchen in the final hour.

              1. re: tcamp

                The potato in the crockpot worked well. My guests didn't love it because I didn't add garlic and because I didn't add enough sugar. This is what happens when you try to mesh two groups. If I were to do that again I would just make two kinds.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    That's what I'm wondering? Were they sweet potatoes?

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      My in laws put sugar in regular mashed potato.

                      My personal guests wanted garlic.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Huh. I've never heard of anyone doing that. (The sugar in mashed potatoes, that is.)

                1. re: tcamp

                  I have to laugh about your comment about being specific about telling MIL what pies to bring. One Thanksgiving, many years ago, we had the meal at my brother's house. My mom informed me that SHE was bringing the pies, in particular my favorite - Blueberry! That's all I could think about for weeks. When we were kids, all seven of us would roll out dough and make great pies, all flavors, apple, pumpkin, blueberry, cherry, even mince.

                  So when dessert rolled around at my brother's house, I was anticipating delicious blueberry stuff when mom brought out an armful of generic, cheap pies from the local supermarket. None of us knew until then that after her kids were all grown, mom had decided to stop baking. In her opinion these pies were just as good as homemade because "they were what the restaurants serve."

                  We learned very quickly to not only be much more specific, but to also let mom take a break from pie "baking," and let her pick out a nice champagne instead.

                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                    I think she's earned the privilege! I know my Mom at this point would be thrilled to just bring champagne or wine. And after raising six kids, she deserves it.

                    1. re: coll

                      Oh yeah, mom paid her dues letting us all roll out pie dough in the kitchen. All that flour and mess...

                    2. re: TrishUntrapped

                      my MIL has never made a pie in her life. She buys several at her retirement home and brings those and, in truth, they are pretty good. Since I don't care much about dessert and she does, the pies are her contribution. A few weeks prior, she asked me what I liked and I told her apple or another fruit because I don't like pecan and am lukewarm about pumpkin. She brought pecan and pumpkin! I had a sliver of pumpkin and a huge dollop of whipped cream.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          If she's like some of my family, she asked, heard "apple blah blah blah pumpkin blah blah blah pecan" and figured she'd pick from those. Of course, it's also entirely possible it was intentional... ;)

                      1. re: tcamp

                        Same with the onions on the green bean casserole. Trust me.

                      2. I will have to read up about roasting a turkey low and slow. It sounds promising and, after cooking 25 T-days, it's always good to have something new to try.

                        We plan to eat between 1-2PM. I wonder if we'd be able to get a L&S turkey on the table that early...

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: rainey

                          I think there was a convert on another thread after cooking 30 T-days. Most of the turkeys roast in 4 to 5 hours, although a long resting period is also usually recommended. My approach is wake up since I have to anyway to feed the cat at 6 or so and plopped it in the oven. Then I go sit for the next few hours because it's very hands off.

                          1. re: rainey

                            My 18 pound bird cooked at 475 for 30 minutes, then 6 hours at 250. Then a rest. So to be ready by 1-2, you'll need to get started early but doable.

                            1. re: tcamp

                              I used to always put it in at 475 for a half hour or so, then down to 325-350. This year I was a little crazy, and I had the vegetables in at 350 right up to turkey time, so I just stuck the bird in without changing the temperature. I remembered reading here that it was a good idea. Well it came out wonderfully, and really not much difference timewise. I also forgot to baste it (did I mention I was crazy) and it came out juicy and delectable. Set it and forget it, that's my new motto!

                              1. re: coll

                                I haven't basted in decades whether I take the bird goes from the fridge directly to the oven, gets wet brine for 24 hr or dry brined for 3 days. It just doesn't need it and you lose so much heat and interrupt the process every time you open the door.

                                1. re: rainey

                                  I know everyone here always says that, but you know, old habits are hard to break. Just broke this one though.

                                2. re: coll

                                  I'm thinking it mostly doesn't matter. Based on the responses here and on the poll I took of 31 people who went hiking yesterday, everyone was happy with their homecooked birds, whether low and slow, wet brined, dry brined, regular temperature, supermarket, organic farm-raised. So who knows!

                                  1. re: tcamp

                                    Maybe why turkey bacame the namesake of Thanksgiving, so easy to cook and not wreck it.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      After making my 1st Thanksgiving dinner, 2,000 miles from my Mom, I called her, saying "you were shamming us all those years!" She'd put the bird in about 7 a.m., act like it was a huge responsibility, waaaay overcook it, and come dripping with sweat from the kitchen about 4 p.m. Roasting a turkey isn't a big deal! Just an overgrown chicken. (Mom actually laughed. Reminded me of that old Rice Krispie Treat ad, where the "baker" throws some flour on her face, looks wiped out, before opening the door from the kitchen, holding her Treats, to all the oohs and ahhs of the family.)

                              2. re: rainey

                                When I used to cook for a larger group (family) I always got up@0600 to get that bird stuffed and in the oven bright and early.....everyone started arriving around 1100 and by 12:30 all the magic happened:)

                                1. re: rainey

                                  On our Weber 26-3/4" charcoal kettle grill, cooking indirect, a 20 lb turkey (unstuffed) will roast in two hours flat.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    About what temp? Did you use wood chips? What kind? Did you season the turkey all?

                                2. Brining DOES work: Turkey was moist and very flavorful. A bit salty, and the texture was....sorta..."ham-my."

                                  Do NOT trust the pop-up thing. And, for some reason, the thermometer read 170, but when i carved, it was PINK! Had to go back into the oven. Recipe said 350 for 1 hour. NO WAY did that work.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Westy

                                    Always remove the pop up thing or ignore it. I think the attached heat-sensitive part melts at 180F

                                    1. re: Westy

                                      Try a dry brine next time. You'll get the moist and flavorful without that weird texture.

                                    2. Lessons learned:

                                      Make-ahead gravy was the way to go! Even though there's still a lot to do while the turkey is resting, I was able to enjoy getting dinner on the table and the company of family without stressing about the gravy. I won't go back!

                                      Dry brining worked great again. This year, I added some rosemary and lemon zest to the salt, though I can't say I tasted the difference. Just a very juicy, tender turkey.

                                      Don't panic that there won't be enough food. (Though I have told myself this before.) Bought a huge turkey (23 lbs) and there was a huge amount left. Asked my MIL to bring a vegetable; she brought three. A ridiculous amount of food, even for Thanksgiving.

                                      It's worth getting out the good china! I caved this year and let my husband put it in the dishwasher.

                                      For the first time, based on a tip on this board, I put some of the turkey bones with residual meat in the crock pot overnight to make stock. It's still bubbling away. Can't wait to see how it's turned out!

                                      22 Replies
                                      1. re: Skamper

                                        I struggle with the "don't panic that there won't be enough food" even for just 2 of us I was worried. Now I'm up to my ears in leftovers.

                                        1. re: Skamper

                                          You're so right about the gravy. I foolishly didn't do the make-ahead gravy as recommended on numerous threads and I wish I had. I couldn't get over not using the fat from the turkey in the gravy, but I'd rather not be stressed over it. For sure this is one thing I would do differently next year because the gravy making is where I start to break down and get stressed.

                                          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                            I thought with the make ahead gravy, you add in some drippings on the day of roasting?

                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                              Yes, but the recipe I used calls for making the roux with turkey fat (and melted butter to make up 1/2 cup total). Would I lose anything by not making the roux with fat?

                                              1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                A couple days before, you can make WF Stress Free make ahead gravy. You make a roux with butter and flour and then add (heated) turkey or chicken stock (I'd made wonderful turkey stock with wings). You refrigerate this when it cools off.

                                                After you cook your turkey, you pour drippings into a container (I use the Swing-away fat separator.. Martha Stewart has one, looks the same, same price, at Macy's) then put some white wine in the pan and scrape up the fond and then pour that in with the original drippings. Wait about 5 minutes and you'll see the fat layer on top and you just squirt out the good stuff into your heated up gravy starter.

                                                I keep the pot of gravy on the stove on low heat so that hot gravy is available throughout the meal. This is a lifesaver, no lumps. If you don't want to make your own stock, just use boxed chicken broth.

                                                1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                  When the NY Times printed their version of make-ahead gravy several years ago, I tried it. It is sooo worth it to make it anywhere from a month ahead to the weekend before. It makes a LOT, so a container remains in the freezer for later use.

                                                  This year I waited and made it last weekend, and it was too much turkey merely days away from each other. I'll stick to my end-of-October schedule here on in.

                                                  I love the idea of mashed tatties kept warm in the slow cooker. One less thing on the stove top.

                                                  1. re: breadchick

                                                    I guess because I've never had a problem making gravy from the pan drippings while the turkey rests (takes about the same amount of time to make the gravy as the turkey needs to rest), I've never even thought about making it days ahead. Granted, I don't have sixty-leven different sides that all need burners at the same time I need to make gravy - usually just two of them are being used, so I can use one of the remaining two for the roasting pan.

                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                      I do both make-ahead and gravy from drippings and combine them, mainly because there's rarely enough gravy from the drippings alone and I like to have leftovers. I pay no attention to proportions. Just dump a scoop of flour in the pan and whisk. I then pour that through a strainer directly into my reheated make-ahead gravy to punch up it's flavor. I, too, usually have burners available at that time and it seems to me it takes no more than a minute or two.

                                                      1. re: JoanN

                                                        Ahh, I always use drippings and a cup of homemade chicken stock.

                                                        And the flour slurry is flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika (sometimes some dried herbs) all put into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, some cool water added, and then shaken up to blend. That gets poured into the fat-skimmed drippings and chicken stock until properly thickened, and then a "blup" of Gravy Master gets added for a bit of flavoring and darkening of the gravy.

                                                      2. re: LindaWhit

                                                        Linda, I used to do that too. Every year. But this makes over three quarts - more than enough for Thanksgiving, with extra for when I just roast a turkey breast for just the two of us. Plus, this year, the turkey sacrificed for making the gravy gets turned into BBQ pulled turkey sandwiches. (I use 4 lbs. of turkey thighs and 2 lbs. of legs.) A bit of coleslaw on the side and it's a nice reward for all the work involved.

                                                        Also gives me a good excuse to open a bottle of bubbly while I'm toiling on "turkey gravy weekend." :-)

                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                          This is pretty much our method. We are fortunate to have a 6 burner cooktop, so even with the roasting pan occupying 2, there is still room for cooking the potatoes, rutabagas, and a green vegetable (this year green beans but usually asparagus) during the 1/2 hour resting period for the bird.

                                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                                            I'm with you!

                                                            I don't get the angst about gravy. As long as my husband is doing the carving on a different counter, I'm fine making the gravy at the last minute so it's hot going to the table.

                                                            I have been making some gravy in advance -- probably as a response to other people's sense of urgency -- but I just end up dumping it into my drippings gravy after dinner's done.

                                                            I"m ALL ABOUT advance prep but gravy and mashed potatoes aren't my priorities. ::shrug::

                                                            1. re: rainey

                                                              It's not a matter of angst, it's more a matter of incredible results with more benefits than the usual roasting pan on the stove - which my mother always did and until recently I always did. I'm alone in the kitchen, so it's one thing I don't have to worry about - and, as mentioned earlier, I can make quite a bit of it to use later. I don't have the kitchen help, so every little bit works to help me on the big day. It's all good.

                                                              1. re: breadchick

                                                                I echo your sentiment that "it's all good". You're completely right that we all work with different objectives and circumstances so, in the end, what works is the way to go!

                                                                Hope you had a great holiday and are looking forward to more to come.

                                                                1. re: rainey

                                                                  Thank you, rainey, and I hope yours was great as well.

                                                                  On to Christmas!!

                                                                2. re: breadchick

                                                                  Yeah! One cup of gravy is only one serving!

                                                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                    ACK! You'll drown the poor birdie! LOL I always make way more gravy than I need, and I have all good intentions of using up the excess after it is frozen. But I never do.

                                                                    In fact, there's probably a cup of frozen turkey gravy from LAST Thanksgiving in my freezer that I need to unearth and pop out of its container and throw away. Doesn't matter what it's for - turkey, chicken, beef - if it gets frozen for "later use", it never gets used.

                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                      Not for the bird; it's for the peas and rice! Husband LOVES gravy with rice. Not sauce; gravy...the difference is in the volume. And only wants lean types of meat, well done (blech!) so it's pretty much the only way we get enough gravy for the season.

                                                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                        Interesting. So he likes a risotto-like rice - a bit soupy with gravy. :D

                                                              2. re: LindaWhit

                                                                I love making the gravy while the turkey rests.

                                                          2. re: Skamper

                                                            My make ahead gravy was a disaster. I think I need to try an actual recipe next time. Ending up making gravy last minute anyways with the reject gravy.

                                                          3. Did two 1.25 lb breasts for first time (rather than whole bird) because it was just for the three non-vegetarian guests. Also brined for first time, air-drying overnight.

                                                            Roasted at 375F until internal temp was 150F, turned down to 250F for a while longer. Crispy skin survived long drive, long warming in host's oven. Meat was juicy and flavorful, but I will dry-brine next time; don't really care for the texture of the meat, "hammy" in another poster's apt description.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: ellabee

                                                              Update: The good news is that the "hammy", too-smooth effect disappears when the turkey is room temp or cold, and the breast regains its normal texture. Best sandwiches ever.

                                                              Will still go with dry brining next year. And am missing having a carcass; well, missing the stock I'd have made from it.

                                                            2. It was my first Thanksgiving and in general it was great! Many lessons learned though.

                                                              I'll definitely unwrap the turkey in advance next year. I waited until yesterday morning to unwrap it and there was ice in the cavity of the bird. Luckily after a couple hours (and a warm water wash of the cavity) it was much less cold but I'm sure unwrapping it in advance would have allowed the cavity to warm up a bit.

                                                              No soup next year, or, if we do soup, in tiny little cups on the appetizer table. Our turkey was ready earlier than we thought so we were slurping down soup trying to make room on the table for the turkey.

                                                              I had planned on setting up the dishes as a buffet on one of our counters but we had too much crap everywhere so at the last minute my husband had to run downstairs and get a folding table. I'd have that set up in advance next year.

                                                              No kale next year. It was too crazy at the last minute and so I'd choose a different, lower maintenance green veggie (probably brussels sprouts) to pop in the oven.

                                                              I need more serving spoons, forks, and ladles.

                                                              My apple pie turned out so-so. Next year, apple crisp so I don't have to make a crust. I can' t do pie crust under pressure.

                                                              I was surprised at how the turkey was the least of our worries. I combined the techniques I used on my practice turkey with some of the tips I read here on CH and the turkey turned out damn near perfect. Yay! Mashed potatoes were awesome, warmed in slow cooker as recommended on CH. Stuffings turned out great. Gravy was stressful but delicious, albeit a bit lumpy.

                                                              One cheese (Mt. Tam, glorious!) and accoutrements were perfect for appetizers. We all had plenty of room for the main event.

                                                              I love CH for being my support group during my first Thanksgiving!

                                                              19 Replies
                                                              1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                The turkey is often the least stressful and time intensive of the entire ordeal, it's the sides that eat up time and make you run around like a chicken with it's head cut off.

                                                                I'm glad to hear the potatoes in the slow cooker worked, I had to stash mine in the oven for a while and feared they were turning into nasty mush. All was well but it'd be nice to have that more hands off. How does the slow cooker method work, just pour them in and put it on warm?

                                                                Congratulations on a very successful first Thanksgiving dinner!

                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                  Exactly re: the sides.

                                                                  I had the potatoes on warm but my husband turned it up to low. We didn't have them in there more than say... an hour or 1.5 hours? And the texture stayed just fine. I'm not sure how it would work for a longer time.

                                                                  And thank you for all your help!

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    i put my cooked but unmashed potatoes into my crockpot on warm, pour the milk/cream/whatever dairy I have and melted butter over and leave them alone, then mash at serving time. Last year they sat for atleast 4 hrs like that and were wonderful.

                                                                    1. re: tacosandbeer

                                                                      Good to know! My crock pot runs super hot so I think the whole potato approach might work better.

                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                        That's exactly why I leave mine whole! The first time I used it for mashed potatoes, I spent three hours alternating between low and off. Kind of defeated the purpose of having them hands-off.

                                                                      2. re: tacosandbeer

                                                                        I forgot to turn them off after dinner and they were fine after...I don't know, six hours? I do have an old one though, with a REAL low setting.

                                                                        1. re: tacosandbeer

                                                                          Oh an even better idea, thanks! I pre mashed mine and used the crock pot to keep them warm but I like your way better.

                                                                          1. re: rasputina

                                                                            It's good to make a little presentation!

                                                                        2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                          I use the slow cooker every year, as I cook 20-25 lbs, and cannot manage that right before dinner! I make the mashed potatoes, add a bit more butter and cream than usual, into the slow cooker. Then cover the top of the slow cooker with a clean dish cloth before putting on the cover. I kept the potatoes on simmer for about 6 hours! They were delicious, and made the day so much easier for me!

                                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                            LOL, with the "chicken with it's head cut off." Somewhere around mid-point, I told my husband I feel like a contestant on Chopped!

                                                                            1. re: breadchick

                                                                              I agree! SO likes to laugh when I cook because it's rapid action movement, turning, twisting. Thanksgiving Eve he commented something to the effect of "whoa, you just opened that drawer like 3 feet away without looking, just reached out, pulled and grabbed what you needed then saw a stray wrapper on the counter grabbed it and tossed it behind you in the trash can, turning back to the saute pan" It's useful to know your kitchen. I think I'd drown if I had to make a big dinner in someone else's kitchen.

                                                                          2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                            Good for you!!!

                                                                            You'll remember this Thanksgiving always. And here's the good part -- it just gets better. You'll get cooking skills from every one and your planning will get better and better. But this one will be the one that always stands out.

                                                                            Sounds like it was a very fine benchmark. ;>

                                                                            1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                              Apple crisp is genius; whenever I make apple pie it falls apart trying to get it on a plate .. apple crisp is supposed to look the way it does!!

                                                                              One thing I did this year: I hid the tv remote in the bottom of my purse .. I want people to talk to each other, esp. at the dinner table. Nobody asked where it was!

                                                                                1. re: walker

                                                                                  Yes! I am almost positive I forgot to put the flour in my apple pie filling so it was a liquidy mess. And the crust didn't turn out exactly right. So much more room for error with a crisp, so that's what it will be next time!!

                                                                                  1. re: walker

                                                                                    No one watches TV nor do they talk. I had the parade on in the background while prepping just to have a little noise and bustle. It is different when my family comes. They are loud!

                                                                                    At least the sit around and visit part was short this year. We looked at wedding pics on the TV and then they bolted. Beats sitting around staring at each other.

                                                                                  2. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                                    Circumstances permitting, I love to make my own pie. But I just don't have the time and energy these days, so I mostly stick to fruit crisps. I made an apple crisp for Thanksgiving dessert (served with vanilla ice cream) and we all though it was even better than pie. It's a little lighter too, which is a bonus after all the mashed potatoes, dressing, rolls and other stuff.

                                                                                    I think mine is technically a crumble, since I make it without oats in the topping, but whatever-- it's delicious and simple. I make the crumble the day before and keep it in the fridge. Thanksgiving morning, all I have to do is peel, core and cut up the apples into a dish, add a little water, spread on the crumble and shove it into the oven. Great results for so little effort. Can't beat that! Travels well too.

                                                                                    1. re: jdub1371

                                                                                      Sounds delicious. I have to post separately about pie crust because I'm still confused about how it turned out. But a crumble/crisp will definitely be my choice for Thanksgiving in the future.

                                                                                  3. - Rinse the turkey a little more thoroughly after removing it from the brine. That was some salty gravy!

                                                                                    - Make the gravy ahead of time, and use the drippings to make gravy to eat with the leftovers.

                                                                                    - Make sides ahead of time and reheat them. My timing was all out of whack. My poultry seasoning was in my purse, which was in my truck, which was with my boyfriend hunting, so that put me behind at least fifteen minutes on the bread stuffing. I had to abandon the farro stuffing halfway through; I just pulled it out of the oven and will be taking it to my mom's tonight.

                                                                                    - I definitely need to practice my baking. I was concerned that it hadn't risen enough, and they did end up somewhat dense.

                                                                                    - Make less of everything, especially if I'm having this particular group over. They definitely wanted mashed potatoes and mac & cheese over my Brussels sprouts. :)

                                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                      I also am dealing with gravy that's a little too salty for me though I have a low salt threshold. I want to drink it up but the salt is getting to me. Did you dry or wet brine?

                                                                                      I'm sorry your sprouts were overlooked. I have to admit at our family dinners there's always a full spread and the green things don't make it very close to my plate. In the past few years that it's been me and SO, I have taken the approach that it's a once in a year holiday so just focus on the dishes that we really like to eat for Thanksgiving and skip the things that always get picked at. It makes for a technically unbalanced dinner but saves time, money and wasted food.

                                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                        I would call my salt tolerance high, at least compared to some in attendance. So it must have been unbearable to them! Wet brine.

                                                                                        I knew everyone would stick to what they knew, so I wasn't that broken up about it. They were also on the other side of the sink, and I don't think everyone realized the buffet extended past it. So the sprouts, the collard greens, the stuffing, rolls, and gravy... EVERYTHING I made except the turkey, actually, now that I think about it, might not have been noticed by everyone. :p

                                                                                        Everyone did say the turkey was the moistest they'd ever had, though.

                                                                                        1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                          I heard that with wet brines, it helps to soak it in cold water for 15 minutes. I'm curious, did you have sugar in the brine? and how long did you brine for? Never tried wet brining but I'm curious.

                                                                                          1. re: mazwe

                                                                                            Yes, it had 1 cup of brown sugar. Plus it had 2 cups of cider in it, so whatever sugar was in that.

                                                                                            I'm not 100% sure what time it went in... I'd say it was between 16 and 18 hours. This was my second time using this recipe, and both times it's been fabulous.

                                                                                      2. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                        My group also went for a few side over others. I made TINY portions of the healthier veg. Unfortunately my non family guests didn't believe me whine I told them nobody would eat the Caesar salad and green beans besides us and to make less. I don't know wheat I am going to do with all these extra beans.

                                                                                        1. re: melpy

                                                                                          Are the beans plain? They can be added into green salads or tossed in a vinaigrette and served as a cold side.

                                                                                          1. re: masha

                                                                                            Cooked with garlic. And a few raw that we didn't bother to make.

                                                                                          2. re: melpy

                                                                                            Are they already cooked? If not, blanch and freeze them. Otherwise, add them to soup.

                                                                                        2. Sweet potato latkes are amazing!

                                                                                          1. Our Thanksgiving was perfect. Less formal = more fun.

                                                                                            Traditional low and slow is the way to cook the turkey. Start with the turkey upside down and flip after an hour or two. Use oven mitts, or heat resistant gloves for flipping it, don't even bother trying to use a fork or any other utensil.

                                                                                            Slow cooker stuffing/dressing is amazing, cooked with a few roasted turkey wings on top.

                                                                                            Use slow cookers to keep foods warm and serve buffet style. The food stays hot, makes things less stressful with foods getting done at different times. Cuts down on the number of serving bowls that you have to wash.

                                                                                            The Bella 3-compartment 2.5 qt. slow cooker is currently available in Sam's Club for about $40. It is well worth the money.

                                                                                            1. Use the timer when perpetually multitasking in the kitchen for a few hours. :) Caught some sautéing mushrooms JUST as they were starting to blacken on the bottom of the pot.....

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: 4Snisl

                                                                                                Indeed. I'm glad I have the timer on the stove and an extra battery timer. I would have been lost without them!

                                                                                                1. re: 4Snisl

                                                                                                  We had timers going on 2 or 3 iPhones in addition to the oven and microwave. Very helpful when tracking dishes going in the main kitchen, the canning kitchen and the smoker outside.

                                                                                                  1. re: Spooneb

                                                                                                    You have a CANNING kitchen!?!? How wonderful!

                                                                                                    1. re: rainey

                                                                                                      My parents do. They used to do a lot of home canning as well as butchering hogs and chickens. They're both getting older and these days it mostly gets used at holidays and for a few batches of pickles and salsa in the summers.

                                                                                                2. I am responsible for the vegetables. We also celebrated 25 years of the 3 core families enjoying this time together.

                                                                                                  Now is not the time to experiment. The cooks are suppose to enjoy their time as well. Hand made mayo and hollandaise are history. Duke's and Knorr are perfectly acceptable. Cheez Wiz from the microwave is great on the broccoli. The corn came from a can and the carrots from Canada.

                                                                                                  After getting yelled at last year for spending way too much money and time in the kitchen, I only bought 2 pounds of butter and did most of the cooking the final 30 minutes before dinner. It was so nice to relax with old friends, while meeting current significant others of our now grown up kids.

                                                                                                  And once again we had to explain to the kids about the draft before we sang "Alice's Restaurant".

                                                                                                  1. I only brought desserts to my sister's house but had a few hits and one miss. Hits include French silk pie (though the recipe called for 4 oz bittersweet or semisweet. I used semisweet and ending up doubling the amount of chocolate.) and an absolutely perfect almond cake - the Chez Panisse recipe. That cake is easy peasy and just delicious.

                                                                                                    My miss was a pecan pie. I hate pecan pie goo so I was trying to improvise as I made it and added lots more pecans than the recipe calls for. Well, it was tasty but super hard to cut. Will have to come up with a different pie method to achieve that.

                                                                                                    I'm prepping for Thanksgiving Part Two, Electric Boogaloo, that will be at my place tomorrow, so will have more feedback on Sunday!

                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                      Do you have a link to the almond cake? Sounds delicious.

                                                                                                      1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream


                                                                                                        Here you go. I served it plain, so people could just slice off a piece and eat it by hand as they walk and talk.

                                                                                                        BUT, I'd love to serve it with roasted peaches or a sour cherry compote. I'm also considering using it for the pear upside down cake I make.

                                                                                                          1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                            I am so making that. Does anybody know an almond paste sub? Almonds are grown locally and I end up with so many.

                                                                                                            1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                              Do you want a sub or a recipe? This recipe for almond paste from Jacques Torres is easy and terrific:


                                                                                                      2. Pillsbury premade pie dough is way better than I can ever make, and frustration free. Never going to make it again.

                                                                                                        1. I had a great time prepping Thanksgiving dinner with my family this year. Overall, the 'lessons learned' weren't monumental, but noted nevertheless. Here they are:

                                                                                                          1) Locate your meat thermometer and cooking twine BEFORE getting to work on the turkey. At one point, three of us were scrambling around and fumbling through drawers to find twine AND locate the thermometer.

                                                                                                          2) After scrambling around and discovering that you don't have any cooking twine, realize that baker's twine is a totally acceptable substitute. (Thank you, Mike's Pastry in Boston, for providing me with a decent supply from your bakery boxes.)

                                                                                                          3) Consolidate all the recipes you use so that you have one 'go-to' location for reference. No time for digging or doing too much research once the prep starts.

                                                                                                          And, finally ...

                                                                                                          4) Ina Garten's roasted brussel sprouts recipe is amazingly easy and delightful. Yum.

                                                                                                          Ok, that is all. :)

                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: CityGirlintheMidwest

                                                                                                            Great tip on finding the twine before getting to work!!!

                                                                                                            I was up to my elbows in raw turkey and the compound butter I put under the skin, had just stuffed the herbs, onions, celery, garlic and lemon inside the bird. Wanted to get it in the oven and realized I had no way to tie it up. My husband happened to come into the house just at the right minute. I said, "quick, get the twine out of the cabinet, down there, were the sausage making supplies are." He knew exactly what I meant, got the twine and helped me tie it up.

                                                                                                            1. re: Springhaze2

                                                                                                              I don't stuff the bird but I find no need to tie.

                                                                                                              1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                I never tie either, don't see any down side.

                                                                                                            2. re: CityGirlintheMidwest

                                                                                                              "Consolidate all the recipes you use so that you have one 'go-to' location for reference. No time for digging or doing too much research once the prep starts."

                                                                                                              Pepperplate is amazing for this!. And you can plan the week, scale recipes, and set timers.

                                                                                                            3. Making a smaller whole turkey along with a bone-in breast is the best way to get plenty of white meat.
                                                                                                              Acorn squash is a pain to cut even with nuking 2 min, next time I am getting delicata.
                                                                                                              Make ahead turkey gravy was a repeat MVP.

                                                                                                              1. Everything went smoothly here except the timing of the meal. We asked people to be here at 3:00 expecting to eat around 4:30. They got here late (last minute emergencies) and we didn't eat until 6:30. Food all turned out just fine and as expected, but they didn't leave until after 10 pm. That made a 15 hour day for me (with all the cleaning, table setting, etc).

                                                                                                                Next year I will do all of that two-three days before and just focus on the food on Thanksgiving Day. And we will start at 1:00--not 3:00.

                                                                                                                1. What a great thread. Family members don't enjoy my going over everything in their hearing, but I can post among Thanksgiving cooks fearlessly. So thanks mazwe for starting this thread.

                                                                                                                  Lessons learned:
                                                                                                                  Dry brining is a pain but it produces a superlative turkey. I will do this again, and am thinking of doing for chicken sometime. I did have to truncate the early brining time.

                                                                                                                  Making turkey broth in the slow cooker with a couple of wings and the neck from the turkey makes a superlative gelatinous broth. I bought the wings when I bought the turkey. The neck came out of the turkey when I set up on day 1 of the dry brine. We had great gravy, and I am interested in pre making gravy in the future.

                                                                                                                  Delegate some of the last minute tasks to others.

                                                                                                                  Set up the table the day beforehand.

                                                                                                                  Polish the silver a week before.

                                                                                                                  I made a smallish turkey, a Butterball. And I learned to check the temp in the thigh instead of the breast. Instructions were in the leaflet enclosed with the turkey. I followed those instructions for roasting--325 deg oven. My turkey came out perfect!

                                                                                                                  I decided not to stuff this year because I was handling the turkey days before cooking and leaving it in the fridge. I was concerned about undercooked meat and salmonella if I stuffed it. I made stuffing/dressing using my regular 'recipe' but baked it in the oven, and finished in the micro. I've micro'd many a pan of stuffing and it works fine. The stuffing was flavored by the turkey stock.

                                                                                                                  I made Angel Biscuits this year and they were quite good. Not as fussy as homemade rolls, but more suited to a nice meal than regular biscuits. And you can premake the dough the day before and keep it in the fridge.

                                                                                                                  I've enjoyed reading everyone's experiences cooking for Thanksgiving. Thanks for posting your experiences for us all.

                                                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                    Did you do anything to the neck before putting it in the slow cooker for stock?

                                                                                                                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                                                                      I simply added the neck on top of the purchased turkey wings and turned the slow cooker on.

                                                                                                                    2. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                      I'd highly recommend dry brining and trying a chicken Zuni style. The only way I make whole chickens anymore.

                                                                                                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                          The classic turkey - based on the Zuni chicken recipe"


                                                                                                                          This is a good article because it describes the process.

                                                                                                                          The method is towards the bottom of the page.

                                                                                                                          or just google dry-brined, and you will find the method.

                                                                                                                          We've done this method for turkey for 7 years, and the result is always stellar. And easy.

                                                                                                                          1. re: nikkihwood

                                                                                                                            I actually used these instructions last week for my bird. I was asking for a link to a Zuni style dry brined chicken.

                                                                                                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                              Late reply, but if you're still looking for the Zuni recipe, sueatmo, it's reprinted from Judy Rodgers's cookbook here: http://www.today.com/id/4401342/

                                                                                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                        Dry brined whole chicken and bone in skin on breasts are really tasty and quite a simple prep. Your Thanksgiving sounds like it was wonderful:) I am going to Google Angel Biscuits right now.

                                                                                                                        1. re: MamasCooking

                                                                                                                          Did you find Angel Biscuits? My version comes from American Century Cookbook by Jean Anderson.

                                                                                                                      2. Daughter's SO fried the turkey. It was wonderful. Obviously there had to be a different approach to gravy. I minced shallots and sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter and peanut oil, added a little red wine, salt, pepper, and herbs d'Provence, sprinkled a couple spoonfuls of flour, cooked dome more, poured in a pint and a half of a dark roasted vegetable broth, brought to a gentle boil, and the puréed it with an IB. I'll repeat that gravy. The roasted sweet potatoes were ok, but next year they'll be done with more rub, cut in smaller pieces, and done at 450 instead of 400. The garlic Romano green beans will have more pieces of torn up baguette. My daughter has firmly established herself as the family pie maker. Her crusts border on puff pastry. Maybe next she can add apple to her repetoire.

                                                                                                                        1. Dried fruit has to be reconstituted before baking. Luckily, I learned this on a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies a couple days before T Day. Raisins turned into tiny, hard, bitter pebbles. Threw the whole batch out. Reconstituted the dried cranberries and my sausage and cranberry stuffing was perfect!

                                                                                                                          1. My hilarious lesson learned is that you can actually roast a turkey upside down by accident and have it still turn out pretty darn good. We always do butterballs in oven bags stuffed with aromatic herbs, onion, lemon, and apple and set the bird atop celery leaves and onions in the bottom of the bag. I put well kosher salted butter pats between the skin and breast meat, tie the legs, and it's a cinch and pretty speedy. While I was trying to get the pats under the skin i was wondering why I was having such a hard damn time. duh. moron !!! needless to say the breast skin wasn't browned but it was very nice and moist and perfectly salted breast meat.

                                                                                                                            1. This was my first year to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Always went to mom's or another relative's home. Anyway, my family are not turkey fans. Usually do a large baking hen. Haven't had a turkey in years. My fiancé is a traditionalist, so as this is our first turkey day together I told her I would relent.
                                                                                                                              I bought a Butterball fresh bird that weighed 20lbs. I have done some research on cooking one and decided to go with spatchcocking it and roasting at 450.
                                                                                                                              The bird had ice in it when I cut into Thursday morning. The info I had said roast for 75 to 80 min. uncovered. Since it was icy I tented with foil for the first hour then uncovered. Checked temps at 90 min. 138 in the thigh. Thought maybe 30 more minutes and I will recheck. Glad I didn't wait any longer because it was past done. The thigh checked 178 and the breast was 183.
                                                                                                                              I said well this is my first turkey and I'm sorry but it will be dry. I was shocked when I cut the breast, it was tender and moist. so was the leg and thigh. It was great. When I tried to cut it up to put the leftovers if the fridge it just fell apart like a slow roasted chicken. This will be the way I do it every time unless something changes.

                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: andy43

                                                                                                                                I always have the best luck with Butterballs. I try hard to get 14 lbs or less. One year I had a big one and it was stringy; maybe I overcooked it or got a bad one but I'm glad your big one turned out so well.

                                                                                                                                Wasn't it a chore to hack it yourself?

                                                                                                                                1. re: walker

                                                                                                                                  Wasn't too bad. Used a chef's knife and poultry shears to cut down both sides of the spine.

                                                                                                                                2. re: andy43

                                                                                                                                  Hard to mess up a Butterball, highly recommended for beginners! And for us oldies too....

                                                                                                                                3. We've hosted T-giving for 27 of the last 30 years. Husband cooks more than 1/2 of the savory dishes and the menu hardly changes at all. By and large we've got the whole process down to a set routine, with very little stress.

                                                                                                                                  So what did I learn this year? That making pie crust from scratch is not as hard as I'd always feared.

                                                                                                                                  I've always been intimidated by the prospect of doing the crust from scratch, so I've cheated and used the Pillsbury refrigerated dough. The Pillsbury product makes a very respectable apple pie but my pumpkin pies never worked -- crust was always soggy. Some years I just wimped out entirely and let Sara Lee make the pumpkin pie. This year I decided to do the crust from scratch, using the recipe from the New York Times Thanksgiving Essentials feature. And it worked! Granted I should have rolled it a bit more to get a somewhat larger diameter crust -- the crust protruding along the edges was a bit skimpy. Next year I'll do better. May even do the crust for the apple pie from scratch too.

                                                                                                                                  1. I feel like I should share how I made the make ahead mashed potatoes. I used russets, cut into pieces and rinsed well. Boiled and drained, then transferred back to the pot over low heat, then mashed as they dried. Then went in the softened butter, cream cheese, warm half and half, and seasoned salt. After adjusting the seasoning, they went into the fridge. That was Wednesday. The next day, I heated them in the oven with a little butter on top and they were wonderful. I based it on a pioneer woman recipe.

                                                                                                                                    Another successful side was Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots.

                                                                                                                                    Disappointing: bake and serve rolls from the grocery store. Never again.

                                                                                                                                    For appetizer I made a roasted red peppers dip with toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Served it with pita chips and was shocked to see how much everyone loved it.

                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: mazwe

                                                                                                                                      I also make the potatoes a day ahead, so quick and easy to just have to reheat.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: mazwe

                                                                                                                                        Yummy! Would you share your dip recipe?

                                                                                                                                      2. I just learned that my oven automatically shuts itself off. I put stock in the oven this morning. Tonight, while in another room and kept hearing beeping but knew I hadn't set a timer for anything. Eventually I got up to check and the oven panel read "End" and it was mysteriously no longer on. Through a quick read of the user's manual I also learned it has a Sabbath mode. The things you learn from a great American holiday :)

                                                                                                                                        12 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                          How long did it go before shutting off? And what is sabbath mode?

                                                                                                                                          1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                                                                                            Turns off at midnight on the Sabbath, by itself? Inquiring minds want to know. It's only 4AM and I learned something new already.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                                                                                                                              I probably preheated the oven so I think it was 12 hours. Sabbath mode from what I seemed to gather is meant for the Jewish Sabbath, the automatic shut off is deactivated and the oven will run for up to 72 hours. Also all lights inside the oven and on the oven panel and "beep" sounds are deactivated. You can change the temperature but you don't know what temperature you're changing it to ala stoking the fire or cooling it down to make a qualitative change.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                Did you special order that, or it just came that way? The miracles of modern science.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                  Nope, not Jewish so don't need a Sabbath function. I rent a home in Baltimore so my landlord picked it out, nice choice I guess. I wonder what other functions it has?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                    A magic oven! Sounds interesting.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                      I recently found out my oven has a sabbath mode too - as well as delayed start, cook and hold functions, etc.

                                                                                                                                                      The power went out and somehow the control panel was indicating some kind of error message, and so I downloaded the owners manual (didn't get one when I bought a floor model 4 years ago) - it was so cool to find out all the things it can do if I needed to....

                                                                                                                                                      I gather Sabbath mode is on many higher-end models since a keeping Kosher practicing Jew can't turn the oven on during Sabbath - it's 'work', but you can put food in the oven and remove it.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: gingershelley

                                                                                                                                                        Right, hence why it's called Sabbath :) not sure what else that would refer too. Apparently you can also set some refrigerators to Sabbath mode, fascinating.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                          Former neighbors were observant Jews and their fridge was set to Sabbath mode so the light didn't go on from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. It was almost disconcerting to see someone open a fridge and not see the light go on.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                            I had a good friend who never replaced the light that went out in his fridge and whenever I would open the door I'd get quite confused. Also in Sabbath mode, the refrigerator regulator is disconnected from the opening of the door such that opening does not trigger the motor to turn on to cool it back down.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                              When my mom was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, she used to get paid for going around various apartments turning things off and on.

                                                                                                                                              2. Brined, as usual, with soy sauce, wine, scallions, garlic and plenty of water. Low-slow-cooked turkeys were perfection and we've discovered that a wet-brined turkey must be cooked to a little hotter temp inside to avoid texture problems. However, I learned, only this year (first year I tried) that the brining liquid cannot in any way be salvaged for *anything.* Anything. (I tried to make "teriyaki sauce" and a sort of gravy and both were horrid).

                                                                                                                                                Made yams with lots of molasses and whole spices (and sugar and Bourbon). Nearly burnt them but the heavily-reduced sauce was great. I'd hazard a guess it'd be a bit difficult to reproduce a degree of doneness this close to burning -- without burning.

                                                                                                                                                This year had a few new observers/helpers and we had a lot of fun cooking all day -- the meal was served at 6:00 in the evening.

                                                                                                                                                Beside the traditional meal, business partner, who's Chinese, ate with her sisters; "hot pot" -- with sliced raw lamb and beef; seafood and veggies of all kinds and a delicious broth in which all these things were cooked. Several guests eating the traditional meal also opted-in to hot pot.

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                                                                  My yams (sugar, bourbon, butter, sorghum) went from almost done to a layer of charcoal on the bottom in seemingly the blink of an eye. My one disaster of the meal, although I was able to salvage the top layer. This was a new recipe for me; my previous one was more forgiving. But the parts that were edible were delicious, so I've made a note for next year that it needs to be watched like a hawk.

                                                                                                                                                2. As fantastic as I believe they are, no one in my extended family likes Carrot-Ginger soup or creamed onions. Both were flops this year.

                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                                                                    And ginger honey carrots and pearl onions poached in butter and beef broth are yearly requirements for my crowd.

                                                                                                                                                    Viva la difference.

                                                                                                                                                  2. Well, I haven't had my dinner yet (it's tonight), but I learned yesterday that blending chipotles into cream using a Vitamix will very quickly result in chipotle-flavored whipped cream.

                                                                                                                                                    Very. Quickly.

                                                                                                                                                    And I was honestly too damn tired (and annoyed) to make another batch, so I just stirred some more cream in to thin it out a bit and continued with my chipotle sweet potato gratin/dauphinoise dish. I think the whole thing is probably a big giant fail, but we'll see tonight. :0)

                                                                                                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                      I think the thick cream might be a good thing, maybe it'll stick better. Let us know, because this is a great side dish, no matter how you make it....unless you use a one whole can of chipotle, instead of one CANNED chipotle. Yeah that was a big giant fail, I have to admit.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                        LOL, I read all the reports of one can of chipotles and felt the pain! Fortunately, I learned my chipotle power lesson years ago. :0)

                                                                                                                                                        I'll let you all know how the sweet potatoes turn out.

                                                                                                                                                        My newest lesson learned is that chopping kale in a food processor is about a hundred times faster than julienning by hand, and it makes for a texture that I really like. Reminds me of a coarse tabouleh.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                          I did that once! I was making a giant pot of black beans and rice (to be portioned out for work lunches) and thought I should put use the whole can.

                                                                                                                                                          Yeah, no. I ended up having to do lots of tinkering to make each bowl and tupperware container full palatable to me.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                                                                            I froze the pan of yams in small cups and added one to everything I made after that, for the rest of the winter. Chili, soups, stews, Indian and Mexican, you name it. I almost wish I had another stash.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                              Now *that* is a brilliant save. I bet it was a fantastic addition to so many dishes!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                Really, I should make a batch every fall to get me through the winter I guess.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                          Well, the sweet potatoes were a hit, despite my misgivings. I almost didn't put it out, but the pan was cleared out by the end of the night. So go figure!

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                            It is really the best recipe out there. As the pizzerias like to say, you've tried the rest, now try the best!!

                                                                                                                                                        3. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                          Not for Thanksgiving, but for a dinner party a few months ago, I was making a vinaigrette to accompany an Asian squid salad. I blended the ingredients on high in a blender as directed without stopping to think that I was using a Vitamix. I ended up with a great Asian mayonnaise and had to thin it out with hot water to make a pourable dressing. It can take a while to get used to how powerful that machine is.

                                                                                                                                                        4. My lesson learned is that the crock pot does actually work great at keeping the dressing and mashed potatoes warm without negative side effects. I'll be employing them from now on for TG.

                                                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                                                                            The only reason I haven't given mine away at this point.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                                                                              Hmmm. I've seen people post about using them for the potatoes, but I don't make potatoes so I didn't pay attention. I'll definitely have to try it with the dressing next year!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                                                                                Do it! I was feeding 30+ people in an apartment one year & the crock pot was a life-saver for both dressing & mash. I cooked the dressing in the crockpot entirely (everything was sautéed in advance) and it worked out great.

                                                                                                                                                            2. My T'giving Day was relatively uneventful this year, unlike the Great Thanksgiving Knife Incident of 2011. It was just me and Mom - but I still bought a 13+ lb. bird and we had 4 sides.

                                                                                                                                                              Lessons learned:

                                                                                                                                                              1. I like a simple "dry brine" of salt, pepper, chopped fresh herbs, and orange zest. No butter rub this year, and the skin came out nice and crispy with a bit of basting after the foil came off.

                                                                                                                                                              2. Add more heavy cream to the mashed potatoes than you think should be added. The potatoes this year were *much* creamier than in past years, but still with some "body" to them...they weren't swimming on the plate.

                                                                                                                                                              3. Don't put the Brussels sprouts with shallots into the convection oven to roast too early. Slivered shallot pieces can easily burn. Mom picked them out.

                                                                                                                                                              4. Just make a full-sized pumpkin pie instead of two smaller ones (thought it would be easier for Mom to have her own pie to take home). If you don't have a slope-sided pie plate, the crust *will* fall into the pumpkin mixture as they did in my two foil pans.

                                                                                                                                                              5. Also - make sure you have enough evaporated milk to make the pie. I realized on Wednesday night that I only had a small 5 oz. can of evap. milk and was NOT getting dressed to go out to the stupidmarket to get more. A quick Google, and I was told that you can use heavy cream as the remaining liquid, which I did. It worked OK, but the pie was not as "set" as I would have liked - it seem way more custardy, which would make sense having used 6 oz. of heavy cream.

                                                                                                                                                              6. Most important - enjoy wine while cooking. And don't sweat it. Anyone joining you at your table will be very grateful for your company as well as your food. :-)

                                                                                                                                                              1. I may post elsewhere too as I am in need of guidance.

                                                                                                                                                                I'm a very accomplished cook. And I had the help of my mother and sister (and a couple men helpers too) for Thanksgiving...and yet I was exhausted and overwhelmed. This was not my first rodeo, and I thought they did a lot in advance, and yet it was so much! Just getting the dishes out for the buffet was work! I'm not sure if we had too much food or what.

                                                                                                                                                                The Good: The turkey (brined in Alex Guarnacelli's brine) was really, really good.

                                                                                                                                                                The Bad: With 3 litle kids running around, things felt so hectic. I felt like I worked, worked, worked, and then didn't even really want to eat by the time lunch was ready.

                                                                                                                                                                Things that were done ahead: cranberry sauce, cranberry jello salad, brined turkey, green beans (night before), baked the sweet potatoes for their pulp, half the pie crusts, baked cornbread/set out crumbs for dressing, chopped veggies for dressings, made filling for mincemeat pie

                                                                                                                                                                Day of: Roasted turkey, made cherry "fluff" early, made last 2 pie crusts and baked pumpkin pie, apple crumb pie, and mincemeat pie, saute veggies and assemble dressings/bake, roast brussels sprouts, make sweet potato casserole, bake green beans, make mashed potatoes, carve turkey and eat.

                                                                                                                                                                How do I make it easier??? Help! I don't want to sacrifice on taste. And everyone has a favorite dish so it's hard to cut.

                                                                                                                                                                14 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                  You can make a few of the "day of" dishes ahead including the pies, stuffing/dressing and mashed potatoes, and especially gravy - make it ahead and add the drippings saving time when the bird is done to assemble everything else. I basically had all the sides ready to go by Wednesday night. Also perhaps you could set up the dishes on the buffet the night before. I grab all the utensils and serving dishes, plates, cups that I will need and set it up Wednesday night. Lastly, a schedule is useful. Make a list of what needs to happen and how long it should take, then work backwards from when you want to serve dinner and literally write the times and activities. If your schedule says 1130am-potatoes in the oven, while you might forget, you will likely glance at a clock and remember that something was supposed to happen then and consult your schedule. Finally, not sure the kids running around helped :) I would have gone bonkers.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                    Yeah, enlist someone else to corral the kids and keep them away from the kitchen and dining area.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                    A few thoughts that may help in the future:

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Make lists and a plan. The "day of" plan is the most important. Work backwards from when you want to sit down and figure out when things need to come out of the oven or off the stove. Don't leave out any details, no matter how small they might seem -- "chop shallots for casserole" might seem incidental, until you realize that it takes half an hour.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. Do more ahead of time. Prep ALL of your veggies the day before and store them in big ziplock bags in your fridge. Things like onions, shallots and green onions can be chopped even 2 days in advance. Saute your stuffing aromatics the day or even two before so that you only have to toss with bread and broth the day of. Mashed potatoes can easily be made the day before and warmed gently in a crock pot (lots of posts about the technique here on CH). Figure out what you can make and freeze even longer in advance (stock, gravy, bread, pie pastry dough, etc.).

                                                                                                                                                                    3. This falls into the "do more ahead of time" category, but it's useful enough to get it's own item. :) Plan what cooking and serving dishes and utensils you'll need for every dish you're making. Pull those out a few days before Thanksgiving and throw a sticky note indicating what goes into what. Not only does it make it easy to grab what you need when you need it, it eliminates the "oh crap, I don't have a dish to hold XXX!" moments.

                                                                                                                                                                    4. Ask for help, there is no shame in this! Get someone to bring a dessert or a side. Have someone in charge of setting the table or making the centerpiece.

                                                                                                                                                                    5. Move your meal to bit later in the day to give yourself more time on Thanksgiving day.

                                                                                                                                                                    I find that when I do all of the above, my busiest day is actually the day before Thanksgiving dinner. I'm usually pooped at the end of that day, but I have a nice glass of wine at the end, get a good night's sleep, then have a pretty easy Thanksgiving day, where I'm mostly just assembling stuff and putting it in the oven.

                                                                                                                                                                    Good luck with next year, and I really hope you get to enjoy it more and not be so stressed and tired!

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                      Make your pie crusts at least a week ahead of time and freeze them. And make your pies the day before. Most will keep at room temp overnight, although some may have to be refrigerated. Make your dressings a day or two beforehand. Check out the Pioneer Woman Cooks for mashed potatoes that can be made ahead of time without a crock pot, if you don't have one. If you're short on fridge space, do you have somewhere outdoors where you can safely store things? Do you live in a climate where you can do that? I live in a Manhattan apartment and never have enough fridge space. But I do have a window in my bathroom and it was cold out, so I opened the window wide, closed the door, and stored things overnight in my tub. Thanksgiving definitely calls for creative solutions.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                                        I also utilize the environment. If it's less than 40F outside, food gets stored on the porch. My family has done this for decades and works well for the prep as well as leftovers.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                                          I think the mashed potatoes, while not difficult to make, definitely added to the kitchen chaos and would be worth making ahead.

                                                                                                                                                                          Not always cold here (Oklahoma) but was this Thanksgiving. You guys must get much more creative than I am--have 2 fridges, two freezers, 2 ovens, and a warming drawer and still feel cramped for space!!

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                          Well, crap, I had tons of lists! Lists of what cooks in what dishes, table set, oven times & temps. And still overwhelmed!

                                                                                                                                                                          I am thinking I need to basically have everything but the turkey and maybe the pies done before, and all I have to do is put things in and out of the oven.

                                                                                                                                                                          Any ideas for stuff to prep before the day before? Freezer items, weekend before? I had law school finals coming up (Monday, actually--this is a short break from studying) so that adds a lot to the stress but I had so much help and felt so on track and then still so overwhelmed. I'm thinking maybe Thanksgiving prep needs to start EVEN EARLIER. Freeze pie crusts? I've frozen leftover dressing and that is usually okay. Maybe that's worth it.

                                                                                                                                                                          Maybe I should forgo the home-roasted, brined turkey and pick up a cajun fried or smoked one.

                                                                                                                                                                          I throw dinner parties often, with china and silver, etc. Why was this Thanksgiving so hard?! This is not my first rodeo. I did two while in law school last year (one with my family, one with my fiance's family).

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                            You might try low and slow turkey, set it and forget it! Frees you up to spend time with family or do other things.

                                                                                                                                                                            Also I love lists but I think 1 list is key, otherwise you have to manage your lists which distracts you.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                              I start with daily lists about a week before, keep cutting them down with things I didn't get to moved up to the next day, and then finally the night before/the day of it becomes an hourly list. There should be room on this final list for things you can just let go, if need be.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                              Some years are just harder than others. I've been doing it since the 1970s, but this year frazzled me. I figured I'd get up automatically around 5 AM but slept til 7:30, and never got my mojo back. Everything was probably fine, I know it was basically, but I feel like it was all so weird. Oh well, on to Christmas.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                              Definitely make all your pies beforehand. I saute the add-ins for my dressing the day before and cube the bread so just need to combine and bake the day of. I am somewhat resigned, though, to it always being a hectic time no matter how much I do ahead. The 3 little kids running around would have drove me bonkers. I knew my DMIL would not be able to keep herself out of my way. My kitchen is just not set up for 2 people to be working together. And she planted herself, for the most part, between me and the fridge. Thankfully, between mentally preparing myself for this (as much as possible) and saying a little prayer beforehand, I did not snap at her even though I was beyond tired.

                                                                                                                                                                              Every year my son who lives out of town complains that I do too much and that I spend too much of my time while they're here in the kitchen. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to do Thanksgiving and not spend so much time in the kitchen and this is with a good 2 days of cooking beforehand. If anyone can come up with a response that will once and for all make him understand, I would be forever grateful. Mind you this son always comes with empty containers, ice packs and a cooler to load up with the leftovers. I think I will be long gone before he, if ever, finds himself in the same situation. Sigh.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                                The 3 little kids will one day be adults who help with all the last minute prep. One of the reasons our T-giving was so easy this year was that our 25 year old son and his GF helped fill serving dishes and wine and water glasses during the last minute prep, as well as bringing food to contribute to the meal. And you know what, as much as I adore them as adults, I think fondly of the day when there were little kids underfoot who were "in the way"?

                                                                                                                                                                                In those years, similar to Linda Whitt's advice, my sister and/or MIL kept them entertained, made sure that they washed their hands before dinner, and otherwise kept them out of the way for the last 30 minutes or so of prep.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bblonde

                                                                                                                                                                                  Sounds like you had the cooking well in hand. The last minute rush of things sounds overwhelming. A few things to address that, especially with helpers.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Have a clear plan for the helpers. Sometimes it take more work to direct folks than to do it yourself. I asked my aunt, mother, and sister's mother in law to set the table - tablecloth, place settings, centerpiece. One thing I learned is to be explicit. While I let them loose, it didn't occur to them to have water along with wine. Halfway through the meal everyone had to get up and find water glasses and fill them.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Plan out what dish will be served on what platter/bowl etc. Another project for the helpers is to get the platters out and have them put post it notes with a particular dish. That way you can quickly plate up without the scramble of finding a serving dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                  A few more things to make ahead of time to save yourself day of craziness - the pies and the dressings (I freeze mine).

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                                                                                                    For our community Thanksgiving, Chef has a laminated chart of the buffet table, a laminated chart of the table and chair arrangement, a laminated chart of the stuffing instructions, the schedule, and everything else he can delegate. Some things are the same every year, so it makes sense.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. Lessons learned:

                                                                                                                                                                                  - Go small. I made a 7-lb breast instead of a whole turkey because it was supposed to be just the three of us (who prefer white meat) plus a vegetarian friend. We added another family of four the day before (they brought a ham) and there was still enough turkey for everyone+leftovers, and so much easier and faster to cook. Plus, I didn't mess with brining or stuffing.

                                                                                                                                                                                  - Farm out staples. One friend brought the green beans and mashed potatoes (which could go in the oven to warm up after the turkey came out); another brought rolls and a sweet potato casserole. That left me and my single oven free for some of the more fun/experimental stuff (brussels sprouts with shallots and salt pork, stuffed pumpkin).

                                                                                                                                                                                  - Bag the gravy. I did make-ahead gravy for the first time but screwed up and used a bottle of Riesling in the fridge, so it was oddly sweet. It didn't matter, because no one even tasted it!

                                                                                                                                                                                  - Fatten up the stuffing. I used leftover turkey stock I made in advance for the gravy -- PLUS the few tablespoons of fat scraped off the chilled stock -- to moisten the dressing instead of the usual canned chicken broth and it was the best dressing ever.

                                                                                                                                                                                  - Let them eat cake! I skipped pumpkin pie (apple instead) and made a pumpkin cake w/cream cheese brown butter frosting instead. Made it the day before and it could have been done Tuesday as it still tastes fresh on Saturday.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I was definitely more relaxed this year than I have in the past. I'm five months pregnant so I knew I had to pace myself and make it a little easier. In the couple of days before, I made coffeecake for breakfast, most of the pre-dinner snacks (spiced nuts, porcini and pecan pate and french bread crisps) plus the pie crust, turkey stock, and cranberry sauce. Next year I'll also at least cook the eggs for deviled eggs and chop more vegetables in advance if I can.

                                                                                                                                                                                  16 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Mediumgoof

                                                                                                                                                                                    I agree with the spirit of your post even if some of the specifics would be greeted with horror in our family. Pare down and simplify the food you prepare from scratch, yes. For us, homemade gravy is a non-negotiable part of the menu but we have a 6-burner stove and both my husband and I cook so we can manage it (he does the gravy, with our son taking over the stirring once all the ingredients are added and flour dissolved).

                                                                                                                                                                                    On the other hand, a long time ago I concluded that Rhodes frozen dinner rolls (not the heat & serve, but the frozen dough that needs to sit and rise) is a perfectly decent substitute for homemade so that's what we use. And, aside from preparing the vegetables for the relish tray, our pre-dinner nibbles consist completely of store bought products -- cheese, crackers, and olives.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: masha

                                                                                                                                                                                      Thanks, Masha! I think that's what I've learned over the past 10 years or so of hosting and guesting... that what's essential is totally subjective. Since we attended a dinner with no cranberry sauce, not even canned, a while back (thank god I brought a jar of homemade as a gift, as that's my holiday must-have) I've made it a habit to ask guests "What would YOUR Thanksgiving be sad without?" and then letting them bring that if it's not already on the menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                      (I almost bought Sister Schubert's frozen rolls, btw. Bread's just an afterthought on our Thanksgiving table, though nice to have for leftovers.)

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Mediumgoof

                                                                                                                                                                                        We dropped any kind of rolls altogether several years ago: we both love stuffing, so we figure that's more than enough bread product.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Lesson I need to learn:
                                                                                                                                                                                        Stop buying a too big turkey. Only 2 of us, and even that 12 lber I bought was too big. However, gotta be a whole bird, 'cause I prefer breast meat and he wants dark. Need to insist to the butcher that we want a 10 lber, at most. Plus, may go back to frozen bird next year.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Mediumgoof

                                                                                                                                                                                          No cranberry sauce? Inconceivable. I don't personally like the stuff but my husband and son adore it. And besides, it only takes about 10 minutes to do by scratch and has to be made in advance, so it's practically no effort at all.

                                                                                                                                                                                          As to the rolls, we added them to the menu when there were picky preschoolers among the guests almost 20 years ago, and discovered they are great for leftover mini sandwiches. Of the 20 that I made this year, 18 went into a plastic bag at the end of the meal. Only 2 left this afternoon, however.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: masha

                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm the same way with the apps - it's usually a garlic-herb spreadable cheese (President Pub Cheese), a cheddar, sometimes another soft triple-cream, and 3 types of crackers. *Sometimes* there will be some slices of salami on there as well, sometimes grapes, and/or dried apricots and Marcona almonds, but usually it's just cheese and crackers.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                                                                                            Garlic-herb spreadable cheese, absolutely. For us Boursin is a fixture on the cheese board before T-day dinner. There were only 4 of us this year but not a speck of it was left. Our other cheeses always include cheddar and Jarlsberg. And this year I included a goat Brie from TJs; some years a blue cheese also, when there are more guests.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                                                I usually buy the President garlic and herb Pub cheese, as it is less expensive. I often use it in a "white herb sauce" for pasta, so the price point helps there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                I should do a taste test comparison between Boursin and President's pub cheese.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                                                  4 hunks of garlic herb Boursin went into my mashed potatoes!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Not usually the biggest fan of mashed potatoes, but you may have just changed my thinking on that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Yeah, 4 packages of Boursin, lots of butter and half and half, salt and pepper. Pretty durn tasty!

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                                                        How many pounds of potatoes for 4 Boursins?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mazwe

                                                                                                                                                                                                          About 16 lbs. Though, I honestly could have thrown in another block or two.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I love the mashed potatoes idea.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I had a co-worker that raved about her scalloped potatoes, and one time she brought them in for a pot luck. Her secret? She adds the garlic herb Boursin to her béchamel sauce and it really was a hit with everyone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      She was right!

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: breadchick

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Now THAT sounds like a scalloped potato dish that I would like!

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I like to add it to reheated leftovers, so good

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. My biggie was that rentals make things so much easier.

                                                                                                                                                                                              The tables (two 8 footers butted into a wide rectangle) were generous enough for no one to have to squoosh in. There was plenty of glassware (that didn't need to be washed). Napkins to spare. Tablecloths that I didn't hyperventilate about every spill or spatter.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I just wish I could rent an extra oven next year!

                                                                                                                                                                                              We had an apple cider sangria for the first time this year. I picked up that idea from someone here at CH. Thank you very much! It was yummy. Everyone helped themselves through the afternoon. I'm thinking of making another one to use up the cinnamon syrup I made for people to sweeten to taste. It might just extend the glow of the holiday now that the dishes are washed, put away and the rentals have been collected.

                                                                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: rainey

                                                                                                                                                                                                Only once a year, on T'giving day, do I regret the remodeling choice of going from 2 wall ovens to 1 wall oven/1 wall microwave. I now try to do most sides early, then reheat them in the microwave when the oven is occupado.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I hear ya! I've got a 36" oven in the range and a smaller wall oven in a stack with the microwave and I really needed a *third* oven. But, as you say, it's really just Thanksgiving. Even at Christmas when we do a big meal again, 2 ovens are fine for a big roast and a Yorkshire pudding plus some roast veggies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I've got to learn how to do the turkey on the outside gas BBQ. I'm just always too chicken to risk it at T-day and not ready to do another turkey after it. It's just so hard to keep the temp below 400˚+...

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: rainey

                                                                                                                                                                                                  No squooshing at the table - a HUGE plus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                3. always buy more butter than you think you'll need. never answer the phone and talk to your cousin when the pie crust is in the oven. always remember to laugh at yourself and love that you have the chance to enjoy this day with the dear ones in your life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. Lesson learned: You really don't need to cook the same amount of food for 12 as you do for 20. But if you do cook for 20 but only have 12, no worries, the turkey will be gone by Saturday pm anyway (at least in my turkey-loving family: about to use the last of the stock and turkey for turkey matzoh ball soup. Had turkey soup Friday night, turkey jook this morning, and family taking some leftovers 'for the road' took care of the rest. I don't mind at all: I've got two turkeys in the freezer purchased at the pre-TD sales. I can have turkey anytime when the mood strikes this winter)

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Lesson re-learned: even if it appears that the coals are not producing enough heat, the turkey on the low end model of Weber will be done at just about the same time as the one in my high-end oven, and will taste just as good or better.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    It was an easy year, thanks to lots of competent kitchen help. There was a point at which I thought I had bitten off too much by hosting a Hanukkah brunch Friday am, but the latkes were both fun to make and delicious to eat!

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                                                                      We are also turkey lovers and I must admit that the 19lb turkey is being gobbled up at an alarming rate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Because we were having T-day at my aunt's she was in charge of the turkey. I was responsible for everything else. She got a pre-cooked turkey from Whole Foods and I was consternated about having a pre-made turkey. Boy was I WRONG. I made a citrus compound butter with lemon an orange zest and juice with butter that I slathered on before reheating. It still took 2 hours to reheat and there were enough drippings to flavor the gravy. But the meat was AWESOME. It was very freeing not to worry about whether it was undercooked. The other thing to remember was to hold back on some of the tasks for mothers and mother-in-laws to feel needed. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                                                                                                                        "The other thing to remember was to hold back on some of the tasks for mothers and mother-in-laws to feel needed. :)"

                                                                                                                                                                                                        That's something I have to work on!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        It's usually my immediate family with kids/partners/offspring and everyone knows I do it all. At least kitchen-wise. But we had company this T-day (my son's girlfriend's family) and someone offered to help. I responded that I don't know how to delegate. 'Cause I just don't. Plus, if they're company I want them to feel relaxed and taken care *of*. But I've got everything else planned to a fare-thee-well after 25 T-days. I could plan what to leave to others if they actually *want* to help.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: rainey

                                                                                                                                                                                                          A few things I came up with on the fly:

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Dumping things into platters. While noone was going to touch the risotto cakes and turn them into a hot mess, the cauliflower mash, green beans with breadcrumbs and shaved brussels sprouts could all be plated by the dump it on the platter method.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Filling water glasses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          3. Passing the amuse. Because my aunt's kitchen is open concept and open to the dining room, I knew there would be a crowd of people watching the cooking. I devised an amuse bouche of salt cod puree on crostini that people noshed on with wine. I had my sister's mother-in-law pass the amuse bouche.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          4. Opening the wine and filling wine glasses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          5. Putting bunches of parsley/slices of lemon and oranges on platters to decorate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          6. People herding - getting folks to come to the buffet and serve themselves. I asked my mom and aunt to tell people dinner was ready and to have everyone go to the buffet table.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. This year I went with a 12-ish pound bone in breast. Around here it is called "hotel style". My reasoning was that I've noticed that my group of annual diners don't touch the dark meat. So I thought this would be easier.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        And I will say that it was easier. But it wasn't really better.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I roasted it, unstuffed, at 285, basting every half hour or so. I still had the problem of the bottom half taking way longer than the.By the time that the top areas looked great and were 150-160, the lower fleshy parts were still in the 130's.....

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Finally, in salvage mode, I took it out and carved off the top parts on both sides and put the rest back in. I used these first carvings for dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        It was OK. I am not really cooking for a super discriminating group here. They do that thing where the turkey is the bottom layer for all the sides. By the time it gets hit with the stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and the rest it has done it's job.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        And now that I'm reviewing it, It was a decent approach. I pleased the crowd. I had lots of white meat left over for sandwiches. I would do it again, planning to not overcook that first round of that breast meat. I don't think there is anything "wrong" with my strategy. It will simply be easier if I plan on it....

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: nrthshr

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thanksgiving is one of those meals where nothing has to be over the top perfect. Once you realize that, it takes a lot of stress off the cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Hotel style just means the wings are left on, and there's giblets included. That's an industry term.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. I learned the word and technique spatchcocking. I learned to get a digital thermometer ...even when I was sure what it read. Something inside said a digital read would be more accurate (how sad). I learned to shop TJ for future brined turkeys. I learned that bacon jam and melted butter make a delicious rub. I learned having the eight tools made cooking it more enjoyable. I learned to bottle some turkey gravy, learned to repurpose and roast the carcass, strain the fat, add TJ portobello mushrooms for delish soup. Learned not to be afraid of a dead turkey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. This was my first year cooking the turkey sous vide. It really made the rest of the prep much easier, because 1) it is virtually guaranteed to make a better-tasting turkey than I could ever do in the oven, 2) I don't have to worry about timing because there's no penalty for holding the turkey in the water a couple hours longer, and 3) it frees up the oven to do sides.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I bought a full turkey the day before and cut it up. With the carcass & wings we made a turkey stock & made gravy the day before. We did a one-day brine, then put the dark meat (thighs and legs) with some butter & herbs in the circulator the night before, for 8 hours at 154 degrees. At noon the next day, we put the breasts in for 4 hours at 146 degrees. We put the dark meat in with the breasts an hour before serving to warm them back up. Right before eating we did a quick sear on the stove to crisp up the skin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Maybe next year we'll try deep-frying.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Also, I love sweet potatoes and no one else does. Expect for MIL who brings a large casserole of a version I don't like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Genius: roast one plain sweet potato, slicing, putting no tabs. Two pieces for me and it was GREAT.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JudiAU

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I too love plain roasted sweet potatoes, but I have one brother who requests the marshmallow sugary version every year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                We've come to compromise with roasting whole plain sweet potatoes and providing a "toppings" bar.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                I like a dash of salt and a pat of butter. He likes to dress his up with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and marshmallows.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                The best part is that the leftover sweet potatoes are always plain and can be used in a number of ways, sweet or savory, for the following week!

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. I never remembered in previous years but this year I did and it was very helpful- butter on the counter when you start cooking and warm stock on the stove.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Thanksgiving was a near-disaster this year. I hosted my family (6 of us in total) which I've done many times before - we do a mash-up of Korean and Western food (we eat all weekend-long: tons of ban chan contributed by my mom, bulgogi, Korean-style chicken wings, shrimp cocktail, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, stuffing at the main event, all contributed by various family members). Last year I did a roasted turkey breast I think from Melissa Clark and everyone loved it (mind you, I am a pescatarian so I really depend on a recipe when cooking any non-seafood proteins). This year, I decided on Torrisi Turkey, published in the NYT in 2010. It sounded delicious! Brine overnight in salt/sugar, wrap the breast up in plastic wrap and foil and slow-roast at 250F for 2-3 hours, until internal temp reaches 135F. Well, after 5 hours, I unwrapped it and it was still raw! Ugh! Fortunately, I had an almost 3 lbs beautiful piece of wild king salmon that had been marinating under a blanket of shallots and dill. That went under the broiler and served with mustard cream sauce. And, of course, the sides were plentiful and delicious. But I still felt horrible about "ruining" Thanksgiving dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I went ahead and basted it in the roasted garlic-honey glaze and mom and I roasted it unwrapped at 350F. It smelled awesome! We re-created Thanksgiving - the turkey was served the following night for dinner, with all the sides heated up. I had a piece of turkey and it was really good and moist and the glaze was terrific. But what did I do wrong on Thursday? Has anyone had experience with this recipe?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Lessons learned: Don't go out on a limb with an untested method/recipe for the star player of the dinner. If you do, be sure to have a Plan B.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: digga

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Well you had a Plan B, and it sounds like your guests were still there the next day for the re-do on the turkey. So not a disaster by any means, as a matter of fact (and I know from experience) it's more impressive to save the day than to serve bad food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: digga

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The NYT should be run out of town for that recipe. In what universe can a whole turkey cook for 2-3 hours at 250? It took 2 hours at 325F to reheat my pre-made turkey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Just fyi, it's not a whole turkey; it's a 4-1/2 pound boneless turkey breast. Three hours should be more than enough since you're only cooking it to 135F before raising the temp to 425F and roasting for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That's what I was thinking. Even with a small turkey, roasting at 250° is going to require at least double the time. I roasted my 13+ lb. turkey at 325° for about 3-1/2 hours or a smidge more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          And I would NEVER roast a turkey to just a 135° internal temperature. That is definitely still raw. I usually aim for 160 or 165°.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            135F is an interim temp, not the final temp.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, I saw your post just above mine. I just can't see how raising the temp to 425F for an additional 15-20 minutes is going to bring the internal temp up that fast, even for a 4.5 lb. turkey breast. Depending on your oven, it can take that long to preheat from cold to 425F, and would still take a good bit of that time to come up to 425F.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. Second dinner is over and the major thing I learned is that using a flour and water slurry makes perfectly delicious gravy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I didn't get around to making a roux, so when I took the turkey out of the pan to rest, I just scraped up the bits into the really good drippings, poured my homemade stock into the pan, set it to low heat, and dribbled in the slurry as I whisked. Since I didn't remove the fat, the end result was pretty much the same. I let it cook a bit longer to cook off any raw flour taste, season to taste, and voila, an excellent, dark gravy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Major miss is that I'm pretty sure I forgot to put salt in my quick drop biscuit/roll things. I can't be positive but they tasted a little off and I don't remember adding the salt.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I overcooked my bird a little, but I'd stuffed so many aromatics in the cavity, I thought I may need to compensate as though it was a bread stuffing. Turns out, I did not!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I want to think up a way to add some green to my stuffing. It tastes delicious but the big pan of brown just bums me out a little. Something that stays green - not sure there is such a thing that also goes with turkey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Something brighter (that isn't a last minute add to retain color). The stuffing has herbs, including parsley, but they cook down to a dull, dark green shade. Barely different from all the brown, really.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Anything green that goes long-cooking is going to lose color.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I know but that doesn't stop me from being a little sulky about it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. I learned always cook the turkey breast side down for the entire time with a generous amount of liquid tented in foil except the last 20 minutes. It may not look spectacular, but it tastes amazing (and once you carve it nobody knows the diff). And it is also harder to overcook (especially at those times when you are not exactly certain and want to put it in for an extra 20 minutes to be on the safe side)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. This year, instead of just dumping whatever fresh aromatics were left over into the pot with the carcass and water and calling it “soup” three or four hours later, I decided to follow the recipe for Suzanne Goin's Roasted Turkey Stock published in the NYTimes the day before Thanksgiving ( http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/101573... ). It calls for roasting the carcass pieces and then roasting the vegetables. Not all that much more work for a very substantial difference in flavor. Adding this to my T-Giving recipe file since I’ll be doing it this way from now on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Lessons learned:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Pecan pie can go from done to damn near burnt in a heart beat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Homemade rolls are worth it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I totally suck at making gravy and I've given it up to SO to accomplish that task. Who knew there was THAT much fat and flour involved? OMG

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: JerryMe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I intended to make rolls, ran out of time and energy. What recipe do you like/use? (I've printed out several, hard to choose one.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Was unable to make a pie, nobody seemed to miss it. A guest brought a Tiramisu Cake from a bakery, good, not too sweet and, for the first time, I had a fresh fruit salad that was a big hit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: walker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'd also love a good rolls recipe. I can't seem to find one that's like granny's so bought some from the bakery this year which I didn't really like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Third. I've used several, maybe up to a dozen, recipes over the years and have never been satisfied. They're always bland, pale, and dense. Granted, some of that could be user error.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But, I'd love something light and yeasty and buttery! And maybe a bit foolproof w/o a lot of last minute fussing, seeing as how it's the last thing to go in the oven.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I have a great roll recipe. It's for Pull Apart Parker House Rolls (surprisingly it's from Alex Guarnaschelli).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Click on PHOTOS (17) tab at the top and you will get step-by- step photos. The rolls are nice, like Parker House rolls, and foolproof (I think so anyway).


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Below is a pic of one of the rolls on a plate from Thanksgiving.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: JerryMe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  My method for making gravy. I learned it from my Mom, and she learned it from her Mom. It really is foolproof and only takes 15 minutes.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. My biggest lesson: it's really hard to estimate quantities needed for large groups (in this case 31 people).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I made twice as much stuffing as I needed -- partly because I wanted to make sure I had leftovers -- and I ended up with more stuffing than even *I*, an avowed stuffing hoarder, can eat. I ended up making around 18 quarts of stuffing...that's a lot of stuffing!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also made way more mashed potatoes than needed -- I was overly generous because last time we ran out of potatoes. Veggies were pretty spot on: 8 lbs of brussels sprouts w/6 lbs of onions caramelized, 6 large heads of cauliflower and 4 large bunches of kale were just right, with a little bit of each left over. Oh, and I learned that people REALLY like having a kale salad as part of the spread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And while there was plenty of turkey breast leftover, the dark meat was wiped out from two 20-lb turkeys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Oh...and if you're going to go the trouble of gathering the drippings from two pans into a container, don't forget to put said container in the fridge before you go to bed. Dammit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I agree about estimating quantities - part of the problem is that a couple of big eaters can really throw things off, especially if they concentrate on just one or two dishes. My mother invited some cousins this year, and one of them basically ate nothing but mashed potatoes (and was rude enough not to consider whether everyone had had a serving before cleaning out the dish). He also ate half of the one pumpkin pie I made before anyone else even had a slice, and would have had another piece if my mother hadn't stopped him!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    At least he didn't clean out the stuffing. I would have cut off his arm before I allowed that to happen!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. What I learned?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dry brine the turkey - even one day for a 6 lb breast made it good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Eat in, even if just turkey, mashed cauliflower and roasted brussels sprouts. For a long, boring story reason a relative wanted to eat out and "not fuss." She should have hurried back to her project and the rest of us should have eaten in, even if very simple. Out was OK but I could have done SO much more with the $$ spent. Like simple food, great cheese and good wine and bourbon.