Thanksgiving: How to cook it good enough

by Jessie K on November 19, 2012

It’s hard to believe I’m this old yet this Thursday marks the first Thanksgiving I will actually host. Eight adults, one toddler and a winsome dog will be in attendance. And I’ve been resisting the urge to not freak about it. What if I torch the turkey? What if I don’t get everything to the table on time? What if I fall down drunk before the meal is actually served? What if I get in a fist fight with a beloved family member? Will we even have a turkey?

Jake is supposed to go kill a turkey tomorrow (file this under “Nothing in this life is easy.”). Dear Lord, let us pray there is a turkey for him to dispatch and that it weighs more than the rotisserie bird down at Walmart because that is what we will be eating if a fresh one doesn’t work out.

I am following the advice of my beloved mother-in-law Marmie by making as much of the meal in advance as I can.  Yesterday, I whipped up a quart of  vanilla ice cream for serving alongside Jake’s homemade pies. I made  a mountain of cream cheese mashed potatoes using spuds from our garden (see a similar recipe here) and stuck them in the freezer. I stayed up until 11 p.m. making homemade stock from one of our chickens to be used in the gravy and dressing, which I’ll start on tonight.

(I suppose I could make it a lot easier on myself by buying the ice cream, potato flakes and gravy paste but where’s the masochism in that?)

As I scurried about the kitchen, I listened to a podcast of my favorite NPR program On Point with Tom Ashbrook. In it, my radio boyfriend Mr. Ashbrook interviewed Sam Sifton, national editor of the New York Times and author of Thanksgiving — How to Cook it Well. It was the perfect thing for me to hear because it assuaged my fears (News Flash! Everyone who cooks a Thanksgiving feast feels same pressure to kill oneself at least once during this week) and codified some things about the big day I needed to absorb, neatly summed up in the very title.

It’s not called Cook it Perfectly or Cook it Right — it’s called, Cook it Well, which sounds to me like Cook it Good Enough.  Me can do that.

Some stand out tips:

1. Don’t overthink

“It’s a pretty simple meal when you really think about it,” Sifton said in an interview here. “You’re roasting a giant chicken. You’re mashing some potatoes. You’re mashing almost everything. It’s basically piles of mush on a plate with slices of big chicken.”

Best Thanksgiving Day quote ever.

2. The turkey goes in the oven perfectly dry 

Sifton strongly recommends patting the bird with lots of dry paper towels before roasting it. This results in faster cook time and crispier skin.

3. No appetizers

“You must not serve appetizers,” Sifton insisted. “The scent of the turkey is enough to stir your hunger, and I certainly am not going to spend all day roasting a turkey so that you can come into my home and eat two pounds of nuts and then refuse seconds. That’s just rude.”

4. No salad

“You must not serve a salad,” Sifton said. “This is not a place for health. This is Thanksgiving. So let us speak plainly about butter.” Marmie has been touting this maxim for years! Salad be damned on Thursday! YES!

5. Always set the table and give thanks. A pretty table can change the behavior of those sitting around it by reminding guests this is a really big event even — and especially if — the food is just so-so.

No pressure here.

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