This year for the first time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving. “But wait,” you say, “Thanksgiving isn’t until Thursday!” Ah, my friend, but you know about how the growing trend of Friendsgivings, right? Well, my young adults group at church has been having a Friendsgiving dinner for the past three years, and this year I volunteered to host, and the Boy went, “Sure, why not”. So we were hosts. As hosts, I was expected to do the turkey, and because I am super type-A and require certain foods at Thanksgiving, I looked at what our guests were volunteering to bring and said to myself that I also needed to have a little more to make it more “Thanksgiving-y”. So I also did green beans and mashed potatoes. The good news is that based on the recipes I have, those are two super easy recipes, so I could really focus on my newest challenge: roasting a big-ass bird. But the good news for you is that I’m going to share all the recipes (or information) here so that in case you too are wondering about what to do for Thanksgiving, you’ll have my cheat sheet.
For turkeys, there’s a lot of discussion about whether fresh or frozen tastes better, or if there’s even a difference. The main difference, I think, involves the thawing time, which scares a lot of people. The USDA recommends thawing in the refrigerator for about 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of meat. I had a bird just under 12 pounds, so I put mine in with the goal of thawing in 3 days. For more on how to thaw a turkey, here’s a great explainer article from The Kitchn (who I will reference a lot in this post because they made me look like a rock star).
I was also planning on brining the bird, which ideally is a two day process just before you cook. Unfortunately, I forgot that our fridge is super cold (because it’s old and doesn’t hold it’s temperature very well, so we have to crank it), and the turkey wasn’t quite thawed 48 hours ahead of time, so I turned down the temperature a little before leaving the turkey another day to thaw. Unfortunately due to our schedule, this meant that my total brining time would only be about 15 hours, with not a lot of time left for drying out the skin afterwards. Drat. I could have dry-brined and saved myself a big headache (and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at The Food Lab would have been pleased), but it turned out ok in the end.
When considering techniques for cooking the turkey, I did consider spatchcocking for a short time, but then decided – no. I got married earlier this year, and someone gave us a roasting pan. I need to use it. And if I put in chicken broth to baste with, it would do some of the job of cooling the parts which needed to stay cool while also adding flavor and moisture. The moisture definitely helped, as a lot of the initial batch of broth steamed away (or into the turkey?), and so I ended up adding more partway through. In any case, this step-by-step guide from The Kitchn was again SO EASY, and it made me feel like I must have been doing something wrong. I wasn’t. It’s just not as difficult if you are good at following directions.
But look at this golden beauty that was the final product! I’m going to say that the deliciousness of the skin was due to the fact that my final round of basting involved melted butter and not just broth. And I got thumbs up from the attendees who love crispy skin. Yay for using butter! All those drippings and broth and butter also contributed towards the yumminess of the gravy that I made afterwards. I probably should have frozen the drippings so the fat would have congealed better for separating, but no matter. I’m told the gravy was excellent – which I wouldn’t know first-hand since I don’t like gravy!!! Again – step-by-step guide is the way to go, and it turned out very well. Too bad I don’t own a gravy boat!
Are you ready for my favorite green bean recipe? It’s so easy. 1) Get a bag of green beans from the store – if it’s the kind that you can microwave in the bag, awesome. 2) Cook according to your favorite method which will make them bright green, tender but still crunchy, and HOT. 3) Put some butter on top of those hot beans. Lots of butter won’t hurt. Mix the beans with the butter so that they’re coated. 4) Mince a lot of garlic. When the garlic bits are small enough, toss them with the beans, along with a little salt. 5) Mix in some sliced or slivered almonds. People love that stuff, and it makes your beans look fancy, like you planned them or they came from a recipe. 6) If you make them ahead of time, they can be reheated – just make sure to watch the oven so they don’t get too dry (this is where lots of butter comes in handy), and be sure to re-toss after they’re heated. And that’s it. They take about 20 minutes from start to finish depending on how many you have to make and whether you’re boiling or microwaving. Remember there’s no shame in the microwave as a cooking method. No picture here, but maybe you can spot them in the top picture above.
Hands down, the best mashed potato recipe is the one from the Silver Palate cookbook. My family has been using it for YEARS. And the best part is that they can be made ahead of time, and then reheated, and they’re still delicious. I forgot to add in sour cream and didn’t do the nutmeg, but I don’t think that made a huge difference. I also decided that I like my potatoes with a little chunk in them, so used a hand-masher instead of an electric mixer. It’s really up to you.
9 large baking potatoes (about 5 pounds), peeled and diced
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peel and dice potatoes. Place the diced potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer over medium heat until tender. Drain.
Place the potatoes in a mixer bowl. Cut the butter and cream cheese into small pieces and add to the potatoes. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream.
Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately or reheat in a buttered casserole at 300° F for 20 minutes, if you want to prepare them in advance.
And really – that’s it. A small thanksgiving dinner that can be done by one person. It’s not all the trimmings, but it’s the important stuff in my mind. Sure there’s stuffing, and pie, and other things, but if you’re hosting, this is a template for things you CAN make, and not go out of your mind with doing ALL THE THINGS. Definitely a manageable load. And now that I’ve proved to myself, my husband, the kids and our friends that I’m able to host Thanksgiving, it looks like that may be a thing in my future. I just need to get a few more hosting accessories (matching cloth napkins! a big enough dining table!), and I’ll be ready to roll.