Thanksgiving could not have been more Normal Rockwell traditional in my childhood home. I woke up to the scent of a turkey already in the oven and came downstairs to find pies and more already baked. Soon after breakfast, cousins began to arrive — a lot of cousins — and with them, came more food.
Aunts and uncles brought all kinds of foods and things to drink (some of which we could not have). Soon, with at least a dozen kids hanging around, we were shooed out of the house to go play. We played football (making up our own rules, of course) or we built a fort from branches and leaves my dad was intending to burn over the weekend.
Eventually, we all came in to eat and the kids gathered around the table. We ate in shifts because there were just too many of us. Once we were done, we were sent into the living room to play games and we grouped ourselves over chess, Monopoly, Candy Land, marbles, Life and more. We colored in coloring books, played with paper dolls and Ginny dolls and even, sometimes, set up my brother’s train set. Sometime after dark, we got called in to choose our desserts which we were allowed to eat on the blankets our parents somehow set up on the living room floor. When we were practically falling asleep, the cousins were bundled into their cars and they went home.
Mostly, Thanksgiving was at our house and I liked it that way because I could just go upstairs and climb into my bed and, even better, my family got all the leftovers!
Since my parents moved to Florida decades ago, Thanksgiving — and all the holidays — fell to me. I find Thanksgiving to be the easiest holiday to prepare for. The menu is practically dictated to us — a turkey, some sides, dessert. I do try to find ways to bring interest to the turkey and to change up some of the more traditional side dishes, but there must be stuffing, there must be cranberry sauce and there must be an apple pie.
The differences are in the execution of each dish. There are hundreds of ways to make cranberry sauce. Even more ways to make vegetables. And while I have discovered lots of kinds of dressings (stuffing that is NOT stuffed into the bird) it seems my family only wants me to make the same ones over and over again.
What makes Thanksgiving so easy for me is that I can also make lots of dishes ahead of time and freeze them. Dressing freezes well and cranberry sauce can be made a week ahead. Desserts freeze well as do lots of side dishes. Stock for gravy is easily made ahead and frozen.
So get busy and make your Thanksgiving one in which, with a little advance planning, you can get outside for that football game.
Happy Turkey Day!
Turkey Stock for Gravy and More (Meat)
I make my turkey grave with a reduced stock that I make in advance and then, on the big day, I reduce it by half and add some deflated pan drippings to enhance the flavor. This results in a lower fat gravy that is rich with flavor.
1 turkey wing
1 turkey thigh
1 turkey leg
2 to 3 turkey necks
2 to 3 tbsp. canola oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion
2 to 3 stalks celery, chopped
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 to 3 shallots, chopped
4 to 8 garlic loves, roughly chopped
2 to 3 fresh sage leaves, whole
2 to 3 sprigs fresh parsley, whole
1 bay leaf whole
4 quarts of water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the turkey pieces in a large Dutch oven or roasting pan. Rub with the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and move the turkey pieces aside. Add the vegetables and place the turkey pieces on top.
Place back in the oven and roast for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the veggies are golden Remove from the oven and use a silicon spatula to scrape up any bits along with the vegetables.
Add the water and place the Dutch oven over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Scrape up any remaining browned bits. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and let cook for 2 tio 3 hours, adding more water if too much evaporates.
Strain the broth into a container, pressing on the solids. Discard them. Refrigerate overnight, skim the fat and freeze until needed. Makes about 1-2 quarts of stock.
When needed, heat to simmer and reduce by about 1/3. Add some dripping from the pan and your roux and, perhaps, some sautéed mushrooms.
Vegan Cracker Dressing (Pareve)
1 small bunch celery, 6 to 7 stalks, washed and trimmed
4 to 5 large onions
4 leeks, white part only, thoroughly washed
1-1/2 lbs. carrots
1 large clove elephant garlic or I head garlic
3 to 4 packages (10 oz. each) sliced Mushrooms
1/3 cup finely minced fresh parsley
1 to 3 tbsp. minced fresh herbs such as sage, tarragon, chives
1 box (4 stacks) plus 1 stack, Pareve, round, snack-type crackers
Salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil for sautéing and to coat the pan
Trim and wash the celery and set aside.
Peel and cut the onions into quarters, set aside
Trim the leeks, slice them in half lengthwise and wash thoroughly. Set aside.
Peel the carrots, and cut into inch-long pieces.
Chop the garlic. Set aside.
Heat a large, deep skillet or straight-sided pan. Add the oil and heat over low heat until shimmery. While the oil is heating, using the s-blade, process the onions until diced to about 1/4-inch pieces. Add to the oil and increase heat to medium.
Switch to a 1 or 2 mm slicing disc and process the leeks. Add to the onions, mix and continue to cook. Process the celery and carrots the same way, adding each to the pan once processed.
Add the chopped garlic and mix well. Cover and cook until the veggies are softened and there is liquid in the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When cooled a bit, scrape the veggies into a large bowl and mix well to completely blend. Return the pan to the heat and add more oil. Chop the mushrooms into bite sized pieces and add to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms begin to turn golden and there is very little liquid left in the pan. Turn them often. Add them to the vegetables. Mix well.
Crush the crackers. Place them, one stack at a time, in aplastic bag and use a rolling pin to roll them into crumbs with some larger pieces. Add each crushed packet to the veggies and mix well. Season generously with salt and pepper and other herbs or spices you may like such as sage, oregano, chives, etc.
When completed, pour about 2-3 tablespoons of oil into a large casserole dish, spread the oil evenly and scrape the dressing mixture into the pan. Bake at 350 until deeply golden, about 1 hour. You can cool this, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze until needed. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat at 325 until heated through, about 1 hour.
Spiced Cranberry Cherry Sauce (Pareve)
You can make this up to 5 days in advance. I have kept this in the fridge for almost two weeks with no problem at all.
1-1/2 cups Pomegranate juice or pomegranate cherry juice
1 pound frozen cherries, thawed
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 to 2 cups sugar, to taste
16 to 20 ounces fresh cranberries
OPTIONAL SPICE MIX:
1 piece stick cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
2 whole allspice
Place the spices in a tea ball or in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie the cloth with string or plain dental floss. Set aside.
Bring cranberry juice to a slow boil. Remove from heat and add the dried cherries. Let sit for 15 minutes. Add the sugar, thawed cherries, fresh cranberries and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst, 8 to 12 minutes.
Increase heat so that mixture boils steadily. If you want the spice flavor, add the spice bag or ball at this time. Mix the sauce constantly for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes, remove the spice ball and continue to cool for 20 minutes until very warm, but not hot. Transfer to a large container, cover tightly and refrigerate.
The sauce will thicken as it cools. Makes about 2 quarts.