After roughly a decade of cooking Thanksgiving for my family, I’ve arrived at one simple truth: The more effort I put forward, the less I enjoy the meal.
As a professional cook, I’ve planned elaborate menus, deboning a whole turkey and stuffing it with chestnuts and boudin blanc, for example, and preparing finishes like toasted bread crumbs and crunchy shallots for each of the sides. Finally, I had to admit that cooking more complicated recipes did not make the food taste any better. In fact, it only made it so I sat down at the table feeling exhausted, lowering my ability to enjoy the food even further.
Last year, my husband and I hosted just my parents for Thanksgiving and served a radically pared-down menu compared to years past. We roasted the turkey not with a compound butter rubbed under the skin or a shiny glaze brushed on top, only salt and pepper. Our brussels sprouts were roasted until they were crispy, without a garnish in sight, and the mashed potatoes were textbook, made with milk and butter. It was the best Thanksgiving food I’d ever had, and I sat down to the meal feeling present, grateful and awake.
This menu is inspired by that Thanksgiving. It’s not effortless — pulling off a meal on this scale will always require a certain amount of work — but it tries to accomplish a totally from-scratch Thanksgiving in as streamlined a way as possible. Provided that you prep your pie dough ahead of time, and with some organization and help doing the dishes along the way, you can pull it off in two days. Do whatever is easiest for you: Delegate as much as possible. Ask people to help out with dishes. Don’t be afraid to modify the plan. For example, if the turkey is taking longer than expected and you are running out of time to roast the brussels sprouts, switch to the stovetop and pan-roast them.
I’m never going back to cooking elaborate dishes with multiple components for Thanksgiving. It was a hard-learned lesson, but I’ve realized that Thanksgiving food is simple food, and that making it simply will always be best. With this approach, you can reserve some of your energy for spending time with family and friends, and for making the pies — because pies are a whole different story.
Easy Thanksgiving Turkey
Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.
With so many other dishes to cook, the best way to a Thanksgiving turkey is to keep it simple. Focus on sound technique, like choosing a smaller bird, then thoroughly seasoning it, roasting it from room temperature so it cooks evenly and letting it rest sufficiently before slicing. It may not produce a burnished, showstopping whole bird, but the results will be juicy, flavorful and never overcooked. If you need more servings, roast two birds.
Recipe: Easy Thanksgiving Turkey
Sausage and Leek Stuffing
Heavy cream isn’t a traditional addition to Thanksgiving stuffing, but in combination with the stock and eggs, it lends a special custardy richness to this otherwise classic, no-frills recipe.
Recipe: Sausage and Leek Stuffing
Fluffy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
This recipe uses a masher and a mixer instead of a ricer or food mill to make smooth and creamy mashed potatoes. As long as you don’t mix excessively, the potatoes will come out light and not gummy.
Recipe: Fluffy Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Make-Ahead White Wine Gravy
A flavorful make-ahead gravy depends entirely on a concentrated stock, so try to use homemade rather than store-bought. And remember: Chilling the gravy before reheating it will cause it to thicken, so it’s a good idea to reserve a little bit of stock for thinning it out to the desired consistency before serving.
Recipe: Make-Ahead White Wine Gravy
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Lemon
Separating the outer dark green leaves from the lighter green cores of brussels sprouts allows you to roast them so they’re both tender and crispy. Prep them ahead of time for an easy side dish.
Recipe: Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Lemon
Cranberry Sauce With Orange and Golden Raisins
This classic cranberry sauce, adapted from “Jambalaya,” a cookbook by the Junior League of New Orleans, published in the early 1980s, is an ideal combination of tart, bitter and sweet flavors, with chewy bits of raisin and orange peel that provide much-needed textural contrast on the Thanksgiving table. A Saffitz family favorite, prepared every year by my mother, Sauci, it keeps for weeks, so make it as far ahead as you like.
Recipe: Cranberry Sauce With Orange and Golden Raisins
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