JUST COOK THE TURKEY
Um, ok, but that's a pretty darn boring meal, right?
Not if you're willing to go broke on the internet! Apparently you can get everything else delivered for your feast - if you're willing to pay...
- Maple pumpkin butter - $8 for 12 oz
- Oyster and artichoke pies - $19 for 18 bite sized pies
- Jellied cranberry sauce - $5 for 8 oz
- Walnut herb biscuits - $9 for SIX BISCUITS (my head just exploded)
- Potato & turnip au gratin - $50 for 3 pounds (six servings)
- French green beans - $17 for 24 ounces (HAHAHA)
- 7 little pies sampler - $65 for four 5 inch pies
- Rustica fruit tart - $40 for 8 4-inch tarts
- Cream of squash soup - $9 for 16 oz - or two servings
- Whole cranberry sauce - $7 for 17 oz
- Chocolate pecan pie - $15 for a 9 inch pie (probably 6 or 8 servings)
- Pecan brittle - $20 a POUND
- Apple & sage stuffing - $15 for 10 oz, or 4 servings (they've obviously never met my family - 10 oz is ONE serving!!)
- Rum pumpkin tart - $40 for a 9 inch pie (6 - 8 servings)
- Root vegetable gratin (see below) $9 for one pound (2 servings)
- Honey pecan bars - $31 for two pounds!!!!
Fear not. I am here. I could feed every single reader of this blog, plus have extra to send home with everyone for leftovers for $500. Here is your real-world Thanksgiving menu:
Real Cranberry Sauce
Stuffing (none of this fancy apple and sage crap, either... Let's keep it real, huh?)
Root vegetable gratin (I can kick it all Martha, you just watch me!)
French green beans
Yeast rolls (here we will cheat - keep reading)
Pumpkin pie (it's so easy...)
Pumpkin butter (now I'm just getting crazy!)
Step 1: Skip the soup. Who is going to eat soup when there's turkey and stuffing to be had? Don't waste your time or your money. You also do not need 40 pies. I promise.
Step 2: Ask your guests to bring something. One year I had Susan and Jill do dessert (and they went NUTS with pies and fabulous sugary goodness). My mom makes the best stuffing on the planet. There's no reason why one person should do all the work (but you totally can, keep reading). (Please note - asking guests to pitch in works a LOT better when you tell them what to bring. Have your mother in law pick up the rolls and the can of cranberry goo. Have your sister bring the stuffing. Don't just say, "Oh, bring anything," or you'll end up with 40 pies. You don't need 40 pies).
Step 3: Talk your husband into deep frying the turkey. It helps if he's a rocket scientist. But having the turkey in the deep fryer out on the patio will free up your oven for the really important stuff(ing).
Step 4: Start shopping now. If frozen bags of whole or french green beans go on sale, snap them up (intended). I see family sized bags of veggies for $1 at my Kroger all the time. Get two. Add butter, slivered blanched almonds, and a slice of bacon (crumbled), and you've got yourself a fancy-pants side dish that's way tastier and healthier than green bean casserole (with apologies to aunts and grandmas). Get a pie pumpkin - they always disappear by T-day around here, and you can't use the jack-o-lantern kind for baking. Buy frozen yeast rolls (I like Rhodes, and Palmer House) and get lots because those puppies are good. Get a jar of pumpkin butter. Buy a bag of cranberries. Get a frozen pie crust or two. All of these things will keep.
Step 5: Get my mom's recipe for stuffing. When she insists that she doesn't know how she makes it because she doesn't measure things, pin her down and insist that she guesstimate and leave the recipe in the comments.
Step 6: Two weeks before T-day, go to AllRecipes and figure out what you want to make. I've made a ton of their recipes, and they always turn out great (I always choose 4 or 5 star recipes). One year I made cranberry and blueberry sauce from scratch, and it was awesome. It made that canned crap taste like... canned crap. (But you'll want to buy a can of that canned crap because there are some godless heathens who insist on eating it, even when you've slaved over your homemade awesome cranberry sauce. Pfft...)
Oh hell, the kids are watching Aladdin and this is a full service blog, I will do it for you.
Fried turkey (ignore the picture and the cajun rub - just use the instructions)
Mashed potatoes (they're so easy from scratch - skip the boxed stuff, it's a holiday. You can make these 2 days ahead! I put mine in the crock pot on "warm" for the big day.)
Gravy (if you don't know how to make gravy, start practicing now. I'm so Martha, I even have turkey stock in my freezer and ready to go because you don't get any drippings when you deep fry a turkey. That is called planning ahead. You can too, all you have to do is get one of those turkey breasts, make it for dinner this week, then boil the crap out of the carcas with some carrots, onion, and celery, strain it, and put it in the freezer. Then just thicken it with some cornstarch mixed with water and add a little kitchen bouquet on the big day... I don't strain the fat out of my broth, so I don't need drippings later. Or use the recipe I linked to, which doesn't require a turkey AND you can make ahead).
Cranberry Sauce (either make the blue cranberry sauce I linked to above, or try a variant.
Orange would be nice... It's easy. You clean the berries, boil them with some sugar until half of them pop, and poof - cranberry sauce. It's almost as easy as opening the can... and it tastes BETTER if you make it ahead).
Stuffing - we'll wait on my mom for this one, but it's basically bread, onion, celery, seasonings, egg, and broth... NOT rocket science. Unless you stuff the turkey and try to deep fry it, in which case it may actually launch...
Root vegetable gratin - ok, seriously, it is criminal that someone is charging $4.50 a serving for this, because it is too easy. On Wednesday night before T-day, peel carrots and parsnips (don't be scared, they're good), and then quarter them and cut them into 3 or 4 inch sticks. You don't need to be precise. Put them in a ziplock bag in the crisper. About 35 minutes before you want to eat, put them in a 425 degree oven with a healthy drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix it around once or twice while it's cooking. Poof - I just saved you $40. If you want to really go nuts, add diced fennel, cubed squash (acorn, etc. - hard ones, not zucchini or yellow summer squash), radishes (no kidding, they get really sweet and nice), sweet potato... It'll knock your socks off, and it's healthy, and it makes a ton. It smells great, and looks beautiful in a big, pretty bowl.
French green beans - frozen green beans, slivered blanched almonds, crispy bacon (not Bacon Bitz, for the love of God. Science still hasn't figured out what those are made of)... Boil the beans according to package directions, toss with a healthy helping of butter, the almonds and bacon. Seriously, why would you pay $17 for 24 ounces of this when you could make 24 ounces at home for a couple bucks, and still have bacon leftover for tomorrow's breakfast???
Some things are worth buying. Yeast rolls are one. Unless you're particulary skilled with yeast (which I am not) just buy a few packages of the Rhodes rolls. I promise not to tell. I like the soft ones that come in a round pan, but the ones that you do on a cookie sheet are nice, too. They have a harder crust. You could probably buy enough rolls to feed the whole neighborhood for $18 (which is what you'd spend online to be able to feed 8 people).
Pumpkin pie - Ree at The Pioneer Woman Cooks has a photo tutorial on how to make your own pumpkin puree - it is so easy. And yes, you can make it ahead. Then all you have to do is plug it into a pumpkin pie recipe - like this one or this one or this one - and you're good to go. I'm crust impaired, so I buy ready-to-use crusts. You can make one, too. Make your pie a day ahead. It's ok.
If you have some extra pumpkin puree lying around, add some yogurt, powdered sugar, and spices and make your own pumpkin butter (for like $1, versus the $8 jar that Cookie Magazine would have us buy). Or you can probably find a jar of it at your local farmer's market (which is where I get mine) or even near the jellies in the grocery store. It is not such an exotic thing that you need to have it shipped in from some internet store. Seriously. (If you can't live without maple pumpkin butter, as it was in the magazine, stir in a couple spoonfuls of syrup.)
Spiced nuts are also super easy to make. Go here or here or here or here. Make them ahead.
So, we're making everything ahead except for the turkey (which your darling husband is going to cook in lots and lots of hot oil on the patio, don't let the kids help), the stuffing, the green beans, and we're cooking the vegetables and warming up the rolls on the big day. If you can't find time in the 6 hours before dinner to get those few things done, maybe you should spend the $500...
It makes me angry that "they" (they being the people who sell internet food, or the people writing magazine articles, or the people who sell pre-made packaged "food" products) have got us convinced that cooking from scratch is SO hard that only someone who has been to The Culinary Institute can manage it. Baloney. Cooking, even on a holiday for a crowd, isn't anything more difficult than what you do as a parent every single day - it simply requires planning and preparation, list-making, and an ability to follow directions.
Make a grocery list from those recipes (sign up for AllRecipes and it'll do it for you - just hit "add to grocery list"). Make a to-do list for the week before T-day. Mine would look something like this:
SUNDAY - start to thaw turkey (because if it's even a tiny bit frozen, it will launch, and you will never get spousal help for Thanksgiving again...)
MONDAY - make pies, nuts, cranberry sauce
TUESDAY - make mashed potatoes, gravy
WEDNESDAY - prep carrots and parsnips (I call them neeps, because it's cuter), thaw rolls (if necessary, read the package)
11 am - start turkey
12 pm - start root veggies, make green beans, cook rolls, make stuffing, warm up everything else
1 pm - eat
FRIDAY - eat
SATURDAY - start to get sick of turkey, eat it anyway
SUNDAY - throw it all out. I've had turkey based food poisoning before, and it isn't pretty. If you're really nice, I'll share my mom's turkey pie recipe the week before Thanksgiving.
Seriously, if you spend more than $150 on all of the above, including the turkey and a couple nice bottles of wine, I will be shocked. Shocked! Spend the other $350 - $400 on Christmas presents for your kids.
And for heaven's sake, get your kids involved and let them help. The last thing we want to do is raise a generation of kids who think that a turkey dinner looks like this: