Thank­fully sim­ple

A game plan and recipes to take the stress out of your hol­i­day meal

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JU­LIA TUR­SHEN

Here’s a game plan and recipes for mak­ing Tur­key Day less stress­ful.

Maybe it’s your first time cook­ing for Thanks­giv­ing. Or maybe you’re hop­ing this is the first time you’ll pre­pare it with­out invit­ing stress into the kitchen, too. What­ever the case, I have just the meal for you — along with the strate­gies to back it up.

This lineup feels fa­mil­iar but not jaded, and best of all, it’s sim­ple to pre­pare. (No need to start a count­down 18 days in ad­vance.) My menu of­fers all the fla­vors and mem­o­ries of a tra­di­tional meal with recipes that are hard to mess up — and won’t crowd your oven. At the end of the day, Thanks­giv­ing is not about win­ning awards for hav­ing tack­led a com­pli­cated, in­tim­i­dat­ing set of recipes.

Wor­ry­ing, par­tic­u­larly about some­thing you can so eas­ily con­trol, is not the way any­one wants to spend Thanks­giv­ing (or any day, for that mat­ter). In­stead, when you fol­low my ad­vice, your mind-set will be calm and wel­com­ing. That’s a god­send, be­cause the most im­por­tant part of the meal isn’t ac­tu­ally what’s on the ta­ble, but the chance to con­nect with the peo­ple sit­ting around it, and to re­flect about grat­i­tude.

Here’s how to set things on the right track

from the be­gin­ning, start­ing with planning:

1 Keep the scope of the meal small and man­age­able.

Choose care­fully.

You don’t have to tick off ev­ery box. Just be­cause so-and-so grew up with two types of stuff­ing and an­other guest waxes poetic about three desserts doesn’t mean you have to make them. You can have all the nos­tal­gic fla­vors in a hand­ful of sim­ple dishes. Be­sides, the fewer the dishes, the easier the cal­cu­la­tions of how many serv­ings to make. (My se­lec­tion of recipes adds up to a plen­ti­ful meal for eight, and they’re all eas­ily scal­able.)

Skip pre­pared ap­pe­tiz­ers.

They just fill every­one up be­fore the meal, any­how. In­stead, serve drinks with bowls of peanuts or pis­ta­chios — or per­haps whole radishes, olives, cor­ni­chons or jarred mar­i­nated ar­ti­choke hearts.

For­get the cock­tails

(un­less you can’t imag­ine Thanks­giv­ing with­out one). Stick to beer, wine and such non­al­co­holic bev­er­ages as ap­ple cider and sparkling wa­ter. If you do want a cock­tail, make one pitcher drink or punch (see Page E9) so that you don’t have to play bar­tender.

2 De­cide what to del­e­gate.

Some good can­di­dates:

• Drinks and/or ice. (By the way, if you have a cold porch, that’s a great place to put drinks to make room in your fridge — and kitchen.)

• The ta­ble set­ting. Ask some­one to bring minia­ture pump­kins and/or clemen­tines, and set them out be­fore the rest of the guests ar­rive. (Or con­sider do­ing this a few days in ad­vance, be­cause both pump­kins and clemen­tines can sit for days with­out wilt­ing or need­ing more wa­ter.)

• Cran­berry sauce. (Or buy the stuff in a can, which so many peo­ple love.)

• Dessert. (If you want to make it, though, read on for an easy, de­li­cious idea.)

• Fi­nal prep help.

3 Cook ev­ery­thing but the tur­key the day be­fore.

This ren­ders moot the ques­tion of how to pre­pare mul­ti­ple dishes so they’re all ready at the same time. Two of these side dishes and the dessert bake at the same tem­per­a­ture, for max­i­mum tim­ing flex­i­bil­ity:

• A sim­ple bread stuff­ing, which can be re­heated just be­fore serv­ing.

• Green beans, which can warm in nutty browned but­ter at mealtime.

• Roasted sweet pota­toes, which can be re­warmed, then split, dol­loped with sour cream and topped with crunchy pump­kin seeds. (This al­lows you to avoid the mashed-potato pit­falls of peel­ing, chop­ping and un­even re­heat­ing.)

• Ap­ple gin­ger­bread cake, which is just as good, if not bet­ter, af­ter it sits for a day, and in­volves no rolling of pie dough, no mixer and no frost­ing.

4 Think of the tur­key as a big chicken and skip all the fuss. Don’t brine, baste, mar­i­nate or stuff.

Sim­ply sea­son it gen­er­ously with salt, add some wa­ter to the pan, and roast it for a cou­ple of hours. I like to set it on a lit­tle rack made of cel­ery, which helps to cir­cu­late air un­der­neath it, plus it gives you yummy cel­ery. But even this, you can skip. Buy it at least five days in ad­vance. If it’s fresh, it will last a week in the fridge. If it’s frozen, it can stay that way for months, but it needs 24 hours of de­frost­ing in the re­frig­er­a­tor for ev­ery 4 pounds. So for the 12- to 14-pound bird I call for to feed eight peo­ple, start de­frost­ing on Satur­day to be safe. ( You can de­frost the same size bird in up to nine hours in a sink or other con­tainer filled with cold wa­ter, but you’ll have to change the wa­ter ev­ery half-hour.)

Once your tur­key is de­frosted,

re­move the giblets and neck if they’re in­cluded and save them for stock.

Let the tur­key rest af­ter it roasts

for at least 20 min­utes. Re­ally: It makes such a dif­fer­ence in the bird’s juici­ness.

Make an easy gravy

that doesn’t re­quire an in­tim­i­dat­ing roux or run the risk of get­ting lumpy. While the tur­key rests, whisk some sour cream into the pan juices. It couldn’t be easier, and the re­sult tastes like pure Thanks­giv­ing.

Learn to carve it

by watch­ing on­line videos. Again, re­mem­ber: It’s just a big chicken.

Get a head start on left­overs.

Af­ter you carve the bird, if you’d like, throw the car­cass — along with the saved giblets and neck — into a large pot, cover with cold wa­ter and let it sim­mer while you’re eat­ing (at least two hours, and ide­ally up to four). Later, strain the stock and use it for soup the next day. Add what­ever tur­key is left­over plus some cooked rice or bar­ley and eat topped with grated cheese and pars­ley.

5 Re­mem­ber your sim­ple time­line:

Satur­day:

Be­gin to de­frost the tur­key in the re­frig­er­a­tor if frozen.

Wed­nes­day: Make the stuff­ing, blanch the green beans, bake the cake, roast the sweet pota­toes.

Thurs­day: Roast the tur­key and make the easy gravy. While the tur­key rests, heat up the sweet pota­toes and stuff­ing in the oven and warm the green beans on the stove­top in the brown but­ter. If you’d like, as­sign a guest the green beans so that you don’t have to be at the stove and at the cut­ting board at the same time. Have that same per­son or some­one else top the sweet pota­toes (you can’t mess that up) and serve.

6 Think be­yond your kitchen. Guest list:

• Try to make it a group you will en­joy be­ing around. If that’s not some­thing you can con­trol and there are some po­ten­tially bad ac­tors in the bunch, in­vite more peo­ple. Not only is the more the mer­rier, but folks seem to have bet­ter be­hav­ior when they’re around peo­ple they don’t know.

• Mu­sic: Pick a stream­ing sta­tion or cre­ate a playlist well in ad­vance and be sure to in­clude fun mu­sic for when you’re cook­ing. When Thanks­giv­ing comes, just press play.

• Char­ity: Re­flect on the abun­dance on your ta­ble and con­sider ex­tend­ing it to oth­ers in your com­mu­nity. Find out what do­na­tions your lo­cal food pantry might ben­e­fit from, or bring your whole crew to a soup kitchen be­fore you sit down. Or, given the his­tory of Thanks­giv­ing, con­sider giv­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­port in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties (such as Women Em­pow­er­ing Women for In­dian Na­tions).

PHOTOS BY DEB LIND­SEY FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

THANKS­GIV­ING 2017

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