Thanksgiving can be a stressful time, especially if you are the host. What, with all those family members that you only see on Thanksgiving. They all have different personalities, and sometimes those personalities don’t mix well. They also have different tastes when it comes to the meal. But as the host you shouldn’t have to stress over the meal. Make what you are comfortable with. You really don’t need 49 different dishes. Delegate: Get aunt Lucy to bring something. Make some of the sides ahead of time. That’s where my Thanksgiving Sides come into play. All of these dishes can be made a day to months before your festive dinner. So, relax, have some wine, and enjoy your Thanksgiving.
All of these sides are relatively easy, and they will save you a ton of time. A couple of them need to be re-heated, but that’s no biggie. Cranberry sauce doesn’t get any simpler. Make it, refrigerate it and serve. The gravy is a snap, and can be quickly re-heated. Cornbread dressing can be partially assembled and cooked on Thanksgiving, or baked ahead, and frozen. These dishes will ease your stress level, and allow you to concentrate on the bird.
To some, cranberry sauce is a neglected afterthought. It’s just something that has to be on the table. If you’ve ever had the canned stuff, you know what I mean. You can make this a week in advance, and it will freeze for up to a month. It basically consists of three ingredients:
Some folks just use white sugar, but I like to mix brown and white. You can add everything from orange juice to maple syrup to your sauce. If you like it thinner, puree it with an immersion blender, or food processor. If thicker is more to your taste, simmer it longer. But remember that it thickens as it cools. Serve your cranberry sauce either cold or re-heated.
Your turkey gravy can be made ahead without turkey drippings. This too requires only a few staples:
- Turkey or Chicken Stock
It can be made two days ahead of time, and it freezes for three months. You really need a good quality stock, and I would suggest home made Chicken Stock. Hopefully, you did that a while back, and have some frozen. Another key is to really caramelize a small amount of onion. You want really brown onions. Make sure to scrape all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan. This will greatly enhance the flavor, and you can puree the gravy at the end to make it smoother. If you have giblets, and like that kind of thing, throw them in as well. You should also brown your roux to add more caramelization. If you like, add a cap full of Kitchen Bouquet to darken the gravy. A touch of soy sauce will also enhance the flavor and color. Re-heat before service.
Sometimes this is the star of the show. It is stuffing if it’s cooked in the bird, and dressing if baked outside the bird. In the south, it’s called dressing either way. You can make this two days ahead, leaving out the eggs. Then bake it on Thanksgiving. Optionally, you can bake it ahead, and then re-heat it. This is a simple and straight forward dish, that allows for a lot of different additions. You can add oysters, bacon, sausage or mushrooms. You can even use pears or dried fruit. Do what you and your guests like. Before making the dressing, lightly toast the broken Skillet Cornbread in a low oven, so that it is very dry. Again, the most important ingredient is a quality stock. You can alter the texture of the dish with the stock. Add more for moister dressing, and less for drier. I like to put pats of butter on mine before baking to add just a little more richness.
Thanksgiving Side Relief
Thanksgiving will soon be upon us, but with these side dishes done, it should be a breeze. Personally, just add a turkey with these dishes, and I’m good. There are certainly other Thanksgiving sides that you could make. But, like said, get some help. The dressing is kind of the middle man here that provides a foil to the turkey. The tartness and sweetness of the cranberry sauce cuts the richness of everything else. And the gravy, well, it’s just a binder of sorts. I ties together the turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes. One other thing to put on your Thanksgiving check list. Don’t forget to think about what you are truly thankful for, and by all means, don’t discuss politics at the table!
- 1 12 Ounce Bag, Fresh Cranberries
- 3/4 Cup Granulated White Sugar
- 3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
- 1 Cup Water (Can Substitute Orange Juice)
- 1 Pinch Cinnamon
- Optional: Orange Zest, Cloves, Allspice
- Add all of the ingredients to a medium sauce pan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, Stir occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue to cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- If you want a smoother sauce, blend the cranberries with an immersion blender or in a food processor after cooking.
- Sauce will thicken as it cools. Allow it to cool to room temperature before refrigerating. Sauce will keep in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze it for up to a month.
- 1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
- 1/2 Cup Onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 Cup All-purpose Flour
- 2 1/2 Cups Chicken or Turkey Stock
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper, Freshly Ground
- 1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
- Kitchen Bouquet as Desired
- In a medium Sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook stirring often until they are caramelized, about 10 minutes.
- Add the flour, and stir constantly while scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook until the mixture is a chocolate brown.
- Add the stock a little at a time, incorporating it after each addition. Add the salt, and pepper, and stir constantly until the mixture is well blended, and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the gravy has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Add soy sauce, and kitchen Bouquet as desired, and stir in. Allow to cool before refigerating. You can store this in the fridge for two days, or freeze for up to three months.
- For a smoother gravy, puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.
- 2 Stalks Celery
- 1 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped
- 1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter Plus Several 1/2 Inch Pats
- 4 Cups Skillet Cornbread, Crumbled and Dried
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper, Freshly Ground
- 1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
- 1 Pinch Nutmeg
- 2 Cups Chicken Stock
- 2 Large Eggs, Beaten
- Place your broken cornbread crumbs in a 225° oven for about 30 minutes. Stir the crumbs occasionally for even heat distribution. When the crumbs are completely dry remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool. Turn the heat up to 350°.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the celery and onion, and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables are tender, about eight minutes. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the cornbread, vegetables, parsley, salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, stock and beaten eggs. Mix to combine. Turn out into an appropriate sized baking dish, and top the dressing with pats of butter.
- Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is a nutty brown. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool. Refrigerate covered for two days, and re-heat in a 300° oven until warmed through, about 20 minutes.