Believe it or not, you can make an entire Thanksgiving meal in less than two hours. Yep, two hours! That's less time than it takes to watch a bad Saturday afternoon movie on TBS... with commercials!
Thanksgiving is intimidating to most people, and I'm not sure why. The actual meal is easy. There are so many options, which make choosing what you make harder, but not hard. Even if you're not a cook, you can definitely handle putting a bird in the oven for a couple of hours — trust me.
What's scary about Thanksgiving is "living up to tradition" and "pleasing your guests." For almost everyone I know, Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in tradition. Canned cranberry sauce vs. homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing inside the bird vs. stuffing outside the bird, and the gravy! Who's going to make the gravy?!
For our family it's simple: Pour more wine and welcome anyone who walks in the back door. We're not too fussy about the actual meal. Because when it comes down to it, you do one of two things: eat too much (and either regret it out of caloric guilt or extreme pain), or just consider it another meal. For us it's the latter.
I much prefer the company I keep that day. Note to the wise, if your guests care about why your gravy is separating or your cranberry sauce is out of a can, they should go stuff and baste themselves.
In New York, it's even harder. This is why I understand people being intimidated by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in a tiny apartment ... with one oven ... a tiny set of burners ... and expensive NYC groceries ($23/lb for pecans!?!) ... now that's rough. Hence why the reservation line is busy.
Check out these tips for a quick and easy Thanksgiving dinner:
1. Cut your ingredients in half. Using bacon in one dish? Use it in another. Prepare it in a different way or include it with contrasting ingredients (bacon with your Brussels sprouts and then again in your dried cranberry cornbread stuffing — one is savory, one is sweet).
2. Break the turkey apart. Separating the turkey into pieces allows for the bird to cook faster and more efficiently. We've all overcooked the breast waiting for the dark meat to cook. Ask the butcher to separate the bird for you.
3. Create a surefire pan gravy with the "good stuff" aka the innards. The neck, use it. Backbone, you bet. Those are the key ingredients to tradition. "Traditional" food is code for your grandmother's gravy recipe and butter.
4. Make everything individual. "Individual" is great for New Yorkers, everyone loves their space. Give them their own Thanksgiving sides. They will cook faster and keep people feeling special. Again, something New Yorkers love to feel: special.
5. Cook and drink! While you're at it, throw on some football. You're probably hungover from the night before, so why not keep going? Everything will taste better by the afternoon anyway, even if you screw up.
Here are the recipes I used during the class I taught at Whole Foods the other week. Happy Thanksgiving!