By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
A few years ago, as a wearily lowered myself down to Thanksgiving dinner, I realized that I could only remember one Thanksgiving dinner in the last ten years that I was not exhausted when it came time to eat. And that was at someone else’s house! I vowed to change that. I mean what is the use investing all this energy into beautiful dinner and not being thankful for it? I am proud to report that I’ve cracked the code and now enjoy my Thanksgiving dinners.
After a bit of thought I decided there are a few ways to produce an easy and gentle Thanksgiving. (Without running off to Hawaii) A) Plan more B) Drink more wine C) Both of the above. So in light of an easy and fun dinner I engaged plan C, some wine and more planning.
First things first, about 2 weeks ahead of time, nail down your guest list, give or take a mouth or two. You’ll want at least a pound of turkey per person and if you want to send home left overs, 2 pounds. Figure out how much money you want to spend on the bird and either buy it frozen or order it to be picked up fresh right before T-Day.
This is also the time to decide on what dishes you are going to fix and read the recipes thoroughly. The tried and true dishes have no surprises and are therefore stress-free. If you are going to try something new, give it a test run the week before. Here is my new favorite trick; delegate dishes out to your guests. I’ve gone so far as to give them recipes of what I want and it worked out splendid! That is just one more dish you do not have to make and arrives all pretty and ready to eat. See, easy. We like easy.
Now for the messy part, clean out your freezer and fridge. Stop laughing, I’m serious! I’ll do it along with you. This doesn’t have to be a deep clean, just a “make room for da turkey” clean. If it is too overwhelming to tackle the whole fridge just start with throwing out the odd or moldy things that no one will ever eat. This will prepare a clean slate for your holiday season and make it, my favorite word, easier.
I have also discovered the joys of prepping the week before. (Instead of furiously prepping the day of! Silly me) I make something every night after work and by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, everything is mostly done. I start prepping the things that will last or I can freeze first then move to making the more perishable dishes the day before. I consciously choose dishes that can be made beforehand and simply be assembled or heated up the day of Thanksgiving, like salads and casseroles. Remember dishes that can be served at room temp are a blessing as well.
Attitude is everything and I have adopted the approach that Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be so much food that you feel committed to overworking and overeating. Honestly, we don’t need that much. A few dishes done well is a way better plan. Slow down, breathe, (drink your wine) and choose your dishes wisely. Speaking of wine, plan for easy drinks; like wine (a local pinot noir) hard cider and sparkling ciders. No mixing, messing or ice too!
In my one oven household, sometimes it is difficult to get everything done all at the same time. On top of that we have a vegetarian in our midst so if I do not plan right, I have to make two of every dish. (No wonder I was exhausted!) One of the big culprits is the stuffing. It always takes up the oven and half the time comes out “stick to the roof of your mouth” dry if it isn’t in the bird.
My troubles are over in that department though as I am grateful for this handy dandy little recipe for crock pot stuffing. How ingenious! It cooks all day and adds its own lovely fragrance to the house, and doesn’t take up any space in the oven. It is also incredibly tender like right out of the bird. Yippee! I make mine with veggie broth to so it is friendly to both the turkey eaters and the not. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I am so thankful for you dear reader.
Easy Crockpot stuffing
Makes about 14-16 servings. Feel free to get creative with the ingredients and add your own touches.
12-14 cups of dried bread cubes
2 onions, diced
1 bunch of celery, cleaned and chopped
2 apples chopped
1 cup of walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup of dried cranberries
2 cups of wild rice, cooked (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1 cup of finely shredded parmesan cheese (Optional but amazing!)
2 teaspoons of celery salt
2 teaspoons each of dried sage, rosemary and thyme
OR two tablespoons each of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme, minced
OR 1 tablespoon of dried poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon of salt and pepper
1/2 stick of butter, melted
1-2 cups of broth
Get out a very generous bowl, like we are talking BIG! Mix everything together well in there except the butter and broth. Drizzle the stuffing mix with the melted butter and 1/3 cup the broth while tossing it with a fork till well distributed. Add the broth 1/3 cup at a time, slowly while tossing till the whole lovely mess is just moist. Don’t get it too wet! I usually find that in our humid climate that it only needs about 2/3 to 1 cup of broth at this point.
Tuck in a large crockpot and cook on low for 5-6 hours, drizzling 2-3 tablespoons of broth over it every two hours or so. Watch it and make sure it doesn’t get too dry. When it is done, turn the crock pot down to “keep warm” till you are ready to serve it. And voila! The stuffing is done when the turkey is, delicious, moist and not taking up room in the oven. You will give thanks for this.