A Hybrid Thanksgiving: How to combine a day of cooking with days-ahead prep to lessen everyone’s stress.
Steel yourselves. The gale force of the holidays is building to hurricane status, which doesn’t just hit on Thanksgiving but days ahead and afterward.
For many, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. It’s a time to gather, rejoice and be thankful for all we have. Amen.
But at the same time, the holiday may trigger other responses— dread, anxiety and CHAOS!
Your mind might begin to wonder and worry. Can you handle all the shopping over multiple days, prep and cook so that everything has its proper time in the oven, set the table, figure out who sits next to whom to avoid minor altercations when politics comes up and it will, figure out how to get the leftovers wrapped and stored and all the dishes done?
You also need to set aside time to deal with children, get rooms ready for anybody who stays overnight and meet work deadlines that don’t take a holiday. It’s all a bit much!
Are you already feeling angst just thinking about what lies ahead and more overwhelmed than joyful that everything won’t be completed in a timely fashion or be perfect enough? We gave up the notion of perfect years ago, so we recommend doing so too.
You needn’t reach for a migraine remedy yet or call a therapist for pre-T-day prep. Take yourself off the hook. We know that trying to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner by yourself the day of the holiday is crazy making. We have a solution. Try a hybrid. Everything else has gone that way—some work at the office and some at home; part in person and part by Zoom. Pivot and consider a new recipe for a sane, maybe even relaxed holiday, though we don’t want to expect too much.
Preparing this mammoth meal can fall into three camps.
You do it all. Be proactive and plan and cook ahead, if it’s all on you.
Ask for help. Have a meeting of the cooks in person, by email or by Zoom. Everyone brings their specialty. No ego involved. And with planning you won’t get two mashed potato casseroles, three green bean casseroles and four pumpkin pies and no pecan.
But the third option is the hybrid with some made ahead and frozen and others prepared on the day of Thanksgiving, all cooked up by Food 52, a website founded in 2009 by New York Times food editors Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. In a newsletter, they wrote: “There are some dishes that have be made on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey cannot be roasted—or deep fried—ahead of time, mashed potatoes will not stay fluffy, and Pot-Stuck Brussels Sprouts will not remain crisp.”
The Food 52 authors offer a timeline, listing recipes divided by those you can prepare the day of, a couple of days or even a week or more ahead of the holiday. The list includes salads and stuffing as well as breads, which “last in the freezer for up to five months…”
Your Thanksgiving meal also doesn’t have to be a one-person show. If you follow this recipe, you loosen the reins and ask for help. Best of all, something wonderful will happen. Your holiday meal will take on a hybrid life of its own and everyone will feel more joyous about participating.
Then, on T-Day, gather around the table and share out loud what you have to be thankful for, who is missed in a moment of remembrance and something about what you are going to eat. Kudos to those who cooked so they share in the limelight. Then, dig in. For those next celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s, know you’ve mastered the art of easier entertaining. An encore will be easy as pie, as we say.
Our go-to recipes
Two ways to prepare turkey (must be done day of)
Method #1: Roast Turkey with Maple Syrup, Butter and Rosemary (from New York Times)
This is so easy, and the turkey will turn out perfect. The butter and maple syrup caramelize the outside of the turkey, the rosemary (and other herbs) give it a wonderful aroma and the flavor is a sweet-salty blend. This was featured in the New York Times and Margaret has made a few modifications.
1, 12-pound whole turkey that will fit in a large iron skillet
Kosher salt and black pepper
Fresh herbs—rosemary, thyme, tarragon—two to three sprigs or more
3 to more (depending on the size of the turkey) sprigs of rosemary chopped
Lemons, apples, oranges, onions (cut up) and fresh herbs to stuff the cavity
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Four or more tablespoons maple syrup (amount depends on the size of the bird). You decide.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat the turkey dry. Stuff the cavities with the apples, onions and lemon. Also squeeze lemon all over the turkey.
Put the turkey breast side up in a large iron skillet. Melt the butter in another skillet, add the chopped rosemary and maple syrup. Cook together until the rosemary is fragrant and the mixture thickens. Takes about three or more minutes.
Using your fingers, loosen and lift the skin of the turkey above the breasts. Smear a few tablespoons of the maple butter underneath the skin and insert a rosemary sprig.
Spoon the butter mixture over the turkey, making sure it is evenly covered. Add soy sauce, a few shakes all over the bird for color. Much of the mixture will end up in the bottom of the pan.
Roast the turkey in the oven, about 15 minutes per pound, basting with the pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes. The bird will turn a glossy and golden brown; it will almost look shellacked. When a meat thermometer registers in the thickest part of the thigh at 165 degrees, it is ready. Remove from the oven and baste again before you let it rest for about 20 minutes. The juices in the pan will make a delicious gravy.
Carve and serve.
Method #2: Roast Turkey with Herb Butter
A 15–20-pound turkey
Onions, apples, lemons, oranges, rosemary, thyme and any other herbs
Herb butter: one cup unsalted butter softened, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper, 6 cloves garlic minced, one tablespoon rosemary chopped, one tablespoon of thyme chopped, ½ tablespoon of sage chopped
Soy sauce—a few shakes for color
Aluminum foil for a tent
Take out the uncooked turkey from the fridge and let it warm to room temperature for about an hour.
Adjust the oven racks to accommodate the turkey and set oven to 325 degrees.
Prepare the herbed butter.
Remove the neck and giblets from inside the turkey, reserving them for gravy or discard them if you don’t use.
Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
Season the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the cavities of the turkey with cut up slices of lemons, onions, oranges, apples, rosemary, thyme and sage.
Using your fingers, loosen and lift the skin of the turkey above the breasts. Smear a few tablespoons of the herb butter underneath the skin and tuck a few raw herbs in there as well.
Tuck the wings under the bird.
Place it on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan.
Heat the herb butter until it is almost melted.
Brush it over the outside of the turkey, including the legs and wings.
Sprinkle soy sauce all over the bird for color.
Put the turkey in the oven and roast for 13-15 minutes per pound.
It’s done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees.
About halfway through the cooking time, cover the top of the turkey with tin foil. This protects the breast meat from overcooking and becoming dry.
Let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving to ensure optimal juiciness.
Cranberry Sauce by Jenn Segal
This can be made weeks ahead and frozen, and we recommend doubling the recipe, so you have some for other meals. Christmas is coming right behind Thanksgiving and so is Hanukkah. It also works well in the dead of winter with all sorts of wintery stews and more and adds a great splash of color to any plate. This recipe is from Once Upon a Chef with Barbara’s additions and changes.
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup fresh orange juice, from two oranges
- ¾ cup sugar, white
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 (12 oz) bag fresh or frozen cranberries (do not use dried)
- Zest of one orange, about 2 teaspoons
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ cup other berries such as raspberries or blueberries
- ½ cup pecans
- In a medium saucepan, over high heat, bring the water, orange juice, and sugars to a boil. Add the cranberries, orange zest and salt and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of cranberries have burst open. (You may need to mash them a bit with a spoon.) Add other spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, add pecans and other berries.
- Transfer sauce to a serving bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
- Make-Ahead/Freezing Instructions: Cranberry sauce will keep for 10 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Julia Child’s Apple Tart
From Julia’s great book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is this glorious apple dessert. Fall isn’t just about pumpkins but also apples. It can be made several days ahead, kept in the refrigerator until the day of and then left on a counter covered. It consists of homemade apple sauce, a top layer of thinly sliced apples and a gorgeous shiny apricot glaze. It’s best if served with a scoop of ice cream or big dollops of whipped cream, which is best made on the day of the holiday.
Apple Tart (Tarte Aux Pommes)
Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking
Makes 8 servings
Partially cooked 10-inch tart shell, homemade or store bought
4 lbs. apples
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup apricot preserves, forced through a sieve
1/4 cup apple brandy, rum or cognac; or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter
(optional) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, grated rind of 1 lemon or orange
1/2 cup apricot glaze (see below)
1/2 cup apricot preserves, forced through a sieve
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Mix the preserves and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes (225-228 degrees on a candy thermometer) until glaze is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If boiled above 228 degrees, glaze will harden when cool. Apply while still warm or reheat before using.
1. Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Slice 3 cups worth into 1/8-inch lengthwise slices. Toss sliced apples in a bowl with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside.
- Cut the rest of the apples into slices (about 8 cups). Place in a large heavy saucepan and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for about 20 minutes until apples are tender. Beat in apricot preserves, alcohol (or vanilla), sugar, butter, cinnamon and zest (if using). Turn up heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick.
- Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the applesauce in the partially baked pastry shell. Arrange sliced apples in an overlapping layer or concentric circles.
- When the oven has preheated, bake the tart in the upper third of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the apples are tender. Slide tart onto a cooling rack and paint a light layer of apricot glaze over the top. Serve warm or cold.
Alternative: Barbara paints the glaze on the apples before baking and sprinkles a light layer of sugar on top.