Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest foodie day of the year. Everyone sits down for a turkey day feast with certain expectations about the food, which can create a huge amount of pressure for the cook — given that the meal is largely the focus of the entire holiday. There are so many dishes that *need* to be on the plate to make the meal a success, and the timing of getting all of these different parts of the meal to come together perfectly and at the right time can be intimidating. But we spent a good bit of our weekend carefully planning for the big day, and we think we are ready!
As you may know, the way we are able to cook so often here at FoodieLawyer is because we always try to plan ahead. You may not know, however, that I’m a list-maker. The above photo shows just 4 of our lists so far to get ready for the big day. Two grocery lists (one for Central Market, the other for the regular grocery store), a list of all the food items we’ll be serving and a list of Big Things that need to be done each day leading up to Thursday. Not pictured are my separate to-do list (non-food related items) and Dan’s Thanksgiving Day timeline, only because we haven’t finished them yet (add those items to the list of Big Things to be done!)
We are hosting my family for Thanksgiving this year and started our planning by writing up the menu: honey-brined turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, butternut squash, celery salad, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and the obligatory relish tray). Once we figured out what we will be cooking, we wrote up a shopping list(s), which also involved scrounging around the pantry and fridge to see what we have and what we needed. We also thought it would be a good idea to lay out the actual cooking dishes we will be using to make it all happen on time, taking an inventory to see if we needed to purchase any additional pots or pans. Turns out that we needed an extra casserole dish for the sausage stuffing.
We also got out all our serving stuff so we could make sure we have enough dishes to serve our delicious meal. Doing this also gave me the opportunity to think about and plan my table setting (fun fact – setting the table for Thanksgiving is one of my favorite things about the meal).
We don’t cook dessert very often, so we needed some inspiration. This is typically how our living room looks on any given Saturday as well, when we’re planning our dinner recipes for the week.
Dan was feeling ambitious this year and decided to make his own turkey stock, using a recipe and recommendation from Michael Ruhlman. The stock was simple to make, but took a long time. A seriously long time — about 16 hours total! But, given the smell in our kitchen while the turkey parts were roasting, the effort will be well worth the time.
We started the stock by roasting the turkey legs and wings in the oven for about 1.5 to 2 hours.
After the turkey is roasted, it goes in a big stock pot with enough water to fully cover all the turkey parts. Then cook it in a 200 degree oven for at least 8 hours. We cooked ours overnight for about 11 hours (we tend to sleep in on the weekends).
Gooooooooood Morning, Turkey Stock!
Next, we added 3 bay leaves, 2 onions, celery, carrots and peppercorns (slightly cracked with a mortar & pestle).
Chop up the veggies and do to the peppercorns whatever it’s called that you do with the mortar & pestle.
Then add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (I know! I was surprised by that ingredient too!) and several sprigs of thyme (we still had some left in our garden – bonus!) Simmer over low heat for about 2 hours. Again, given the way our kitchen smelled after this, we think this stock might be the most important aspect of our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.
Strain the stock through a big, fine mesh strainer (ours is cone-shaped) into a container big enough to hold all the precious stock. Then discard all the stock ingredients, since all their flavor is now in the stock.
Behold, the Turkey Stock. Dan was going to cook the stock down further, which concentrates the flavor. But, he realized that it would be better to skim off some of the fat before cooking it down.
In order to skim the fat, the stock will need to be chilled. Dan didn’t want to put the hot stock right into the fridge, so he put it in a plastic container with a lid, then into an ice bath. Once the stock cooled down in the ice bath, we put it in the fridge. The fat will rise above the rest of the liquid and congeal on the top. On Wednesday, before he uses any stock, Dan will spoon off the congealed fat and we’re good to go. We’re pretty sure this stock will produce The Best Thanksgiving Gravy ever, and we plan to use it for cooking the sausage stuffing instead of chicken stock. If there is any stock leftover, we’ll freeze it to use another time. Thanks to Mr. Ruhlman for the suggestion and recipe for the stock – it has given us a little preview of Thanksgiving and we can’t wait!
One final note — our Thanksgiving preparations this year included cleaning out a space in our garage for an extra fridge. This is something we’ve wanted/needed to do for a long time, and it’s one of those things that we already look back upon (less than 12 hours later) and wonder why it took us 4+ years to do it. Having the extra fridge space cuts down the holiday stress tremendously, and we are embarrassingly excited about our newest appliance. Our turkey is already chilling out there and we couldn’t be more pleased. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone — get your pads and pens out and make some lists!