I used to think a home-cooked Thanksgiving was like the clothes you change into at the end of a workday. Comfy, favored over time. But the analogy only goes so far, and inedibility of flannel is the least of it. Foodwise, you’re fond of what is familiar, and perhaps what is borne of family tradition. You develop a taste for it.
Even if you’ve never made a single Thanksgiving side dish before, a seasonal highway of recipes points the way. Therein lie the potential opposites of familiar: Can newfangled mashed potatoes measure up to memory? How crucial is it, really, to reproduce the burnished turkeys you see plastered across Instagram?
Here’s what I know: You will be cooking for others, and the tendency to rely on the classics makes all kinds of sense. Except . . . when you can be persuaded that a slight change in ingredients or preparation truly elevates the food — and that doesn’t mean topping it with shaved truffles.
Take those mashed spuds, for example. Even the most basic recipe has its limitations. The potatoes are often boiled till soft, then whipped with dairy. I’ve tested a few dozen variations over the years, and it wasn’t until I turned to this technique — roasting them, seasoned, with fat cloves of garlic on a sheet pan — that I realized that lots more potato flavor is retained rather than being drained away.
In this Garlicky Roast Potato Mash, the potatoes are dry enough to be mashed right away, either with butter and milk or with a combo of vegan butter and vegetable broth. One roasted batch can be divided to accommodate all guests.
Roasting is not the most efficient option for Glazed Squash Medley, my new go-to squash recipe, however. Steaming is. Just about any type of winter variety can be microwaved to tenderness in as little as four minutes, placed in a shallow dish with a little water, undercover. That’s the make-ahead part; the glaze comes together in a pan and coats the cooked squash with a smoky sweetness. This is minimal cooking with a handsome payoff.
The stress of a homemade pie dissolves like superfine sugar in simmering water when the crust goes gluten-free and press-in, like this Sweet Potato Pie With Macaroon Crust. The filling is lightly spiced (read: no cloves), and starts with sweet potatoes you can roast days in advance.
I looked for a centerpiece recipe that offered the same kind of ease, and found one in this Herb-Slathered Turkey. It’s a no-brine bird that gets slathered with lots of chopped fresh herbs stirred into . . . mayonnaise. Stands to reason that it would keep the meat as moist and juicy as the mayo-coated bluefish fillets I grill in summer.
By the time the turkey emerges from the oven, all visual trace of the mayo has disappeared. But its effect is unmistakable in thigh and breast.
Now, I realize unbelievers might have a difficult time with all that mayo, so I offer Plan B: Simply Seasoned Turkey, which is a no-brine bird that’s rubbed with a low-salt spice blend and roasted with a little water in a low-walled pan. Simple, yet hard to beat.
With leftover turkey sandwiches in mind, we paired cranberries with gooseberries for maximum brightness in this no-cook Tart Cranberry Relish. It’s quick to make in a food processor, but a coarse chop of the ingredients by hand doesn’t really take that much more time.
When you roast a few turkey wings and necks ahead of time, you can make a stock and even have enough drippings to make Simple Pan Gravy, which is as uncomplicated as it sounds. Vermouth gives it depth, but the recipe has an alcohol-free option as well.
Store-bought stuffing mixes are nothing more than dried bread cubes and seasoning; make this Sheet Pan Stuffing With Chestnuts — again, in advance — and you will be rewarded with a blend of flavors and textures you can customize. We like this recipe’s chunky mix of challah and corn bread.
If you wish to venture beyond the green bean casserole, Zippy Green Beans offer two options, both of which qualify in the zip department. Go Indian, with black mustard seed, shallots and fresh ginger, or flavor the beans, which are cut down to ditalini size, with lemon zest and ginger.
Macaroni and cheese is a given at many holiday tables because it’s such a crowd-pleaser. This Roasted Red Pepper Mac n Cheese is especially suited for making ahead because its sauce firms up nicely in the refrigerator. Apply those crushed Cheez-Its on top just before serving.
A Thanksgiving rendered Voraciously can promise you this: dishes you can make ahead; recipes that won’t take a lot of time to prepare; flavors that are familiar; and feedback that will please the intrepid cook.
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