Thanksgiving: Simple Food, Abundant Thanks

16 Nov

Thanksgiving can mean one of two things for a hostess — a time spent with family and friends giving thanks for life’s many blessings; or the culinary Olympics. Trying to do too much in the kitchen can be your downfall. I’ve cooked my share of Thanksgiving meals in my nearly 90 years and I can offer only one suggestion – simplify. You can provide your guests a memorable meal without creating stress.

Today, I’d like to focus on those men and women taking their first turn playing host or hostess. These people need nurturing and confidence. And, perhaps, a few store-bought items safely hidden in the back of the refrigerator “just in case.”

Start by asking yourself a few simple questions. First evaluate your skills. Are you a Julia Child or do you burn toast? Are you hosting a small family or the Michigan State football team? Do you like experimenting with new foods and recipes? Are you expecting picky eaters? Does anyone have food restrictions? How much time are you really willing to spend shopping, prepping and cooking? Answering these questions honestly will be your first step toward success.

They’ll be plenty of time to exercise your culinary mastery in the years to come. For novices, the best menu includes simple, recognizable foods that most everyone enjoys. Don’t get in over your head by offering dozens of side dishes, too many courses, items that have to be finished at the last minute, or anything that comes to the table flaming. If offered help, accept! Allow guests to bring an appetizer or dessert. Allow your sister-in-law or nephew to help in the kitchen. People remember the day not by how many types of chutney you made from scratch, but by the fun they  had. If you are stressed out, your guests will pick up on that. The best host/hostess is one who goes with the flow, who moves with ease, and who takes whatever mishaps occur with laughter and grace.

For delicious, traditional Thanksgiving fare, you can’t beat the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. You can recreate many of our dishes at home easily and without fuss — roasted whole turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, cole slaw, and apple or pumpkin pie. A recipe for our famous cranberry relish can be found in my book, “Come Cook With Me.” Bavarian Inn noodles, which we serve in place of sweet potatoes, can be purchased in our Bake Shop and on online. (I like to make dressing instead of stuffing:  Stuffing the turkey adds one hour to the roasting time.)

Preparation is the key to success. Starting early will help reduce stress and ensure everything gets done on time. I prepare all my dressing ingredients the day before, refrigerate overnight, and mix and bake right before supper. Similarly, cole slaw ingredients can be prepared the day before and mixed an hour before serving. You can peel your potatoes ahead, cover with water and place in the refrigerator. If you like to make your own bread, do so two days before your dinner. Same with your cooked cranberries.

I like to bake my pies the day ofthe party. There’s nothing better than fresh baked apple and pumpkin pie.

The Bird

It’s not difficult to make a moist turkey. Remember, frozen turkeys must be thawed in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne illness. Refer to your bird’s instructions on proper thawing methods. I rinse the turkey inside and out, pat dry, and salt and pepper. Then I place it in my roasting pan, and add about one-half cup water, onion and celery to the bottom of the pan. This is the beginning of a good gravy. Roast the fully thawed turkey at 350 degrees and baste four to five times with the drippings in the pan. If the skin begins to brown too quickly, loosely cover – don’t seal – with aluminum foil. Using a meat thermometer, roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the bird from the oven and let it  rest for at least one-half hour. Remember, the meat continues to cook while resting. The total time of roasting depends on the weight of the turkey. A 12- to 16-pound unstuffed bird can take up to five hours to roast.  Let the meat thermometer be the final judge.

For the gravy, use all the drippings in the pan, scraping off the crusted-on particles. They are the best! If you do not have enough liquid, you can add chicken broth. One year I was quite short on liquid, so I added the butcher string – the string I trussed my turkey with — to the drippings. I also added some extra water, and while cooking, those baked-on drippings fell off the string. That was the best gravy I ever made. My children still ask if we are having “string” gravy today. Some things you never live down.

One final suggestion: Take an inventory of your hardware. Do you have the right serving dishes, utensils, warmers, place settings, trivets and the like? I set out all my serving dishes with their corresponding utensil a dayor two ahead, and put a post-it note on the dish telling me its purpose. The covered dish, “potatoes;” grandmother’s cut-glass bowl, “cranberry relish.”

No one will have higherexpectations for you than you will have for yourself. There is nothing catastrophic about overdone rolls or forgetting the salad dressing. You’ll look back at those at fond memories when you become a top chef.  Until then, have fun. And enjoy yourself.

No one at the first Thanksgiving worried about falling soufflés or dried-out turkey. They were merely thanking God to be alive and free. We can all take a lesson from that.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

3 Responses to “Thanksgiving: Simple Food, Abundant Thanks”

  1. Mary Masur December 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    dorthy seen your cooking from scarth on fox 2 today which is thursday the1st have been looking for your chicken recipe on your page can’t find it please send this to meand how could i order your cook book we our a family of germany been up at your resturant alot as a child dad and family loved your place and cooking would love to make your dinner at home this year for christmas mom and dad not here no more would love to share memory and recipe with family if you would sen me the recipe thank u mary masur, have a bless holiday

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