Thanksgiving Meal, courtesy of xybermatthew on flickr.
Thanksgiving will soon be upon us, which means that food sites and publications have been churning out recipes, full-fledged feature pieces, and all-inclusive guides to this great American meal. These articles are supposed to be helpful, but they make cooking Thanksgiving dinner out to be a Herculean task on the scale of nuclear disarmament.
I’ve only made the Thanksgiving feast once during my first winter in Washington, and I can say from experience that you don’t have to have gone to culinary school to whip up some stuffing. I didn’t have any vacation time that year, and I couldn’t make it home for the big day. Instead, friends came down from New York, Nonnka came over from Georgetown, and we celebrated Thanksgiving orphan-style. It turned out to be one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever. And even I, an untested Thanksgiving novice, was able to make the meal—turkey, stuffing, and all.
Was it a lot of work? My God, yes. But was any of it really beyond the skill level of basic cook? Hell no. The hardest part was getting the timing right, and I think that’s something you have to learn from doing it over and over again.
So stop looking at those scary Gourmet Menu Guides that call for you to make a billion starters from scratch, and put down the Bon Appetite Complete Guide to Thanksgiving Kitchen Tools (the only tools you need are a good sharp knife and some pots and pans).
Instead, I’ve dug through the deluge of Thanksgiving articles to find something to really be thankful for: peace of mind. These articles will calm your soul, they will soothe your worried Thanksgiving consciousness, and they will let you know that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a nice meal.
The Turkey Does Not Have To Be A Logistical Nightmare
Remember when brining turkeys was the big thing? It was a miracle cure for a meat that, let’s face it, is actually really dry (if only the Pilgrims had dined on chicken—generations of holiday cooks would have been spared the turkey conundrum). But if you’ve actually ever brined a turkey, you know that it’s a pain in the neck. You have to do it days in advance, you have to find a receptacle big enough to hold your turkey and brining liquid, and you have to figure out how the heck to store that thing in your refrigerator. Brining is so not in the spirit of simplification that’s in vogue now that we’re in a recession.
But I found two two articles that rightly take brining to task, and you will be happy to know that, no, you don’t have to go through all that trouble to make a decent bird. The New York Times puts brining to the test, and finds brined turkeys lacking in taste, texture, and gravy-making abilities.
- “Miracle Cure or Just Salt Water?”
By Harold McGee, The New York Times, Nov. 12, 2008
Meanwhile, Bon Appetite claims that salting the bird works just as well, and is much, much easier to accomplish. Now that’s really something to be thankful for.
- “The Turkey: Salt It, Don’t Brine It”
By Rick Rodgers, Bon Appetite, November 2008
The Budget-Friendly Meal
It’s really, really easy to shelling out some serious dough for Thanksgiving—one heirloom bird, some organic cranberries, some extra-fancy butter, and all of the sudden you can find yourself in a Thanksgiving money pit. Thankfully, the excellent writers at Epicurious have put together a Thanksgiving meal for eight, for only $79.79. Their practical tips won’t make you feel bad about buying a supermarket bird, and their recipe for Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots looks to die for on any budget.
- “A Lavish Thanksgiving Feast for $79.79”
By Regina Schrambling, Epicurious
Holiday Booze on the Cheap
I admit it, I’m a sucker for wines. My parents have taken me enough to wine tastings that I’ve developed a taste for Oregon Pino Noirs (which are completely out of my price range). My wine tastes, impulsive buying habits, and proximity to Whole Foods could be a problem during the holidays. So thank goodness for Apartment Therapy’s blog, The Kitchen, which has had a great series of articles about wine buying on a budget. Their article, “Good Wines for Tough Times,” is a great primer for finding good stuff at the super-market, and can help you pick a budget-friendly and enjoyable wine for your Thanksgiving meal.
- “Good Wines for Tough Times”
Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen, Oct. 23, 2008
Meanwhile, Eric Asimov over at the New York Times wants you to know that no, you don’t have to freak out about your Thanksgiving wine choices. And you don’t have to spend a lot to make a good choice for the Thanksgiving meal.
- “Bottles That Make Good Guests”
By Eric Asimov, The New York Times, Nov. 12, 2008