I really love Thanksgiving. Like, a lot.
When I was younger Thanksgiving was always a holiday spent with family, sort of like Christmas but without the stress and running around, and with more pie. My Mother was the ultimate queen of holiday entertaining and this time of year our house was always filled with friends, family & food. Her Christmas party was usually the biggest deal of the year and she’d have giant bowls of shrimp cocktail, two different types of boozey homemade egg nog, countless nibbles and sweets, and trays of her famous taco dip. Sorry, now I’m drooling. These days I’m trying to follow in her footsteps.
Now that I’m older, and sell kitchenware for a living, I can’t get home for Thanksgiving anymore, so I’ve had to swap the family for friends. As much as I wish I could be home with family, spending Thanksgiving here in Brooklyn means that we can host in our own apartment, choose who our guests are, and make the food exactly the way we like it. No drunk uncles or soggy overcooked vegetables at this dinner, just good friends, great food, & lots of wine. Lots and lots of wine.
We live in a small two bedroom railroad apartment, (long and skinny with the only windows at either end) so we don’t have a dining room. We do have plenty of seating though, so we decided to serve our meal buffet style and pull some chairs up to the sofa and around the coffee table. Most of our friends love cooking almost as much as I do, so we decided to make our Thanksgiving meal a potluck and ask people to bring a dish with them. Since we were hosting we decided that the turkey would be my responsibility. Since I tend to go overboard, I went overboard. The plan was to make the turkey, gravy & dressing, along with a pie or two. What actually went down was a little more involved.
The menu I prepared went like this:
turkey roasted with citrus herb butter
chardonnay turkey gravy
mushroom, leek & sourdough dressing
roasted butternut squash with honey and thyme
spiced orange cranberry sauce
flaky salt and pepper buttermilk biscuits
lattice top deep dish apple pie
sweet potato pie
wine, wine & wine
Since we have amazing friends with amazing taste, the other dishes that joined the party included:
braised red cabbage with apples and red wine
mashed potatoes with goat cheese and garlic
brussels sprouts sauteed with chestnuts, bacon and onions
rice salad with chickpeas and dried currants
pumpkin bundt cake with salted caramel icing
spicy cayenne apple pie
chocolate filled peanut butter cookies
homemade bourbon vanilla ice cream
On yeah, and more wine.
Needless to say I’m still full today. It was an amazing meal and I’m so lucky to have such wonderful friends to spend my holidays with. The turkey was probably the best I’ve ever tasted, and definitely the best I’ve ever made. Our dogs could not have been happier either. They were in heaven! Plenty of treats falling on the ground and plenty of laps to curl up on. A few of our guests were English and Irish, and this was the first Thanksgiving one of them had ever celebrated. We spent much of the evening talking about the differences in holiday traditions and foods across the world and making plenty of dirty jokes about fish pie. We played games and watched the muppets with Lady Gaga for the rest of the night.
As much as I love tooting my own horn and being showered with compliments, I’m not just sharing all this with you to make you jealous. I also want you to know that even if you live in a small apartment and don’t have much family near you, you can still have an amazing Thanksgiving meal to remember. Of course how you organize your service and what your meal consists of is entirely up to you, but just in case you’d like to do something similar to what I did, I’m going to give you an idea of how I made it all happen.
I happened to have the Tuesday before Thanksgiving off so I did all my grocery shopping Monday night after work and tried to do as much as possible on Tuesday so I’d have less to worry about on the big day.
3 days ahead (Monday)- I finalized the menu, went grocery shopping, & confirmed the guest list.
2 days ahead (Tuesday)- To get a head start on things that would need to be done the day of, I made a citrus and herb butter for the turkey, cubed and dried the bread for the dressing, peeled and cubed the butternut squash and put it covered into the refrigerator. I also went ahead and made my cranberry sauce, and both of my pies because I wouldn’t have time the next day. I also met Russell in Manhattan to stock up on the ever important wine.
1 day ahead (Wednesday)- I work in a kitchenware store so, as you can imagine, the day before Thanksgiving is a busy day. I worked a 12 hour day and was exhausted when I got home, so I tried to plan my schedule so I would have very little to do that night. I did pick up some flowers on my way home, and went ahead and washed, dried & seasoned the turkey with salt and pepper before putting her in the fridge to rest until the next morning.
Thanksgiving day I slathered the turkey up with the citrus and herb butter and got her started in the oven. Then I started my mushroom, leek & sourdough dressing, covered it and put it into the fridge to wait until the turkey came out. Then Russell and I spent the rest of the morning calling family, cleaning the house and getting ready for our guests. I set up a buffet on our credenza-height bookshelf, and set up a dessert buffet on top of our bar cabinet. We decided to use some compostable bamboo disposable plates to save on dishes while still keeping it classy-ish. We got our wine chilling, seating in place, corkscrews and glassware out and ready, ice trays filled, and double checked to be sure we had everything we needed.
Once our guests started arriving and the turkey came out of the oven, everything else went in while the turkey took a much needed rest. Gravy was made, biscuits rose, squash roasted, dressing browned, potatoes reheated and brussels sprouts sauteed in cast iron.
The rest of the night was spent enjoying ourselves and our food. I’ve said this already, but it was the best. Heaven.
Just for fun, here’s how I did the turkey. I usually brine but this year I decided to skip it. I’ve always felt like it’s a lot of work for a small payoff, so I thought I’d try another trick to ensure a moist bird. That’s right. I said moist.
Roasted Turkey with Citrus Herb Butter
Citrus Herb Butter:
1 1/2 sticks of salted butter, softened
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons brown sugar
zest of one large orange
zest of two lemons
1 15-20 lb fresh turkey *see note
citrus, herbs, onions and apples for filling
carrots, onions, celery and apples for roasting to flavor gravy
chicken or turkey stock
To make the flavored butter, mash all ingredients into the softened butter with a fork and mix until well combined. Place in an air tight container and refrigerate. Remove from fridge and soften for an hour or two before you’re ready to use it. If you forget to do this you can soften it in your hands.
If possible, wash the turkey and remove the gizzards and neck the night before Thanksgiving. Pat dry, inside and out, with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. If you can’t do this the night before, do at least one hour before the turkey goes into the oven. Cover with foil or a lid and move to the refrigerator. Hold onto the gizzards and neck for gravy.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Roughly chop a few pieces of celery, carrots, onions & apples and place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. You don’t need to peel the skin off the onion and you can use the leafy tops of the celery. Add a few sprigs of herbs and your reserved neck and gizzards, and add enough chicken or turkey stock to come about an inch up the side of the pan. Add a large V roasting rack to the pan.
Rub the softened citrus herb butter completely over your turkey on all sides and some on the inside cavity. Reserve a few tablespoons to reapply later. Place your butter covered turkey, breast side down, on your roasting rack. Fill the cavity of the turkey with roughly chopped citrus, apples, onions and herbs, or whatever flavors you’d like. Leave some room for air to circulate in the cavity or the turkey will take longer to cook and could dry out.
Transfer Turkey to the oven, uncovered, and roast for 3 1/2 hours basting every 30 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the turkey breast side up. They make special turkey lifters to make this easier, or you can use large rigid spatulas, or oven mitts covered in plastic bags. You might want an extra set of hands to keep the roasting pan steady or help out. Rub the remaining citrus herb butter on the breast side of the turkey and return to oven for 1 1/2 to 2 more hours, or until a meat thermometer placed in the thigh meat reads 165 degrees. Continue basting every 30 minutes until done. Your total roasting time will depend on the size of the bird. Closer to 15 pounds should take about 5 hours, 20 pounds more like 5 1/2 hours.
When the turkey is done, remove from oven and transfer from roasting rack to a large carving board. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes, up to 45 or 50. Strain the juices from the pan and use for gravy, adding more stock if necessary. You can use this resting time to reheat or finish any remaining sides in the oven. Carve and serve your bird and brace yourself for a barrage of compliments. **See note.
*Note: I like to say you want your about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of turkey per person- this will ensure everyone is completely satisfied and you have some leftovers for sandwiches and something leftover to make soup or turkey pot pie.
**Note: This was the first time I’ve ever roasted a turkey breast side down- and I will never go back. It made for the moistest breast meat I’ve ever tasted, and the number of compliments made me a little uncomfortable. If you don’t handle compliments well, don’t use this recipe.