It’s your first Thanksgiving away from your family and the budget does not allow you to go home. Instead of getting depressed and crying into your sushi dinner after a lonely movie, throw your own last-minute Thanksgiving dinner party. The menu planning is a breeze, and by now it’s a truly casual invite so nobody expects perfection.
Here’s what you’ll do:
Invite five other Thanksgiving “orphans” – roommates, co-workers, ex-roommates, unemployed friends. Six is a nice size group for a starter Thanksgiving, more is a bit risky, and fewer will not have that real Thanksgiving feel.
When the guests ask what they can bring, be ready. Assign drinks to guest #1, bread and pumpkin pie to #2, salad to #3, one side dish to #4 (sweet potatoes? Brussels sprouts?) and appetizers to #5. You’ll be in charge of the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Cranberry sauce. Do not use the canned stuff. Buy a bag of cranberries and follow the direction on the bag. (Read the directions in the store – you may need to buy sugar.) You can do the cranberries the day before and refrigerate.
Turkey. Buy about a 10 pound bird, you’ll want some leftovers. It’s now too late for a frozen bird, so get a fresh one. Skip the gourmet butcher and head to the local supermarket, their turkey will be just fine. Before you start, make sure you remove the plastic bag with some nasty looking parts from inside the bird. They are actually the liver and giblets and can be cooked with the turkey, but without the plastic. Pat the bird dry, inside and out, with paper towels, then rub it all over with a little oil. Next, salt and pepper the bird, even inside. If you want to more flavor rub on some Bell’s Seasoning, available at any supermarket. Use a disposable roasting pan, but place it on a cookie sheet, otherwise it will be wobbly and you might spill some hot turkey drippings on yourself. Follow the cooking instructions on the turkey wrapper. If you have a question, check online, or call 1-800-Butterball turkey hotline or your mom.
After you put the turkey in the oven, make sure you carefully wash your hands and all the counters and utensils the turkey touched, in order to avoid cross-contaminating other foods.
Important! Your turkey will take about 3 hours in the oven. Time your guests to arrive when you’ll be taking the turkey out of the oven. It can rest covered with tinfoil while you heat the sides.
Stuffing. You must have stuffing – Thanksgiving without stuffing is like a day without sunshine. Buy a bag of dry stuffing mix (Pepperidge Farm and Arnold are good brands) and couple of cans or low sodium chicken broth. Follow the instructions on the stuffing bag. If you want to jazz it up, sauté a chopped onion together with couple of ribs of celery, chopped, and throw into the stuffing. You can also add some sautéed mushrooms. Do not get fancy and stuff the bird if this is the first time you are roasting a turkey. Under-cooked stuffing can be bad news. Cook the stuffing separately, in an oven-proof dish. You can do this after you take the turkey out of the oven, while you let it rest. At the same time, you can heat the side dish brought by guest #4.
Gravy. Skip the stuff you get in a can and make real gravy. Pour the drippings from the turkey pan into a pot, let them stand a bit and skim off the fat from the top. Be careful – drippings are hot! Add a little water into the turkey pan and scrape all the good bits from the bottom and add to the gravy pot, then bring to boil. Make a thin paste of about tablespoon of flour and a couple of spoons of water. Whisk this into the gravy and let simmer couple of minutes. Taste. Then season with salt and pepper and maybe some mustard, a bit of ketchup, a shake of Worcestershire Sauce, if you have. Season gently and keep on tasting until you like what you taste. (Or if you must use canned gravy or gravy mix, check online to find out which brand is edible.)
By now everyone is starving so sit down at the table, or on the floor, or anywhere there’s room. Ask everyone to say one thing they are grateful for this year. They’ll all say they are grateful they know you. And next year they all call and ask if they could bring a friend. Before you know you’ll be a famous for your fabulous Thanksgiving dinners.
And all of this will not cost you more than that movie and sushi dinner!
P.S. If cooking a turkey really scares you, pick up couple of nice rotisserie chickens instead. It’s your first Thanksgiving dinner party, so you are allowed!