THANKSGIVING A to Z

Thanksgiving Farmer Market Produce Shopping Haul
Thanksgiving A to Z list first, personal thoughts and the actual menu we plan to serve follow. Follow along on Instagram for updates to this list the rest of the month.

cheese-charcuterie-crudite-board
A is for Thanksgiving APPETIZERS, on which my family makes the HUGE mistake of going absolutely overboard every year because we pick from a cheese and charcuterie board all day long while cooking and are overwhelmingly full by dinner time. Nevertheless, you still have to hand an overfilled glass of Champagne to every person who walks through the door and offer some sort of appetizer because you just do, Ina.

This year and probably forever forward Thanksgiving will start with a “light” appetizer of mostly fresh vegetable crudités that no one will eat, or something not Thanksgiving-y in flavor at all like so you don’t get “palate fatigue” by 3 pm, like a smoked fish, caviar, and other delicious little things aka a “seacuterie” board, unless you live in New England and put oysters in your stuffing, in which case, never the fuck mind about seafood not being Thanksgiving-y.

miso-roasted-brussels-sprouts-shiitake-mushrooms
B is for Thanksgiving BRASSICAS. Does the world need more than the 89 million recipes for broccoli and their cousins for Thanksgiving? No. So will I spare you at least another half-dozen? Also no. Here are some recipes for broccoli and their cousins for Thanksgiving!

alternative thanksgiving sauces

C is for Thanksgiving CRANBERRIES, and all the other CONDIMENTS, DIPS, SAUCES, and SPREADS

D is for DEFROSTING THE TURKEY. I know. D is Dessert. Or Drinks. Maybe even Decor. All natural choices for D for Thanksgiving, but I have been scarred for life by one Thanksgiving a little more than 10 years ago when I underestimated the time I needed to defrost a glacial turkey behemoth and on the morning of Thanksgiving, I found the turkey partially STILL FROZEN. Not to fear, because the Internet says that you can “flash-defrost” a turkey by submerging it in water and changing out the water every half-hour until the turkey defrosts.

I did that, and because I thought I was a genius, I did it in HOT WATER to defrost it even faster! And then I read the Internet again and found out that defrosting a turkey in cold water is only safe if you are vigilant about keeping the water temperature at or below 40 degrees, and is wholly UNSAFE in warm or hot water because the warm water becomes a bacteria-breeding hot tub.

The truth is, not likely you’re growing a super-colony of turkey-borne bacteria, and even if you were, you’d probably kill them when you very safely roast your turkey, BUT I am so paranoid about poisoning, and you know, killing, my own family, that I threw the entire turkey into the trash and we won’t even talk about what we actually had for Thanksgiving that year.

Needless to say, if your turkey is frozen, plan ahead for the defrosting the turkey safely in the lowest part of your refrigerator, and to play it even safer, plan to have it fully defrosted a day in advance. If you are brining your turkey, you need to keep that in mind and might have to add time to your turkey prep schedule. Dry-brining the Zuni Cafe-style turkey takes three days (see “J” below), though the recipe adapter, Russ Parsons has tested the brine on a frozen turkey, and apparently you can brine the bird WHILE it is defrosting in the refrigerator. Praise the mother fucking lard.

E is for Thanksgiving ENTERTAINMENT. Start putting together a playlist now. My family doesn’t let me play anything except Christmas carols all day, but for all those hours I am gleefully alone in the kitchen zone washing, prepping, and cooking ahead of time, I play Sadé, Led Zeppelin, Michael Bublé, and WuTang.

Don’t call me a grinch. I listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You year-round.

fall farmers market salad Maple Citrus Vinaigrette

F is for FRESH SALAD. No one eats salad. NO ONE. I don’t know why we even bother with this here. But I swear I will eat an entire bunch of unwashed cilantro before I serve any kind of meal without a fresh salad.

G is for Thanksgiving GRAVY. I am not a fan of gravy, as I prefer a thinner, lighter “pan sauce” made from poultry drippings and wine without any sort of flour or cornstarch thickener, but if I ever left gravy off the Thanksgiving table, I’d be excommunicated from the family. So the compromise in our family is that Green Bean Casserole gets a makeover (more on that later), and Gravy stays because every single day of our entire lives, we don’t eat anything like any of the traditional Thanksgiving foods except on Thanksgiving, so let us have the white people equivalent of salsa and sriracha on everything for one day gah goddamnit it.

  • Champagne Pan Sauce [recipe]
  • Roasted Garlic Mushroom Gravy [recipe]
  • Miso Shallot Gravy [recipe]

H is for Thanksgiving HARICOT VERTS. See? Even for this list, I had to compromise between Gravy and Green Beans for “G” my God the metaphor is come to life. Haricot verts is just a skinny type of green bean.

  • Bacon-wrapped Green Beans {recipe}
  • Greens Beans with Lemon and Feta {recipe}
  • Blistered Green Beans with Garlic-Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions {recipe}

pumpkin pie ice cream sandwiches
I is for Thanksgiving ICE CREAM. Between I and J, I had a harder time figuring out what to do with the letter I because I refused to put Ice Cream on this list because you can have ice cream three times a day every day of the year, so why waste Thanksgiving dessert on something as quotidien as ice cream? Ok, fine, you can churn your own cranberry pumpkin sage latte whatever Fall Harvest flavored ice cream, you goddamned superhero of Thanksgiving.

Or you can be realistic and buy pumpkin pie ice cream from the freezer case in any grocery store, and if you still want to be a superhero, you can turn it into Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream Sandwiches with Lattice Pie Crust Cookies.{how to}

J is for “JUDYBIRD,” Russ Parsons’s Zuni Café-style Dry-brined Turkey. I don’t need to re-print the recipe that’s probably one of the more famous recipes for roast chicken, and now turkey, out there. Plan ahead. It takes three days to brine the turkey, which means you start brining on Monday morning.

meat-thermometer kitchen tool
K is for Thanksgiving KITCHEN TOOLS. When it comes to Thanksgiving, there are a LOT of fancy tools, equipment, gadgets, and electronics to help with cooking the dinner, but there is only ONE tool you MUST BUY if you don’t have one already: a meat thermometer.

Everything else, from an extra-large roasting pan with rack to food mill, is nice to have. If you have the money, buy them, but you probably already have something that you could tweak to work and use the money you save for some new Loubs. But there is nothing that can accurately tell you when the turkey is ready for showtime, i.e. cooked all the way through, not over cooked, killed any possibility of foodborne illness except for a thermometer.

That all being said, the following is a list of all the tools, gadgets and equipment we use in the kitchen for Thanksgiving, generally in order that you will need and use them.

Every Day Kitchen Tools and Equipment

  • LARGE CHEF’S KNIFE: this is the one I use every damned day.
  • CARVING KNIFE and FORK: I will be honest. Every food blog, site, magazine, what have you is going to tell you need a “carving knife and fork set.” You don’t. You need your sharp-as-a-mofo chef’s knife and a pair of kitchen gloves because I will tell you right now it is INFINITELY EASIER to slice a turkey holding onto the side of the bird with your gloved hands than it is with a stupid giant fork that you will use one time, this year, and never again, because you will realize that using your gloves hands is just easier. Don’t buy a carving knife and fork. Unless you want me to earn $0.12 commission off your purchase at amazon. Yay.
  • CUTTING BOARD: I have these in all different sizes, especially for Thanksgiving time when there is a lot of prep going on, potentially by multiple people.
  • LARGE WOODEN CUTTING/CARVING BOARD: This is the very large cutting board I use to carve the turkey, and the other 364 not-Thanksgiving days of the year, it can double as a cheeseboard. A board with a trench is nice to have to catch the juices for gravy when you’re carving the turkey, and this one is the exact same one as mine, but with the trench on one side. I originally called the trench a “moat,” in case you’re wondering what I’m talking about.
  • TWINE: to truss the turkey (and all other days for chicken). This brand is eco-friendly.
  • HEAVY DUTY ALUMINUM FOIL: to shield the turkey breast the first few hours of roasting so it doesn’t overcook. The obvious brand
  • ROASTING PAN with RACK: This is the one I have been using for my entire Thanksgiving-hosting life. I have the larger one, which will hold up to a 25-pound turkey. The smaller one will hold up to a 15-pound turkey.
  • FAT SEPARATOR: You need this for gravy and when you make bone broth. This is the fat separator I have, the kind that pours broth like a teapot out from a spout at the base of the pitcher, as opposed to dropping broth out of a hole at the bottom of the pitcher like a crop duster. 
  • SHORT-HANDLED LADLE: for “basting.” The bulb-ended syringe traditionally used for roasting turkey is annoying, and also a waste of space for its one job a year.
  • THERMOMETER: I have two analog meat thermometers that work well and are very affordable. If you are into electronic gadgetry and don’t mind spending the money, this is a great one that has a timer, can sync to your phone for alerts, etc.
  • RICER, MASHER, or FOOD MILL: for mashed potatoes. In the end, a large fork does well enough and won’t cost you $20, but this is a situation in which the tool really does make a difference in the texture. I use a ricer.
  • BAKING SHEETS: I have always had and used half sheet pans my entire life, but only a few months ago, during quarantine when I was roasting FOR ONE ok, I discovered the glory of the quarter sheet pan, and even when cooking for a larger groups, the smaller size comes in handy because it just does. Both sizes work well as trays or “cheeseboards.”
  • WIRE RACKS for sheet pans. To bake or roast things that need air circulation while baking, also to use for cooling.
  • CASSEROLE DISHES: for what else, casseroles. I have a bunch of “vintage” corningware casserole dishes from my Mom, and a couple of LeCreuset stoneware ones.
  • PARCHMENT PAPER to line baking sheets to make cleanup easier, or when you want to roast things without using a lot of oil. This eco-friendly (-ish) brand is available at Whole Foods, and also online.
  • CAST IRON SKILLET. I don’t know what you will need this for right now, but trust me, on the day of, if you have it, you will use it. I have this one in graphite gray.
  • KITCHEN TIMER: I know. You can use your phone’s timer. But… I don’t know about you but I set my phone down ALL OVER THE PLACE and lose track of it ALL THE TIME, so having a designated kitchen timer and one that has multiple timers that’s like, stuck to the refrigerator door or something, is helpful.
  • MANDOLINE or Japanese Benriner. I have used this my entire life.
  • STORAGE CONTAINERS/BAGS. Use the obvious brand.
  • DELI CUPS: for liquid leftovers like gravy, and also for all that turkey bone broth you are absolutely going to make, right?
  • KITCHEN SHEARS:
  • SLOW COOKER: You will use on the day of as a container or to keep something like mashed potatoes warm, with the intention of transferring to a pretty serving bowl but will end up just handing someone a large spoon and telling them to scoop straight from the slow cooker. The next day, you will use this to make bone broth with the leftover turkey bones. I have this one. It’s a little small for a very large turkey, but works for almost everything else.
  • FOOD PROCESSOR: My time with my food processor that I’ve had for 10+ years is coming to an end because it’s just getting old, and they don’t make replacement parts for this exact model anymore, so it’s time to move on… to the EXACT SAME equivalent food processor because I love it and it’s on MAJOR SALE.
  • SALAD SPINNER: I don’t know why I am including a salad spinner when we all know that no one eats salad, so why are you even going to make one? That being said, you still need to have a salad on the table BECAUSE YOU JUST DO.

cranberry cream cheese stuffed brioche french toast casserole
L is for Thanksgiving LEFTOVERS. My family loves leftovers so much, we now roast two turkeys every year; one to eat for dinner, one entire turkey to carve up right into to-go portions that never even hits the dining table. Additional thoughts on my family’s leftover policy and How to Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers here {how-to post}

M is for Thanksgiving MASHED POTATOES and Maybe some other kinds of potatoes and also imposters, too.

bourbon maple glazed easter ham plate

N is for Thanksgiving, NOT TURKEY. I have the perfect solution to accommodate dinner guests who don’t like turkey at Thanksgiving.

Don’t invite them to your house for dinner.

Unfortunately, you can’t do that when it’s like, you know, your own Dad. We cook an entire ham just for Dad, which he doesn’t eat because he ends up eating turkey anyway (!!!), all the while insisting that he doesn’t like it. Oooo. K. DAD. Eyeroll. This is my reality every year.

roasted butternut squash

O is for Thanksgiving’s OTHER VEGETABLES. Is there anything else except Brussels sprouts, green beans, and my beloved sweet potatoes? Apparently, there is:

pumpkin spice layer cake with cream cheese frosting salted caramel

P is for Thanksgiving PUMPKIN DESSERTS. I’m going to be honest here, I k i i i i i nda hate pumpkin pie with my entire being. The only part of me that doesn’t hate pumpkin pie is the part that wrote this post: read about my hatred-turned-semi-hatred on the Cook’s Illustrated Pumpkin Pie post. This year, we’re doing fruit for dessert. Just kidding. I love telling my family shit like that just to give myself negotiating leverage when it comes to green bean casserole and stuffing.

quinoa salad with roasted mushrooms

Q is for QUINOA, RICE, and OTHER GRAINS. Also, obviously, we have plain steamed rice on our table every year.

R is for ROLLS and BREAD

Just buy the bread and rolls. If you are ambitious, organized, and stupid enough to actually bake your own bread and rolls, you wouldn’t even be reading this list.

S is for Thanksgiving STUFFING

  • Stovetop Stuffing. The actual Stovetop brand in the box. Don’t make this. Make the Bread Salad aka “Stuffing” below.

thanksgiving 2016 tablescape, table setting
T is for Thanksgiving TABLE SETTING. I don’t have much to share about a Thanksgiving tabletop because I use the EXACT SAME table setting every year, and also pretty much for every special occasion. I don’t have separate dishware for different holidays or fancier dinner parties, and only “dress up” my everyday dishware with…nothing. I don’t have anything else to dress them up either because why? That being said, here are the very few things I have/use to set the table:

  • CHARGERS: the large decorative “plates” under the regular dinner plates, are an inexpensive way to add some height/depth to the table. These gold ones are made of plastic so they’re pretty affordable; I bought them from Michael’s, and the same brand is also available online here.
  • PLATES: I use the SAME plain, basic white dinner plates, salad plates, and bowls for every holiday, occasion, party, and meal. The advantage of simple, elegant white is that they work for everything. The disadvantages of simple elegant white dishes is there are no disadvantages.
  • NAPKIN RINGS: The tiny leaf wreath napkin rings in the above photo are from Cost Plus, but aren’t available anymore. These are maybe even prettier tho and will work for Thanksgiving and into the winter holidays! However, there’s no need to spend a lot of money here. Tie an herb sprig or colorful fall leaf around the napkin with a ribbon or twine. Place a (rinsed and) spray painted pumpkin or pine cone on the napkin. Fold the napkin into an origami turkey! Just kidding don’t do that last one.
  • NAPKINS: The same “all-white” philosophy goes for napkins, and not paper napkins. As you start adulting, you will use cloth napkins, so get simple, inexpensive white cotton napkins that you can replace easily if they ever get really stained, which will be every time you use them.
  • PLACECARDS: The kids made place cards, which were cute for our dinner, but not for the photo. Sorry, kids.
  • FLATWARE: I bought gold flatware a few seasons ago when it wasn’t very easy to find gold flatware, almost regretting it because I thought gold would be a passing trend. So far, so gold: you can find gold flatware anywhere (though these are closest in appearance to mine)! If you like entertaining with both gold and silver, this flatware is more perfectly versatile for both. Just make sure it’s dishwasher-safe (if you’re into that sort of sanity-saving thing).
  • GLASSES and STEMWARE: Wine glasses are probably the only tabletop item on which I have spent more than a few dollars. Embarrassingly, even as recent as a few years ago, my stemware was an eclectic-aka-garage-sale collection of wine-tasting souvenirs, corporate swag, and a few random three- and four-piece sets I had inherited from framily when they had broken too many others in a set. When I started adult dinner partying in a new home, I asked family for decent wine glasses as housewarming gifts. I have Riedel wine glasses in three different size/shapes, as well as an extra set of Champagne flutes because you can never have too many Champagne glasses.
  • CENTERPIECE: We don’t arrange a complicated tablescape/centerpiece because we usually have to move all of it to accommodate all the food on the table. We grabbed a few leafy branches from the yard and threw the leftover Halloween pumpkin on the table with some candles and it looked pretty good!

persimmon upside down cake
U is for UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

  • Ultimate Flex Upside-Down Cake, using apples, pears, plums, even plumped up dried fruit [recipe]
  • Persimmon Upside-Down Cake adapted from Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl cookbook, Everything I Want to Eat {recipe}

V is for VODKA and other Spirited Holiday Cocktails

  • Cranberry Ginger Moscow Mule [recipe]
  • Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail [recipe]

W is for What else? WINE

My favorite wine to drink at Thanksgiving is everything. The end. And The Beginning. And The Middle. MORE WINE.

X is for Thanksgiving XTRAS. These are the little details that didn’t fit anywhere else on this list, like what ingredients, foods, or other things to have extra on hand because you never know what’s going to happen. These are the perfect response to guests who ask “What should I bring?”:

  • Bottles of wine: you will never, ever, ever, have “too much wine.” Ever.
  • Ice: Your refrigerator ice maker can’t make ice fast enough for a Thanksgiving dinner party
  • Chicken, beef, and/or vegetable stock. Ideally, you will have already simmered your own in a crockpot and frozen quarts of it, but a half dozen quart boxes of organic stock in the back of your pantry will save your drying out ass in an emergency.
  • Butter (if you don’t use extra butter, you can freeze it, though you will probably use it very soon for Holiday baking)
  • Fresh herbs, namely parsley. Use extra herbs in your cooking. Use extra herbs as garnish.
  • Garlic and onions
  • Fruit and things to garnish the turkey serving platter
  • Disposable storage containers to send leftovers home with guests
  • Fresh flowers: put them in any room where a guest might wander in
  • Alka-seltzer, advil/tylenol, and tums

Y is for Thanksgiving YAMS and SWEET POTATOES. I have tried to stop serving sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving because we eat them year-round (though in different formats), so they mostly take up valuable space that could be given over to things we don’t get to eat year-round, like pomegranates and persimmons.

  • Crispy Oven-Fried Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Aioli {recipe)
  • Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Truffle Butter
  • Thyme Roasted Sweet Potatoes {recipe}
zuni cafe inspired bread salad with dried figs and pistachios

Z is for ZUNI CAFÉ-INSPIRED BREAD SALAD, which is what I call it every other day of the year, but because Chef Judy Rodgers describes it as a “sort of a scrappy extramural stuffing, it is a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread…all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings” in her Zuni Café cookbook, I also call it “stuffing” during Thanksgiving so people will eat it, because no one wants to eat anything called “salad” on Thanksgiving.

  • Bread Salad with Arugula, Dried Figs, and Roasted Pistachios [recipe]

THIS YEAR’S THANKSGIVING MENU

This is the Thanksgiving Menu I am preparing this year, but not actually serving because after ALL THIS, my various family will be traveling and whatnot this year. However, what I am preparing for you, my digital family, looks like the menu we serve every year anyway because like I said, my family doesn’t know what to do with anything other than traditional American Thanksgiving foods. Previous years’ menu follow for those of you curious about the level of information hoarding that goes on in The Delicious Life, and just to see how very little shit changes over the years.

Thanksgiving 2020, Quarantine version

Thanksgiving 2019

in Philadelphia, PA

  • Starters: Cheeseboard from DiBruno Bros {how-to}
  • Salad: Avocado, Butternut Squash, Pomegranate Chopped Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
  • Roast Turkey with Traditional Turkey Gravy
  • Cranberry Relish
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Classic Bread Stuffing
  • Roasted Green Beans and Mushrooms
  • Desserts: Apple Pie and Pumpkin Roll Cake

Thanksgiving Menu 2018

thanksgiving turkey, carved
  • Starters: Cheese and Char-crudité Board [how-to]
  • Salad: Tri-Colore Salad with Avocado [recipe]
  • Bread: Gluten-free Super Seed Bread [recipe]
  • Herb Roasted Turkey
  • Traditional Turkey Gravy
  • Cranberry Sauce [recipe], Pomegranate Salsa [recipe], Salsa Verde [recipe], Kimchi [resource], Peruvian Aji Verde Sauce [recipe]
  • Roasted Brassicas with : Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower [recipe]
  • Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower [recipe]
  • Mashed Butternut Squash
  • Roasted Mushrooms and Shredded Kale [recipe]
  • Zuni Cafe-Inspired Bread Salad [recipe]
  • Desserts: Dessert Cheeseboard [how-to], Pumpkin Pie [recipe], Ice Cream and Sorbets [resource]

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

in Los Angeles, CA

  • Starters: Smoked Salmon Dip with Veges and Crackers [recipe], Cheese and Charcuterie Board [recipe]
  • Salad: Italian Chopped Salad [recipe]
  • Bread: King’s Hawaiian Dinner Rolls. I know. Why, family, WHY?!
  • Zuni Cafe-Inspired Dry-Brined Herb Roasted Turkey
  • Traditional Turkey Gravy
  • Cranberry Sauce [recipe], Salsa Verde [recipe], Kimchi [resource], Aji Sauce [recipe]
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash
  • Simple 3-Ingredient Mashed Potatoes [recipe]
  • Oven-roasted Sweet Potato Fries [recipe]
  • Green Bean Casserole [recipe]
  • Creamed Corn [recipe]
  • Basic Herbed Bread Stuffing
  • Desserts: Pumpkin Pie [recipe], Apple Pie, Ice Cream and Sorbets [resource]
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TempusFugitive November 18, 2016 at 3:58 am

Thankful for all the years of great content you gave us.

Reply

2 Sook Won November 21, 2016 at 8:59 am

This is E for epic. I’m brining & whining in a winterwonderland

Reply

3 Eric Jonathan Swenson November 12, 2017 at 5:03 pm

wow good job sarah

Reply

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