What to Serve on Your Thanksgiving Banquet Table
In our last article, we described how to create a Thanksgiving-sized banquet table out of your existing furniture and a sheet of plywood. The question now arises: What are you going to put on that table?
Most families have traditional recipes handed down from their ancestors (or at least from the grandparents). It can be hard to break these traditions, so we’ll just offer one of our favorites, plus a few tips on preparing the center of attention for most of us, the turkey.
There are two reasons for buying a great big turkey: feeding lots of guests and having leftovers. If you’re only feeding a few people, or you don’t have a big freezer to store the leftovers, buy a smaller turkey. They’re a lot easier to deal with.
If you do buy a huge turkey, make sure it will fit in your roasting pan and your oven. We know of one case where the turkey just fit into both pan and oven, but left so little room that everything else had to be cooked a day ahead. Then, while the turkey was cooking, the little pan overflowed with drippings. Luckily, the drippings didn’t run down into the flame and start a fire. They simply ran out of the oven and halfway across the kitchen floor!
The next trick with a turkey is to decide when it’s done. A stuffed turkey generally takes 20 to 40 minutes more cooking time than an unstuffed turkey. Because the breast meet is less fatty, it tends to cook more quickly and get dried out before the legs and thighs are cooked through. You can avoid this by rubbing butter or bacon grease under the skin, laying bacon strips on top of the breast, or basting frequently, or you can start with the turkey upside down in the pan.
Flipping the Half-cooked Bird
Breast-down cooking requires a rack (you can improvise with potatoes as supports) and a way to flip the bird. Here’s what we do: Stick the handle of a large wooden spoon into the body cavity (between the stuffing and the upper edge of the cavity.) Stick a big carving fork solidly into the flesh below the neck cavity. Lift both ends and turn with the fork. For a big turkey, one person can lift each end and a third can help support the middle, with paper towels as hot pads. You can use this same method to move the fully cooked turkey from the pan to the platter. Don’t cook it so much that it falls apart when you lift it!
Test for doneness by using an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of a leg. You’ll find one for just a couple of dollars in your local supermarket.
Here’s a little something to add to your feast, if you want to change things up a bit:)
Neeps and Tatties and Wintah Squahsh and Kale
This is a substitute for mashed potatoes based on a traditional Scottish dish with New England additions. (The kale is tasty, healthy, and optional.)
4 medium-sized potatoes
2 medium turnips (or one large one)
1 small winter squash (butternut, acorn, or blue hubbard)
1 large kale leaf
2-4 ounces of butter
A little bit of milk
Salt and pepper
(Adjust these quantities to suit your taste and the number of guests)
Clean the potatoes and cut into chunks. (Leave the skins or not – your choice.)
Clean and peel the turnips and cut into chunks.
Chop open and de-seed the squash. Peel as much as you want to use and cut into chunks. You should have about equal amounts of potato and turnip and half as much squash, but if you really like squash, use more.
Clean the kale and cut out the center rib, then chop the leafy part into small pieces.
Put the potato, turnip, and squash into a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. After about 10 minutes, add the kale. Continue boiling until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. The turnip and squash should be a little firmer but not much.
Pour off the water and return the pan to the burner. Let excess water steam off while you shake the pan and stir the vegetables to keep them from burning.
Remove from heat and mash the vegetables to your preferred consistency. Add the butter and let it melt in while you mash. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add only enough milk to make the mix a little creamy. Don’t make the mix too mushy. We prefer it when there are still small lumps of turnip and squash in the creamier potatoes. They add texture and small bursts of flavor.
Have a very tasteful Thanksgiving!