Getting into the Thanksgiving mood

Yellow Welcome Sign

Yellow Welcome Sign

Last year I thought of all kinds of things to say to all of you about my favorite holiday, but I thought of it all too late. I mean, really, who needs Thanksgiving tips a week after you’ve passed out from feasting? This year, I’m going to get my Thanksgiving started early. I have so many things to be thankful for this year, and I want to share the great resources I have with you early enough to be useful.

To me, Thanksgiving is about gathering together the ones you love, and showing them how much you love them by feeding them tasty foods made with care. One could probably argue that a lot of holidays are like this, but I like this one most because there’s no better reason to celebrate than thanks. Thanks for being alive, being with the ones you love, having more than enough to go around (because we truly are extremely lucky in that respect), and for being able to share it all. And unlike some religious holidays, I know I always get this one off from work. So really, it’s a time for guilt-free expression of joy. But enough with the sentimentality, on with the food!

In terms of Thanksgiving, there are few people I can give more thanks to than Alton Brown. The techniques I’ve gleaned from him over the five years I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinners for my family and friends have transformed me from a master re-heater to a proficient saucier. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it a lot here, but sauces are my favorite things to make, and it’s really all thanks to Alton (my arteries probably don’t feel the same gratitude). He explained the word “roux” to me and it was all gravy from there.

But specifically in the world of turkey and turkey day accoutrement, Alton has outdone himself. There are a series of clips available on Hulu right now which dissect each task of the Thanksgiving day chef into an easy to understand, practically foolproof set of concepts. From jellied cranberry sauce to perfect mashed potatoes to the entire bird with stuffing, he’s got us covered.

And while Alton has taught me tons over the years, no one has taught me more than the women in my family, for which I am endlessly thankful. My mother knows poultry and so I’ve always been lucky enough to have a fail-proof turkey technique just a phone call away. This turkey is always perfect. I mean look at last year’s spread. That was some moist turkey. Stay tuned for my turkey advice.

Because of my family, I’ve always had a strong tradition of holiday feasts to look back to when coming up with a menu. Family or tradition can be a great resource. What were your favorite Thanksgiving dishes growing up? I like tradition, but I also like to try new things. I try to balance the meal with some old family standards, and mix in some new flavors from my friends. For example, the way I make turkey and gravy is generally the same year to year, but with stuffing, Jen’s family’s cornbread-style recipe is more adventurous. This way there’s something familiar and something new at the table for everyone.

If you’ve never done a Thanksgiving feast before, it can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The first time we attempted a Thanksgiving dinner, we made the dishes we knew we could handle (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes), and bought the dishes we weren’t yet sure how to make (cranberry sauce, gravy, pies). Over the years, we increased the number of dishes we made from scratch, until we’d got the day down pat. Now we even make our own pies. But remember, we didn’t start there and you don’t need to either! Each year, we learn a bit more, and take tips from the masters in our lives on how to get each component right.

I’m going to try to post my best Thanksgiving tips each week until the holiday. If there’s anything you want to know more about, leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to get it in.

One year ago: My Grandma’s Vegetable Soup

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