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I got a message on Facebook last week from a relative. “Hey, we’re going to be in town for the Super Bowl, are you around that weekend?”

Two questions: 1. The Super Bowl is in New York this year? 2. What weekend?

To give you an analogy, this kind of question is like me writing to a friend in San Francisco to say “Hey, I’m showing up for the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Festival, are you around that weekend?”

I did consider asking him for specific dates, but remembered my trusty resource Google. Google is that friend to whom you direct all of your embarrassing questions. As long as you clear your history. You don’t want your significant other to see that you’ve been researching Syphilis. That happened to good friends of mine (it was an honest mix up, I won’t get into it) but it serves as a cautionary tale: keep that history clean.

I’ve formed a strong relationship with Google over the years, sometimes I think I expect a little too much; I’ve caught myself asking open-ended questions, like “will I have another baby?” or “will my dinner guests like salt cod?” But for the garden variety questions, Google’s always had my back.

Armed with information, I quickly responded “we’re in town!”

It’s not that I was completely unaware that something vaguely footballish was going on. Facebook was abuzz. Taunts were thrown. My sister’s update on Jan 19 read: “Are you watching Brady peeing in his Gucci panties? #BRONCOSSSSSSSSSS”.

So I did what any smart person with a food blog would do – I immediately logged onto Pinterest and created a Super Bowl board, and started collecting recipes for all of those manly dishes that people seem to eat at this time of year. The wings, dips, chilis, nachos, and of course the little football-shaped deviled eggs.

Who knows, maybe I’ll throw my own Super Bowl party down the road. It sounds like fun. I’ll just wear earplugs so that I won’t have to listen to the sound of football on TV. Am I the only one who feels this way? I’d watch golf over football any day. I don’t even golf, but I love the velvet hills, the soothing voices, and the conspicuous absence of sweat.

chilicups 226
chilitoppings 225

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olives 076

I’ve been waiting all year for this. My stomach is rumbling, I can’t stop thinking about it. Turkey, dark meat, crunchy wing bones, crispy skin. This is one polarizing meal, separating the meat eaters from the vegetarians, the turkey lovers from the turkey haters, pecan pie fans from the pumpkin pie fanatics. The battles are vicious, I try to stay out of it, so I’ll say yes to just about anything on the Thanksgiving table besides cranberry sauce from a can.

This year I was lucky enough to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Yes we eat the same foods. No it’s not about the pilgrims. I agree that it’s a little odd to have the exact same holiday with the same food and same name for completely different reasons. However,  according to my research, the first North American Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578, 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Just a little pearl of wisdom for your cocktail hour conversations next week.

But regardless of its provenance, most of us will agree that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the tastiest of the year.

For years I used to schedule vacation days on the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving to give myself a little prep window. I so looked forward to those two days when I could plan, shop, and cook to my heart’s content. Not to mention drink a few too many afternoon glasses of red wine. And in the spirit of full disclosure, a wee bit of sherry, Pedro Ximinez, the kind you can basically eat with a spoon.

But isn’t that what the holidays are about? Inappropriate, guilt-free indulgence?

Since I threw myself into cooking years ago, I’ve become the defacto destination amongst my friends for any Thanksgiving-related questions. What kind of turkey should I buy? Heritage or organic? What size? What stuffing should I make? What can I make ahead?

So I thought I’d break it down and create a mini guide for those of you who want to throw a first class dinner without losing your mind. In fact, if you follow the menu and timeline exactly, it should be a cinch. Just imagine, sleeping in until 10:30AM, making yourself a cappuccino, reading the paper, and finally by 1PM settling in for the real prep work. Nobody is getting up at 5AM on my program, that’s for sure.

Before you click away from this page, thinking that I’m making some kind of psychotic overpromise, let me coax you back. Yes, I agree that cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be a big undertaking, but if you plan ahead, and prepare the whole thing in baby steps, it’s actually easy to pull off.

Back when Gourmet magazine existed (hold on, wiping a tear) they used to illustrate this point with their party menus. Whether it was a Mothers’ day brunch, a Cinco de Mayo party, or even Thanksgiving dinner, they’d suggest a full menu – from the appetizer to the main course, side(s), a dessert, and even a signature cocktail – and  lay out the specific daily steps to get you there. It was so helpful, and so clear that if you spent an hour or two prepping each day, you could make magic happen.

I take this same approach with Thanksgiving and do as much as I can in advance. I don’t like to be slaving over a hot stove when guests arrive. So the majority of the cooking is done before anyone walks through our front door. I want to be able to join my friends and family for cocktail hour, not watch them from the sidelines.

The great thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that most of the ingredients and dishes can be pulled together ahead of time. In some cases, waaaay ahead of time. Like homemade turkey stock. If you need a great recipe, try this one from Bon Appetit magazine. It makes a huge difference in the outcome of your dishes – just stash it in the freezer and thaw it early Thanksgiving week. It’ll be ready for you to use in all of your side dishes; the star of your homemade gravy.

The menu I’ve pulled together is my go-to meal on Thanksgiving, made from the recipes that I trust and have made time and again. This meal has been 10+ years in the making, and let me tell you, I’ve done my research. I used to hole up every weekend in October with a stack of cooking magazines at my feet and just start ripping, stuffing the recipes into a giant green binder. This was the party planning equivalent of dial-up modems now that we have Pinterest (I’ll cop to now having a Thanksgiving board, feel free to follow it for more great recipes). But I used to love the process nonetheless.

It wasn’t easy to narrow my set of dishes down to the final list, but the easiest and tastiest won out: the chestnut and sausage stuffing that’s appeared on our table every year since 2001; the cranberry sauce with zinfandel (how many kids really go for cranberry sauce anyway?); the creamed spinach and parsnips that bring guests to their knees. I’ve had people ask “what is this?” as though parsnips are some kind of wonderfood from Mars. Most important, I’ve included a DRY-BRINED bird. Because 1. every bird should be brined, and 2. nobody wants to take up valuable fridge space with 20-lb floating raw turkey. And I’ve included the newest addition to the menu, the truly auto-pilot sweet potato, coconut & smoked paprika soup, so easy, it basically cooks itself.

ThePerfectThanksgiving_FeedMeDearly

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Squash 075

I know that it’s early November, but it’s never too early to talk about Thanksgiving. Especially when I’m giving you a piece of advice about something that you may have to pre-order. And I’m not talking about the turkey.

Let’s talk about last year for a minute.

It’s not my favorite characteristic, but my husband is exceptionally good at getting sick on major holidays.

Although technically it’s not his fault, he has a tendency to eat suspicious mayonnaise-based products the morning of a major event. Several years ago he ate a greenish chicken salad from a local deli and was violently ill during Thanksgiving dinner. Years before it was funky sushi the day of his birthday party.

I should have prepared for another Thanksgiving disaster last year, brought in special backup teams or outsourced the meal preparation. In my world, heading into Thanksgiving without a backup plan is like hosting an outdoor wedding in May. 

Thanksgiving morning I rolled out of bed, the world my oyster, the dishes that I’d lovingly cook for our family and friends sketched out on a piece of paper. Rodney had graciously offered to take care of the kids to give me some much-needed space in the kitchen.

I walked out of our bedroom and found Rodney hunched over the toilet.

Rodney: “I feel sick. My stomach hurts.”

Me: “Ha, that’s a good one.”

Rodney: “I’m serious, I feel really sick.”

Me: “You can’t be sick today, not allowed. Sorry.”

Rodney: “I feel like I’m going to throw up. I literally can’t move.”

Me: “Oh, my, God. Every year. Ev-ver-ry year. Why do I do this to myself. What did you eat last night?”

Rodney: “A burrito.”

Me: “From where?”

Rodney: “Duane Reade.”

Apparently in a fit of hunger, instead of reaching into our perfectly stocked fridge for dinner, he panicked and bought himself a pork burrito from our local drugstore’s freezer case.

So rather than watching him get ready to take the kids to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, our first time buying tickets, the tickets we’d gotten so that the kids could be out my hair while I cooked dinner for 16 people – rather than watching him do that……I now had to witness him crawl over to the couch and lie down in the fetal position with a bucket wedged next to his head.

Missing the parade was not an option at this point. The kids had been talking about it for weeks. Tears would be shed. Hearts would be broken.

So I did what any calm and collected Thanksgiving hostess would do in this situation. I swore like a sailor and stopped breathing for a solid minute, just until I became faint-headed enough to believe that this was actually a cruel joke and not my reality. As I regained consciousness, I figured out my plan.

We’d switch places, I’d take the kids to the parade. He would cook. Terrifying, all of it, but it was the only option.

Macys

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breadcrumbs 063

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about smart kitchen tips, including this little reference to saving your leftover bread and turning it into bread crumbs. A mere blog post won’t do justice to the genius of this technique, but I’m going to try.

The process is easy. Just take your old, leftover, stale bread – baguettes, bakery loaves, whatever you’d like, and give them a whirl in the food processor. I don’t even take my crusts off, as many directions for making bread crumbs suggest. Just rip your bread into chunks, and pulse them a few times until they resemble coarse crumbs….And there they can sit, bagged in a Ziploc, ready and waiting in your fridge until you’re ready to make them the star of your show.

You’re making the same kind of bread crumbs that you’d find in a box at your local grocery store, but a fresher, better-tasting version.

Not a fan of the bread crumbs from grocery stores to begin with?

Neither am I. On the odd occasion I’ll use Panko, but I won’t touch the other kind. You know the kind that I’m talking about – the ones that you’ll find on grocery store shelves stored in cylindrical cardboard containers –  plain or Italian. They’re usually sitting there next to the shelf-stable grated parmesan with the green lid. I’m being as complimentary as possible here, but those bread crumbs taste like oregano-infused sawdust left in open-air containers in someone’s garage.

Breadcrumb collage

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