You're doing it all wrong, but it's not too late to change. Here are five ways to improve this year's Thanksgiving feast. You're welcome.
Every family holds dear to its Thanksgiving traditions. But if Shirley Jackson's The Lottery has taught us anything, it's that tradition can get a wee bit out of hand. Why do you insist on making the same mistakes year after year when you can follow some random jerk's opinionated tips instead?
So here is how you are screwing up Thanksgiving year after year and how to fix it:
1. Your turkey
Every year, well-meaning folks invent new ways to complicate a simple turkey. We've started deep-frying them in peanut oil. We're arguing about whether to baste them or cover them up. This year's new trend is to steam the bird first. Next year we'll all be massaging our turkey for two hours before smoking it in a stack of car tires over walnut shells.
Truth is, there's only one magical thing you need to do to get juicy, delicious turkey every time. It's called brining.
In the fridge, soak the entire turkey in a solution of 2 cups kosher salt, 2 cups sugar, and two gallons of hot tap water for 24 hours. You can use a large pot, a 5 gallon bucket, a tightly-sealed oven bag or your wife's pillowcase. Cook it for 15-18 minutes per pound covered with foil, uncover it for the last 20 minutes, and don't waste your time basting anything.
Unfortunately, a quick Google search reveals folks who've even figured out how to complicate brining - with broths, herbs, sauces, sea salt, etc. Trust me on this one. All the herbs and broth in the world won't improve on this one iota. Stick with the simple brine above and flip those other guys the bird.
2. Your cranberry sauce sucks
Why do you still plop your canned cranberry sauce on the table June Cleaver-style? No matter how much you dress it, slice it or mash it up with a fork, those telltale can ridges betray your dirty secret.
Do you treat it as an afterthought because nobody in your family really likes it? That's because you're giving them the crappy stuff. The real thing is so delicious and dead-simple to make that every household in America should be doing it.
So here are two recipes that take less than 10 minutes of your time. Going rate for a bag of cranberries this year is less than $2, so you can afford to experiment:
If you own a grinder: Grandma Kuhns's Cranberry Sauce
1. Grind together 2 cups cranberries, 1 whole orange (peel and all), and 1/2 cup nutmeats (totally optional).
2. Dissolve a 3 oz packet of lemon jello in 1 cup of hot water and add to the mixture.
3. Stir in 1 cup of sugar until dissolved and put in the fridge overnight to set.
If you don't own a grinder: Todd's Easy C-Sauce
1. Dump a 12 oz package of cranberries into a small saucepan.
2. Add just enough red wine (any kind) to get them floating.
3. Stir in one cup sugar and bring to a boil until all the cranberries pop.
4. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until it gets nice and syrupy.
5. Cool down and store in fridge until use.
3. Offering pumpkin pie
I know I'm stoking the fury of pie lovers everywhere on this one, but at least hear me out before unleashing the hate mail.
Nobody wants to admit this, but pumpkin pie is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Even those of us who don't mind it have to smother it in whipped cream first. Some folks like it hot, some people prefer it cold. How are you going to handle all that?
You're going to do what you always do: Supplement with a few apple and pecan pies. You'll do your best to try and judge who likes what so that you make enough to go around and please everybody, knowing there's always that guy who takes a quarter of pie and mucks up your whole formula. Too much baking.
Now, your grandma might make the best pumpkin pie in the world, and more power to her. But why go through the hassle when there's an alternative everyone can agree on?
That's right - I'm talking about pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. It's a scientific fact that everyone in the world loves these things. And because it's easy to make a ton of it at once, all your dessert problems are solved. You're welcome.
Here's a dead-simple, tried-and-true recipe that will fill a 15"x10" jelly roll pan. I would double the frosting, though, because it's the best part.
4. Not making turkey soup
Don't throw away that turkey carcass just yet. Drop it in a large stock pot filled with water and toss in an onion, some carrots and a handful of salt. After an hour or two of boiling, remove the bones and cool it down. You'll have enough turkey soup to fill a couple gallon-sized freezer bags.
If you don't have a giant stock pot, just hunt down a local Vietnamese family and ask to borrow their Pho pot. Sorry - we're already using ours.
5. Making everything too damn complicated
The holidays are stressful enough as it is. Don't add to it. Scale back and take time to enjoy the process.
Admit it - this is probably the most baking you're planning to do all year. So while you're at it, make enough so you're sure to have leftovers. Then drop some off at my house. You're welcome.