Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Due Diligence

I worked until 11:30 last night, I'm working from home right now. My in-laws arrive tomorrow, I'm cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner, for the first time ever, for 9 people on Thursday at 1. I had to say no to a partner this morning when a deal that I thought had died popped back up in the form of a box of diligence materials FedExed to my office. I talked with another first year who had nothing on her desk, filled her in on the deal's background, and then informed the partner of my full plate and fully briefed replacement. He was happy with the switch, at this point I don't think people care much which first year is doing their work as long as it's getting done. I was sad to turn him down since I haven't worked with him yet and the deal is an interesting one, but given the sheer volume of material I have a feeling I'll be taking some of those documents home over Thanksgiving anyway.

Sometime before Thursday I need to grocery shop and look up recipes for turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes (can you believe I haven't made those before? I love them so). Getting some sleep would also be good or else I'm going to crack under the strain my in-laws bring to the house. My role is to keep everyone calm and rational and not yelling at each other, and escaping to my office to review some contracts might sound good by Sunday. Luckily we can all agree that we adore Landon and he's such a busy little guy these days, I'm sure we'll stay entertained watching him dance and run around the house.

I can't believe Thanksgiving is in a day and a half. I can't believe I'm cooking the 19 lb. turkey that's sitting in my fridge. Is it hard? I'm a good follower of directions, I should be okay right? Four of our guests are Indian MBA classmates of JP. They've never been to a Thanksgiving dinner and won't be eating the turkey, so that takes some of the pressure off. Plus they're funny and friendly (we've had them over several times before) and I'm looking forward to introducing them to lots of delicious side dishes. Which reminds me, I need to keep the stuffing vegetarian and keep it out of the turkey -- how do you make stuffing? Sometime tomorrow I need to look up recipes and create a shopping list. I am a Doctor of Law but I'm not sure I'm qualified to cook a Thanksgiving dinner.


  1. goodluck shopping this week! I went to the grocery store twice this week and it was A ZOO! It's great that you know how much work you can handle and what your limit is- very smart!!

  2. Sorry to sound like an ad, but I always go to epicurious.com -- they have recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines. After the sheer volume of recipes, the reader comments are the most valuable resource. I recommend the chestnut and wild mushroom stuffing. Good luck!

  3. The key to cooking Thanksgiving dinner is organization. And I know that you can be incredibly organized. Figure out not only what ingredients you will need, but also what kitchen and serving equipment. Make a schedule for what will be in the oven when.

    Let other people help. Even if you're the only one cooking, assign someone to clean-up duty, let someone else do the grocery shopping (or the last-minute stuff-you-forgot grocery shopping), etc.

    I highly recommend Cooking Light Magazine and their website, cookinglight.com, for recipes and advice.

    I also highly recommend brining your turkey, which does not change the flavor at all but keeps it from drying out in the oven. Do this on Wednesday, then cook the turkey on Thursday. Get two of those turkey-sized oven cooking bags. Place both bags in a large stock pot, one inside the other (to prevent leaks). Put the raw turkey inside the bags. Mix together several gallons of water, 2/3 cup of kosher salt, and 2/3 cup of sugar. Pour the water mixture over the turkey into the bags. Close up the bags and set the whole thing in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Halfway through the brining time, turn the turkey and bags upside down and put it back in the stock pot (this is a 2 or 3 person job).

    Good luck! I'm sure it will turn out great!

  4. I love thepioneerwoman.com-- she has a whole thanksgiving section with step by step directions that are photographed. I hosted my first thanksgiving last year and it was a success b/c of her site.

  5. Good luck on shopping! My favorite mashed potatoes..

    5 lbs potatoes, cooked and mashed
    1 8oz sour cream
    2 8 oz cream cheese
    Milk to taste
    butter to creamy

    After it is all added to the mashed, then you whipp them up with the mixer. You can serve them with bacon bits, green onions and cheese. YUMMY!

  6. Wow, sounds like you have a busy holiday ahead! And you know, I don't think I've ever had stuffing that was actually stuffed into the turkey. Does that make it dressing instead? Anyways, I'm sure it'll turn out great!

  7. You're not doing all the cooking yourself, right? That is masochistic. Get JP a to-do list, stat!

  8. Turkey is surprisingly easy.

    1) Pull out the giblets. They are usually in two bags in the cavity. If you screw up and leave them in it doesn't matter. Been there done that.

    2) If you don't have time to brine (it sounds like you don't) buy an oven bag. They are these bags that you put the turkey in to bake it. It helps it not dry out.

    3) Smear whatever you want all over the turkey. I usually do butter & paprika because it makes it brown up nicely. Doesn't really affect flavor.

    4) Throw some stuff in the cavity. An onion or two a lemon, a couple of bay leaves.

    5. Insert a thermometer. The only trick here is to make sure you are int he center of a fleshy part (like the breast) and not resting against a bone. Bake at 325. Pull it out as soon as the internal temperature reaches 165. Let it rest at least 30 minutes before carving.

    This means you will probably need to start the turkey a good 4.5-5 hours before you are planning on eating.

    I promise - it is really impossible to screw up turkey so long as you have enough time and use a thermometer.

  9. You can do it! My vote for the turkey is to put a lemon, cut in quarters, an onion, some carrots, and an apple, cut, into the cavity of the turkey. Easy and comes out YUM.

    Also, if you or JP has time to make mashed potatoes ahead of time, you can warm 'em in the crock pot the day of. Takes one thing off your list and frees up the stove.

    You'll do great!

  10. Mashed potatoes and turkey are simple. Stuffing is a little more complicated, and gravy is just too much for me to handle with everything else.

    Were you concerned that the partner would be unhappy about you finding a replacement at work? I don't know if I would do that before talking to the partner -- I might be too cautious. But it sounds like taking the initiative to do it first was a good idea.

  11. You can totally do this. Neither turkey, potatoes nor stuffing are especially tricky dishes. The timing is something you can figure out today (over lunch?) and also the specifics of the recipes so you know what you need to buy at the store. (It will be a zoo so allow extra time and I *think* most HEBs will be closed tomorrow or only open for a few hours so don't count on being able to make a late run to anything fancier than a filling station. I have bought vanilla at a gas station before!) And you know HEB and others sell ready-to-heat sides. NO SHAME in taking a shortcut on something, especially when you're making the rest (and you are a FT mom and lawyer).

    FIRST thing to check -- did you buy a fresh or frozen turkey? Make sure if frozen that it's already thawed as soon as you can. You can thaw it "rapidly" in very cold water in your sink; keep an eye on the water to make sure it doesn't get too warm.

    Otherwise, good advice so far on the turkey. I usually brine mine but have skipped it in the past and basting has been enough to keep it moist. Follow the thermometer method; don't go by the pop-up in the turkey as that usually results in an overdone turkey. And calculate now what time you'll need to put the bird in the oven. I have made a 25-lb turkey before and had to wake up at 5a to get the thing ready to go in the oven since we were eating mid-day. The sides will go in the oven once the turkey comes out as most of them are just cooking for about 30 min or so, which is the minimum the turkey should rest.

    I use both Epicurious and CookingLight.com to find reliable recipes. Each has an advanced search option that lets you find vegetarian recipes for stuffing (which you shouldn't make in the bird anyway as it wouldn't get to a food safe temp without drying out the bird anyway). If you like mushrooms, go for something a little heartier since it sounds like sides may comprise your veggie guests' meals. And if your in-laws are amenable, draft at least one of them to either help in the kitchen on food prep (anyone can dice) or do it with JP and have them watch Landon.

    Enjoy your first thanksgiving in your new home -- you'll be fine, if a little harried.

  12. I have made this turkey for the past few years and it always gets rave reviews. http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Maple-Roast-Turkey-and-Gravy/Detail.aspx

    Turkey is really not hard--I haven't screwed one up yet. I usually stuff mine with onions, carrots and celery, which helps the turkey to cook evenly and stay moist. I usually cook the stuffing separately--mostly because I am a teeny bit afraid of giving someone food poisoning if I cook the stuffing inside the bird.

    I surround the bird with more veggies while it cooks. The juice makes a nice base for gravy. (I don't touch the giblets--but don't forget to pull them out before you cook the turkey!)

    Good luck--I'm sure your dinner will be fabulous!

  13. Hey, I'm Indian and if they're like me, they'll never know it's not Stove Top! ;-)

    Really, if they're new to the US, it's the idea of Thanksgiving dinner that they'll enjoy. The big family getting together...I mean we're a culture that calls even strangers "Auntie" and "Uncle."

    Heck, growing up in the US with my immigrant, vegetarian parents, we made a huge Indian buffet and called it Thanksgiving. That's what it's about, right? The family together, albeit perhaps not happily together, but together.

    And dessert's always a hit! I'm still working on making a perfect crust for pie although several of my goumet baking friends insist guests don't know the difference between "from scratch" and from "Pillsbury."

    Good luck, you'll be great, as usual!

  14. I had been planning to go to the store midday yesterday or today but it doesn't look like that's happening, JP and I will just have to battle crowds tonight. Then I will get to work with my notepads and recipes and comments and make The Plan. Hopefully I can stick to The Plan when my MIL drives me to crack open the first bottle of wine at 10 a.m.

    And to CM: I have a post brewing on this matter of being an associate and setting boundaries but as you can see, even with my boundary-setting I'm crazy busy at the moment. However, I think for this deal and the ASAP timeline the partner wanted, it was more important for me to find my replacement and have her ready to go when I told the partner I needed to step back. It allowed for a seamless transition and showed him that even if I couldn't do my work, I would ensure that it got done without any extra work on his part.

  15. For the stuffing, I use Peppridge Farm or Kelloggs stuffing mix in a bag,just the herb flavored one. use the celery and onion and buy chicken broth (I use swansons) directions on the back, and put it in a oven safe dish and bake it. I always buy extra bags of stuffing because I love it so much!

    Good Luck!

  16. I think I would buy pre-made or pre-packaged for some of the sides if you can since you don't have time and it always takes longer than you think. Gravy takes a few minutes to make, but if it needs to be vegetarian, maybe you should just buy some pre-made?

    The stuffing I make has chopped yellow onion, garlic and scallions sauteed in butter, then add in celery, mushrooms and crumbled corn bread. Add chicken stock or vegetable broth, and a little white wine. Then lastly throw in some diced apple, craisins and pecans. I cook it stove top for an hour or so, then just put it in the oven till dinner is ready.

    Cranberry sauce is the easiest to make - boil cranberries, add water (or orange juice) then add a little brown sugar and white sugar.

    For mashed potatoes, I boil about 6-8 russett potatoes, drain, then put those with equal parts butter, cream and whole milk, a little roasted garlic and salt and pepper in my blender.

    Good luck, I'm sure it will turn out great! and don't stress, it's your holiday too and your in-laws will be too preoccupied with Landon to care about the food anyway :)

  17. Happy Thanksgiving! I let the husband do the cooking. Less trips to the ER that way.

  18. Hi, nice blog!
    I love Thanksgiving day very much. I found a site with a lot of things about Thanksgiving. Maybe this will interest you: All about Thanskgiving Day!!! :)

  19. I also suggest the Pioneer Woman's website. Easy with great pictures. I just made the pumpkin cheesecake and have much more to do. Good Luck!

  20. I linked to this post yesterday to discuss the setting-boundaries issue, and how to handle yourself in general (at least that's what I thought I was talking about). So I very much look forward to reading your brewing post about being an associate and setting boundaries. But one thing at a time, and today is all about the bird, and the 10am wine.