By J.M. Hirsch | The Associated Press
Pulling together the perfect Thanksgiving dinner all comes down to balance. It’s a matter of knowing when to save, and when to spend. And that rule applies as much to money as to time and energy.
To help you sort it all out, I’ve listed my Top 12 Thanksgiving Trouble Spots, along with my take on where your time and money are best spent.
Splurge on a local, organic, heirloom bird raised by free-spirited workers on a collective. The bird, after all, is the centerpiece of the meal. Make it a good one.
It’s all about moisture. And brining is worth your time. Because a moist bird makes for a delicious dinner. You could do a basic brine, which is a 1:1 ratio of kosher salt and sugar dissolved in water. Plunk the bird in that for 8 to 72 hours and you’re good to go. But anyone can do a basic brine.
What you want to do is invest a few extra minutes and a couple extra dollars to make a sensational brine. Using the same 1:1 ratio, you’re going to dissolve kosher salt and brown sugar in gently simmering apple cider seasoned with black pepper and fresh rosemary. Add a ton of ice to cool it down, then resume your poultry plunking.
Don’t just pop the bird in the oven. Lube it up with as much butter as you can, both under and over the skin. And while you’re at it, jam some fresh herbs under the skin, then pop some lemons and fresh rosemary into the cavity.
Do it. But don’t do it more than every 30 minutes. Every time you open that oven door, all the heat rushes out. Baste more than every half hour or so and your bird won’t be done until Christmas.
Unless you are an amazing baker, buy your rolls. Want a homemade touch? Make the butter to go with the rolls. It takes 5 minutes and will be the best butter you’ve ever eaten. Seriously.
Dump a quart of heavy cream in a food processor, then turn it on. Let it go for about 3 to 5 minutes. First it will turn into whipped cream, then the buttermilk will break away from the fat. Once the fat (butter) is all clumped together, dump out the liquid. Place the butter in a bowl and knead it to squeeze out more liquid. Once no more liquid comes out, season it with kosher salt and eat it at room temp. Best. Butter. Ever.
Dry potatoes are better potatoes. So after you boil them, spend a few extra minutes spreading them on a baking sheet. Pop the potatoes in the oven at about 350 F for 10 minutes. After the potatoes are dried out, use a ricer to get just the right texture. Then load on the butter and milk. Spare the fat, spoil the potatoes.
Waste of time. Waste of money. Don’t do it. Nobody wants it.
Don’t complicate your life — or your bird — by stuffing your stuffing.
But do spend a little extra to use real bread (not bagged stuffing). Get good bread, let it go stale, cut it into cubes, then toast it in the oven. And when you assemble the stuffing, get some dried fruit in there. Dried cherries, cranberries and apricots are all excellent choices. And tons of onions, sage and celery are nice counterpoints to the fruit. Don’t forget an egg or two for structure.
Just make it. Use the recipe on the bag, but add as many other varieties of dried and fresh fruit as you can handle.
When in doubt, add bacon. Green beans. Brussels sprouts. Whatever. Bacon makes them better.
We’re talking sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Cut the orange ones into cubes, dust them with cornstarch, a sprinkle of oil and whatever seasonings get you going, then roast them until lightly browned and tender.
Spend your time making fresh whipped cream using really good heavy cream spiked with fresh vanilla bean and a bit of powdered sugar. And the same cream can be piled onto the coffee you serve with dessert.