10 Tips for Your Thanksgiving Meal

I love Thanksgiving! For me, it's the time to give thanks for the abundant year that we've had and to enjoy the seasons harvest with close friends and family. It's the holiday of the year that I love to get busy in the kitchen and cook up a big feast. Roasted turkey from our friends at Roots & Wings Farmstead, sourdough stuffing, several veggie sides, organ meat infused gravy, plenty of hard cider, and of course desserts!

Chef Frank with a freshly roasted turkey on Thanksgiving (2014)

Chef Frank with a freshly roasted turkey on Thanksgiving (2014)

Although this particular holiday is filled with a large amount of traditional dishes, which means a lot more planning is required to get the meal out in a timely manner and without overcooking the turkey! often means cooking for a crowd, flavor and quality is not to be sacrificed. No matter which way you prefer to eat, we all can prepare a wholesome meal that not only tastes great, but is good for your body. 

Below are my top 10 tips for cooking for a crowd this Thanksgiving. Let me know how it goes!

1. Make a plan. Don't go in to Thanksgiving day not knowing what needs to be accomplished. Make a shopping list, get organized, and do your prep work so you can be more relaxed on the day to celebrate with your family.

Apple Cider Mimosa with a twist of lemon

Apple Cider Mimosa with a twist of lemon

2. Make a festive cocktail! Use this Cranberry Spritzer as a base to add alcohol to, or make an Apple Cider Mimosa (champagne and fresh apple cider). Nothing helps take the edge off of hanging with awkward family members :)

3. Cook a gallon of chicken stock or bone broth up to a week ahead of time. One of the many shortcuts people take is using store bought boxed broth, which is full of unnecessary ingredients, and frankly, doesn't taste that good. Make your own fresh stock and use it for gravy, in your stuffing, or in soup. 

4. Don't overdo it. There's no need to try and make 17 different dishes for Thanksgiving. Pick the recipes you know and maybe try one or two new ones. Don't try to please everybody, if someone in your family has special dietary needs, encourage them to pitch in and help. 

5. Spread out the work load. Be the chef in your kitchen, and give out instructions as needed. Delegate someone to peel potatoes, cut veggies, and don't forget to get someone to wash dishes throughout the day (so there's not a giant pile at the end of the dinner). Get someone to make an appetizer so that people can snack while they are awaiting the grand meal.


6. Add in a fermented food or drink. Thanksgiving tends to hit you with a wide variety of ingredients, so eating some fermented foods with your meal will help ease digestion. Try out our Fermented Cranberry Relish recipe for a twist on a traditional dish, or simply add in sauerkraut or a beverage of kvass. And my personal favorite, hard cider!

7. Go heavy on the veggies. With a meal full of starches and proteins, I find it important to add in an array of vegetable dishes to add some different textures and color. While turkey is often the centerpiece of this meal, I find that the vegetables to be the most exciting part. From Bacon Studded Brussels Sprouts to Delicata Rings there are so many delightful vegetable side dishes you can add in. When I was a child, I went heavy on the stove top stuffing and turkey, while now I tend to go heavy on the vegetables, have a good sized portion of turkey, and smaller portions of the stuffing and mashed potatoes. This way I can save room for dessert, and not have to nap the rest of the day off.

8. Know your bird. Not all turkeys are created or grown equally, so it's important to know what you're dealing with. Factory farmed turkeys are completely different than pastured-raised turkeys and will need to be cooked differently. Hopefully you're able to score a pasture-raised bird for this meal, as it's significantly more nutritious and free from anti-biotics. There is less fat on a pastured-raised turkey, and therefore it does better with a higher heat and less cooking time. 

9. Don't neglect the stuffing. Depending on where you live, the stuffing or "dressing" may consist of a lot of different ingredients. But, it's a crucial part of the Thanksgiving meal, and the one dish that often gets short changed. Poor quality bread, boxed chicken stock, and poor quality animal products make for a dish that is often not the healthiest. Start with a high quality bread - locally made sourdough is a great choice, make up a batch of bone broth or chicken stock (get our recipe here), and source quality ingredients to add to your recipe. Some of our favorite ingredients to add: mushrooms, wild rice, pastured-raised sausage, chestnuts, acorn, and lots of fresh herbs like thyme, sage, and parsley.

10. Put emphasis on the nutrition. Every year I challenged myself to adding wild foods into our feast. This year I'll be adding wild rice, wild mushrooms, sea vegetables, and infusions with wild foods. And.... don't forget about the organ meats! I always find creative ways to add in the organ meats to our meal. In the past couple of years, I've snuck them into the gravy, and none of the picky eaters noticed. 

BONUS - Eat Something Wild. There are many opportunities to add in wild food to your Thanksgiving dinner. The most obvious option is utilizing wild turkey which are in mass abundance here in Maine and New England in general. These true free ranging birds are quite delicious and would make a fine centerpiece on your dinner table. Traditionally processed wild rice is a great addition to stuffing, casseroles, or side salads and pairs nicely with most typical holiday ingredients. After leaching, acorns can be turned into a nice spread or made into these fudgy brownies. Many other ingredients come to mind but i'll end with the addition of wild cranberries which again, grow in abundance here in Maine. A sauce made from these fruits can stand alone as a sauce or added to cultivated cranberries and fermented or cooked.

Lastly, make sure you enjoy yourself and give thanks to all the abundance the earth has provided. How ever you spend your holiday, do so with reverence.