Even though it falls on Nov. 28 this year, many of us will still procrastinate and then panic about hosting or preparing dishes for Thanksgiving. There are decisions to make about selecting a frozen or organic free-range turkey or to brine or not to brine the bird. How to nimbly side step your drunk Uncle Donald’s political talk and soothing screaming, hungry children, all while playing air traffic control for relatives who insist on helping (usually by loading family heirlooms into the dishwasher). And then, of course, there’s the constant scourge of never-ending football games and the guests who are transfixed by them, threatening to become houseplants in your living room.
Blessedly, Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, the co-authors of the new “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories & Recipes,” both battle-scarred and decorated veterans of Thanksgiving, are here to help Eldredge ATL readers prepare for, survive and dare we say it, enjoy your holiday.
Directly from Dupree and Graubart, here are six sure-fire survival tips for Thanksgiving home cooks and hosts this holiday.
1. Plan Ahead (You’re Already Behind)
“Make your stock and your dressing right now,” says Dupree. “Why wait? You can also make the mashed potatoes ahead. And clean out your refrigerator. Get rid of those jars with only three pickles and two olives in them. You’ll need that space. Organize your clean refrigerator and freezer so you can put all of your Thanksgiving things in one place. That way, you can easily find them. Set aside a section of the refrigerator for the day. Freeze everything flat in storage bags on trays so you can fit everything in the freezer. Make a list of everything you’ve made ahead so you can cross reference it.”
Adds Dupree: “You also want to map out everything that needs to go in the oven and when. Make a list about what’s going to need to be heated and cooked on top of the stove so you avoid any traffic jams with the oven. Make a list of what you’re going to cook and when. You also need to rate them in order of priority. Some of the things on the bottom of the list won’t get made and that’s OK. Then, map out how you’re going to reheat them and the dish you’re going to serve them in.”
“Go ahead and take your knives to be sharpened right now,” says Graubart. “You’ll be so happy when the holiday arrives and you’ve already gotten that taken care of. It costs five or six bucks to get a knife sharpened. In Atlanta, Cook’s Warehouse will sharpen them for you. And Nathalie is correct. Sit down at the table and make a list of everything you’re cooking and when and what your guests are bringing and what their dish will require when they get to your house. The time you spend sitting down planning your time chart is going to pay off, I promise. It will make you feel so on top of the holidays because you’re anticipating where your difficult spots are. It’s the key to a successful Thanksgiving.”
2. Two Turkeys Are Better Than One
Under her Turkey With Gravy recipe in “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories & Recipes,” Dupree immediately debunks that Hallmark holiday movie myth swimming in your head. Writes Nathalie: “For many of us, carving a turkey at the table is a needlessly difficult task contrived by Norman Rockwell and Charles Dickens; I feel it should be done in the kitchen.”
Dupree also recommends roasting two smaller turkeys instead of one large time-consuming, oven-clogging bird. “It’s a bit like what they do at country clubs,” she says. “They don’t roast a turkey when you walk in the door. They roast them ahead and reheat them. The idea is to do two smaller turkeys and you roast one ahead and cut it up the night before. Put it in plastic bags and cover it with stock so it stays moist and then you can re-heat it on Thursday. You want the house to smell good on Thanksgiving so roast the second one that morning and put that in the center of the buffet. Meanwhile, serve the one you’ve made and cut up in advance.”
In “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories & Recipes,” Dupree also shares her grandmother’s decadent Traditional Turkey Gravy recipe (the secret ingredient? One cup of heavy cream added to the boiling stock in half cup intervals). In Dupree and Graubart’s new book, there’s also a revelatory recipe for Amber Turkey Stock that calls for chopping up the turkey bones before adding them into your stock pot. Says Dupree: “It makes it gelatinous. You don’t have to thicken it as much. You just have to reduce it down so it’s flavorful. It’s got its own body so you don’t have to add a lot of flour.”
3. Refrigerated Pie Crusts Were Invented For Thanksgiving
“Thanksgiving is not the day to learn how to make a pie crust,” says Graubart. “There are perfectly good refrigerated pie crusts you can use. Everyone has just eaten a large meal. And now, people are all lounging in front of the television and you’re going to serve them a piece of pie with a homemade crust that you’ve poured your heart, soul and possibly even shed a tear or two into? No. These are not people who are going to appreciate a homemade pie crust. So, I give people permission to use store bought pie crusts for Thanksgiving and save their hard-won pie crust victories for another time when they’ll be truly appreciated.” Adds Dupree: “Just avoid those frozen pie shells!”
4. Choose Your Guests Wisely — And Put Them To Work
“You have to be careful when you’re creating your guest list,” says Dupree. “You can ruin everything if you don’t. Make sure that you’re not inviting people who are difficult and if they are difficult, be sure and have something for them to do. I once hosted a dinner where I only served finger foods and it kept everyone busy. And while it’s noble to invite those who have no where else to go, you may be the only person he or she knows and they’re stuck in a room full of strangers while you’re in the kitchen. You’re doing them and yourself a disservice.”
Graubart, meanwhile, creates a place card for each guest and writes a specific job inside each card. “That way, If somebody wants to help, they have something specific,” she explains. “Many people want to do something and I find if I have control over what that something is, I’m a lot less anxious. I don’t want the family heirlooms in the dishwasher. Even if it’s something minor like people helping to clear a course or bringing out dishes for the next course. People love to help bring out the desserts. If you give people something specific to do, they feel like they’re helping and they haven’t messed up your plan.”
5. Hide The Dishwasher Soap And Send Your Pots To The Spa
“Before the first guest arrives, put all of your dirty pots and pans in a cooler with wheels filled with hot soapy water,” advises Dupree. “You can pull it out of the way and you can hide them while you’re eating. Because if your dishwasher and your sink are not empty when the first person walks in, you’re in trouble. Also, hide your dishwasher soap. You don’t want anyone to start your dishwasher until you’ve had a chance to check it out to ensure nothing has been placed in there by mistake, especially your grandmother’s silver. Many guests will want to help clear the table and go while you’ve barely had time to sit down. You can just say, ‘Well, dear, thank you but there’s no dishwasher soap in there. I’ll handle it later.’”
6. Set Your Meal Time And Stick To It
For Dupree and Graubart, the single biggest enemy of Thanksgiving is not the never-ending football on TV — “It’s people who don’t show up on time,” says Dupree. “Food is a control issue. Whoever controls the food, controls the family. When you invite people, you want to choose a time when you and they are used to eating. You don’t want to try and do dinner at 3 o’clock. There’s no excuse for it. You say, ‘Please arrive at 12 and we’re going to eat at 1.’ That way, when a child cries or your grandfather gets cranky or the first fight between the children starts, dinner can be served. It’s perfectly fine to say to guests, ‘This is the time we’re eating and if you’re not here, we’re going to go ahead. We’ll save you some food but we’re not going to wait on you.’ You just have to make that clear. Otherwise, people, especially those who don’t cook, won’t take you seriously, especially if it’s pretty day or they slept late so they’ll just wander over whenever. You can’t have that. Make a plan, choose a time and stick to it.”
Nathalie and Cynthia will discuss their new book at An Evening With Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens Graubart and Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories and Recipes at the Atlanta History Center on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. Click here for tickets.
On Dec. 4, the duo will host a Cook The Book cooking class at The Cook’s Warehouse in Midtown from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Cost: $79. For more info, go to cookswarehouse.com.
Above turkey photo from “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories & Recipes” by Helene Dujardin Photography and courtesy of Gibbs Smith.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.