Laura Calder’s 10 Tips For A Fuss-Free Thanksgiving Feast
My family will tell you I was born to host. As soon as I could sit up by myself, I was on the counter beside my mother’s mixing bowls, taking it all in. Once I could write, I would interview neighbors, taking a notebook wherever we went and transcribing my investigations onto 1970s recipe cards (Linda’s “slush” and Vida’s “hole whit rolls” are still preserved in my wobbly seven-year-old scrawl).
Somehow the desire to feed people has never left me — even though our Toronto home is neither large nor lavish. Thanksgiving is a wonderful occasion to host. To me, it’s a holiday perfectly suited to our times: a secular feast day that’s open to everyone and based on gratitude. How modern! If you’re hosting, the traditional menu relieves some of the pressure because everyone knows what to expect. We get to march along in step with the tried and true, only throwing in a dash of originality if we want to.
Here are my tips and tricks for a fuss-free Thanksgiving feast.
Thanksgiving dinner is a journey, so one simple hors d’oeuvre, like these endive boats, is all you need. The creamy cheese and crunchy nuts create a bite with perfect texture.
Get Laura’s recipe for Beet & Pecan Endive Boats.
With these tools (and some liquor, of course), you can make just about any cocktail:
• Two shakers (one large and one small)
• A mixing glass
• A bar spoon and muddler
• A citrus press and Y-peeler for garnishes
• Two jiggers
• A corkscrew
• An ice bucket and tongs
• Paper straws
Get Laura’s cocktail recipe for The Alfonso.
We always make author Michael Ruhlman’s rosemary brine for fried chicken, so for Thanksgiving I immediately thought: Why not add a few more herbs and adapt it for turkey? This brine adds wonderful flavor and makes the bird ultramoist.
Get Laura’s recipe for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme-Brined Roast Turkey.
Your oven will be busy roasting the bird for most of the day, so stovetop dishes are ideal. Celeriac purée is easy to make and reheats really well — better than mashed potatoes — so you can make it ahead. If the purée thickens too much, just loosen it up with a little of the cooking liquid.
Get Laura’s recipe for Celeriac Purée.
Having the basics on hand is the key to stress-free cooking. Store salts and peppercorns by the stovetop and keep all your oils and vinegars nearby. I like to have things out where I can see them, and I think ingredient-packed open shelves add character to any kitchen.
Are you prone to overcooking your vegetables? With this recipe, it’s the whole point! The beans become more caramelized and succulent the longer you cook them.
Get the recipe for Anne Willan’s “Burnt” Beans.
Arrange the table in a way that will foster the most fun. If I’m hosting eight or more guests, I make little illustrated placecards to control the seating plan. I like it when people are close to the personalities that I think will amuse them the most.
Get Laura’s recipe for Best Bread Stuffing.
Always have more cranberry sauce on hand than you think you’ll need. The cooked version is richer and deeper in flavor, whereas the raw one has a tart and crisp taste. To make raw cranberry sauce (pictured, right), coarsely chop 1 large navel orange (skin on) and whirl in food processor. Add 3 cups fresh cranberries and pulse until the cranberries are finely chopped but not puréed. Transfer to bowl and stir in 1 cup sugar. Chill for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Get Laura’s recipe for cooked Cranberry Sauce.
Dessert is the final hurrah — and it’s not to be taken too seriously. This is a great recipe because, if you’re preparing it last minute, you can serve it as a fool instead of a frozen dessert. Just spoon into serving dishes and refrigerate until you’re ready for the sweet stuff. If you do freeze it, line the loaf tin with plastic wrap first, and you’ll have the option of serving it terrine-style, in slices.
At our house, we always go around the table after dinner so everyone can share what they’re grateful for. My husband, Peter Scowen, and I find it’s a good way to bring people together in the moment — and a reminder that even our most celebratory meals are always about so much more than the food.