The Amateur Gourmet’s Thanksgiving Game Plan

Attached you will find a PDF file that’ll either inspire great terror or great awe. It’s a massive document, with all the recipes broken down over the days I’m home to cook. My only fear, right now, is too much sweet stuff: I may need to add mashed potatoes. But, alas, it is 1:06 AM and I must pack for my flight tomorrow. Will I survive this year’s Thanksgiving? Will I crumble and fail? Tune in next week as I blog the whole experience…. until then, have a great weekend!

[Note: you’ll see on the menu I say I’m doing Alton’s brined turkey, but at the last minute I switched to a cider brined turkey from Epicurious. Feel free to discuss.]

View The Thanksgiving Game Plan PDF

26 comments

  1. Hi Adam,

    I also wonder if I will survive…Cooking for 22 people on Thanksgiving and strikes of transportation here!!!

  2. I do a similar project plan for my Thanksgiving cooking. (I’m a project manager, so it seems natural.) I think it’s the best way to stay on track. For the big day, I break mine down by times:

    2:00pm (T-2.5 hours):

    set oven to 425, get turkey ready

    put it in the oven when it’s heated

    make pie filling, pour into crust

    2:15 put pie in oven

    2:25 turn oven down to 325

    2:40 check pie

    3:15 start potatoes

    3:45 mash potatoes, place in casserole, in oven to keep warm

    put rolls in pan

    etc, etc

    This really helps keep me from going insane and forgetting things when it gets hectic near dinnertime.

  3. Easy, super good Mashed Potato and Goat Cheese Gratin, tastes like an incredible twice baked – DO AHEAD, heat up! Bon Appetit Dec 2000

  4. It definitely sounds too heavy on the sweet, to be honest, and HEAVY – cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, beet salad, butternut squash soup, spiced nuts w/ brown sugar… Dessert will be totally redundant after that meal. I might suggest making a more savory stuffing, switching to a less sweet soup (potato leek or mushroom, maybe?) and adding mashed potatoes. But who knows – you’re making a Florida Thanksgiving, and I’m from New England, so it may just be a matter of taste and tradition. However, I think you should forget about making 3 kinds of biscuits. Didn’t you watch Top Chef? Any time someone made 3 variations when they could have made one for a catering challenge, they were invariably sent home. Pick one and run with it. Even making them ahead, you’re tripling the work for no real reason.

  5. Adam, I can honestly say that is my favorite PDF ever… and your planning and persistence will no doubt see you through another frantic and tasty culinary adventure. Let’s face it, no matter how much you plan everything, shifts happen and life is life – it gets crazy and hectic and ultimately it is beautiful. You’ve got the skills to bring this one home big time – I can’t wait to read about how it all turns out. Bon Appétit!

  6. Adam! I must tell you that the drippings from AB’s brined turkey are very salty. I couldn’t use them for gravy. I have been making make-ahead gravy with turkey wings and freezing it. You may want to have a back up plan. Buy some turkey stock.

  7. oh. MA. GAWD.

    i love a man who can make a good list.

    That is one good list.

    The best of luck (and fun!) in all your preparations. You’re gonna need those cocktails.

    And i agree wih mr.s about the biscuits – make one kind and stick with it (like the herb-gruyere – YUM) – for your sanity’s sake.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Adam – amazing plan. You’ll do great! I was reading an Alton Brown Chat this weekend (googled Alton Brown Brined Turkey)….. he recommends against brining ahead and drying the turkey….. here is the quote:

    Bill: Alton, I want to brine my turkey the day before Thanksgiving and then let dry overnight in the fridge. Before cooking the bird using your high heat method, I was going to rub under the skin using a compound butter. Do you think that the high heat will cause the butter to smoke? Is that why you use canola oil?

    Alton Brown: First off, brining and then drying is not a good idea, unless you’re planning to smoke it. This brine was not designed to be used that way, and if you don’t cook the bird within a couple of hours of brining, you’ll get juice seepage. The only reason you’d dry meat after brining would be to get a pellicle before smoking. Water-soluble proteins are then drawn to the surface of the meat, causing a harder outer layer. It just won’t be a successful operation to roast it if you let it dry first. You can certainly brine it overnight, but don’t dry it first. If you’ve brined you bird successfully, you won’t need the flavor of the compound butter. And yes, it will burn. You’ll get skin with dark blotches. And remember, there’s lots of fat under that skin already. The canola on the surface creates a conduit for heat to get into the meat quickly, so it browns more quickly. Perhaps you want to move the brining step to Wednesday.

    Good Luck!

    http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/References/TheInterviews/TheChat2001-11-20.htm

  9. Some plan! I’m making those parfaits from Barefoot Contessa. Any thoughts on the ginger cookies? I think I’m going to bake them from scratch…

  10. This will be my 3rd Thanksgiving cooking for 25-30 people. One thing I’ve learned besides doing as much as possible before Thursday, which you seem to have down, is to not worry about having 30 servings of each thing. With so much food most people don’t take a serving of each side dish. I end up making 2X most recipes that serve 8-12 people and its always more than enough. My soup claims to serve 10 but if each person only has a cup not a bowl of soup worth of soup it will be fine given the amount of food I am making.

    My menu:

    Mini mac n cheese hors d’voures

    whatever else my mother-in-law bought to snack on

    Butternut squash bisque

    spinach salad with craisins, goronzola and cherry tomatoes w/ balsamic vinegrette

    2 12-15 lb fried turkeys

    mashed sweet potatoes with praline topping

    dried fruit stuffing (for the sweet people)

    sausage stuffing (for the savory)

    haricot verts w/ pine nuts

    cranberry relish

    assorted deserts, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie etc…

  11. This will be my 3rd Thanksgiving cooking for 25-30 people. One thing I’ve learned besides doing as much as possible before Thursday, which you seem to have down, is to not worry about having 30 servings of each thing. With so much food most people don’t take a serving of each side dish. I end up making 2X most recipes that serve 8-12 people and its always more than enough. My soup claims to serve 10 but if each person only has a cup not a bowl of soup worth of soup it will be fine given the amount of food I am making.

    My menu:

    Mini mac n cheese hors d’voures

    whatever else my mother-in-law bought to snack on

    Butternut squash bisque

    spinach salad with craisins, goronzola and cherry tomatoes w/ balsamic vinegrette

    2 12-15 lb fried turkeys

    mashed sweet potatoes with praline topping

    dried fruit stuffing (for the sweet people)

    sausage stuffing (for the savory)

    haricot verts w/ pine nuts

    cranberry relish

    assorted deserts, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie etc…

  12. Holy wicked detail!

    Good call on the roasted green beans. I do that all the time. I don’t think the wife approves, but they’re so much better than the traditional long cooked.

    I like to do it with shallots instead of onions though to add the extra little dash of sophistication. And I always mince up a garlic clove or two as well.

    good luck Thursday

  13. Oh my. Quite impressive. Here’s is my favorite ever mashed potato-esque recipe. Also probably a recipe for heart failure. This recipe is a family creation.

    We call them twice baked potatoes.

    This is a holiday favorite.

    4 large baking potatoes (russets)

    4 slices cooked bacon

    1/2 cup sour cream

    4 green onions sliced

    1/4 cup milk or as needed

    1 tablespoon parsley

    1/2 tsp pepper

    1/2 tsp seasoned salt

    1/4 cup melted butter

    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    Bake potatoes in a 450°F oven until done, about an hour. ( This can be done a day ahead). When potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides into a mixing bowl. Cut up skins into one inch pieces and add. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Add more milk if needed so that mixture just holds together. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake at 350°F until hot and top begins to brown.

  14. Maybe record the time you spend on each component so we can see just how long you spent on this amazing sounding thanksgiving dinner! I don’t think your family will ever be able to eat a turkey sandwich from a deli again.

    Best of luck.

  15. I have used Alton Brown’s turkey recipe for the last 4 years, this will be the 5th year. I haven’t has problems with my homemade gravy being too salty from the brined juices. I use a classic gravy recipe from Sunset Magazine. I prepare the gravy the day before and finish it off with the pan juices of Alton’s turkey.

    I have a plan of action also. I prepare my list 2 weeks in advance and it all starts on Sunday, check list of ingredients on hand and needed, shopping, then veggie prep on Monday, baking and pie making on Tuesday, making the brine and preparing all the side dishes on Wednesday. I don’t do the timetable. Only when the turkey goes in and what time I am planning on serving the dinner.

  16. Hi Adam,

    I made the Herb-Gruyere biscuits last night and it was a disaster (they are sort of edible but I wouldn’t serve them to anyone). The dough was a sticky mess to work with and the biscuits didn’t really rise. I don’t bake much but I think the recipe might call for too much butter and cheese in proportion to the amount of flour. Or maybe I used too much buttermilk. Any thoughts on what I did wrong or advice?

  17. I reiterate! You’re my hero. I wish I could be home to cook something, let alone all of that.

    Sounds amazing!

  18. I’ll vouch for the Cider-Brined Turkey recipe from Bon Apetit. I did that exact recipe the year before last with fab results. My only advice might be to increase the amount of cider glaze you make (it’s a simple reduction, so no tricks really needed). As I was roasting the bird I found that I wished I had more of it.

    Good luck!

  19. Hey adam!

    I just made David L’s spiced nuts, and, well……..they’re spicy, haha!

    Not sure if you’ve made ’em before? They are awesome, just a little kick in the pants! Thought i would give my 2 cents, in case your guests aren’t big on the hot stuff. I reduced the cayenne to 1/2 teaspoon, and that is still spicy and oh, so tasty enough without being painful.

    Hope your prep is going well. Cheers!

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