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The Simplest Thanksgiving Menu Ever

Thanksgiving, 2010

For Thanksgiving two years ago I pulled out all the stops. We had a Chinese-influenced meal, with about 112 dishes. OK, only 14, but still. Culminated in bao from scratch. Phew. Exhausting.

Last year Significant Other and I were on our own and and we ate out.

This year, the kids are with me again, and the Northern California siblings will gather at my house. But we’re all already tired, what with jobs, children, and life. You know the drill. We’re thinking we will let the magic of caramelizing vegetable sugars and slightly salty gravy do all the work. Our jointly planned menu:

Mashed potatoes: Cut up organic russets into thirds, boil for 15 minutes or until you can poke them easily. Drain, keep in pot, cover. Just before serving, boil water, add bit bit bit while you mash. Add in some butter. If you must get your foodie on, boil some garlic cloves in the water with potatoes.

Roast butternut squash: Buy a container of pre-cut cubes from Whole Foods. Peeling those beasties is an impolite word. Dump them onto a baking sheet with a lip, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper. Roast at 450 or 500 degrees until they start to blacken.

Roast brussels sprouts: Recipe here. Involves pancetta and lemons.

Rolls: These, frozen, baked right before you eat them, are delicious.

Cranberry: Oh just buy the damn stuff. I was advocating canned but my sister took it up a notch and volunteered to buy cranberry-orange relish. Fine.

Molasses bars with icing and or chocolate chips: I haven’t baked these before. Every Thanksgiving needs a Dish of Adventure. Best made with your recipe, by your daughter, helped by her small girl cousin. All finger-dipping allowed.

Pumpkin pie: The recipe from the can. It’s there for a reason. Even better, your sister-in-law might volunteer to bake it, or your brother-in-law to involve your son and niece.

“Wait,” you might be saying, “Wait! What about the main attraction?”

Stuffing: Bagged Pepperidge Farm. You are going to cover it in gravy anyway, so who cares?

Gravy: This is important. Make a roux using equal parts flour and fat. Warm the fat, use it to cook the flour. Fat should be some turkey drippings, and maybe a little butter. Then stir in liquid, while whisking. Liquid should be part turkey juices (this means it is worth separating turkey fat from turkey juice, sorry to say), part broth, with a little white wine if you’re drinking (who isn’t?), and my mother’s secret ingredient, Worcestershire sauce. You’re welcome.

And for the turkey? Ultimate simplicity.

Have your brother bring his deep-fat gear and fry the thing. Just make sure he also brings a tarp to save your slate patio from a greasy death. Bon appetit! Julia approves. She says to serve with a nice Sancerre and some Pinot Noir because you can never have too many bottles of wine on the table.

Sometimes food is to make a show; of prowess, of love, of culture. Sometimes it’s just to eat well and be thankful.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to all, even to those in countries who don’t celebrate. It’s a time to share.


46 Responses

  1. Celebrating with my husband’s family this year so stress level is down by 1000 %. Delighted to be a worker bee on the sidelines!!!! Will be bringing the wine, of course.

  2. I have yet to try a deep-friend turkey, but your menu sounds delicious and your ranch house living/dining room looks like home to me. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Hi Lisa,

    Not so sure about frying the turkey. I just love the smell of a roasting turkey in the oven. Gravy? Fresh Market. Ditto Cranberry and other side dishes… agree about the Sancerre…excellent choice… Pinot Noir also… Not sure about dressing and rolls, but to each his own…

    No matterwhat you choose it is a wonderful holiday free from the pressures of decoration other than the autumn flowers and freefrom gift exchange.. so much to be thankful for…

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your blog followers.


  4. The nugget here is your gravy recipe. Thank you for the “secret ingredient”!
    Now if Thanksgiving goes as smoothly as reading this post, we’ll all be happy.
    Have a great and relaxing day with your family. I will try to do the same! xo

  5. Thank you for sharing that. Sounds lovely! I always enjoy hearing how others will spend the day.

    I am serving 21 (or is it 22?) and fluctuate between “No problem, I’ve got this!” and expletives not suitable for your most civilized comments section.

  6. That’s the simplest and probably best ever. We celebrate it even though we are in Canada, I find the US thanksgiving more more sensible as far as the timing.
    Thanks for sharing your table with us!

  7. Julia would approve. Bon Appetit! (I hope you all have a wonderful day, a loving family spending time together is the finest recipe of all.) xo.

  8. Every Thanksgiving there is the debate on whether to go simple and easy or homemade. Debate is putting it mildly. This year in order to avoid making homemade butter rolls (a BIG family tradition) I am just not making rolls at all.

    Your meal sounds delicious! Maybe next year.

  9. My sister always hosts Thanksgiving – inviting family, extended family, close friends and anyone else who has no place to go. Usually that means about 50 people. This year the age range will be 13 months to 95 years. Oh yes – and at least 3 dogs!
    We used to try to organize what everyone brings – but not anymore. She provides the turkeys (one roasted and one fried) and a ham. And then we eat whatever anyone brings. In the last 10 years we have never had too little food. One year we had many, many pies. I think that people are so thankful that they don’t have to cook the turkey or clean house they are happy to buy something or make a side dish.

  10. Just to add – we are in Los Angeles – and we have always had wonderful weather – so most everyone eats outside.

  11. Have a lovely Thanksgiving! I actually like the variety that has come to these traditional meals through having adult children. Shifts in venue, even menu. It’s all good, as the kids say — enjoy!

  12. Have a Happy Thanksgiving day with your family.

    Would love a piece of pumpkin pie,have never had pumpkin.Ida

  13. I realise I am in the minority here, but I have a thing against self-imposed holiday stress….to the point of being a militant pain in the rear about it. I don’t do thanksgiving, nor do I decorate at the holidays. Okay, a stocking for the dog and cat, and iI suppose it is easy for me to say this because I don’t have kids, but generally, husband and I share a very quiet day doing very little, and loving it. Plus, I’m vegan, so holiday recipes tend. T make my belly hurt. :) well probably have some permutation of a lentil and squash curry …maybe in a coconut base. Does the squash make introvert festive?

    1. Hello fellow introvert. My husband and I will be doing as you do, just us, probably stay in our flannels all day. Did you know they’ve written a book about us, they’ve liberated the tragic introvert from the Unibomber prototype! Now THAT is something to celebrate and be “festive” about!

      The book: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”

      Oh lentils and squash curry, lovely.

  14. Sounds lovely, and very traditional! We’re off to a potluck (We’ve been adopted by a friend’s parents and their charming gang of foodie friends), so we are only doing two dishes, crescent rolls and a mushroom prosciutto bread pudding. So much simpler! I love cooking as well, but it’s best as a team sport, with a half dozen family members or friends in the kitchen, sipping wine and swapping stories.

  15. I don’t believe you about butternut squash. I grow them because a) they taste good, and b) they’re NOT difficult to cut and peel. Last weekend I peeled one and sliced it thinly and roasted it, slathered in olive oil. My husband liked it so much he wants it for Thanksgiving. I made it extra easy by putting some parchment paper on the pan, making cleanup easier.

  16. Oh God why didn’t you post this before we hit Wholefoods/TraderJoes/FarmersMarket?

    Dammit Janet Now I had to much work cut out for myself.

    Will simplify for 2013.

    xo jane

  17. :D our menu to a T, sentiment included! Adding bacon to those sprouts which the DH fondly calls “little balls of hell”. I thought to add his second least favorite classic love of mine, beets or affectionately “little balls of dirt”. Figuring it will all mesh well with the fungal/viral/bacterial infection wreaking havic on the poor MIL for which I may require a Dr’s note for admittance on Thursday. One must pick and choose… Blah blah blah. Fun just the same and thankful for it. Great post!

  18. What a lovely Thanksgiving feast you will enjoy, and I’m sure there will be delightful conversation in your kitchen and around your table! I am so thankful for your wonderful posts each week, and the beautiful community here who share thought provoking and fun conversation all year long. Happy Thanksgiving Lisa and everyone! XO

  19. Ha! “Peeling the little beasties” I just about lost a finger doing the roasted veggie recipe from “Barefoot Contessa” during our much earlier Canadian Thanksgiving. Worth it though as is all the rest. My sister-in-law used to cook very elaborate dishes but when we host we keep to a menu pretty close to what you describe. I actually buy the pumpkin pie from Whole Foods put it in my own dish thing and never have any complaints. Enjoy your family. Happy Thanksgiving.

  20. Sounds much like our family feast except for additional sides because we have such a crowd!

    Happy Thanksgiving Lisa!

    Giveaway from Scalamandre!

  21. For many Texans, the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving meal is the homemade cornbread dressing. I’ll be making the cornbread tomorrow so that it will be ready to be made into dressing on Thursday.

    1. Susan, the gluten-free cornbread (I’ve got a severe gluten intolerance) will be the first thing I make when I go home at noon today. Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without my grandmother’s cornbread dressing, even if I no longer reside in The Lone Star State.

  22. Love the sentiment of going simple for Thanksgiving. My mom always does so much cooking on the day of Thanksgiving and Christmas that she stresses herself out unbelievably and I’m determined that when my turn comes I will go simple.

    Love the brussel sprouts recipe too. I will have to file that one away. :)

  23. Homemade bao is a wonderful thing – but not at Thanksgiving! Too Much Work! Wishing you much pleasure in the simplicity in your holiday.

    Completely unrelated – does Aung San Suu Kyi not look the epitome of grace and strength? 67 years old! Surely a role model for aging gracefully.

  24. Mine is the opposite this year, not simple, trying all kinds of new recipes I’ve collected over the last few months. I enjoy it immensely, and love having our whole family and some friends here. The big challenge is that (except for the Turkey) everything has to be vegetarian and gluten free. But, I’m pretty relaxed and it seems to be all under good control???
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Lisa, and to everyone who reads your blog.

  25. One year, I don’t remember why, but my husband and I were alone on Thanksgiving, everyone else was scattered. I made spaghetti with turkey meatballs, and turkey sausage, and we watched the three Godfather movies back to back in bed. It was a totally great day.

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