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A Beginner’s Guide to Thanksgiving, Part 2: What to do on the day

You’ve bought all this food, but what exactly do you do now?

First thing’s first when it comes to actually cooking your Thanksgiving dinner and that’s making sure you have some good quality butter because it’s going to be going in nearly every dish. Now let’s assume you live in a typical awful student flat and you’re working with one vaguely functional small oven and a half broken hob where you can boil no more than two pots at once and plan from there. If we’ve got any hope of cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner in these conditions then preparation is going to be the word of the day: your vegetables need to be peeled and chopped, your turkey needs to be defrosted and ready to be buttered up and your pastry needs to be ready to take that sweet pumpkin pie filling.

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The secret to managing this feat is working out what can be cooked beforehand and having your timings (hopefully) worked out perfectly. If you choose to make a pumpkin or pecan pie then you can easily have a pastry case baked and ready to be filled with whatever you choose to use that can be put in the oven immediately after the vegetables are done, or even easier would be to just buy a premade pastry case and take away any extra baking induced stress from the proceedings. Similarly in the vein of precooking as much as possible, some sweet potatoes can be baked beforehand and finished off in the time the turkey is resting out of the oven whilst the potatoes can be parboiled and finished off before being mashed into fluffy buttery goodness and served piping hot, stirred through with garlic and chives. A delicious spicy roast butternut squash soup can be fully prepared and simply heated up before serving to start off your meal.

More important than the sides however is the main event, the centre piece, the all-important turkey. Take it out of the fridge (and make sure it isn’t frozen if you had it in the freezer beforehand) and place it into a roasting tin large enough to fit it comfortably without too much squeezing and squashing. Time to get your hands dirty: spread butter all over the exposed skin of the bird and inside the cavity, place strips of bacon on the breast and fill the roasting tin with red onion, white onion and whole garlic cloves and a splash of boiling hot water, just enough to cover the whole tin in a thin layer.

Now here’s where things get controversial: cover the entire turkey in foil and pinch around the edge to make a tight seal allowing the steam to help cook the meat and prevent it from drying out as turkey is famed to do. Cook it low and slow, 190°/170° fan for 20 minutes per kilo plus an additional 80 minutes for a whole turkey or 60 minutes for a crown, taking the foil off in the final 20-30 minutes to crisp up the skin and give it that delicious golden brown colour.

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Once the turkey leaves the oven, turn the heat up to 200° and get those sweet potatoes back in the oven, either without topping or with a small scattering of marshmallows (which I’m promised it a real Thanksgiving side dish and not some elaborate joke…). Cook your green beans by quickly steaming for one minute then sautéing with butter and a small amount of bacon to give them a rich flavour and irresistible texture, serving them alongside your fluffy garlicky mash. Use the juices from the turkey along with the slow roasted onions to make a thick gravy from flour, salt, pepper, a hint of rosemary and a splash of wine and finally your Thanksgiving dinner is good to go. Put your desserts in to bake, sit down, relax and eat until you can’t eat anymore.

To summarise:

  • Prepare you vegetables, starters and desserts before Thanksgiving comes around and everyone is in your flat
  • Cover your turkey with foil and cook at 190°/170° fan for 20 minutes per kilo and an additional 70 minutes, removing foil for the last 20 minutes
  • Finish cooking your sides (mashed potato, baked sweet potatoes, green beans) and gravy while the turkey rests and serve as soon as they are all finished
  • Cook your desserts while you eat the main course (and drink plenty of wine)

Of course hosting a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t all about the food (just mostly about the food) and so actually hosting a fun evening for your guests is also important. Make sure you have plenty of drinks or make sure everyone brings some to contribute, whether it be soft drinks or alcohol nobody wants to run out and be too late to make the panicked shopping run before the clock strikes ten and you end up like a sober Cinderella at the Thanksgiving ball. So you have your drinks sorted for the night, what else do you need? Why not a theme, a black tie three course dinner, a pyjama party perhaps? Try something to put a twist on the night and make it memorable for everyone whilst showing off your hosting prowess.

If you want to have the fun of Thanksgiving without the hassle of cooking everything yourself, go for the classic St Andrews pot luck dinner. Everyone volunteers to cook something of the meal, whether it be a side a starter or even just bringing round enough wine to make sure no one notices that there’s seven sides of mashed potato and no dessert, and it all comes together for one big meal everyone can enjoy taking part in. Whatever you do end up doing this Thanksgiving make sure you enjoy the last big blow out before exam seasons creeps up on us all.

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