Image source: RichardBH/Flickr

By now the turkey is in the fridge brining, you’ve planned out your meal and assigned the desserts to willing friends and family.  You’re circling the already set table to make sure you’ve got the most compatible seating chart in place and feel sure you’ve got the right mix of new inspiration and familiar family tradition infused into this year’s meal. Even your Thanksgiving playlist is ready with festive tunes fit for generations old and new.  You’re feeling confident you’ve locked in the game plan and done all the do-ahead prep to make sure you impress your guests.  What could go wrong?

Thanksgiving is a big deal so you don’t want to mess it up. If the devil is in the details then you better think about those little extras that make grandma proud to have passed on her famous recipe.

The appetizers, the sides, the dinner rolls they’re all important parts of the meal. And, don’t forget the cranberry sauce.  Just to make sure your day comes off without a hitch here are b 5 essential Thanksgiving tips to put your cooking over the top and send your guests home with some special leftovers and big hopes for an invitation to your repeat performance next year.

1-      House Cocktail: Most of your guests will bring wine.  Pinot Noir, Syrah for Red wine and a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are some of the usual suspect for white wine lovers at Thanksgiving.  If you want to impress everyone make a special house cocktail.  Try this Warm Cider and Rum Punch from Martha Stewart Recipes.

2-      Crispy Turkey Skin: The detail often overlooked with the Turkey is making sure you get that crispy skin.  I have found the key is in letting your bird sit for at least 30 min and patting down any moisture on the skin with paper towels before it goes in the oven. If you’ve brined your turkey in a bag let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight the last night before you cook it so the skin tightens up.  You’ll see that most of the moisture is absorbed this way and the result – a crispy, delightful outer skin.

3-      Silky, Smooth Gravy:  A critical step in getting silky, delicious gravy is to make a roux.  It sounds complex but you just melt unsalted butter (about 1/3 cup) in a skillet, medium heat and whisk in about 1/3 cup of regular all-purpose flour.  Turn the heat to low and whisk until it turns a light brown after just a couple minutes.  That’s it! The roux helps thicken the gravy and you just add your Turkey drippings, stock while whisking and then season with salt and pepper.  If you brined your Turkey only add a couple tablespoons of your drippings because remember it’s heavy on the salt and you don’t want to overpower your gravy.  Just taste as you go and you’ll find the right level of seasoning.  Here’s a great video from Fine Cooking on How To Make Gravy For A Brined Turkey.

4-      The Perfect Stuffing: It’s simple, don’t stuff the bird!  Baking the stuffing separately is paramount.  It’s the only way I know to get the combination of those crispy nuggets of crunch on top and moist, delicious center.  When it’s stuffed in the bird it comes out soggy and that’s just not going to do it. Another key is to use good, day old artisan style bread.  Country white or peasant loaves have always worked well for me.

5-      Surprising Sides: Squash, peas, mashed potatoes, and oh yes the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes.  You know them, they’ve shown up on every Thanksgiving table at some point in your life.  But this is your table and it’s going to be different!  Remember baby steps.  Just a few special ingredients can elevate the typical sides to a whole new dish.  Try drizzling a little maple syrup or sprinkle of brown sugar on your sweet potatoes.  Or how about roasting some hazelnuts or almonds and tossing them with green beans along with a little squeeze of fresh lemon.  That’s not your grandma’s green-bean casserole I know but this is your time to shine.  A little spoonful of whole milk Greek yogurt or sour cream to your traditional mashed potatoes puts a whole new spin on this revered side. And, last but not least the side always being reinvented, the Brussel sprout.  The latest upgrade on this mini-cabbage is all about the addition of some sort of pork flavor.  They just pair well together.  You can roast it tossed in a little left over breakfast bacon fat, or render down some pancetta if you’re feeling a little fancy and mix it in with sautéed shallots.  If you’re a fan like me you already know blanching them first is the key so don’t forget to give them a dip in boiling water for about a minute before you give them a bath with whatever pork product you choose.

The big day is almost here so whatever combination of sides, desserts, and accompaniments you choose to compliment your turkey, don’t forget to keep it simple with a few small additions to your sides and special attention to the details, these 5 essential Thanksgiving Day tips and you are sure to be a big hit.

What are your special tips for Thanksgiving Day cooking?