Stressing out about cooking mini-Thanksgiving tomorrow
October 22, 2016 8:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm cooking a mini-Thanksgiving for six people tomorrow, occasioned by my birthday (yesterday) and realizing that I had a turkey in the freezer from last year. Turkey is now in the fridge, thawed. But I haven't cooked a turkey or mashed potatoes in a few years, and I haven't cooked for more than 4 people in a while either, so I'm kind of freaking out. Help me plan, and suggest mashed potato and turkey recipes!

The menu:
-turkey, obvs
-gravy (?)
-potato dish of some kind, mashed potatoes are probably easiest?
-stuffing made in the slow cooker, using a variation on this Serious Eats recipe
-green salad

A friend is bringing dessert. Appetizers are sliced baguette and 3 kinds of cheese, so that's easy. People are coming over around 3 pm, and I'm shooting to eat an early dinner around 4:30 since some of us have to work the day after.

Things I know I can do in advance:
-wash lettuce, make salad dressing
-chop up stuffing components (I'll need to dry out sliced and cubed bread in the oven because the stores I went to today didn't have prepared bread cubes yet)

Things I am freaking out about:
-Cooking a turkey. I'm suffering from the tyranny of choice, having read too many recipes in various November issues of Bon Appetit and Cooks Illustrated and the internet. I don't need anything fancy. I'm not planning to brine it. The turkey weighs just under 13 pounds, and just barely fits in my tiny apartment oven (have to take one of the oven racks out, even). Tried and true turkey recipes/methods? I have a big roasting pan and rack.
-Potato dish. For some reason I've never been great at mashed potatoes, they always seem kind of water-logged. I have an old-school potato masher and a hand mixer, but no ricer or stand mixer. This could be something besides mashed potatoes, especially if it's something I could prepare earlier in the day (all or in part) and then cook while the turkey is resting. Caveat: one of my guests is allergic to both onions and garlic, so nothing with either of those in it.
-Gravy... I'm not a huge gravy fan and tend not to make it normally but I'm sure my guests would appreciate it. I'm not planning to make turkey stock, but have chicken stock. Is this something that can also be made ahead of time? I have a half pound of chanterelles sitting in my fridge that could potentially be used in this as well. (My allergic friend is also very picky and won't eat gravy, so this can have onions and garlic.) Any easy recipes/ideas are welcome.

Usually I'm really laid back about having friends over and cooking for them, but for some reason (probably being stressed about a bunch of other stuff in my life), I'm stressing out about this. I know my friends love me and no one will judge me if something isn't perfect, but I'd like to make everything as nice as possible. Thanks, folks.
posted by skycrashesdown to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I would do cut up roast potatoes (cut up potatoes, dress, oven) and instead of stuffing (2 starches) do some kind of green veggie like green beans. Buy one of those powdered gravy mixes. They're pretty good!
posted by bleep at 9:04 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Step 1. Is your turkey defrosted?
If not, take it out of the freezer, and move it to your fridge NOW.

My favorite/fool proof turkey method is to roast it breast side down for half the time (no need to do anything fancy to it) and then to flip it, cover it in bacon and call it a day. This takes a ton of the guess work out of the roasting process. It tastes awesome and is so simple.

Regarding your gravy, make a simple gravy in the morning with the chicken stock, it will reheat fine, but if you don't make gravy, just having a bit of warm stock on hand also is nice.

Regarding your potatoes, chop them into quarters, toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and roast them, easier than worrying about your mash.

Make your stuffing on the side, and it can go in the oven after you've pulled the turkey out. I'd aim to have the turkey done by 3:30pm, so it has time to rest. It won't get cold, don't worry!

6 people isn't much more than 4, and honestly, you've got this! It'll be fine!
posted by larthegreat at 9:10 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (I will add that stuffing is non-negotiable - as far as I'm concerned it's the entire reason for Thanksgiving.)
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:10 PM on October 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

mashed potatoes- For six people, I would peel and quarter about 10 potatoes (large russet types). boil until mashable. Drain, add about 1/4 lb butter and 1/2 cup milk, salt/pepper to taste. Mash away... add more mile if necessary to reach the right consistency. Relax, it will be fine..... A few years ago I had my oven/range die in the middle of thanksgiving dinner... finished the whole meal on the bbq grill outside in 40 degree weather...
posted by HuronBob at 9:20 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rub your turkey (under the skin if you can) with a mixture of dried herbs, salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. I would pulverize it in a mortar and pestle and then make a paste with butter, but doing it as a dry rub is just fine!

In lieu of the cranberry whatever, I do pearl onions (get a bag of frozen) with red wine vinegar, a little sugar, and some spices. So. Much. Better. Quick easy Thomas Keller recipe here. Make them tonight and serve chilled tomorrow.

Yep. You've got this. Happy Birthday!
posted by jbenben at 9:27 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best mashed potatoes have cream cheese in them. Here's the recipe at Pioneer Woman, shorter version.
posted by lalex at 9:36 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

OK. I'm also going to give you a gift for your birthday, my recipe for the best mashed potatoes. I call them Naughty Potatoes.

Get quality Yukon Gold potatoes. 5 or 6 med large will be enough, maybe too much. (No such thing though, right?!)

Chop the potatoes up into even pieces, smaller cook quicker. Not too small. Just enough water to cover, absolutely salt the shit out of the water. It should taste like seawater, got it?

When the water boils, kick the heat down to the absolute lowest possible and cook covered for like 30 min. I can't stress to you how important turning the heat down is. You don't want the potatoes to dissolve, so any boiling or active simmering is the enemy. If it takes 45 to get tender, then it takes 45 min. Your gentleness and patience will pay off.

When they are very tender, completely drain the water. Start with a cup of cream or half n half + 1.5 sticks of butter. Mash away! Once completely mashed, use a good stiff spatula or big spoon to "whip" the potatoes around the pot with a low low flame on as you season and add more cream or butter as needed. You will need more salt than you think, but add it in stages. Use good crushed black pepper and if you have a grinder - use it! Taste. How is the consistency? Adjust.

You will need to add more cream + a little butter to reheat and bring back the creamy consistency if you make these ahead. I don't know why. Is it possible mashed potatoes are a portal of some kind and previously added butter and cream melted into another dimension? Yes, it's highly likely. Just add more to reheat. Taste for salt and add a smidge if needed.

Note: There's a moment where the starch, fats, and salt all perfectly balanced and your mouth will tell you when you've got the right notes. I'm predicting you might end up using just shy of 3 sticks of butter. You can also sub in one Idaho russet potato for a Yukon Gold to add some fluffiness, but the Yukon Gold are the sweet spot between starchy and waxy potatoes, so it's not necessary.

The success is the ingredients + technique. I hope you try this! They're the greatest!!
posted by jbenben at 10:00 PM on October 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

People really freak about and over complicate this shit. Put the turkey on a roasting tray, breast side up. Stick one onion cut in half up its bum. Slather it with butter. Stick some under the skin if you want to feel like you've made extra effort. Cover it with tin foil and roast it for 2 hours 15 minutes at 200. Take the foil off, pour over some more butter, and roast it for another hour at 425.

Done. You can fuck around all you want but at heart, turkey is a set it and forget it roast like any other.

Par boil a kg of new potatoes for like, 4 minutes. Mix them with some butter. When you take the foil off the turkey, throw them in the roasting pan and cook them for an hour with the turkey.

Boil some beans or pan fry some brussel spouts or make some asparagus. You can do this in advance. All three can be quickly heated up in a frying pan after you take the turkey out of the oven.

Do whatever you do with stuffing.

This is actually an easy holiday meal to make. You've got this.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:03 PM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, I leave the skins on my potatoes. Just wash them real good before cooking. They get raves, so you can skip peeling and leave the skins on, too. Also, lots of vitamins and minerals in the skins so it's healthier to make them this way.
posted by jbenben at 10:09 PM on October 22, 2016

Honestly, mashed potatoes is something that barely needs a recipe.

Determine the correct number of russet ("Idaho" style with the rough brown skins) spuds to use to feed everyone. I typically make mash for two, and love having leftovers around, so I'll do 6-10 potatoes depending on size and what else we're having.

Rinse and peel potatoes. Chop into relatively uniform bits. I do... eighths? I halve, then halve again, then a third time. Just make them small enough to cook in a reasonable amount of time, but big enough that you're not wasting time dicing potatoes for no reason.

Cover with water and salt liberally. Cook on the stove (I use high heat, no idea if this is wrong) until potatoes are fork tender.

Drain the potatoes and mash, adding milk and butter to achieve the desired texture. Don't over-mash the potatoes or they'll turn gluey. Add salt to taste. If you want a "flavored" mashed potato like garlic, cheese, herbs, etc. add that stuff in during this step, again being careful not to overwork your potatoes.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 PM on October 22, 2016

I usually use the Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe for cooking turkey, and I'm always very pleased with the results. It does call for a brine, but I imagine that it'd still be okay without one, if not quite as tender. I'd highly recommend getting an oven thermometer and using that instead of a timer to determine the doneness of the turkey; it eliminates a lot of the guesswork involved in the whole process.
posted by Aleyn at 11:22 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to go a little fancier with the potatos, I do 'em like this:

5lbs yukon golds, peeled and chopped
1 stick butter
1c or so whole milk
6oz fresh goat cheese
1lb bacon, baked until crispy and crumbled
1 small red onion, finely diced*
salt, pepper

Mash as usual, mixing in goat cheese at same time as butter and adding crumbled bacon and onion once you've got them to the right consistency

*obvioulsy in your situation you'd skip the onion, but I thought I'd mention it for anyone else reading the green

They're the best mashed potatoes I've ever made, anyway. If you try them, the easiest way to deal with the bacon is to cover a cookie sheet in foil and lay the bacon on there, then put 'em in the oven at 425F/220C for about 15 minutes (keep an eye on them, ovens vary). They come out evenly crispy this way --- it's the best method if you're ever cooking a lot of bacon for a crowd.

Also if I were you I might want one more veg in there to go along with the meal --- you could throw some veggies in the pan to roast along with the turkey, or get one of those frozen medleys you can steam in the bag in your microwave --- only takes a couple minutes, and you can just throw a pat of butter or a drizzle of baslamic vinegar on them.
posted by Diablevert at 11:33 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Happy Birthday! I've had a lot of luck using turkey bags in the past. I've seen them at most large supermarkets.
posted by gt2 at 7:10 AM on October 23, 2016

Also, when I used the turkey bags, I would take them off at the end and roast for awhile without to get crisper skin but I would keep an eye on it. When I didn't use the turkey bags, I would baste a lot (because I burnt the skin on the wings one time).
posted by gt2 at 7:23 AM on October 23, 2016

The classic gravy is made from pan dripping and as such can't be made ahead of time at all. People who love gravy can get really into elaborate plans including exactly what pan to roast the turkey in for the optimal harvesting of drippings. It's delicious, but high-maintenance. Since you are not super into gravy, my advice is to just buy a gravy mix at the store (yes, they have those) and go with it.
My mom always makes giblet gravy, which would make a simple mix taste special, and is entirely a make-ahead variation: take the bag of bits out of the turkey collar cavity (even if you don't want the giblets, don't forget to remove that bag!), simmer (low heat) in a small saucepan in enough water to cover (~3c) for at least 45 min (add water if it runs low) and cool. Pull them out, shred the meat off the neck, cut the meat off the gizzard, heart and liver are fine as-is, and dice it all super fine. You now have 2c stock and a pile of meat shred (which sits in the fridge until you're ready, you can do this days in advance if you want) Use the stock to mix up your gravy, and stir in the turkey bits at the end for flavor (and in my case, to camouflage any lumps).
posted by aimedwander at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

To avoid starchy soupiness of mashed potatoes i've found that one must do everything by hand, chopping and mashing-wise. anything motorized leads to tuber trauma and more starch bleeding than the butter/cream fat can accomodate.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:53 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I never have enough gravy for everyone making giblet gravy, though I probably cook it down a bit more than aimedwander mentions, so I usually extend it with store bought chicken stock.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:46 PM on October 23, 2016

Cover bird with foil. Don't open it until you're done. Tented in foil = super easy and it stays moist. Basting is a waste of time and moisture.

Boil red skin potatoes until they start to split open (whole, don't peel them). Drain. Throw in a big bowl, add a little milk and a tub of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, and some chives. Use a hand mixer to beat the crap out of them until it's mostly blended and the remaining chunks aren't too big. Lumpy means you made it at home! Mmmm.

That's my go-to every year, unless it's one of the years I talk my wife into letting me do a spatchcock bird.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:42 PM on October 23, 2016

I have found mashed potatoes made with Yukon Golds tend to be more delicious/less watery than those with the big brown potatoes (like for baked potatoes). Start with a smaller amount of cream + butter and then work your way up to the right consistency. A great alternative is these crispy smashed potatoes. You can boil them ahead and then just do the smashing/roasting part while the turkey rests. They are insanely good and also very easy.

For gravy, I've got to admit that I often use Trader Joe's box's really tasty and you just heat it up. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:40 PM on October 23, 2016

I cannot recommend the Serious Eats spatchcocked turkey highly enough.
It takes a fraction of the time a normal turkey takes which means less stress for you and a freed oven before/after for other things.

This turkey is perfect and easy and quick.

Happy birthday!
posted by stellathon at 8:54 AM on October 24, 2016

Probably too late, but after years of doing a traditional turkey, I've switched to a 'turkey log' the last few years.

Non-traditional turkey for only-a-few-people holiday dinners:

Dissect out the breast(s) from a whole turkey with skin on (extra skin is A-OK). For each breast, flip over (skin side down). There's a thicker half and a thinner half.

Slice halfway into the thicker half so that you can open that flap out like a book - you'll end up with a fairly rectangular block.

Dissect out the thigh and debone. Skin on or skin off, personal preferance. Flip over (skin side down) do a similar slice so you can flip the flap from the thicker end out so you get an elongated rectangle.

Season meat (for me, light soy sauce, white pepper, garlic powder, onion powder) on all surfaces.

Place opened up thigh on top of opened up breast. Have some butcher string handy (basically, anything non-plastic). Roll up the two layers along the shorter axis, tie with string. You can stretch out the skin so it covers the meat and tuck it under the string. Sometimes I'll pin it in place with toothpicks.

Optionally, rub down the outside of the skin with (dark) vinegar (this will help it crisp and brown). I've also done it with tomato paste dissolved in vinegar.

425 (F) in the oven, stick a thermometer in there. When it hits ~145, evaluate whether you like the look of the skin. If darker colour/crispier is desired, increase heat. Otherwise, take it out when it hits 155-60F, take out, it will continue to heat up to 165F.

The rest of the carcass you can render for stock while the logs are roasting (add coarse-chopped celery, carrots, onion, other seasonings like bay leaf). Use stock to make stovetop stuffing (chop up all the internal organ bits that came with the bird, chop up onions/celery/garlic, cook, mix with diced toast, add stock), use stock to make lots and lots of gravy (take fat from the drippings from turkey logs, make roux, dilute out to gravy with non-fat drippings and stock).

Optionally, I sometimes add a core of seasoned sausage or a few strips of thick-cut bacon in the middle and ditch the thigh skin.

I'll season the wings and drumstick and cook that alongside the logs (these will finish before the log(s) do).

Slice across long-axis and serve as medallions (looking from the top-down, it will have swirl of white meat chasing dark) around 1.5 - 2" thick, as desired.

This is also a route for "easy" turducken; turkey breast, 2x duck thighs, 2x chicken tenders.
posted by porpoise at 11:52 AM on October 24, 2016

Everyone's turkey roasting tips are right on. Here's mine:

To avoid dry breast meat,

--before you put the bird in the oven, cover the breast with buttered foil and place it breast down on the roasting rack.

--Flip it to breast up for the last 1/3 of cooking time (or the last hour is fine). Keep the foil on till you're sure you've only got 30-45 minutes left.

--For the last 45 minutes, take the foil off so the skin will crisp up.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:14 PM on October 24, 2016

So? How was the turkey??
posted by DarlingBri at 11:28 PM on October 25, 2016

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