Thanksgiving is a national holiday that Jews can truly embrace. After all, it is not a religious holiday. Spiritually, however, it is reminiscent of Sukkot — a time to be thankful for a bountiful harvest. The secret to planning a successful Thanksgiving feast is to choose a menu with as many dishes as possible that can be made in advance. Since Shabbat comes the day after the holiday, and since Shabbat cooks are used to advance planning, you can easily extend your Thanksgiving feast into Shabbos and beyond. First off, be sure to roast an extra-large turkey so you will have plenty of meat left over. Then on Shabbat, use frozen puff pastry to make succulent turkey pot pies for Shabbat. I always make a large batch of turkey soup and freeze it to serve on future Shabbats with challah.
I also make my mashed potatoes one day in advance. I pour a thin layer of non-dairy creamer on the bottom of my crock pot when serving the potatoes, which keeps them moist and saves oven space. I love to use the bags of small cut carrots. I place them in a plastic bag with a few teaspoons of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper and shake to coat. I then roast them at 400 degrees until they’re soft and starting to brown. This can be done two days in advance. When ready to reheat, place them on an oiled cookie sheet and drizzle with maple syrup; roast in the oven until glazed and brown.
An easy to plan and prepare starter buffet course for Thanksgiving is a Charcuterie Platter. This is pronounced “shar-KOO-tar-e:” and just saying it aloud correctly will make your guests think you attended Le Cordon Bleu! Hard to say, but so easy to do. Using a wooden board makes it look rustic and inviting. Simply place an assortment of olives, grapes, assorted sliced salami, cornichons and other pickled veggies on the platter and serve with whole grain mustard and cocktail or baguette slices of bread.
It is also easy to make pumpkin fillings in advance for rugelach or hamentashen style desserts. How about Pumpkin Spice Krispy treats for the kids? You can find recipes online for variations of the old Rice Krispy Treats. I love the one below. Adding pureed pumpkin certainly makes a gooey sweet a bit healthier!
For Thanksgiving place cards, pick some not-too-dry leaves outside and write names on them with magic markers. Place the “name leaves” on the napkin or above the plate. Forget fancy flowers; place colored fall leaves around candles or a pumpkin for a seasonal centerpiece. We usually go around the table and have everyone give two to three things for which they are thankful before we eat. Jews are all about personal gratitude and this Thanksgiving, make everyone’s known to all your guests.
* Always have a jar or can of store-bought turkey gravy on hand to increase your own.
* Have enough good plastic containers for leftovers. The foam separated ones can be used for guests to take home some leftovers (have the kids decorate them in advance).
* If you’re not into making homemade gravy, go to a deli and purchase a pint of beef and a pint of turkey gravy. Mix together for a really good substitute!
EASY MAKE AHEAD GRAVY
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth or 4 cups turkey broth
salt and pepper
pan drippings from turkey
In a medium saucepan, melt butter or margarine and whisk in flour.
Cook over medium-high heat until flour is incorporated and white bubbles begin to form on the top of the “roux.”
Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes after the white bubbles have formed, whisking constantly.
Gradually add the broth, whisking constantly until the gravy is thickened and comes to a boil.
Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
At this point, you can cool, cover and refrigerate the gravy base for as long as 4 days. Reheat in a medium-sized pan. When turkey is done, skim off fat and pour drippings into gravy base and bring it to serving temperature. Makes 4 cups.
BEAUTIFUL INDIVIDUAL SWEET POTATOES
4 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub sweet potatoes; pierce several times with a fork. Bake one hour or until tender. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Stir in cranberries, syrup, cranberry juice and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10-15 minutes or until berries pop, stirring occasionally. Stir in walnuts and mustard; heat through. When cool enough to handle, cut each potato lengthwise in half; sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. Top with cranberry mixture; sprinkle with chives. 8 servings.
* Sprinkle with the nuts just before serving.
Note: To toast nuts, bake in a shallow pan in a 350̊ oven for 5-10 minutes or cook in a skillet over low heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
PUMPKIN SPICE RICE KRISPIES TREATS
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 10 ounce bag kosher mini marshmallows plus one cup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
6 cups crispy rice cereal
Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish (or a smaller dish — see Note below).
In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter or margarine over medium-low heat. Add the pumpkin puree and continue to cook until it is warmed through. Fold in 10 ounces of the marshmallows, stirring frequently until almost completely melted. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt and remove from heat. Allow the marshmallow mixture to cool 10 minutes; fold in the remaining cup of marshmallows. Continue to cool the mixture for another 20 to 25 minutes until it is room temperature (failure to cool the mixture will result in soggy rice crispy treats.) Add the puffed rice cereal and stir, using a silicone spatula, until combined.
Press the mixture into the greased rectangular baking dish. Let set for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. 12 servings.
• Note: This calls for a 9×13-inch dish here, but I often use an 8×11-inch because I like taller treats. Any size in this range should do.
Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.