What would your version be of a Thanksgiving that was less work and maybe last minute?
What if you deleted expectations of what the meal was supposed to be from your brain, and substituted what you wanted to do given your level of enthusiasm, energy and help? Imagine what a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable day that would be.
If you haven’t done anything in advance and you long for a plate of the traditional turkey day fare, the grocery store is your friend. If store-bought is good enough for Ina Garten, then who are we to argue? Yes, the holiday is a canvas for competitive and show-off cooking, but the classic dishes themselves are so easy to make, and the flavor palate so ingrained that it’s probably the best chance all year for a store bought meal. From Ore-Ida instant potatoes to Pepperidge farm dressing (the blue bag), that can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and canned or packaged gravy, it’s possible to pull together a decent quality and satisfying last minute meal quickly and economically. Treat yourself to some appetizers from the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s and buy yourself a pie. Commercial pies have gotten much better, and if I’m not going to judge you, then why judge yourself?
I always recall a conversation I had with David LeFevre, chef-owner of MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite and The Arthur J in Manhattan Beach, years ago about how he celebrates Thanksgiving. He referred to when he made the whole traditional meal on the day itself as “indentured servitude,” so he and his family decided to come up with a better way.
They start the day with an early lunchtime Seafood Boil. It’s the ultimate luxurious one-pot meal. Then later in the day when the games start, the family sets out traditional Thanksgiving dishes David made the day before, and people help themselves while watching the games. They basically jump straight to leftovers. Aside from the lunch, there is no gathering around a table for a meal that lasts an hour after 16 hours of prep and cooking. I tell you this story as an example of thinking out of the box — how one family decided to take control of the holiday and not let it control them. They have a relaxed and fun day as a family, and the eating experience is one of personal customization.
I would go one of two ways. I love sandwiches, really love them. So I’m imagining a scenario of a DIY sandwich buffet. Begin with a few loaves of really good bread like challah or King’s Hawaiian, a sourdough country loaf and rye. Run to the store to get your favorite assorted deli meats and cheeses. Some ideas are turkey, Black Forest ham, prosciutto, mortadella, salame, fresh mozzarella, provolone, muenster, brie and swiss. Put out whatever veg you have on hand: lettuces, tomatoes, leftover roasted vegetables.
Then the fun part: Gather your condiments, from jarred pesto to those specialty mustards you never use. Don’t forget the roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, et cetera. Don’t forget the mayo and mustard to slick the bread. And for me, onions either raw or quick pickled, are non-negotiable. Round out the feast with some potato salad and slaw and you’re done. Remember that people love to pick and customize their plates then lounge. And if you’re on your own, channel your inner Dagwood and make a mile-high sandwich. If you’re up for it, you can either find or make turkey meatballs to eat on pasta or to add to the sandwich buffet. If you go that route, buy a few sub-type rolls.