Turkey Day terrors

Avoid cooking crises by obeying the 12 Commandments of Thanksgiving

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Every November for 30 years or so I’ve written about the big day and shared my family’s recipe for Italian sausage and potato stuffing.

Every Thanksgiving Day for the last decade I’ve left the turkey at home and gone on the air at KGNU’s Boulder studios to provide answers to listeners’ cooking crises and provide reassurance and humor on the biggest day of cooking on the American calendar. I know the November magazine covers and Instagram-ed images from food bloggers perpetuate the myth of Thanksgiving perfection.

Not much performance pressure, huh?

I’ve learned a few things over the years. You are not alone in experiencing anxiety attacks over hosting and cooking for a Thanksgiving gathering. Everybody has horror stories. I’ve undercooked a turkey and overcooked several. I’ve burned side dishes that just needed to be warmed. Nobody ever wants to make the gravy because almost nobody makes it any more except on Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s a secret: follow these 12 prime directives, wear loose pants, be of good cheer and you may have a Thanksgiving you can actually enjoy.

First Commandment: Do not put off  ’til Thanksgiving Day what you can do today. Seriously, shop early and make the side dishes and pies ahead of time and thou, as host, will have time for a nap on Nov. 23.

Second Commandment: Thou shall fill a bag before thou stuffest thy face. The 33rd annual Let’s Bag Hunger Food Drive (Nov. 10-14 at King Soopers stores in Boulder, Lafayette and Louisville) will stocks pantries at more than 40 local nonprofits serving our neighbors. Fill a bag with nut butter, stew, cereal, baby formula, canned fruit, beans, tuna and chicken. Better yet, donate cash at: communityfoodshare.org.

Third Commandment: Thou shall survive the feast if you follow these three simple words: Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. As feast host you must manage your eager volunteers who are just happy they don’t have to host. They will ask if they can help. Let them bring pie, wine and post-feast assistance. Give away control and hugs.

Fourth Commandment: Thou shall not spoil the mood. Should any of those in attendance start muttering about weight control, limiting carbs or Fitbit goals speak thusly to this person’s face: “No pie for you!” Then make them sit at the kids’ table.

Fifth Commandment: Thou shall be prepared, the motto of a true host. Have backup supplies (including extra butter and wine) that can save the day. For instance, frozen puff pastry dough that can rise to the occasion as a quick dessert (with bottled caramel sauce and sliced honeycrisp apples) or an appetizer (wrapped around a Colorado Camembert wheel, baked until bubbly and served with cranberry relish).

Sixth Commandment: Thou shall respect thy bird. Before roasting, rub it all over with a mixture of freshly ground kosher salt and black pepper. Add garlic slices, fresh sage and rosemary, and butter or bacon fat under the skin next to the turkey breast. Top with a foil canopy and baste occasionally. For the final 20 minutes or so, remove the foil, crank the oven to 400 degrees to brown it a bit, but don’t overdo it. Take it out when the leg thigh joint registers about 165 degrees.

Seventh Commandment: Thou shall always let it be. The roasted turkey must stand on the counter for 30 minutes in the pan once it emerges from the oven. The precious flavor-packed roasting fluids get drawn back into the bird, making a moister and easier-to-slice turkey. Always remove the wishbone first to make a wish and because it makes carving the breast easier. Thou shall thankest me later.

Eighth Commandment: After all thy many labors to reach the magic moment, thou shall never serve cold turkey to warm guests. Moisten sliced turkey with hot broth on a pre-warmed serving plate under a foil canopy to preserve heat and moisture.

Ninth Commandment: Thou shall make broth from the organs in that icky bag inside the turkey carcass. Pull out the neck and heart and put them in a saucepan of water with a carrot, some celery, onion and a sage leaf or two and simmer for hours. You will need it — and those great pan juices — to make gravy.

10th Commandment: Even though thou fear the firewalk through the valley of gravy-making, ye shall persist. Thou shall melt butter and add flour to maketh a roux. Thou shall slowly stir in the fresh, hot broth and roasting pan juices until the perfect consistency is achieved and tweak the seasoning with salt and pepper. Thou shall add gravy-making to thy resume.

11th Commandment: Yea, verily, I say unto you: Toast your ancestors but honor your leftovers. Stockpile Tupperware and quart freezer bags and pack up the goodies for later enjoyment. Almost everything you serve including cranberry sauce, gravy, casseroles and pies can be frozen. One weeknight in mid-December you will spy these packages and whisper a heartfelt prayer of thanks. It is a mortal sin to waste that turkey carcass. Make soup and broth.

12th Commandment: In the 11th hour, the host shall rest. Thou shall appoint several from the assembled flock to forego bringing wine, green bean casserole or kombucha and “volunteer” for the cleaning crew whose work begins as the feast winds down. They can also pack up the leftovers. Thou shall kick back and enjoy a libation and a slice of pie.

P.S. If you want the recipe to my turkey stuffing, Google “Lehndorff stuffing” and you’ll see more than a few variations. If you have a cooking question, I’ll be on the air 8:30-9:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day with Maeve Conran on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org). Call 303-443-4242.

Local food news

Someday I hope we’ll have a year-round farmers’ market in Boulder and I won’t need to make this annual announcement: The final Boulder County Farmers Market of the season is Saturday in Boulder and Longmont. The Winter Market, which includes gifts and artisans, is Dec. 2-3 at Longmont’s Boulder County Fairgrounds. … The annual Keep Calm and Eat More Latkes event is 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 9 at McGuckin Hardware.

Words to chew on

“My friend, Charlie, a Republican, is a pie conservative, and he doesn’t believe in cream pies. The only real pies, he says, are of berries and other fruit, but he thinks that no one makes fruit pies very well anymore.” — Sue Hubbell

John Lehndorff is the former director of the Great American Pie Festival and chief judge at the National Pie Championships.