All You Need for a Nourishing Thanksgiving Dinner

We’ve assembled our best Thanksgiving dinner advice here to take the “frazzle” out of your feast. For 2 full-color e-books (including one for stress free “other” meals); a 5-step Surthrival Guide; hands-on daily checklists and more, get our Holiday Surthrival Kit!


Before the Feast

Test Your LeavenersBefore you start baking, run your baking soda and baking powders through these simple tests so your desserts won’t fall flat.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Desserts – Five delicious, seasonal options that you can make at least two to three days ahead and savor throughout the holidays.

All About Heritage Turkeys — What they are, why you’d want one, how they’re different and how to cook them.

Talking Turkey — A decoder for all the terms out there, from “fresh” to “natural” to “free-range” to “kosher” to help you decide what’s right for you.

Why Brine? — A primer on brining for a succulent bird.

What to Serve with the Thanksgiving Bird — Expert advice from Jill Hough on pairing wine with the Thanksgiving meal.

During the Feast

Slow Down and Savor the Feast — These three tips will help ground you in the ‘thanks’ and ‘giving’ part of the holiday meal.

After the Feast

Love Those Leftovers! — Five ways to make the most of the extras. Plus another bonus three.




4 Pro Steps to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

With a little planning, the proper tools and some strategic cookery, it’s possible to not just survive this Thanksgiving, but to rock it. But cooking for a crowd is daunting if you don’t do it all the time. Here’s what I’ve learned from my pro cooking gigs, including single-handedly preparing a weekly six-course buffet dinner for 40. These four tips will help you enjoy a successful, low-stress Thanksgiving.

Find your bird

Choosing your turkey begins with the guest list. Depending on the amount of leftovers you desire, allot anywhere from 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey weight per guest. Next, determine your turkey type. From fresh to frozen to organic to kosher to heritage birds, the choices are many. Some require ordering in advance, so don’t delay.

To brine or not to brine

Somewhere in the turkey equation you’ll need to decide how to prepare the bird. The basic method applies seasonings immediately before and during roasting. Another alternative is to smoke the turkey on the grill, which frees up oven space on the big day.

Brining involves soaking the bird in a seasoned saltwater liquid (usually for 12-24 hours, depending on the size of the bird) ensuring moist turkey with flavor throughout. Pre-salting is also gaining ground as an effective and space-efficient way to deeply season the bird, and involves sprinkling the turkey with salt three days in advance. For hassle-free flavor, kosher turkeys are an excellent option, as the koshering salt used during processing results in a flavorful bird right out of the bag.

Make Your Prep List

You’ll never feel lost in the details if you have a well-written game plan. Start with a brainstorming session that includes lists of:

  • Tasks for guests, from pie-baking to playlist making
  • Tasks for yourself, like counting forks and washing table linens
  • Recipes you’d like to serve (remember to account for special diets)
  • Assigned cooking and serving vessels for each menu item
  • A shopping list including everything you need, from green beans to stemware

Next, map out a prep list by working backwards from meal time. For example, if you want to serve a fresh, brined turkey at 5 p.m. on Thursday, you should be preparing it for the oven by noon, so it should be soaking in brine no later than noon on Wednesday. This means the turkey needs to be picked up, and the brine made on Tuesday, and so forth. Repeat this process for every task and recipe and before long, you’ll be feeling enthusiastic instead of overwhelmed.

Using a frozen bird? The safest, easiest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator, and you’ll need to allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds. That means you should move a 20-pound turkey from the freezer to the fridge four days before Thanksgiving, five if you plan to brine it.

Gather the Right Equipment

Among my must-have kitchen tools for the big day:

  • Instant-read thermometer: Affordable, reliable and easy to use, this little tool is the best way to guarantee a perfectly cooked bird, as well as thoroughly heated side dishes. Just insert the rod into the deepest and coolest part of the food, and the temperature gauge will tell you within about 60 seconds, exactly how hot it is.
  • Fat separator: The fastest way to skim the fat from pan drippings, this simple, low-spouted tool looks like a measuring cup with a strainer on top. Simply pour the drippings through the strainer and the fat will rise to the top so you can pour out the flavorful gravy while leaving the fat behind. It will drastically cut gravy prep time.
  • Carving board: If you don’t own a behemoth carving board with a moat, don’t worry. Make do with a cutting board placed within a larger, rimmed baking sheet to catch every drop of juice. Lay a damp dishtowel on the counter to hold the baking sheet in place while you carve the bird.

Writer, poet and chef Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. When she’s not busy freelancing or posting on her blog, Food-G, you can find her in the mountains, earning her calories.

Check Us Out in Natural Health!

NOURISH Evolution makes a splash–and covers the gamut of dietary philosophies–in the November 2010 issue of Natural Health magazine. Pick up an issue to check out Lia’s recipes for Pancetta and Sage-Basted Heritage Turkey, Beef Tenderloin with Wild Mushroom Gravy and Shallot-Mustard Rubbed Crown Roast of Pork, which accompany “The Conscious Carnivore” story.

I weigh in on vegan diets in “Vegging Out,” and conclude that, yes, an animal-free diet can be a smart–and tasty–choice. And try out hearty, warming fare like Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Greens, Red Lentil Dal and Quinoa with Braised Collards, Mushrooms and “Sausage” to add to your Meatless Monday rotation.

Miso- and Herb-Rubbed Applewood Smoked Heritage Turkey

Cooking a heritage turkey for Thanksgiving connects you to our country’s history and the farmers dedicated to preserving heritage breeds . . . and to some tasty meat. The miso in this rub acts almost like a light brine, only without any of the mess.

2 cloves garlic, smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup white miso
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup mixed, minced herbs
1 (12-pound) heritage turkey

Mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper (don’t use too much salt or the bird will be too salty). In a small bowl, mix together garlic, miso, butter and herbs.

Very carefully work your fingers under the skin and rub the mixture all over the breast and legs. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, soak 2 cups applewood chips in cold water for 30 minutes.

Preheat the grill.

Drain and transfer chips to a smoke box (or create a tray from heavy-duty foil). Lift up cooking grates on the grill and place the chip tray directly on the burner (when grilling the bird, you’ll be using direct heat, which means only one burner will be on . . . place the chip tray on that burner). Replace the cooking grates and turn all burners to high.

When grill is hot, turn off all burners but the one the wood chips are resting on (leave that one on high) and adjust the heat so the temperature stays around 325F. Spray a “V” roasting rack with cooking spray, place the turkey breast-side down, and position in the middle of the indirect heat area. Close the cover and cook for 2 hours, turning the rack 180 degrees halfway through.

After 2 hours, flip the bird over head-to-toe (so to speak—breast should be up now, and neck where the tail was) and grill for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours, turning the rack 180 degrees halfway through. Use a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg without touching bone to test if the turkey is done (should read 145F).

Take the turkey off the grill, tent loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Serves 12