It’s a lot easier than you’d think.
Thanksgiving planning and prepping is in full swing, and with that comes the menu finalization. We are all for buying shortcut items from the grocery store to cut down on the confusion and stress that comes with cooking a big meal; however, there are a few essential dishes that are just about as easy to whip up from-scratch, no fancy, complicated recipe needed. It’s for sure best to cook your own turkey, and it’s even better to go ahead and use the drippings to make your own gravy. Why? Because it’s delicious and too easy not to. For that matter, same applies for the mashed potatoes destined to cradle that from-scratch gravy. And does anyone feel that strongly about having canned cranberry sauce on the table? No? OK, leave it on the grocery store shelf, and make your own. Here’s how to do all three—gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce—without a recipe.
Turkey gravy flies off the shelves at the grocery store this time of year, and I just don’t understand why; gravy is so simple to make at home without the powdered stuff. As your turkey roasts in the oven, the spices and fat accumulate at the bottom of your pan to form glorious lovely drippings. Those turkey drippings are essential to the gravy making process. Gather the drippings and place them in clear liquid measuring cup and allow the fat to float to the top. Remove any large pieces of fat, seasonings, or vegetable (if applicable) and discard. In a medium saucepan, add about ¼ cup of your turkey fat and warm over medium heat. Whisk in about ¼ cup all-purpose flour to create a roux. When the flour mixture forms a thick paste, whisk in the remaining turkey drippings along with a few cups (about 3) of stock. It can be vegetable stock, chicken stock, or even beef stock—whatever you have on hand. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until you reach your desired level of thickness.
Everyone has their own style to making a classic pot of mashed potatoes, but there are several techniques that will yield a perfect batch of the creamy, mashed spuds every time. Personally, I prefer red potatoes with the skins left on. For thick-skinned potatoes such as Russet and Idaho varieties, I recommend peeling the skins; and potatoes with a waxy or thin skin, like Yukon golds, you can get away with not peeling them if you don’t mind the skin. You can also mix and match your ‘taters, and go half and half with different varieties.
Cut the potatoes into even, medium-sized cubes, place them into a large pot and cover them fully with water. Generously salt your water and bring it to a rolling boil; cook the potatoes about 20 minutes or until tender. (P.S. Have you ever tried to add potatoes to a pot of already boiling water? It’s a literal “hot” mess. That’s why I like to bring the water and potatoes to a boil together.) If you are looking to add an extra hint of flavor, toss in a bay leave or a roughly chopped onion to the water as it boils.
Drain the potatoes and add them back to your pot. I actually like to mash my potatoes before I adding milk or cream. This ensures a silky-smooth consistency. (Sidenote: Depending on where Thanksgiving is taking place, I don’t always have a potato masher on hand, but I’ve had success using a whisk in it’s place.) Mash the potatoes to however smooth or chunky you like. Incorporate between ½ cup to ¾ cup of warm whole milk, buttermilk, half and half, or heavy cream along with a few tablespoons of softened unsalted butter. If you want to up the richness, you can also incorporate sour cream in place of part of your milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and you’re ready to go.
Instead of plopping the cylinder glob of cranberry sauce onto a plate and serving, try making a homemade sauce with fresh berries. It’s far less complicated than you would imagine. At the minimum you need 3 key ingredients: fresh cranberries, a liquid (water), and a sweetener (sugar). You can find 12-ounce bags of fresh cranberry in the produce section of most grocery stores this time of year, or you can also opt for frozen. Simply rinse the berries and add them to a medium saucepan with about 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Simmer until the berries have softened and the liquid has thickened. Wallah, you are done!
Now, that’s the #basic no-recipe recipe. Let’s kick it up a notch and use freshly squeezed orange juice to replace half the amount of water. You can also swap part of the granulated sugar with brown sugar, agave nectar, or honey. And, if the sweetness is too rich for your blood, simply adjust it to taste. You have free creative reign to spice up your sauce with grated ginger, orange zest, cinnamon, and even a splash bourbon wouldn’t hurt.