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A Thanksgiving Feast for Twelve

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Follow our planning, shopping and cooking strategies for a dinner full of traditional favorites.

Thanksgiving dinner is tricky: You’ve got to please everybody with traditional favorites, but you still want the food to be special. And cooking a huge menu midweek translates into a lot of work. That’s why, to create a menu that’s both elegant and do-able, I tackled the project the way I would at my restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard. My kitchen is quite small, and I have to be really organized. I start by making a list of the ingredients I’ll need, and then I make a work list for each of the dishes, prioritizing it by how far in advance each of the steps can be done.

This menu is challenging—which is also why it’s so delicious—but it’s very do-able, and everyone from your pickiest family members to your most sophisticated guests will enjoy it. The do-ahead recipes, like the buttercup squash soup, and our timeline will help free you up so you can cook your best and enjoy your meal.

Download a pdf of this menu, including all recipes, shopping list and timeline.

Menu Timeline

Start early to make life easier—and the food taste better—on Thanksgiving Day.

Two weeks ahead:

  • Order a fresh turkey.
  • Make and freeze the herb butter for the soup and turkey.
  • Make and freeze the spiced pecans.
  • Make and freeze the soup.

One week ahead:

  • Make the cranberry compote (leave out the scallions for now).
  • Make the roux for the gravy.
  • Make the plum dressing.
  • Organize equipment and serving dishes.

Two Days Ahead:

  • Pick up turkey.
  • Move soup from the freezer to the fridge to defrost.
  • Wash and store the greens for the salad.
  • Make the topping for the crisp.
  • Prep bread for the stuffing.

One Day Ahead:

  • Assemble the stuffing (leave out eggs and extra liquid for now).
  • Make and bake the crisp.
  • Chill the wine.
  • Set the table.

5-1/2 hours before dinner:

  • Remove the turkey from the fridge and the herb butter from the freezer.
  • Mix the eggs and liquids with the stuffing.
  • Stuff and truss the turkey.
  • Put extra stuffing in the baking dish and refrigerate.

5 hours before dinner:

  • Put the turkey (with the neck) in the oven and cover with the brown bag.
  • Mix scallions into the cranberry compote, put in serving dish.
  • Peel the potatoes and cover with water.
  • Take the roux from the fridge to bring to room temperature.

4 hours before dinner:

  • Remove the turkey neck from the oven.
  • Make the stock reduction for the gravy.

3 hours before dinner:

  • Take the extra stuffing out of the fridge.
  • Cook and mash potatoes; keep warm.
  • Remove the plum dressing from the refrigerator.

2-1/2 hours before dinner:

  • Put the extra stuffing in the oven.
  • Baste the turkey and add extra liquids to the pan.

1-1/2 hours before dinner:

  • Remove the brown bag from the turkey; check the temperature.
  • Drain and reserve the pan liquids; finish the gravy.
  • Remove the foil from the extra stuffing in the oven.

1 hour before dinner:

  • Reheat the soup.
  • Check the turkey temperature; keep cooking if needed.
  • Remove the pan of stuffing from the oven (make sure it’s at 160°F or higher).
  • Put out the extra pecans for nibbling.

1/2 hour before dinner

  • Remove turkey from oven and let rest at least 20 minutes.
  • Sauté and dress the greens; put on a platter.
  • Slice and serve the turkey and other dishes.
  • Lower oven temperature to 300°F just before sitting down to dinner; after dinner, reheat crisp for 20 minutes.

Shopping List

Because this menu is all about advance preparation, the shopping list is broken down by day instead of types of groceries.

Two weeks ahead

  • Order fresh 12- to 14-lb. turkey (with neck) for Tuesday pick-up
  • 3 qt. chicken broth
  • 3 medium buttercup squash
  • 3 large leeks
  • 3 lb. unsalted butter
  • 12 oz. pecan halves
  • 1 bunch fresh chives
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups wild rice
  • 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup canola or peanut oil
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 6 oz. prepared horseradish
  • 6 shallots
  • 3-1/4 oz. hazelnuts OR 1 lb. whole chestnuts
  • 1 small jar Damson or beach plum preserves
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns
  • white pepper
  • red or white wines for dinner, plus any spirits or Champagne for cocktails

One week ahead:

  • 24 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 navel orange

Sunday or Monday:

  • 5 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 lb. spinach (or one 10-oz. bag)
  • 1 bunch red or green Swiss chard or young kale
  • 2 small heads frisée or escarole
  • 7 ripe but firm Anjou pears
  • 4 Granny Smith apples
  • 3 clementines or small navel oranges
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 large ribs celery
  • 1 head garlic
  • 3 large scallions
  • 2 bunches fresh sage
  • 2 bunches fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh chives
  • 1-1/2 qt. apple cider
  • 1-lb. loaf sourdough or peasant-style bread
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups light cream
  • 7 oz. dried apricots
  • 5 oz. dried cherries
  • vanilla or ginger ice cream
  • twine
  • brown paper bag

Wine Choices  

This elegant yet comforting Thanksgiving dinner gives you plenty of latitude in choosing wines that will please everyone. For this all-American celebration, drink American, too. If you can splurge a bit and uncork some truly fine bottles, you might even unglue those diehard armchair quarterbacks from the TV.

For the soup, bring out the buttery, roasty flavors of squash, sherry, and butter with a big, buttery Chardonnay like Ferrari-Carano or Rutz (both from Sonoma) or Cakebread from Napa. “Buttery” Chardonnays get that way through a winemaking step called malolactic fermentation, which creates a smooth, creamy mouth-feel and the same flavor substance found in butter. Buttery Chardonnay pairs beautifully with the turkey, picking up on the apples, butter, and pecans in the stuffing, as well as with the side dishes. Except for the salad and dessert, Chardonnay covers the whole menu.

If you’d rather cut through the richness with something tart, go with a crisp Pinot Gris such as Oregon’s Adelsheim or Erath. A high-end domestic sparkler such as Le Rêve  from Domaine Carneros, Etoile from Domaine Chandon, or L’Ermitage from Roederer Estate will go with both the soup and the main course while adding to the festive mood.

But if you prefer red, a peppery Pinot Noir would be delicious. Look for Saintsbury Reserve of Carneros, Gary Farrell from Sonoma, Oregon’s Domain Drouhin, or Fox Run from New York’s Finger Lakes.

For the fruit crisp dessert, pick a wine with good, tangy acidity and sweetness to match the topping. Try Husch’s late harvest Gewürztraminer from Mendocino, Vignoles from Stone Hill Vineyards in Missouri, or Château Elan peach wine from Georgia.  —Rosina Tinari Wilson  

The Menu

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