Thanksgiving can be overwhelming for hosts, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Durango’s seasoned hostesses, expert chefs and culinary teachers all have insight on how to surprise guests in new ways and make sure the massive meal is deliciously stress-free.
Keep it casualDurango resident Karen Brucoli Anesi has hosted Thanksgiving for at least the last 30 years and almost has it down to a science. This might be one of the reasons she keeps people out of her narrow kitchen.
“A lot of people make Thanksgiving harder than it is. All a turkey is is a big chicken. If you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey,” she said. “People somehow think that this bird is some special bird that you’re going to dry out. And if you do, that’s why they have gravy.“
She suggests getting the biggest stressor out of the way early and not worrying about it too much.
“The point is everyone celebrating the fellowship of being together. The idea is for people to relax – and if the hostess is not relaxed, nobody is relaxed,” Anesi said. “People have disasters all the time when they make Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s not the end of the world. Seventy-two hours later, it’s all sewage anyway.”
As an added tip, Anesi suggests not cleaning up too early.
“It’s a good way to clear a room,” she said. “I’ll tell my family, ‘just be careful about that because it makes people feel like they have to jump up and work.’”
Remember the basicsBread and sweets are a crucial part of the Thanksgiving meal, and the people behind Jean-Pierre Bakery and Restaurant are experts in this realm. Chef and owner Jean-Pierre Belger immigrated to the U.S. from France in 1969.
“I had no knowledge of what Thanksgiving was because it doesn’t exist anywhere except for where those Dutch people riding the boat with their high hats (landed),” he said.
Almost 50 years later, his restaurant now serves a turkey-shaped bread (Jean-Pierre’s also donates hundreds of rolls for the Durango Community Thanksgiving Dinner). That may be too advanced for most hosts, but he has some simple suggestions on pumpkin pie and stuffing.
“As far as the pumpkin pie, we use a lot of old spice. The crust of the pie is also the fundamental, critical part of the pie, of course. It’s nice to mix a traditional pie dough by hand so the crust of the pie is not tough. It melts in your mouth,” he said.
“You have to have for the stuffing, a very dry bread with no humidity ... and then you add your own personal secret ingredients,” he said.
If you need help impressing your guests, buying pre-made stuffing isn’t the worst idea.
“We have a lot of customers who will buy stuffing from us for the turkey. We do that (on a) friendly, personal basis,” he said.
Stay simplePete Lloyd owns Mancos P&D/Mancos Pizza and has helped prepare a community meal for the town the past 16 years.
“I do a lot of pointing,” he said.
But Lloyd is also is in charge of the birds. He makes 16, 25-pound turkeys and eight 20-pound hams to feed around 400 people. Lloyd said that volume is the biggest challenge, but to manage it, he sticks to the fundamentals.
“The way we do it, you keep it as simple as possible and make sure you cook enough. Just be prepared for it,” he said. “We make a lot of deviled eggs. What you do is you order them fully cooked and peeled, then all you have to do is cut them in half and mix the yokes. There are 288 full eggs, so that makes 576 deviled eggs. That’s insane.”
The average home cook probably isn’t making eggs for hundreds, but Lloyd’s principles still apply. He makes sure a short list of dishes are ready to go: turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy, yams, green bean casserole, eggs, olives, cranberry sauce, rolls, dressing and pies.
“You don’t have to do 20 things; just do 10 things and do them well,” he said.
Use quality ingredients you can customizeManna’s culinary manager, Heather Hinsley, has been teaching culinary classes for over 20 years and can transform any plate into an edible piece of art. To make those dishes as delicious as they are beautiful, she wields the power of two of humankind’s biggest weaknesses.
“Everything is better with good butter and everything is better with a good salt,” Hinsley said. “I recommend using unsalted Grade AA butter. The AA grade is the highest quality butter in aroma, flavor and texture. Unsalted butter allows chefs to add salt at various times in their techniques to customize their method of baking and cooking.”
She adds that unsalted butter also allows chefs to use their favorite salt.
“I prefer an iodine-free salt, processed and sourced from nature – such as evaporated sea salt. So keep plenty of butter in the kitchen, either ready at room temperature, in the refrigerator or even stored in the freezer (if necessary),” she said. “Oh, and melting butter is best when done slowly to prevent separation, or at worst, scorching.”
Break and blend traditionsExecutive chef and owner of Himalayan Kitchen, Karma Bhotia, who is from Nepal, said Thanksgiving is one of his favorite American holidays. Each year, he makes a meal for his employees who cook and serve others year-round. Bhotia said that unlike chicken, lamb and goat, turkey is not a typical protein used in Indian food.
“Goat is very popular for Nepalese and Indian people, but Thanksgiving is specifically for the turkey, and I am focusing my dish on the turkey,” he said.
While he does have some traditional sides, Bhotia incorporates the big bird in exciting, non-traditional ways that blend his Nepalese and European background (he lived in Austria in the 1980s), that may just counteract the tryptophan.
“My secret is ... I combine a South Asian recipe with a European recipe, so I cook a little different than other Indian and other Nepalese food,” he said.
“(For the turkey), I make a secret sauce and marinade the cold turkey and leave it overnight. The next day, I chop a lot of vegetables and mix that together with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil and stuff the turkey. At first, I bake it really hot and then reduce the heat and bake really slowly. Then I put some dark beer over the top and bake about 10 minutes more. This completely tastes different than regular turkey.”