There was one thing I was not willing to leave behind when I left the US: Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday, not surprisingly as it revolves around seasonal comfort food. We’ve been throwing Thanksgivings up at the family farm for the past three years, but this year, I really wanted to invite our friends – some who’d never celebrated the holiday before – for a first annual Friendsgiving at our place.
My friend of 23 years was visiting from the US, so she, the Australian Man and I set out to whip up a banquet of my family’s most loved treats. The next day, ten friends squeezed into our apartment, and our first Friendsgiving was underway. (One of these friends is fabulous blogger Heidi, who wrote a really lovely recap, here).
One minor detail: I’d never roasted a turkey before. I’ve been an active cook in our family’s Thanksgivings over the year, but it was always my dad’s job to smoke the turkey in the US, and in Australia, my mum-in-law’s job to oven roast it.
Determined to succeed, we searched for a simple method and found this one, from The Kitchn. I found confidence in their step-by-step outline, knowing we could adjust the flavors and method based on our combined poultry knowledge. We picked up our 8kg (~17.5lb) turkey from the butcher at 8:00am, and shortly after were home drying it off and preparing for its debut.
Per The Kitchn’s advice, we decided not to fully stuff or truss our bird, to reduce cooking time and also help it cook more evenly. We loosely stuffed it instead, with a quartered lemon and onion, salt, pepper and rosemary, just for flavor. We knew from roasting chickens that butter under the skin works wonders, so we gently separated the skin from the breast and smoothed (copious amounts of) butter mixed with more fresh rosemary in between the skin and meat. Then, a generous crack of pepper and sea salt over the top, and she was ready to go.
My husband, who’d roasted large game while running a commercial kitchen a few years back, suggested cooking the bird on a trivet of celery, onions and carrot. Well, he’s a genius. I cannot recommend this enough. The vegetables flavor the turkey drippings to make the most divine stock, which is then used to baste the turkey while roasting, which then adds more flavor to the stock, and so forth. Use it to flavour your gravy, or freeze in an ice cube tray for future use.
After roasting for four hours, basting every 45 mins or so (and covering with foil for the first and last hour), she was done, and she was all things a Friendsgiving turkey should be: tender and full of flavor, with crispy golden skin. Despite my initial nervousness, roasting The Big Bird was easier and much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. We even went out for a leisurely lunch while it was in the oven.
On the menu:
- Roast turkey (using The Kitchn’s stress-free method and our own seasonings)
- Sweet potato casserole with walnut-brown sugar crumble
- Chestnut, pancetta and ciabatta stuffing (a Giada di Laurentiis recipe we’ve been using for years)
- Mom’s buttermilk cornbread
- Mashed potatoes
- Mom’s mushroom and Madeira gravy (from her 1970s Craig Claiborne/New York Times cookbook)
- Sauteed zucchini
- Green beans and peas
- Spiced-up brandy cranberry sauce
- Heidi’s amazing brown butter and pumpkin spice doughnuts
- Arabic coffee and pots of peppermint tea
And of course, endless gratitude and love to our Australian friends who so enthusiastically got into the Friendsgiving spirit with us.
My tips for a stress-free day:
- Prep a day in advance. Put on some music and chop the vegetables you need for stuffing, sides, salad, etc. Store airtight in the fridge overnight and you’ll be ahead of the game on the day. You can even measure out dry ingredients for cornbread, cakes, etc and label them so you can get cooking with minimal hassle. Get the family involved, too!
- Buy your meat and produce from a farmers’ market. You’ll spend less than at the supermarket (especially when feeding a large group) and support your local growers.
- Make a loose schedule of what to make and when, so you’re sure you can get everything done at a stress-free pace.
- Decorate on a budget by grouping locally grown flowers in small jars or pots. I grabbed 4 budget bunches from the flower cart at the end of our street, trimmed them to the same height, and stuck them in old jam and salsa jars. Don’t have matching tableware for a big group? No need. Alternate plates and cups, like we did.
Most importantly: enjoy it, and don’t be afraid to try something for the first time. Family and friends are there to have fun, and won’t notice the mistakes you think you’re making. (Did I ever tell you about the time my dad’s barbecue was backed into by a car, sending his turkey flying down the hill? No? Ok, I’ll save that for next year. PS – no one was the wiser).