"It's My Favorite Cooking Holiday" — Alex Shares Her Thanksgiving Traditions and Tips
If Valentine's Day is a day for hopeless romantics, then Thanksgiving is surely one for the chefs among us. From the crowd of company seated at the dining room table to the crowning turkey centerpiece and the 10 or so side dishes flanking the buffet, it's no surprise that those who enjoy cooking for strangers in restaurants would love even more to cook for their families at home, and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is no exception. "It's my favorite cooking holiday," Alex told FN Dish of turkey day when we caught up with her recently. For her, Thanksgiving comes twice — once at her restaurant and again with her family—and she notes, "I try to make everything from scratch."
Read on below to hear more from Alex and find out her must-have bites on Thanksgiving, plus a few of her make-head tips for the feast.
What does Thanksgiving look like at your house? What kinds of traditions do you celebrate?
Alex Guarnaschelli: I have two Thanksgivings every year. The first one I do at the restaurant with my restaurant family, and we cook a whole big spread and we sit down, no matter how busy we are, and we take the time to hang out. And then I cook for my parents. My parents like to eat out in a restaurant, which is kind of embarrassing for a professional chef to be caught, busted, in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. So, if my parents really want to go out, we go out, but then I cook a whole spread at home for my daughter and my parents. And I try to make almost everything from scratch. It's my favorite cooking holiday of the year. It's a time, I think, when a chef just goes nuts and just does everything, and so I want to make sure I don't miss anything.
Fill in the blanks. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without _____ and _____.
AG: It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without cranberries and dried ginger.
What's the secret to making sure each element of Thanksgiving dinner is ready to eat on time and at the same time?
AG: I have two answers. My first is, write out your menu. Sit down and write it out, and then cross out at least three items off your menu and just ease up a little bit. If you sit down and write your menu hungry, you're going to make a four-page list. You have to kind of dial it back. You have to not overdo it, which is hard. And then the other thing is make ahead some things, but also have some things that are cooked in the oven, some that are stovetop and some that are room temperature so that you're not gridlocked anywhere in your own kitchen, however big or small.
What Thanksgiving dishes can be made ahead of time, without sacrificing their flavor or presentation?
AG: My mother likes to roast a turkey two or three days in advance, and then make the gravy and everything, carve the meat, eat it on sandwiches, whatever. And then take the carcass and make a full gravy and let all that sit, so that when she's done cooking the turkey [on Thanksgiving], she carves it, pours the pan juices into the ready-made gravy, done. The biggest pressure is on the gravy. It has to be good, and there has got to be a lot.
AG: The only way to rescue lumpy gravy, in my opinion, is to strain your gravy once again. Just get a strainer of any kind and just get those lumps out of there. Don't try to whisk it to death to fix it — it's not going to work. Just strain it through a fine-mesh sieve.
Stuffing or dressing? Stuffing, 100 percent. Dressing doesn't exist in my world.
Sweet potato casserole or mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes
Don't miss Alex on Thanksgiving at Bobby's, airing Saturday, Nov. 22 at 12|11c.