Local chef Jonathan Miller offers advice for a stress-free Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is just days away, and for the person in charge of cooking the meal, that means one thing: pressure. Pressure to beat other shoppers to the same essential ingredients. Pressure to appease guests with different tastes and dietary needs. Pressure to cook several items simultaneously and get the timing just right.
It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the day, but let’s not forget what Thanksgiving is all about—spending quality time with loved ones and expressing gratitude for life’s many gifts.
For some helpful tips for crafting a tasty Thanksgiving meal that also reduces stress, we turned to Santa Cruz personal chef Jonathan Miller, who is teaching a class on Thanksgiving Sides and Pies at Let’s Cook! Santa Cruz on Nov. 21.
GOOD TIMES: Do you have any advice for those cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time?
JONATHAN MILLER: If you’ve never done it before, you should try not to cook too many things. If you’re a control freak and you don’t want others to bring anything, then stick to just a few items, like turkey, stuffing, potatoes and some sort of relish, instead of worrying about special drinks, desserts, etc. When you only focus on making a few things, what you do make will turn out good.
How can you accommodate for those with dietary restrictions at Thanksgiving?
Try not to wedge yourself to the traditional turkey dinner, because you just cut out all vegetarians that way. Instead, think outside the box.
You should think about what Thanksgiving is really about—is it about turkey? Or is it about family coming together? If it’s really about turkey, then you should think about your guest list.
Gluten-free is easy to get around at Thanksgiving, since there are many substitutes. Plus, there is no gluten in mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce
Whatever you do, don’t let any of your guests surprise you—ask them first about any dietary restrictions that you should be aware of.
When it comes to vegans, you can use grains and legumes, which give them the protein that they need, while giving yourself (the chef) some versatility too.
It’s nice to make vegans and vegetarians feel like they’ve been thought of.
How does one master pie?
Chef Jonathan MillerIf pie stresses you out, make it a day in advance. That way, you can mess up and not worry about it. If you’re not married to pie, pumpkin pudding and pumpkin mousse are great alternatives. There are also a gazillion recipes online. If it stresses you out to roll out dough that cracks, find a recipe that calls for food processor pie dough; it’s much easier and better than store-bought pie crust.
Is it possible to balance a Thanksgiving meal?
For me, Thanksgiving meals are super sweet. There’s way too much sugar in everything—from the sweet potatoes, which sometimes even have marshmallows on top, to the cranberry relish to the pecan pie, which is basically just baking sugar and nuts. Turkey is also a sweet meat. So let’s give us a break this year.
You can make a tart cranberry sauce with actual cranberries, and even use orange peels for flavor. It doesn’t need to be super sweet. You can also play down the sweetness in the meal by adding more salty and smoky flavors, like pancetta or oysters. Wild rice is another good option; it’s super nutty and not very sweet. Also think about adding some roasted turnips or Brussels sprouts.
There’s a reason why people lay down and sleep after Thanksgiving; when you add all of the menu items together, it’s extremely sweet and sugary.