The fun and excitement of the holidays often lends itself to frustration around this time of the week when Thanksgiving is a lot closer than you remembered, your wallet is a bit lighter than you anticipated, and your guest list is much longer than you expected. In fact, it’s usually the expectations that get us into trouble during the holidays, believing everything has to be perfectly laid out for family and friends in order to count. But if you think you have to make everything from scratch just because it’s Turkey Day, “you don’t,” advised celebrity chef Carla Hall, who told us there are “lots of little things you can do” — and that you don’t have to do — in order to pull off a fabulously budgeted Thanksgiving dinner this year.
“Whenever you are having a big number of guests and you don’t know what they eat, it’s really good to have things that you don’t feel like you’re going to be stressed at the last minute thinking about,” Hall shared, explaining that she always makes her greens vegan because her husband is vegetarian and she never knows what dietary restrictions other guests might have. “Without them talking to me abut their dietary restrictions, I want to have something there because I really don’t want to hear about it. Honestly; I’ve got you.”
As part of her partnership with TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods to help families prepare for their best holiday gathering this season, we got to talk to The Chew co-host and she gave us more than a few tips on how to make a big impression on a small budget when it comes to everything from low-cost decor to reimagined leftovers and making sure that bird isn’t dry because, in her words, “Oooh girl…”
•The one thing that I’ve been sharing and something that I do is use paper as a runner — craft paper, wrapping paper, you can go with stripes, you can go print, and it gives you that automatic pop. People don’t think, ‘Oh you’re on a budget;’ they think, ‘Oh you’re so smart.’
•One of the things I did when I was catering was go to the flea market. Don’t worry about things matching, you can get all types of wrapping paper and glasses which are ornate. You can get stemware and turn them upside down which can be a pedestal for a candle and you have different levels and layers. Again, you don’t look cheap you look smart and creative.
•If it’s the night before, don’t try to do a whole turkey.
•If you do get a whole turkey — and I’ve been doing this for years — I break my turkey down like a chicken so not only are you going to be able to use your carcass to make your stock so that you have your gravy, also that turkey cooks so much faster. The white meat gets cooked perfectly and the dark meat gets cooked perfectly.
•If you get the birds that are injected and are self-basting, do not rely on the pop-up timer. I think that’s what people do. They rely on the pop-timer and and sometimes that thing doesn’t pop up. They’re waiting for it to pop up, 10 hours later they’re like, ‘What happened to the bird?” Get a thermometer and the way that you take the temperature is in the deepest part of the breast or right there by the thigh.
•If you’re going to dry brine, get a real turkey that doesn’t have injections. And I’m not poo-pooing those, it’s fine, but this is what I do. I salt my turkey; I get it really dry, the skin has to be dry in order to get that really crispy skin. Flabby skin ain’t gone get dry!
•If I break my turkey down, then I have two different presentations — again, for those people on a budget, you want to show variety. Half of my turkey I did with a gremolata of lemon and parsely and zest and some chili flakes, olive oil, and salt that goes under the skin. Another thing I did was a hot, buffalo style turkey. Michael Simon, which is why I love The Chew this time of the year, he does this cheesecloth bird. You take the bird and then I brined it and had butter with the cheesecloth and water and salt and hot sauce and I took that out and laid it over the bird so it’s self-basting and you actually cook it with that cheesecloth laid over it and all the juices stay there and at the end you take it off. It is beautiful.
•Sides and Sweets
• My mother just told me for their Thanksgiving dinner, I’m not going to be there, so they’re going to make a turkey and then they’re going to go to a restaurant that they like and they’re going to buy those things like the dressing and potatoes and candied yams that they know that they love. There’s no shame in that.
•Let’s say if you want to do a cake, you can go to your favorite grocery store where they decorate cakes and buy the plain cake. Let’s say you want to do a caramel cake, and I know caramel cake is big in our culture, you get the cake, you make the caramel frosting, and then you just pour the caramel over the cake that you had nothing to do with and it’s perfect. Those cakes aren’t expensive because they’re not decorated.
•One year my mother-in-law wanted to do rolls and I said, ‘you know what you should do, go into the donut shop and ask them for the donut holes and that can be your roll.’ Just brush butter on them, because without the sugar it’s a yeast roll.
• Linzer cookie dough is a soft dough that has a little spice to it. You can use this one dough to make three different cookies: sandwich cookies, cutouts to get the kids involved, or a thumbprint with different jams.
•Croquettes! Take your turkey, take some of your dressing, combine them and you can fry them.
•I’m quoting Mario (Batali), but you can take the turkey and some butter and cream cheese and make a mixture and then you put it into pasta and make little dumplings and then you have the stock — you can loosen up your gravy, put more stock — and drop those dumplings in there. You can also do quesadillas.
•I just had something the other day where you use spring roll wrappers, taking the turkey and the cranberry sauce and the dressing and you wrap it up and fry it. It was so good!
No matter how you dine this year, “It’s really all about family,” Hall said of the holidays while sharing her excitement working on the Gift My Gathering campaign which is gifting an entire Thanksgiving to a family in need from food to decor and even gifts. “We’re just asking them to tell why their family is their greatest gift but in reflecting on that, actually writing that down really does something. The process of talking to your family. That’s a gift.”