With less than 36-hours until the feast hits the table, I’m sure we all have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, so today’s is a post with a purpose: Fast, easy, small little things you can do to elevate some of your Thanksgiving Day standards from the delicious but possibly tired to a more lively yet still traditional level. For what it’s worth, I’m subjecting my family to all of these tomorrow, so at least you know that my money, my pen and my fork are all where my mouth is.

  • Mashed Potatoes: Make mashed potatoes in your preferred manner and – after mashing in the butter and seasonings – gently fold in a large bunch of finely minced chives. Serve with garnishes of Vodka Creme Fraiche (or use whipping or sour cream, and prepare like this) and whatever caviar the price of which does not make you blanch. (Why? Because potato-vodka, caviar-vodka, caviar-potato, and potato-chive are all absolutely classic flavor combinations, and the result turns a kid-friendly side into a very adult treat. And no, I doubt they ate fish roe at the first Thanksgiving, but they probably didn’t have turkey, either.)
  • Glazed Carrots: Make a typical glazed carrot (e.g., gently boil down cut or baby carrots in some chicken stock with sugar and a little salt), but add a squeeze of orange juice and a small pinch of cinnamon or clove. (Why? Because carrot-orange, orange-cinnamon, and carrot-cinnamon marry perfectly, and the acidity and spice balance out what can otherwise be a little too sweet and one-dimensional.)
  • Green Bean Salad: Instead of yet another creamy, hot, casserole dish, serve them cold in the Provencal style, e.g., per Patricia Wells At Home in Provence: Quickly blanch the beans and dress in a sherry vinegar-shallot vinaigrette. (Why? For one thing, because it frees up oven space! But also because it’s really nice to have a bright, clean, cold vegetable dish to help balance out all the rich, starch-laden, and very brown glory of virtually everything else.)
  • Cranberry Sauce: Please, please do not depend on the stuff in the can. If you must serve the gelatinous blob – growing up in my family, if you couldn’t see the tell-tale circular can marks, it just wasn’t Thanksgiving – at least make another bowl of the real stuff. It is trivially easy: Boil a 1lb bag of cranberries with a half-cup of water and a cup of sugar until they burst. Simmer or bake until they thicken and become translucent. Raise them up a notch by adding the finely minced zest of an orange. (Why? Because the canned stuff is almost spam-like in its slimy texture and vapid flavor profile and the real thing is just so easy. No, seriously, you want to have bright, tart flavors and a little color on the plate, and fresh cranberry sauce does that in spades.)
  • Stuffing: Add a saute of sweet onions (preferably cipollini), apples, and celery. If you like sausage, use chorizo (break up the sausage and render it, then use the fat for the saute); or, go off the hook and use a slab of pate, broken up (liver is classic in stuffing, and liver and apples are perfection together). And finally, if you have the time, use corn bread – it makes for an outstanding stuffing, and a great, seasonal bread for the table as well. Add chicken stock before cooking to get the dressing to your preferred density. (I admit, that is note a last minute change, and takes up precious real estate in the oven – but you can do it ahead of time. Why? First, because corn bread pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the onions and celery, the tartness of the apples, and the heat of the chorizo; and second, because whatever bread they had at the first Thanksgiving, it seems highly likely that it was made of corn flour. And if you can’t be bothered to make a corn bread, and I won’t blame you, the apple-onion-chorizo deal is still a nice riff on the classic.)
  • Mac-n-Cheese: OK, this really isn’t a last minute addition, and I doubt mac-n-cheese counts as a Thanksgiving classic, but it should. This is also my recommended main course for vegetarians. Make it using the Cook’s Illustrated stove-top version of John Thorne, but substitute a fontuda for the base, and add enough cheese to get a cheese:dry pasta ratio of 1:1. Once it’s been finished, grate a black truffle over the whole pile of it. (Why? Because it’s so good it should be illegal.)

Got any great little tweaks of your own? Questions? Post ’em! Let’s talk!