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The Secret To The Best Thanksgiving

Alternatives to cooking Thanksgiving dinner are everywhere — here are just some of the offerings from Kai Market | Jo McGarry photo

Alternatives to cooking Thanksgiving dinner are everywhere — here are just some of the offerings from Kai Market | Jo McGarry photo

I’ve found, over the years, that people fall into entirely different culinary camps when it comes to Thanksgiving. There are perfectionists, or those who at least try to make each element of the dinner special. There are purists, who make every dish exactly the same way every year and wouldn’t dream of changing, even though their green bean casserole remains untouched on the table. And there are those who don’t mind opening a can of cranberry sauce and putting it on the table next to the turkey. I met someone once who told me she never realized cranberries were an actual fruit until she left home. The only cranberry “sauce” she ever saw still had ring molds impressed on it as it was slipped straight from the can to the table.

Having spent a good deal of my life without Thanksgiving (there are no turkeys in November in Scotland), I embrace the holiday with entirely too much enthusiasm and spend weeks planning our annual gathering.

Now that I’ve spent more than 20 years in Hawaii and have celebrated Thanksgiving in a dozen different ways, I feel mildly qualified to offer up some last-minute tips for those of you who need pre-dinner help.

Here is my best Thanksgiving secret: Brining is the single most effective way to keep a turkey moist. I’m not sure it even matters too much about the brining recipe – just put the turkey in a cooler with a salty solution (you can find any number of brining recipes online), make sure to keep the water icy cold and leave it for at least 24 hours to soak. Then, after the turkey cooks, let it rest. I mean really rest – our Thanksgiving bird sits for three hours before anyone is allowed to touch it. Yes, it’s a long time and the meat is cooled by the time we sit down to dinner, but the gravy is always hot and the resting time allows juices to settle and flavors to be absorbed. If you have the patience to let your turkey rest this year, you’ll be amazed at the difference this simple cooking technique makes.

If you still don’t feel up to the mammoth task of creating the annual family dinner, then there’s still time to call one of the many wonderful restaurants who’ll prepare the entire dinner for you. No fuss, no shopping and almost always cheaper than you can cook at home. Zippy’s, for example, has a Thanksgiving dinner package that feeds six to eight people for just $84.95. And one of my all-time favorite dinners-to-go comes from Hoku’s, where even the pickup on turkey day is an elegant and fun affair.

Whatever you do this Thanksgiving, enjoy the time spent with friends and family. There’s nothing quite like being able to join together around a dinner table and give thanks for the joy of food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jotabletalk@ gmail.com