Maybe you have to work on Thanksgiving Day. Or maybe you don't, but you'd rather use your day off to catch up on precious sleep than spend eight hours (or, hey, three days) in the kitchen. Maybe you hadn't planned on hosting Thanksgiving dinner at all, but all of the sudden, you have to. Or maybe you've planned on hosting Thanksgiving all along, but haven't had a chance to figure out your menu in advance.
Whatever your reasons are for needing a Thanksgiving menu you can pull off in just three hours, I'm here for you, with the menu you need, plus the shopping list and the timed game-plan you need to pull it off as smoothly as possible.
But just because this is a last-minute Thanksgiving plan doesn't mean it's not festive and fresh and modern and delicious. In fact, it even has a bit of an Italian flare going on. The menu feeds eight, but it'd be pretty easy to cut it all in half to feed four if you've got a smaller crowd. And did I mention that you only need to spend three hours in the kitchen to make it happen?
Roast that turkey in pieces.
Cutting a turkey in pieces (two bone-in breast pieces and two whole legs) before roasting not only helps it cook faster, it also makes it easy to add more flavor and moisture without brining. I love to brush a flavor-packed melted butter under and over the skin, and then nestle the pieces on a baking sheet and pour some wine around. Cover it with foil, then roast it for 20 minutes to keep all the moisture and flavor trapped inside, then uncover it for the final cooking to get that nicely crisped skin. Bonus: The pan juices are your shortcut to a flavorful sauce that's a faster and easier answer to gravy.
If you can, buy two whole turkey legs and two split bone-in turkey breasts. Or have your butcher break down a 10–12-pound bird for you and reserve the backbone and wings for another use. If you can't do either of those things, just buy a whole 10–12 pound bird and break it down yourself — the method is the same one you'd use to cut up chicken, and will only take you 10 or 15 minutes to do at the most.
Serve kale salad, which everyone is already obsessed with
I always serve salad at Thanksgiving. You need something bright and fresh and green to balance out the meal, but there's another reason to make one of your sides a fresh salad: no oven or stovetop space needed. And it's fast. For this menu, I use a kale and Brussels sprout recipe that's been popular on epicurious for a long time (hello 274 four-fork reviews!) that fits well with the sort-of-Italian flavor profile of the whole meal. It takes 20 minutes to prep — to make it even faster, use your food processor's slicing disc to cut the Brussels sprouts for you.
Roast some gorgeous squash and sunny sweet potatoes
To cover both the sweet potato and winter squash categories of customary Thanksgiving sides, I roast a whole bunch of sweet potatoes and Delicata squash, cut into aesthetically pleasing circles. And yes, I like to serve it on a circular platter to highlight the circle theme. I add fresh thyme sprigs (no time for pickin' leaves here!) and red-pepper flakes to the veg before roasting.
To finish the dish, I make a gorgeous cranberry agrodolce (a fancy Italian term for sweet and sour dishes — including sauces) from tart cranberries, red-wine vinegar, and sugar. The bright-red sauce is gorgeous drizzled over all those orange circles, but it's also just the thing to balance out the natural sweetness of the roasted squash and sweet potatoes. I make enough to use it as a condiment for the turkey, too. In fact this might be how I make cranberry sauce forevermore.
Make a skillet stuffing
You can't have Thanksgiving without stuffing (or dressing, rather) but you don't have time for a complicated recipe, do you? So I created a stuffing that you can bake in the same pan you used to sauté the stuffing flavorings. There are lots of wild mushrooms because mushrooms in stuffing are the best, and spicy Italian sausage and some fresh sage for extra flavor. There's white wine in here too, just like in the turkey, and grated cheese to make it richer and more flavorful (and because we're already using pecorino in the salad, so why not?). It takes about 20 minutes to assemble and another 20 to bake, and everyone who has tried it so far has asked for seconds.
Frozen puff pastry is your secret weapon for dessert
Alas, there's no time for homemade pie on a three-hour Thanksgiving menu. Someone else is welcome to bring one, of course, but I suggest you follow my teammate Rhoda Boone's easy recipe for a maple-pear sheet tart, which only requires 10 minutes of prep time. Just pop it in the oven right before you sit down to dinner, and it'll be freshly baked in time for dessert. I like to serve it with vanilla ice cream to make dessert a little more substantial. And I pour some Italian amaro to drink after it, because we've been flirting with Italy all night, and because it helps the digestion, right? Cheers!