March 05, 2008

Mark Bittman, self-proclaimed minimalist, author of How to Cook Everything, and food columnist for the New York Times, is famous for his no-bull demeanor and for deconstructing complex recipes into can-do dishes.

Health's food editor, Frances Largeman-Roth, put him to work in an attempt to give her Thanksgiving menu a complete makeover. After spending last Thanksgiving in the kitchen, determined to whip up the perfect feast for her seven guests, Frances found herself too exhausted to enjoy it—and nearly bankrupt after buying all those premium ingredients and gadgets to prepare it.

Here's a healthy (a fifth of the fat of traditional Thanksgiving dinners!), stress-free menu, custom designed by The Minimalist for Frances and all of us fellow cooks who do too much. We've also included Bittman's top tips to make your Thanksgiving dinner a pain-free success.

  1. Don’t be overambitious. The biggest mistake is trying to do too much.
  2. Prepare as much as you can in advance.
  3. Serve some dishes at room temperature, like our corn bread stuffing, salad, and dessert.
  4. Plan oven time carefully. Turkey can dominate even a large oven for much of the day. If you want your turkey ready at 4 p.m., put it in the oven at 1:30 to give it time to rest.
  5. Don’t experiment! This isn’t the time for chipotle-lime-glazed sweet potatoes. Go with flavors you know well, like the ones in these recipes.
  6. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Keep the bottom of the pan filled with 1/4 inch water, wine, or stock to keep drippings from burning.
  7. Use a smaller turkey: It will cook more quickly and stay more moist than a bigger bird.
  8. Ask friends and family to bring bread and wine, make the salad, help with dishes, or set the table (one more reason not to use the fine china).


Turkey, Fast and Easy
Prep: 5 minutes; Cook: 120 minutes

A perfectionist's salvation: Just three ingredients make this foolproof turkey fast and fabulous.


Simple Sherry Gravy
Prep: 5 minutes; Cook: 15 minutes

Save yourself time and energy with this cinch-to-prepare gravy. Note: Be careful when heating the sherry; it will cause the gravy to flame up.


Corn Bread Stuffing With Cranberries
Prep: 10 minutes; Cook: 30 minutes

Bake a loaf of delicious Corn Bread, then use it to make our Corn Bread Stuffing With Cranberries.


Pear, Beet, and Gorgonzola Green Salad
Prep: 15 minutes; Cook: 90 minutes

You can roast the beets up to 2 days before assembling this colorful salad.


Roasted Sweet Potatoes With Maple Butter
Prep: 5 minutes; Cook: 60 minutes

If you don't have enough room in your oven for the sweet potatoes while roasting the turkey, cook them in advance and reheat while the turkey is resting.


Rustic Apple Crostata
Prep: 15 minutes; Cook: 25 minutes

Here's an Italian dessert with a free-form, pizza-like crust. The more rustic and Tuscan the dessert looks, the better.

By Frances A. Largeman-Roth, RD; Recipes by Mark Bittman, host of the public-TV series How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs.

You May Like