Turkey to Go
This year, serve a scrumptious holiday meal without slaving over the stove.
We’re all familiar with the holiday chef routine: You brave a packed grocery store to fill a shopping cart higher than Mount Everest, run around the kitchen cooking five things at once while your guests enjoy cocktails, and by the time you sit down to dinner, your face is sweaty, your feet ache, and your hair looks like a hurricane just blew through.
Maybe it’s time to try something else. This year, skip the hustle and the hassle, and get one of the complete Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners offered by East Bay restaurants, caterers, and grocers. Just order, pick up, put on a few finishing touches, and serve.
Wearing an apron and armed with a timer, you can play accomplished chef quite convincingly. Call time for this performance is usually two to three hours before the show (dinner), when written instructions from each vendor have you pop the bird or the beast in the oven, but it’s very light duty from there on out. Once the meat is roasting, you can set your table and put out extra candles around the house to create a festive atmosphere. The side dishes and dessert are already made. It’s foolproof—as long as you read the instructions from beginning to end as soon as you pick up your meal so you can plan your timing.
The more elegant of these meals come with hors d’oeuvres such as mushroom puffs, smoked salmon–caviar bites, and crostini with caramelized onions and Cambozola blue cheese; first-course soups; and better-than-homemade pies and desserts. So heat, eat, and take a bow!
Barbara Llewellyn Catering
The Gobbler Barbara’s flavorful Diestel Ranch free-range, vegetarian-fed birds come buttered, seasoned, and ready to roast. The brown gravy she makes to go with the turkey has a mild flavor and the welcome addition of mushrooms.
The Beast For Christmas dinner, impressive rack of lamb and Kobe beef tenderloin.
The Mash Smooth, buttery potato paradise.
The Stuffing Very nice flavor.
The Sides Roasted yellow sweet potatoes are an old-school indulgence. This side dish rises above kid food because it retains the firm texture of the potatoes and sports a sprinkle of nutmeg.
The Perks Scrumptious caramelized onion and Cambozola crostini. Soothing, mellow white onion bisque that you top with fried sage and brioche croutons. Cracked crab at Christmas. For busy holiday hosts, Barbara also offers delicious lasagna to serve the night before your big feast.
Dessert Fantastic, firm-fleshed apples in the apple pie; smooth, dense, delicately spiced pumpkin pie; and an out-of-the-ordinary, superrich chocolate chess pie, a Southern recipe.
The Deal The works, depending on the size of your crew, costs $200–$300, but there is no minimum order. Pick up the goods the night before Thanksgiving or Christmas. 434 25th St., Oakland, (510) 832-1967, www.barbarallewellyn.com.
The Gobbler Diestel Ranch birds that Chow sells as seasoned, cooked breasts.
The Beast Lamb fully roasted at the meat counter.
The Mash Exceptionally flavorful garlic mashed potatoes served in quart containers.
The Stuffing Our buttery and crisp stuffing was made from big chunks of chewy Italian bread, parsley, celery, and carrots.
The Sides Amazing cranberry sauce with tart, bursting berries. Perfectly cooked, lightly buttered green beans and carrots.
The Perks We tried a smooth carrot bisque topped with chives to start our meal.
Dessert Organic, cider-flavored apple pie; light-as-air custard pumpkin pie.
The Deal Items are sold à la carte. A Thanksgiving dinner for eight runs about $160. Pick up at Chow. 53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 962-2469.
The Gobbler A fully cooked, nylon-trussed bird from Diestel Ranch. All you do is reheat, but be sure to allow plenty of time. Our instructions called for roasting an hour and 15 minutes, but it took 2.5 hours to fully cook.
The Mash Rustic, made from scratch with russets. We enjoyed the bumpy texture, and the potatoes were salty enough without the salty, one-dimensional gravy.
The Stuffing Tangy, tasty mix of rye, wheat, and sourdough with onions, celery, mushrooms, and thyme.
The Sides Zippy cranberry relish with whole cracked berries and pecans; yellow and orange maple carrots are decoratively cut, but unpeeled—we enjoyed their crisp texture but didn’t get much maple flavor.
The Perks No frills. This is a straightforward Thanksgiving dinner.
Dessert Standard pumpkin pie. It comes with a can of whipped cream for garnishing.
The Deal $130 buys you Thanksgiving dinner for 12 to 14 people. Pick up at Diablo Foods. 3615 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-0737.
Susan Foord Catering
The Gobbler Tender, juicy, cider-brined free-range turkey that you roast at home.
The Mash A+ classic mashed potatoes.
The Stuffing Two varieties—a traditional stuffing with sausage (a tad dry when we tasted it, but the good old-fashioned gravy helped) and a sweet cornbread stuffing with golden raisins and red bell peppers that’s vegetarian.
The Sides We enjoyed the beautiful, tasty whole-cranberry sauce. Julienned green beans and onions topped with slivered almonds were gorgeous but undercooked. A smooth pumpkin soup had nice heat but was overly tangy.
The Perks Delicious appetizers such as a profiterole with a mushroom filling and phyllo cups holding caramelized onions, blue cheese, and roasted walnuts. Both burst with flavor and simply begged for a glass of champagne.
Dessert Out-of-this-world crumb-topped apple cranberry pie—it’s worth picking up all on its own—is one of several options.
The Deal A complete Thanksgiving dinner for six costs $210, but you can also order à la carte. Pick up at Susan Foord Catering. 965 Mt. View Dr., Lafayette, (925) 299-2469, www.susanfoordcatering.com.
The Gobbler Slow-roasted Diestel with herbed brown sugar and maple glaze.
The Beast For Christmas dinner, meltingly tender prime rib with a flavorful roasted garlic and Cabernet reduction sauce.
The Mash Roasted garlic red-skinned mashed potatoes with herbs.
The Stuffing Cornbread with sausage.
The Sides Seasonal and delicious—from a salad of butter lettuce, dry-aged goat cheese, and candied almonds, topped with a beautifully pure-tasting grapefruit vinaigrette, to roasted root vegetables with baby spinach, to buttered brussels sprouts with bacon and fried sage.
The Perks The smoked salmon hors d’oeuvre on tiny preroasted potato halves topped with chive crème fraîche and caviar was rich, although the potatoes lost their flavor with reheating. A second hors d’oeuvre featured wild mushrooms, pancetta, herbs, and parmesan on crostini.
Dessert Ultra-dense chocolate decadence cake served atop a pool of peppermint crème anglaise and fudge sauce. Each round cake gets topped with whipped cream and chocolate-peppermint bark.
The Deal A full turkey dinner for six costs $229; prime rib is $269. You pick up at Wente. Getting out to Livermore wine country to pick up your dinner may seem like a haul, but it’s actually relaxing and scenic—a nice holiday drive. 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore, (925) 456-2400, www.wentevineyards.com.
The Gobbler Diestel Ranch does it again with juicy, easy-roasting turkey. You can also order a smoked turkey. Whole Foods’ gravy has a nice, roasted flavor.
The Beast Rosy lamb chops with a nouveau mint sauce made with olive oil and parsley.
The Mash Fluffy potatoes, with flecks of red skin in the mash, taste just like homemade.
The Stuffing Small-diced white bread with all the basics: celery, onion, and herbs. It can be a bit dry but marries beautifully with the well-made gravy.
The Sides Crisp, spice-infused poached pears; a flavorful sauté of shiitake mushrooms. Unfortunately, green beans with sautéed shallots were tough and tasted sour.
The Perks Eye-poppingly tart cranberry sauce; green salad with spiced walnuts and blue cheese; butternut squash–apple soup. A full vegan Thanksgiving dinner is also available.
Dessert Tender, clove-infused pumpkin pie; crispy-crusted pecan pie featuring nuts in a small dice in the sticky, sweet filling.
The Deal A full turkey dinner for eight people costs $130, or $150 for organic or smoked. Lamb is $270. Pick up at the nearest Whole Foods location. 1333 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 274-9700; 100 Sunset Dr., San Ramon, (925) 355-9000; 3000 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 649-1333; 230 Bay Pl., Oakland, (510) 834-9800; www.wholefoods.com.