Thanksgiving is my favorite. I love cooking up a big meal and I love eating it. If you’ve never done the whole thing yourself, getting everything ready to eat at the same time can be a challenge. So, I’m posting my method for you. This isn’t necessarily a good method and certainly not the only method, but it has worked for me for three years running. We sometimes change up the vegetables and desserts, but the method and the core menu stays basically the same from year to year.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Brussels Sprouts with Figs and Bacon
Caramel-Pecan Pumpkin Cheesecake
For the most part, I follow Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Turkey – with two big changes that will make your life easier and your turkey tastier. First, no one has herbes de provence, I don’t even know what that is. I melt up some butter and stir in dried rosemary and dried parsley. Second, I don’t have a rack for my roasting pan. Well, to be more accurate, I threw away the rack that came with my roasting pan. Instead, I use whole carrots as my rack. Peel your carrots, chop off the ends, and place them in the bottom of your roasting pan. It’s like building a raft for your turkey to fjord the river. It makes your turkey and your gravy extra delicious, and I personally could eat those carrots forever.
Dressing is personal. I like mine the way my mom makes it, so I do nothing to make it different or fancy. I think my mom’s dressing is perfect. And let me say right now — this is NOT stuffing. To make it, simply mix together the following ingredients and bake them at 350*F until done. You’re going to want to use the largest bowl you own.
- two round cake pans of cornbread
- six to ten crackers (i like whole wheat off-brand Ritz crackers, she uses Saltines)
- three celery stalks and 3/4 of a medium onion, previously sautéed in butter until soft
- one can
condensed evaporated milk (thanks Mom)
- one can cream of chicken
- approximately 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (more of less depending on how it looks)
- a mountain of poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper
- two eggs — or maybe four. I used two and it tasted fine.
Roast your sweet potatoes in the oven while your turkey is cooking so you can just mash them up and spice them when you are ready. Easy peasy.
Good green beans should cook with a little water and a little butter for about an hour. A little longer if you’re using frozen green beans from your parents’ garden like I did. Salt and pepper at the end.
This year H added Brussels sprouts to our menu and he made them himself. He loves them. Basically, chop up and cook bacon, then add sprouts, then add figs (dried but fresh if you have them in season, we’ve done both) when they are almost done. Salt and pepper at the end.
Cranberry sauce can be simple or complicated or from a can. I like it every way. For years I would only eat the canned kind, and I enjoyed slicing it along the lines of the can so it was perfectly straight. Now I eat all kinds. This year I used the recipe of my dear friend and it was great, adding walnuts and orange zest. The basics of homemade cranberry sauce are cranberries, a little water, white sugar, and orange zest. Just Google any which recipe: if it has those ingredients in some combination, I’m sure it will be delicious.
For dessert, we made pumpkin cheesecake according to this recipe. It was easy and delicious and you should try it if you want something low-key but nice looking. The caramel made it more fancy but it was pretty great tasting without it. I subbed in low-fat cream cheese for regular and it still tasted great.
The easiest way to make thanksgiving ready to eat on-time is to give yourself a schedule. Here’s my cooking schedule so you can see what I mean. When making your own schedule, the most important thing to remember is that your oven can only be one temperature at a time.
This plan prepares a full dinner to eat at 5:00 p.m. If you’d rather have a noon-ish meal, just make your dessert and cranberry sauce the day before and move the rest to the morning. That’s going to require an early wake up. Also, this plan assumes you’ve made the cornbread for your dressing in advance.
7:00 a.m. Take the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge. Make coffee, watch some tv, eat breakfast, enjoy the quiet while everyone else sleeps.
9:00 a.m. Take your turkey out of the fridge.
9:05 a.m. Make your dessert (it needs to cool for several hours in the refrigerator).
9:45 a.m. Throw your cranberry sauce together so it can chill in the fridge too.
BREAK TIME: Use this time to do the dishes, pull down ingredients, send someone to market for anything you’ve forgotten and/or frantically Google substitutes for ingredients since stores
are should be closed.
11:30 a.m. Prep your turkey. Pre-heat the oven to 400*F, unwrap the turkey and give it a good rinse, inside and out. Make sure you pull out the bits — there should be a bag of gross stuff and a neck. I let the neck cook in the pan with the turkey but toss the rest because who are we kidding, that’s gross.
12:30 p.m. Turkey goes in the oven. Your turkey should be stuffed with chunks of onion, lemon, and orange and covered in butter, herbs, and lots of salt and pepper. Don’t forget to stuff the butter mixture under the skin on top of the meat. Follow Giada’s cooking instructions but take it out a little early if the thermometer says you can.
BREAK TIME: You’ll have to check your turkey every now and then but warm some cider and watch a movie, or put someone else on turkey watch and go for a walk.
3:30 p.m. Green beans go on the stove.
3:35 p.m. Stir up your dressing, pour into pan(s), set aside.
4:15 p.m. Dressing goes in the oven. Sweet potatoes can come out.
4:20 p.m. (or when cool enough to touch) Peel skins off sweet potatoes, throw in mixer, blend up with milk/butter/spices.
4:30 p.m. Make Brussels sprouts and gravy. You’ll need someone on gravy stir-duty so you can do both things at once.
5:00 p.m. Everything is ready and you can eat!
Good luck with your Thanksgiving cooking adventures — whether it’s one traditional dish for a pot luck or the entire meal for your extended family, I hope you have a wonderful turkey day!