Thanksgiving is a special meal that many people look forward to all year. It brings family and traditions together in one wonderful day of football and snacking and a great dinner. You imagine the perfect dinner table for Thanksgiving, but you are nervous and maybe have never cooked a turkey before or a large meal with all of the side dishes and extra people. Thanksgiving Dinner can be a little overwhelming especially if you make dinner too complicated or leave everything to the last minute. With some careful planning, and the realization that not everyone will eat all of that food anyway; and you will come out looking like a gourmet chef! I have cooked many Thanksgiving meals and found that the ones that I kept simple with less fussing, were always the best. Here are my tips.
- Buy your Turkey a couple of weeks ahead and make sure it is completely thawed before you cook it. That means that with Thanksgiving on Thursday, you should take it out of the freezer on Sunday and put it in your refrigerator until Thursday morning.
- Understand how long it takes to cook a Turkey. I takes 15 minutes per pound at 325F. Use a thermometer inserted into the thigh until it reads 180 degrees F. If you are going to stuff the turkey, the turkey will take longer to cook and the temperature of the stuffing should be 165F. Cover the turkey with foil loosely so the skin will not burn. Uncover in the last hour to brown the turkey. Do not be a lookie loo and open the oven door to baste or fuss. When your turkey is cooked to the right temperature, remove from the oven, cover in foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. This 30 minutes is valuable to reheat potatoes and make gravy. I add a layer of herb butter right under the skin of the turkey breast. This keeps the breast from drying out and makes the most delicious tasting turkey breast you have every tasted. Herb Butter recipe is posted under the Thanksgiving category.
- Make stuffing only if your family loves it! My family does not like bread stuffing or dressing. The Sausage Apple bread Stuffing I make is great, but I am the only one who likes bread stuffing. It doesn’t seem worth it to make it just for two- me and my brother in law. It is the tradition in my family to have a meat dressing that originates from my French Grandfather. I make that instead. It is super easy, and I make it several weeks ahead and put it in the freezer to await for Thanksgiving. I will post this recipe for Sage Meat Dressing.
- Cranberries… Well, if you don’t love them, then I would skip them. It has always been the running joke in my family. The last thing to put on the table and someone will inevitably say about three quarters of the way through dinner, “where are the cranberries?” and my mom will rush to the kitchen to grab them out of the fridge and no one will eat them any way. That is, until I started making them from scratch. They are delicious homemade and taste nothing like the canned variety that come out like a lump shaped like the can, into your bowl. Now, I make them every year, mostly so I can put them in Cranberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake after Thanksgiving, lol. More importantly however, they can be made days ahead and will make a wonderful addition to your table.
- Potato side dish- Ahh everyone’s favorite – Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes? This is one of those things that you can do ahead, put in a casserole and reheat while your turkey is resting. We make Cheesy Hash-Browns in our house. I know it sounds a little weird, but it started with my mom, trying to feed the 26 of us, when we all together and peeling all of those potatoes was just too much. My daughter thinks that it is not Thanksgiving without Cheesy Hash-brown potatoes. I think there were tears involved one year… won’t make that mistake again.
- Vegetable side dish – Anything green that is just steamed with a little garlic butter is perfect. You don’t have to pour over recipes to create casseroles that are complicated and loaded with calories. Trust me your guests will thank you and will gratefully trade cream sauce calories for pie calories. Also, they are cooked on top of the stove and you have to think about oven room and stove top room.
- Salad- This is where you could get a little more fancy or save yourself some time. There are wonderful salad kits in the grocery store like kale and dried cranberry that would be a great addition to your table. But something a little more hearty with texture will be a great to offset the soft cooked vegetables and mashed potatoes.
- Rolls, Biscuits or Bread – Save yourself time and energy and just buy a good roll or bread. If you feel the need to have a home cooked product then there a lot of frozen bread dough’s on the market that are excellent. They are simple to bake and no one will know you didn’t make them from scratch.
- Pie- Use my pie crust recipe from Grandma’s Apple Cinnamon Pie post- or buy a good frozen pie crust. Choose a filling that everyone loves so you don’t have to make more than one variety. We have Cherry or apple in my house because everyone doesn’t LOOVVEE pumpkin. Better yet go outside the box and don’t make pie at all. Choose a dessert that is different and non-traditional. Most people will have had at least one piece of pumpkin pie before they get to your house for dinner, so don’t feel guilty about not serving pumpkin pie. Peanut Butter Pie is a great alternative! This recipe will be coming on a future post before Thanksgiving!
- Decorate your Table- Don’t fuss with individual table decorations at every place setting and a bunch of stuff all laid out down the center. Choose a nice table cloth, buy a bunch of flowers at the store that matches the cloth and cut the flowers to fit into one vase for the center of the table, low enough so people can see each other over it. Put two candles – 2″ in small hurricanes on either side of the flowers that match the flowers or the table cloth. Remember that if you have too much on the table you will not have room for the food when you sit down to eat.
On a last note, my Fiance is Diabetic, so I do what I can to keep the fat and sugar content pretty low by making reasonable substitutions. I regularly substitute low fat or non-fat products for the full fat varieties like milk, sour cream, yogurt, heavy cream and cream cheese. No one can ever tell that I do this. I always drain the fat from meat products when I can before adding additional ingredients. But, sometimes with a meal like Thanksgiving, when you eat like crazy for one day, I try to really focus on flavor and quality ingredients and not so much on substitutions, but moderate portion sizes. I will not serve any appetizers or extra’s for football munchies except maybe some snacks like fruit or nuts; all things the diabetic can eat without worrying too much about his sugar and carb intake.
I hope these tips were helpful. Love to hear from you about your tips or shortcuts. Turkey and three sides! That’s my motto. I want to enjoy the day too. Right?