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Advice for First Time Thanksgiving Cook

  • j

I'm hosting Thanksgiving for the first time & need to plan my menu. We've got the ILs coming for a visit - not too big of a crowd (6 adults & 4 children) to feed. I need advice on fixing the following: turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, vegetables. We've got the sweet potato casserole covered & I plan on fixing green bean casserole, the Paula Deen pumpkin bars as well as a pecan pie. Oh, and I need to fix bread (rolls), but I'd prefer just to buy some. Any suggestions on that?

Anyone have easy recipes that are impressive? I want this to go well! :)

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  1. What kind of vegetables do you and your family like? Spinach? Cauliflower? Carrots?

    1 Reply
    1. re: eviemichael

      My go-to company vegetable is roasted asparagus. They'll eat spinach, and I'm sure they'd try anything else I fix. I've tried to roast brussel sprouts before but I don't seem to have the hang of it yet.

      1. re: blue room

        I agree that those threads will yield you more ideas than you could ever use on what to make and how to make it. On a more general level, my advice would be to choose your menu and the recipes pretty soon, and then make a detialed shopping list broken into things you can buy ahead and things you need to buy closer to the day so they are fresh. Next, make a timetable for when each recipe will be made (some things can be wholly or partially made ahead and it will save your sanity to do as much ahead as possible). Sometimes when I do that I modify the menu, realizing there is too much that needs to be done at the last minute or too many things that need to be in the oven at the same time or things that need different oven temperatures -- of course, this will change your shopping list! Then, figure out what serving dish and implements you need for each dish, in case you need to borrow a salad bowl or platter or something. All of this will reduce your last-minute stress considerably. Good luck and don't forget to have fun!

      2. The best advice I can give you is to make a schedule. I use a spreadsheet and notate how much oven and stovetop space I have available, and make sure that all of my dishes get adequate time and space that way and that everything is done/hot at the same time. Bake your pies/desserts the day before and get them out of the way. Do as much prep as possible ahead of time. If other people are bringing things that will need to be reheated, make sure you figure them into your schedule. Whether your recipes are simple or complicated, you WILL run into trouble if you don't map out your oven ahead of time!!!

        7 Replies
          1. re: biondanonima

            What can I make ahead of time, besides desserts? Can green bean casserole or dressing be made the day ahead? I have hot trays, so I can keep stuff warm once its heated.

            1. re: jh75

              It depends on your recipes, but lots of sides can be partially or completely prepared in advance. I do all the prep for my stuffing (which is a complicated version with a ton of roasted vegetables) the day before, so the day of all I have to do is toss bread cubes with the pre-made vegetables and some stock and stick it in the oven. If you do creamed onions or anything like that, they can be made ahead up to the baking point and then stuck in the fridge overnight (green bean casserole would probably do fine this way as well). Potatoes can be peeled and submerged in water. If you're making cranberry sauce from scratch, it can (and probably should) be made ahead.

              1. re: jh75

                I would add, set the table the night before and get out all the serving dishes and utensils. The next day you might want to keep the dinner plates warm on those heating trays. Nothing like a nice warm plate to keep your food hot while waiting for someone to pass you the gravy!

                1. re: jh75

                  You might consider doing what I do....I roast my turkey on Wednesday, let it rest, slice it down & put it into pyrex casseroles with some broth added in & covered with foil. In fact, I do most everything on Wednesday - mix the dressing & put it in its baking dish (I don't do it in the turkey), get my sweet potatos ready to bake, make the green bean casserole if we're having it, etc. On Thanksgiving day all that's needed is baking/reheating & making gravy. It makes for a much more relaxing Thanksgiving day. You might think about it.

                  1. re: nojunk

                    I'm hoping to do as much as possible ahead of time. Can you fix the green bean casserole the day before & just refrigerate it until its time to cook?

              2. Mashed potatoes? Gravy? Cranberry sauce?

                My tack is to keep it simple. Rather than go for "impressive", I go for sticking to the basics and doing them well. Like the Olympics: Triple axels are nice, but skating cleanly often wins the day.

                1. This turkey method is fab and gets the turkey out of the way quickly. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                  The turkey's delicious and stress free; I do recommend adding some water to the pan to preserve kitchen air quality.

                  I've never cooked a ham before--not sure if this high-heat and fast method would be compatible with ham cooking time/needs. But I SOLIDLY recommend this turkey method. Even a lame meat cook like me got raves and requests for a repeat performance. And it couldn't be easier.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: miss louella

                    NOT compatible with ham, which needs to be warmed up (it's already fully cooked) low and slow or it will turn leathery. Ham should be wrapped tightly with foil or in an oven bag and heated ideally at 300 but no higher than 325. My personal belief is that any pack of glaze that comes with the ham belongs in the trash can. Much better to poke whole cloves into it before heating and/or brush with mustard. For potlucks I have heated the ham thorough the night before with the whole cloves stuck in it, then refrigerated overnight and served at room temperature, and people go crazy for it (regular old spiral-sliced ham from the supermarket). So you could do that and not worry about serving it warm.