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Thanksgiving Ideas, recipes & hints to make the day perfect

Yeah, we all know it's going to be either ham or turkey or both. That is pretty much a given. So now let's get down to all that other stuff that goes with it.

Do you have any special recipes that you dig out just for the occasion? Once a year yeast rolls, cookies that develop the best flavor over time? Scalloped corn oozing with cheese, yam casserole reeking of spices & carmalized brown sugar or the pie that sends everyone into a swoon?

Make ahead dishes are a big plus for everyone. Yep folks, a few more days & we start planning, cooking, cleaning & generally going crazy. If you have a great recipe you would like to share, post it here so we can ooh & aahh & put it in our repertoire of all good things for the holidays. Also, if you have any suggestions to make this whole business a little less stressful, please share.

Blessings & good tidings to all of you. I have eaten well, thanks to you.

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  1. I have had a surplus of butternut squash at my house and have been going crazy with it. Butternut squash is really versatile when it comes to dishes and it is perfect as a fall dish! Its much like a combination of a pumpkin and a sweet potato taste wise if you have never had it. But anyway moving on to the ideas. You can make a simple butternut squash soup which always fills people up and puts a smile on their face. Or you could sautee cubed butternut squash and some vibrant herbs in a mixture of butter and a flavorful oil like walnut oil, avocado oil, or olive oil (not extra virgin).

    21 Replies
    1. re: Healthyfoodie121

      I have never cooked butternut squash...would love to find butternut squash soup recipe or maybe do something with it like you would sweet potatoes. I was thinking about doing a yellow squash casserole & here you came up with butternut. Your idea sounds great. Thanks.

      1. re: cstout

        I'd imagine a casserole would work well with butternut squash but I highly recommend a nice soup. I'll look up some recipes and post them later if you don't find any to your liking.

        1. re: Healthyfoodie121

          A dish I first made in 2010 as a vegetarian TKgvg entree, and hearty side for the meat eaters, was this F&W butternut and poblano gratin;
          http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sq...

          From now on, Thanksgiving will not be the same without it! The combo of squash, cream, and the mellow heat of the roasted chilies is just fabulous. DO NOT skip the toasted pumpkin seeds. They add just the right crunch contrast (I buy mine already roasted and salted at TJ's).

          My sister-in-law is a vegetarian, and she serves this all winter now after my bringing it to Tday those couple of years ago.

        2. re: cstout

          I have a recipe for leek, potato and butternut squash soup that might fit the bill. It's basically the standard leek and potato with butternut or pumpkin added.

          1. re: Terrie H.

            leek, potato & butternut squash soup sounds wonderful Terrie...I will try it for sure. Thanks for the idea.

          2. re: cstout

            This butternut squash, leek and goat cheese gratin has been a favorite at Thanksgiving chez moi a few times: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

            I usually use walnuts instead of hazelnuts, but I forgot the nuts entirely one time and no one complained - the dish is really delicious with no nuts at all.

            1. re: biondanonima

              Thanks for the link to yet another good recipe.

              1. re: cstout

                I love butternut squash, but don't like peeling it. Any tips (other than buying it already peeled/cubed)?

                  1. re: jvanderh

                    I roast mine cut in half. Work face up or down and you can still cube it one it is cooked if you don't want it soft/mashed.

          3. re: Healthyfoodie121

            We found this recipe last fall when we made a field trip to the first giant Wegman's Supermarket in Southern New England and now it is an official TG dish. To paraphrase toss cubed butternut squash and chopped red onion with a mild oil and some salt and pepper and bake in the oven on a sheet pan in one layer at 400 for 25 minutes (move it around once in the middle of cooking) and then the squash is tossed in a bowl with a bag or two of baby spinach and a handful of dried cranberries. It is delicious and an easy peasy last minute dish to make after the bird has cooked. We used to always have mashed butternut and it was just one too many mashes on the plate.

            1. re: Berheenia

              I do a similar 'toss' but with currants instead of cranberries (have to try that!), and a splash of good Spanish Sherry vinegar besides. Wonderful!

              1. re: gingershelley

                Like the sherry vinegar- I own such a bottle. Actually using reduced sugar craisins (dried cranberries) this year.

                1. re: Berheenia

                  I use low/no sugar crans when I want those in a dish. The fully dried/sugared ones are too sweet IMO.

                  1. re: gingershelley

                    I try to find unsweetened ones, but no avail except in huge quantities. I soak the lower sugar ones in warm water to remove as much as I can.

            2. re: Healthyfoodie121

              Tonight I am making a savory bread pudding (in muffin cups) with butternut squash, onions, peppers and smoked gouda. Can't wait to see how it comes out.

              1. re: chicgail

                isn't 'savoury bread pudding' stuffing?

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Ha! I have often thought the same. Physical form, flavorings/ingredients, and holiday status seem to determine what to call it.

                  I make one in the spring with onions or leeks, asparagus, mushrooms, gruyere, and thyme. Very rich and earthy.

                  1. re: sandylc

                    when I do my annual "What is Thanksgiving" lesson for my ESL students, I finally settled on "savoury pain perdu" as an answer for "what is dressing/stuffing?" -- 'pain perdu' is the French term for what we Anglophones call bread pudding or French toast -- and it is - stale bread, eggs, liquid, and flavorings, cooked until set...

                    They rather like the idea when I explain it that way -- as well as describing the Green Bean Casserole as a mixture of green beans, bechamel, mushrooms, and fried onions (which do exist here and are used fairly often).

                    They still really don't get the concept of putting marshmallow on sweet potatoes (one of the few traditional dishes that doesn't show up on our table, because nobody likes it -- we roast the sweet potatoes with some maple syrup and nutmeg, but we draw the line at marshmallow!)

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      I am very familiar with pain perdu - and that is the perfect explanation! Same with the GBC, which is very good when made from scratch (bechamel, etc.).

                      I agree with the marshmallow thing - yuk. I don't like them in anything at all. Sweet potatoes are much better as a savory or maybe mildly sweetened dish. My son made a savory streusel for them last year that was very good.

              2. First and foremost -- accept that it won't be perfect. No telling what it will be, but something will go off the rails, and your day won't be perfect. And that's okay. I drove myself crazy trying to make everything perfect my first Thanksgiving, and I've seen way too many new brides and first-time hosters work themselves into a frenzy trying to make every dish picture-perfect, and the house photo-perfect, and all the relatives on their best behavior. It's not going to work...so do the best you can do, and that's all you can do.

                Don't try a brand-new recipe just for the event -- if you have a new recipe that sounds great, make it ahead of time for a dry run, when you have time to recover if it's not as good as you thought it would be.

                Don't hesitate to enlist or accept help, especially in that final "crunch time" when everything's coming together at the same time. Just help in putting things in serving dishes and getting them to the table can make a huge difference.

                Make a list and tape it to the front of your cabinet doors, right at eye level -- list all the things that have to go on the table. This will eliminate finishing dinner and finding the bowl of cranberry sauce sitting on the window sill where it was put to chill....(ahem).

                And relax -- it's a time to enjoy family and friends and the blessings we have -- and THAT is more important than garnishing the turkey or having the perfect toast or what the best dessert might be.

                1. I've always made my husband's family's traditional dishes, and I'm making a change this year from twice baked potatoes to a gratin recipe I served to them once that had them scraping out the serving dish and licking the utensils. They're all on record as dreaming about it for T'day... I've used this recipe successfully with lower carb subs like rutabaga, turnip and celery root, but for the big day, I make it as written. I lean toward things I can easily make ahead and reheat before dinner, and this is one. I can't describe how savory, luscious and wonderful this dish is, and it has a rustic beauty to it, especially in a round baker with distressed edges I've been using: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... My other best tip, if you're up for it, is to get someone to deep fry your turkey outside; keeps the whole oven free and the kitchen less crowded, too. I make lists of what to buy well in advance, shortly ahead, and what to pick up last minute as fresh as possible. I start prep and some cooking two days before (sweet pot and apple casserole, stuffing, dry brining bird, dips, mashed rutabaga, savory cranberry sauce, cooked and chopped giblets for gravy...) if they're better or no worse, IMO, after two days of melding (no egg in stuffing til T'day, though). And I keep a timeline to cross stuff off of for cooking day due to myriad distractions and my own feeble memory.

                  Having my timelines posted on the fridge allows guests who are so inclined to jump in to help with what's up next. Oh, and a cluster of grapes at either end of any meat or cheese platter amps up the beauty with almost zero effort and cost.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: mcf

                    sounds great - I really like doing my turkey on the grill lots of fun and keeps people out of your way..

                    1. re: sparky403

                      OTOH, the one time we deep fried a turkey, there was no delicious aroma of baked stuffed turkey wafting through the house, and I missed that. As well as the fact there were no drippings for gravy and no one (my sister) made stuffing.

                      1. re: laliz

                        The house smells really good when it comes in to rest, and there are lots of other great smells. It just simplifies the kitchen juggling enormously.

                        1. re: mcf

                          Not at all the same to me ~~ not even close; but I understand it is preferred method for some people.

                          Just like last year we had a smoked turkey my nephew proudly brought. I discovered I don't care at all for smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, but I know people who do prefer it.
                          Everyone is different and has differing expectations and traditions.

                          No grilled, deep fried, or smoked turkey for me, thanks.
                          Also no cornbread stuffing. No cornbread.

                  2. Sunshine842 & mcf, these are great hints. I too plan to make as many dishes ahead of time as I possibly can. My dilemma is my built in double oven (standard size) & 4 burner electric stove top. The turkey will take up all the room in one oven & the ham will be in the other one just to warm up the meat. I plan to have several dishes that need to bake, plus I want to serve homemade rolls (about two dozen) & I want everyone to have them piping hot. How in the world am I going to have them baking when I am needing to heat up all those do ahead dishes?

                    Bottom line is, I can cook for up to 10 people without a hitch. This year I have invited double that & now I am wondering how in the heck can I pull this whole thing off with everything being sent to the table nice & warm???? I do not want to go out & purchase a convection oven or another crock pot or two. I cook for mostly one or two all year long so it does not make much sense to invest in these things for once a year use.

                    Anyway, this is what I am worrying about. I have never cooked for this many people before & truthfully, I have butterflies already.

                    43 Replies
                    1. re: cstout

                      Looks like you hit send too soon?

                      One more thing: set the table with serving pieces for all your dishes/platters the night before.

                      Hang onto take out containers or deli containers to send home care packages if you like to do that.

                      It's fun to plan a T'day leftovers party with a friend who also hosts, a relaxed evening at one of your houses to share what you've cooked with them and they with you, but no pressure.

                      1. re: mcf

                        I go down to the local Asian grocery and pick up a stack of cheap takeout containers. It's like a 5 for 20 or 25 of them, I don't want them back, and they're big enough to hold a serving or two.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          I try to recycle stuff I get from restaurants, I don't use plastic storage containers at home otherwise, just glass. I think the paper takout containers are a great idea, too!

                      2. re: cstout

                        Cstout - could you borrow a crock pot or countertop toaster oven or convection oven from a friend or a guest who is attending?

                        Agreed it is (well, wasteful) to purchase equipment for use once a year.

                        Another option I have used, which is an old catering trick (tho then I would have the real deal stainless chafing dish) is to go to the party supply store, and purchase a disposable chafing dish set up or two, and extra sterno. Heat 1-2 sides early, and put in the foil chafer to hold while other items go in the oven. Your ham could easily be done earlier, sliced, and reheated for last hour in a foil chafing pan.

                        Also, agree with comment to sort out all the serving pieces; platters AND serve-ware like tongs, etc. SEVERAL days ahead - that way if you need to borrow some (from guests attending hopefully) you can organize that ahead. Party supply stores also have very decent large serve-ware like big forks and salad tongs for very cheap. Or, cruise thrift stores starting NOW.....

                        1. re: gingershelley

                          Do you have a BBq? I use my BBQ as a 3rd oven. The casarole type dishes get warmed up cooked in there. <----- meant for Cstaout's oven question. lol

                          1. re: gingershelley

                            Cruising the thrift stores is great for finding large spoons & extra bowls. I just found a wonderful large glass serving bowl that is perfect for showing off a layered salad of some sort. Never thought to go to the party store. Excellent idea.

                            1. re: cstout

                              Check the appliance aisle too! I've seen really cheap Crock Pots.

                          2. re: cstout

                            You definitely need to make a schedule for your ovens. I use an excel spreadsheet to do this every year, with columns labeled in half hour increments and rows labeled with oven racks/stovetop burners. Remember that both your ham and turkey (especially the turkey) will need to rest a good 30 mins before carving, so you will have 30 minutes+ right before serving time where those ovens will not be occupied. That's when your rolls get baked, your stuffing gets heated through, etc.

                            Another space/time saver is to spatchcock your turkey - cut out the backbone and flatten it. It will cook much more quickly and take up only half of the oven, so you can (if you want to) fit another dish in there at the same time.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              cook your dressing in your crockpot -- best new tradition I've ever started.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I've been considering this method - I just worry that I won't get any crispy bits that way. My stuffing is a loose, rustic style dish with big chunks of bread and the buttery, crispy top (and bottom, since I cook it in an aluminum dish on the bottom rack) bits are the best part. Have you ever scooped yours out of the crockpot for a quick run under the broiler for crispness?

                                1. re: biondanonima

                                  That would work for the top, I think, as long as you're okay with it being much moister than usual underneath, or adjust the liquid content. Still, one year I did yams and apples in the slow cooker (got rid of mine since) when we lived in a house with a very small oven and it really helped to have the extra space.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    The entire outside edge of mine gets brown and crispy, as well as the bottom. That's part of why I like it!

                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                      Last year I made stuffing in muffin pans--lots of crispy bits and a fun way to serve.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      That's a good one.

                                      I also use a crock pot to keep the mashed potatoes warm.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Dressing in a crockpot....love love that idea!

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          I grabbed a free crock pot at the office yesterday based on your post. It is a big one and the former owner says it works fine but they were given a larger one and decided to pass it on. I am cooking for twice as many people as usual - there will be 12 to 15 of us and in a borrowed kitchen so am looking for specifics for this. How long does it take to get the crusty top?

                                          1. re: Berheenia

                                            It won't get super crusty on the top -- but it will be beautifully brown and crusty on the sides and bottom.

                                            I cook mine for one hour on high, then 4-5 hours on low, or until it registers 160F on an instant-read thermometer.

                                        2. re: biondanonima

                                          biondanonima, would you mind sharing your Excel spreadsheet with me. I am not good at using Excel and this would be extremely helpful to me. TIA.

                                          fairwayser@yahoo.com

                                          1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                            I'll email a copy to you now - hope it's helpful! I have different tabs for my shopping list, menu (along with who's bringing what, if there are guests), prep schedule and day-of schedule.

                                            1. re: biondanonima

                                              Thank you so very much for your willingness to share.

                                              1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                                Oh! I have the same problem with Excel (tho am a crackerjack with Powerpoint:) - can you pass that on to me, wtg

                                                Much appreciated; shelley@butler-did-it.com

                                                  1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                                    I just sent both of you my spreadsheet - hope it helps!

                                                    1. re: aching

                                                      Thank you so very, very much. With the help of you, gingershelley, biondanomima, and TorntoJo, my Thanksgiving is going to be wonderfully well organized this year.

                                                      1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                                        ME TOO! I am excited about the planning for oven space, platters, and where everything can land from this info....

                                                      2. re: aching

                                                        Thanks SO for the spreadsheets!

                                                        I hope to finally get into them after Halloween tonight when I face the countdown to T-day, and talk to my folks about who/where/ what we are doing this year. They have been out of the country alot, so nothing figured out about who is hosting yet. I am hoping it is moi for a change, so I can invite more of my friends to loosen up the dinner conversation a bit:)!

                                                        1. re: aching

                                                          Could I please have a sample spreadsheet, too?

                                                          last_ghia@gmail.com (that's a "G" in ghia).

                                                          Thanks.

                                                          1. re: walker

                                                            I tried to send you mine, Walker, but it bounced back! I sent it to last_ghia@gmail.com - is there a different address I should use?

                                                            1. re: aching

                                                              So sorry! It's last_ghia@yahoo.com (got confused by my other email acct.).

                                                  2. re: biondanonima

                                                    Biondanonima This my first post so I hope it is in the right place. I would love to have a smoother, ie more organized Thanksgiving this year. The spreadsheet looks helpful. Please email me at rebeccahholycross at gmail com. Thanks in advance.

                                                    1. re: holypeaches

                                                      I just sent it to you, holypeaches - I hope it's helpful!

                                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                                        Thanks, I just took a glance and its already helping me sort things in my head. I'll definitely spend more time later.

                                                        1. re: biondanonima

                                                          Thanks again biodanonima, due to schedules we celebrated yesterday and I had a relaxing day with my family, enjoying the weather then stress free dinner at 7.

                                                      2. re: biondanonima

                                                        biondanonima -

                                                        May I have a copy as well please? Thanks so much!

                                                        and TorontoJo - thanks for sharing yours!

                                                        eschlosser@wi.rr.com

                                                    2. re: biondanonima

                                                      I will be glad to share with anyone what I have come up with so far. It is still a work in progress, but progress is being made. Just let me know if you are interested.

                                                    3. re: cstout

                                                      This may not be an option for you, but the best Thanksgiving meal I ever had was a potluck with about 20 people attending. The hosts made the turkey and everybody brought a side or dessert agreed upon in advance. Since no one had to multitask too much in the kitchen, every single dish was perfect, and we could all relax and enjoy the food and each other so much more than if a few of us had worked ourselves to exhaustion making everything.

                                                      Another thing we've done for the past several Thanksgivings is braised beef short ribs. They take nearly five hours to prep and cook, but you can make them up to a week in advance (just cool them down properly before refrigerating/freezing, and heat up thoroughly before serving). They only get better and better with sitting, and even though they're not a traditional TG dish, they feel festive and warming and make people very happy.

                                                      1. re: ninrn

                                                        I'm doing a potluck this year - I'm really looking forward to not killing myself in the kitchen!

                                                        1. re: ninrn

                                                          That's pretty much how my family handles Thanksgiving. Of course, we end up with 6 different vegetable dishes to feed 10 people, but we are all great cooks.

                                                          1. re: ninrn

                                                            Yes, I am encouraging a potluck Thanksgiving...but as usual, there is one who won't bring anything but her/his special dish & unfortunately, another person has the same thing that they want to bring...& on & on. Hard to get get the old timers to try something new...am still working on it. Thanks ninrn.

                                                          2. re: cstout

                                                            One thing I find indispensable when cooking for a lot of people is a really big stainless steel bowl. You don't have to spend a lot of money on it, but get the biggest you can. Now that I've got one, it's useful at other times as well.

                                                            1. re: cstout

                                                              Your ham doesn't have to hog an oven.Modern,wet cure supermarket hams hold beautifully hot,warm and wet in a dutch oven or stock pot,butt or shank in or not an oven bag,very low heat,maybe none.Bone in ham holds heat for a long time.

                                                              1. re: cstout

                                                                nothing wrong with serving ham at room temp maybe accompanied by rolls and a good mustard for appetizer type little sandwiches... kind of serve yourself... would open up a whole oven for you....

                                                              2. Oh, and you can NEVER make enough gravy. :) Especially if you want to give some away with leftovers. I make a whole batch of turkey stock a week or two ahead with purchased leg/wings, and freeze to supplement.

                                                                Then, when the fridge(s) are running out of room with both raw and cooked or partially prepped ingredients, I can stash my turkey stock in a camping cooler to thaw slowly with items that just need to stay cool, and I can put those in with my giant turkey-stock 'ice pack' until it thaws out!

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: gingershelley

                                                                  I use the cooler in my garage for the turkey brining and storage of stuff that would make life difficult by filling up the fridge, too.

                                                                  1. re: gingershelley

                                                                    +1

                                                                    And the best thing about making the turkey stock ahead is that you have turkey fat for making the roux.