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Thanksgiving 2013

Hey everyone! Autumn is upon us (at least it is here, in Philadelphia) and I am gearing up to host my first Thanksgiving at my own place. I'm a pretty competent cook and have helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner before, but am a little anxious about doing it all on my own. I'm also a newly ex-vegetarian, and while I've been cooking meat for the last few months, I have never prepared a whole turkey.

I'm looking for turkey ideas and sides, as well as desserts. Should I do appetizers? I'm expecting 8-10 people, probably closer to 8.

So far, the following is what I have nailed down. I'm open to suggestions for recipes for all.

Mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Mac and Cheese
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie

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  1. The menu seems to have an imbalance of carb sides, compared to greens -- i.e., 5 carb sides (mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, mac & cheese, stuffing, and corn) and only 1 green side (spinach). I'd eliminate one or 2 of the carbs and add another green side.

    What about cranberry sauce or relish? Seems pretty much essential -- whether home made (a cinch to make) or the canned stuff (which some people strongly feel needs to be on the table).

    We don't do any sort of sit down appetizers, but do have nibbles available to go with drinks before we sit down -- typically cheese & crackers, crudités, and olives, as they take no work and we've got plenty else to focus on in the kitchen.

    3 Replies
    1. re: masha

      I planned on making other veggies, I am open to more suggestions. Unfortunately my family is pretty set on the starchy stuff.

      Also, I totally forgot the cranberry sauce! I always make homemade cranberry sauce.

      1. re: marietinn

        Thanksgiving tends to be starchy. Takes some time to evaluate what needs to go away and what needs to be added. I go pretty veggie heavy, but always tend to lean to wanting to add another starch...until I realize exactly how much starch I already have.

        Long of the short of it, go with exactly what you and your family likes.

      2. re: masha

        I make a savory cranberry sauce as well as buying the canned crud you slice that is neither berry nor sauce for those who grew up with it and require it. :-)

        I am a very low carb eater, but my guests are not, so I have a lot of starchy, sweet stuff on the table, too. All I eat are turkey and mashed rutabaga.

        I usually stick to my husband's family's traditions of decades, but may vary it here and there. The basics:

        Deep fried turkey (and another for take home packages roasted in the a.m. Free oven for dinner time)

        Rutabaga puree

        Twice baked potatoes .(but may make this instead: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...) I make it often, but low carb with turnips or rutabaga or celery root for us


        Their grandmother's basic bread stuffing with lots of butter and I add fresh herbs

        Glazed sweet potatoes and apples

        Sauteed string beans with shallots and bacon

        The cranberry sauce from this recipe using duck fat to replace the pork: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

        Croissants/rosemary/olive rolls/corn bread

        I used to put out too many pre meal appetite killers, now stick to jumbo shrimp cocktail before dinner, and a few mini baked hors d'oeuvres like goat cheese and fig in filo

        SILs bring desserts

      3. Not criticizing but turkey and spinach are your only non-starch items. Just be aware.

        2 Replies
        1. re: melpy

          Thanks! I plan on making more veggies, just need some suggestions. So much of what my family wants for the holiday is heavy and starch laden.

          1. re: marietinn

            Sorry didn't mean to repeat. I must have still been typing when the other folks posted. I wasn't saying to take anything away but perhaps add.

        2. Ooh! I forgot! I also plan on making roasted brussels sprouts.

          4 Replies
          1. re: marietinn

            Cross posting. Roasted Brussels sprouts will be a lovely addition. If you want another green vegetable, sauteed green beans, perhaps with a little citrus juice/zest and some slivered almonds, would be lovely. Much lighter than the stodgy casserole and a good textural contrast since they'll still have a bit of crunch.

            1. re: biondanonima

              Sauteed green beans sound nice. Maybe with garlic and lemon? The almonds would be nice as well.

            2. re: marietinn

              Yum. Can't go wrong with that. I just discovered them this year, and they will definitely be hitting our Thanksgiving table.

            3. Depending on what time you serve dinner, some light nibbles would be good, but I wouldn't go overboard on appetizers. Think crudites with a light dip, maybe some warm olives, etc. I hosted Thanksgiving once and a last-minute guest insisted on bringing several heavy, cheesy appetizers. People filled up on this stuff to the point where we ended up delaying dinner for several hours because no one was hungry. What time are your guests arriving and when do you plan to serve dinner?

              Anyway, the menu looks fine although I agree with the other posters that you have too much starch. I would skip the mac and cheese (unless it's traditional) and replace it with another vegetable side (green beans, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and if you must have corn, do a room temperature salad or something, to lighten it up (I would replace corn with a different vegetable, like spaghetti squash, but I just don't like corn).

              Two glaring omissions from your list - gravy and rolls. I know that I said too much starch, but rolls will come in handy for sandwiches and things, so even if you don't serve them with dinner, make sure you have some around. Gravy I assume you just forgot to mention. Cranberry sauce or relish would be a nice addition if your guests like it.

              My best tip for doing it all on your own is this: make a schedule on paper, print it out and follow it!!!!!!!! I create a spreadsheet every year which includes the menu, all of the ingredients, and a schedule for the week leading up to Thanksgiving. I do a ton of prep during the week and most of the actual cooking on the day before, so that all I really end up doing day of is assembling, reheating and roasting the turkey. Even with all of that prep work out of the way, the oven gets very crowded, so having a schedule is imperative!!!!

              11 Replies
              1. re: biondanonima

                I totally didn't even think of rolls and gravy! They would have had my head.

                The mac and cheese has to stay, my mom requested it and it may be her last thanksgiving. She has lung cancer and getting her to eat anything is a miracle in itself.

                1. re: marietinn

                  Oh, then DEFINITELY have mac and cheese! I'm sorry to hear about your mother - I'm sure this meal will be a wonderful memory for you and your family.

                  1. re: marietinn

                    Ohhh, blessings to you and your Mom for this special Thanksgiving. Make oodles and oodles of mac 'n cheese for her.

                    T'giving menus are so family-centric that I think you can't go wrong with whatever family favorites you make.

                    This should be the most "thanks"-centric Thanksgiving of your life--honor your Mom and family, even if it means serving White Castles.

                    Believe me, I've been there, and I wish you the very best.

                  2. re: biondanonima

                    I keep trying to get more organized, like you. It always takes me longer to chop, prepare, than I expect. It's good that I don't have to serve dinner at a certain time, it's just ready when it's ready.

                    Question: Since I make the stuffing in the morning, then stuff the turkey and put extra in a casserole dish .. all this takes me so long to do. I've been wondering if, the night before, I chop the onion, celery, etc. and store in separate plastic bags and then saute the next day .. at least that will be a head start. Would the taste suffer? Does anyone saute the onion and celery the night before and refrigerate?

                    I already do a gravy starter ahead of time and like the idea of Thanksgiving (made day before) mashed potatoes. I do the Bourbon cranberry sauce ahead.

                    1. re: walker

                      You can absolutely do the stuffing vegs that way. One of our standard "Wednesday tasks" is to chop several pounds of onions and several heads of celery (separately) in the Cuisinart. Each gets stored in double plastic (bags or tupperware) in the fridge overnight. That way, we have them ready for multiple recipes on Thursday.

                      I haven't sauteed the day before, but I don't see why it would be a problem.

                      1. re: walker

                        Yes! I do EVERYTHING for my stuffing (which is a fairly involved recipe) the day before - I saute the mirepoix, roast the vegetables, cook the sausage, etc. I dump all of that stuff into a huge tupperware and stick it in the fridge. In the morning, all I have to do is put the bread in the roasting pan, dump in the tupperware of goodies, mix it up, add stock and butter and bake. It takes all of three minutes.

                        I do nearly all of my prep the night before and I find that it really takes the pressure off on the day of, even if I'm not serving dinner until later in the day. The only fiddly thing I find I have to do on the day of is peel, boil and mash the potatoes - although from what I hear they reheat very nicely in a slow cooker, so I may try that sometime.

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          I regret giving away my very old crock pot that still worked fine; I now own a gorgeous All-Clad one that I almost never use. I tried keeping the mashed potatoes warm in it once, had it on low setting but they got dried out and weird even tho I added more milk -- even on low, temp was too high, I think.

                          The Thanksgiving mashed potatoes have sour cream and cream cheese and are made a day or 2 before and just heated up in oven after turkey comes out.

                        2. re: walker

                          I have buckled under time and energy pressure and made stuffing a day or two ahead and it's still wonderful. I use a lot of butter and fresh herbs and the flavors meld really well, no loss of texture or delciousness.

                          I also make the sweet potato and apple casserole a day ahead and just slightly underbake. It's better that way, soaks up the flavors.

                          I make rutabaga puree the day before, or a week before and freeze.

                          I also cut the shallots and bacon for my sauteed string beans the day before.

                          Except for the deep fried turkey my husband does outside, it's all my labor and my energy varies. I want to enjoy my day with my guests, not achey all over and ready to pass out.

                          I also cook and chop giblets a day ahead to use for gravy, and even make that ahead, adding cream just before dinner, and fresh thyme.

                          If anything seemed less delcious or fresh, I'd not take the do ahead route.

                        3. re: biondanonima

                          I absolutely agree with biondanonima's last paragraph - plan, plan, plan. Once you set your menu, make your grocery list, and actually check on the staples you usually have on hand. (I can't tell you how many times we run out of brown sugar, butter, etc. the week of Thanksgiving!) Make your to-do list, day by day, and try to do as much as possible well before Thursday. I prep vegetables, bake pies, and make dips/appetizers on Weds. I also try to figure out what serving pieces will be used for which dishes - one less thing to worry about as you heat/reheat things just before dinner.

                          AND - keep your lists from this year, with notes on what worked and didn't, so you have them to refer to for next year!!

                          1. re: truman

                            Oh yes, my lists also include which food goes in each cooking vessel and serving dish. Very important detail!!!

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              I do all of that, have for years, and it really keeps me sane to have it, even if I don't have to look. I divide my shopping into long ahead, a week ahead, when to order things, etc and I save my lists for each year with notes.

                        4. No one in my family has ever done appetizers for Thanksgiving, but we have our meal around noon. If you're serving late in the day and will have people there waiting for a while, then a few light snacks might be good. You definitely don't want your guests to fill up before the main event!

                          I agree about the cranberry sauce or relish; it's a must-have for most folks. As for something green, how about broccoli, cabbage slaw, and/or green beans? With any of those you can go as simple or as fancy as you'd like.

                          1. Have you roasted whole chickens? Turkey is just a bigger version. (If not, you might want to try one or two before Thanksgiving).

                            I'm a huge fan of "deconstructed" turkey, where separate the legs w/ thighs from the the breast, and use the backbone (as well as neck and bits) to make stock (for the stuffing and the gravy). Also, It cooks much faster, more evenly and uses a less oven space. Again.. practice cutting up a chicken if you haven't done much bird butchering.

                            1. I made Ina Garten's Accidental Turkey last year and it was excellent. I had never made one before. My husband deep-fried a turkey and everyone agreed the roasted one was better. http://m.foodnetwork.com/recipes/660675

                              1. I almost always disagree with the posters who call out a meal for having too many starchy dishes. I get what they're saying, but I eat dishes I like and care very little about how balanced my overall meal is, as far as starch, veggie, protein goes. That being said, I love everything on your menu, so I would be very happy! :) I would probably just eat a very big salad for lunch the next day! YOLO and what not. If there's ever a day to be glutinous and throw out the diet, I say it's Thanksgiving. If I were going to make any change, I would say maybe swap out the mac and cheese for a homemade green bean casserole, but I'd be fine without the swap. I just really like green bean casserole.

                                Your menu looks very similar to my family's Thanksgiving menu, except we do corn pudding, instead of just corn. I would definitely suggest doing some small nibbles before the meal, Like others have said, maybe just some veggies and dip, nuts, just something like that.

                                1. I would elinate both the corn and Mac and cheese and add more green vegetables like green beans or Brussels sprouts

                                  1. Your menu sounds delicious. It is a lot of carbs but it's thanksgiving ;) got to have all the fixins

                                    My family aren't turkey fans so we always make roast beef. Anyway, I believe it was Alton Brown that suggests to cook two smaller turkeys. I suppose they would be easier to cook than one large one and on top of that, you get double the legs and wings.

                                    Enjoy your thanksgiving especially with your mom. Make her whatever she wants!

                                    1. If you're open to other vegetable ideas and want to add a color other than green, braised red cabbage is a great choice. There are plenty of searchable recipes to work from, but my favorites incorporate bacon, apples, and red wine.

                                      For appetizers, I like to set out an assortment of spiced nuts, a good cheddar, and lightly pickled veggies.

                                      1. Brussels sprouts are a must for me, they are in season and so yummy

                                        1. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes seem duplicative, i am sure you could omit the sweet potatoes all together. Or, a colorful mix of roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions would be lovely.
                                          If you decide to do an app i would skip any cheese or nuts since you are making an awesome meal - you don't want them too full-and do some crudites and dip

                                          1. If you're looking for light appetizers, consider quick pickling (a day or two in advance) fresh green beans and baby carrots. Or serve glazed baby carrots, roasted broccoli, or cauliflower or as a side veg.

                                            1. It's just a silly little thing, but I really like deviled eggs on Thanksgiving.
                                              I think the rest of your meal sounds great! Not everyone will eat each and every dish, so you've got a nice selection there if you have any picky eaters.
                                              Definitely include the roasted Brussels sprouts! It may be gilding the lily, but last Thanksgiving, one guest brought roasted Brussels sprouts that were dressed with a little sour cream and crumbled bacon. Oh my.

                                              1. It's Thanksgiving. There is no such thing as too much carbs on Thanksgiving. Everybody has a favorite and this is the day to make everything everyone likes! We always have 3 kinds of stuffing, one sweet one savory and one gluten free.

                                                I would put out a couple simple snacks before hand. I found when there are too many apps everyone is full before they sit down to dinner. Maybe nuts, cheese and crackers or a veggie and dip tray.

                                                Yes, must have gravy, cranberry sauce and rolls. It's Thanksgiving, Enjoy your day!!

                                                1. Choc cream pie!

                                                  I'd also do a few easy apps, like a cheese board with wine, just to open up your guests palates.

                                                  1. How wonderful to be planning a special Thanksgiving for family and loved ones! A suggestion that is a must for our family...a fresh citrus fruit salad....not dressing or anything, just fresh pineapple, oranges, mandarins, mango, kiwi, grapefruit and a few pomegranate seeds tossed on top. Don't add bananas as there is always fruit salad left over and bananas would just turn brown. Have added slices of star fruit when I can find it....just makes it look more festive in my big clear glass bowl. It is nice to have the light and refreshing fruit to balance out all the richness....we also have this salad at Easter with the big ham dinner:-)

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: wpattillo

                                                      Sounds good; are the mandarins canned? If so, which brand is best?

                                                      1. re: walker

                                                        Used canned (Geisha?)years ago but now use fresh Satsumas. The canned do have a bit of a "tinny" taste....

                                                    2. As this is a first, make life easier and get a large bone in Butterball turkey breast. It will cook in 90 minutes. You will end up with juicy turkey. And you will have time for sides.

                                                      1. Keep the sweet potatoes AND the mac and cheese! It's Thanksgiving. :-)

                                                        You need something for guests to drink before dinner. Spiked Spiced Cider (add brandy or cognac) works for us. A nice dry ginger ale like Schwepps for those on the wagon is good.

                                                        People are going to be shocked but some extra cans of Heinz canned gravy with juices from the turkey pan will work in a pinch if you run out of the homemade gravy.

                                                        There is a national magazine, that I'm not sure I can mention the name of here, that prints a Thanksgiving to-do list every year around this time and it's very helpful for planning the big day with some tasks beginning now in October. Let's just say their list keeps everything stress free and SIMPLE. ;-) Good luck!

                                                        1. I think balance in a meal is very important, it is not about saving calories. I love having a big meal but cannot enjoy rich on rich on rich. I would choose seasonal veg, then cook them a variety of ways, mashed, roasted, glazed and maybe a pudding/gratin. You don't need to guild every lily, some things are good a little more plain. My suggested sides would be, mashed rutabaga with crispy shallots, glazed beets with chives and walnuts, roasted brussel sprouts, white and sweet potato gratin, maple roasted squash, sautéed spinach with garlic.
                                                          Remember that it is very important to take into consideration how you will reheat everything.
                                                          The easiest dessert I know is pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce served with ice cream. This would allow you to spend more time on a spectacular apple pie.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Gloriaa

                                                            I would come to your house just for the sides!