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First time Thanksgiving meal!?! what was I thinking??

So I have loved loved loved to cook. My dream was to have a family to cook for and a big gathering for Thanksgiving. Well.......
37 years into life I finally have that chance. I have always cooked for me and my girls. I have been a single mother for 18 years of my 37 lived. And I always made the same traditional foods that both my grandmothers made and of course my mother made. And I was safe.... Icooked for my huge family with confidence. But we were very easy to please. BUT now I have in-laws and picky step kids and a mother in law whose feelings were hurt as her family stopped having Thanksgiving simply because of awkard stabs at the dinner guests. My husbands loves everything I cook. My girls love everything I cook. And I am comfortable with my menu and success behind it. But what if they dont?!?!!? This might be my last chance at making this a yearly event. I dont want to spend all day sweatting my butt off in the kitchen with 45 minutes of sleep in two days just to make sure everything is perfect. I want a made-over traditional menu with some time saving tips and suggestions on how to cook for a picky in-law family?!
My basic menu is Turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoe casserole, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, fresh corn, mac n cheese, broccoli n cauliflower cassrole, cranberry relish, a mound of deserts to include pies a cake cookies fruit salad and a appetizer plate of cheese olives pickles etc....
How do I know what to make and what will just waste away due to pickinesd?!?! Im from a poor family.... we didnt get to be picky or else we would be hungry... and we definitely didnt direspect the cook by simply not eating..... but this in-law-ic family is different.

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  1. When I said I would cook for my big family I meant my my brothers, wives, aunts uncles, thier kids and spouses..... never a fail.....

    1. I'd give a thought to calling MIL and saying something like, "I'm really excited about hosting T-day this year, it means a lot to me, but I'll admit that I'm nervous! It's important to me that you have a good time. Are there specific menu ideas or side dishes that appeal to you or are part of your family tradition that you would like me to include? Oh, and DH said that no one makes XXX like you do, so would you possibly be able to bring XXX for him?" etc. You get the drift. You could have a somewhat similar conversation with stepkids - being honest and telling them up front that you're nervous about the meal and asking them for input/suggestions/help. Hopefully this will help them feel like they are part of the event and that their opinions matter to you.

      It certainly sounds like you are more than capable of making a fabulous meal that any reasonable person would love to eat, so if any of your guests start b*tching about your food, it would be as part of a secret agenda and not legitimate criticism of your food IMHO.

      1. Take a deep breath. Realize, you can't please everyone, it's impossible. Enlist some help from the guests. Ask them to make their "specialties" because "no one else can make -fill in the T-giving side dish, like you do." Don't take personal offense if some of your dishes go uneaten by the inlaws. The problem is theirs, not yours.

        1. I would say first- stop. Take a breath. Take a step back and chill for a sec. Not everyone has to "love, love, love" everything you cook. Your cooking has always pleased your own family so why are you so confident you will displease the in-laws? This would be the time to give up some control, ask some of the in-laws to bring a cooked side dish that is their own "must have" for Thanksgiving. Be certain to be clear that you will only have room to keep things warm, no prep space available. Be sure your husband is in charge of circulating amongst his family members.

          It does sound like you have a lot of starch going on and a lot of casseroles. Perhaps you might go with basic mashed sweet potatoes (if at all) and fresh green beans. Not sure how many people you are cooking for but that also sounds like an awful lot of dessert.

          If the picky people are so picky that they go hungry with such a huge spread, so be it. Some people just don't care to be happy--I don't worry about them.

          1 Reply
          1. re: gourmanda

            I don't agree, Thanksgiving is all about heavy dishes. Unless the new people are health nuts, I would go all the way.

          2. My first reaction to your menu was "whoa"! How many stoves do you have? I count 4 casseroles plus 2 meats. Just seems like too much to handle. I like the idea of asking folks to bring their fav item, especially if you couch it as "only YOU know how to really make this". Do you own a "hot tray". This is the item that has saved the day for me many times especially when the oven is in overload. Also, in a pinch a cooler with keep things warm for quite a while.

            1. I think you should cook exactly how you want to, share with them the menu in advance and tell them that they can bring something if they like.

              If it doesn't work out, it's not so much you as it is them. I don't judge people for what food they serve, what means most to me is their effort. But some people are just unreasonable. Good luck!

              9 Replies
              1. re: youareabunny

                Is emailing requests for side dishes either to add or to be brought by guests improper or seen as "I cant beeeelieve she emailed me instead of call me?!"

                Lol my grandmothers with the golden spoons are standing over me with amazement that I would even "give a hoot" as one would often say when drama would begin the surface.....

                1. re: shellie76

                  If it's fewer than 10 people, telephone them (OK to leave a message and say that you're also e-mailing them in case they'd prefer to answer that way). It's OK to do a few phonecalls a day over the next several days.

                  1. re: shellie76

                    I think it's ok to email if there are a lot of people and at least for me, it's easier to read the menu than to hear and remember it all from the phone.

                    Maybe call first and let them know how excited you are to have them (....) and let them know that you emailed them the menu and that they are more than welcome to bring a dish.

                    Not sure if you have them on Facebook but that is how my friend's family coordinates who brings what. It works best for them since pretty much all 35 of them are on Facebook. They just create an event and everyone lists what they're bringing.

                  2. re: youareabunny

                    I agree; but while in the conversations, I would absolutely NOT tell them I'm nervous as mentioned in upthread. They don't need to know you are nervous or apprehensive or use that to form the idea that you can't handle it.

                    You've cooked all these years for your own family before the in laws came along, you should have no problem pulling this off. Cook what you want and delegate other dishes to those you know would like to bring a dish and let that be that.

                    Planning is the key to making it easier for you so that you don't have to rush to do it all in a day or two. The ham could be baked a day or two ahead and served at room temp. Prepare your sweet potatoes a few days ahead then assemble & bake off later. If you have freezer space, bake off any desserts you planned to serve that freeze well.

                    Are you saying the MIL insulted her guests at previous T'giving meals and that's why they stopped going to her house?

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      Yes she would say things that would literally stop everyone in thier tracks with that "what the heck did she say?!" It became uncomfortable for everyone even our children. So inviting her fired off a nasty little stab but I invited her anyways. Besides I hated telling my wonderful fatherinlaw.... leave the ol bag at home!!!

                      1. re: shellie76

                        Damn! Well, you are doing the right thing by having the meal at your house so family can be together. Don't let her ruin your holiday but don't be disrespected either. Good luck

                        1. re: shellie76

                          Hopefully people will learn to laugh or shrug her comments off. We all have one of those in the family!

                          1. re: shellie76

                            "her family stopped having Thanksgiving simply because of awkard stabs at the dinner guests"

                            I love a good family holiday horror story. Don't you wish you have a porthole into how their minds work? Both my MIL and FIL had no filter and would say the most hurtful, outrageous and generally crazy things.

                            At least you have a wonderful FIL. Can he be relied upon for tips/ideas to manage MIL?

                            1. re: cleobeach

                              In the past on CH there have been threads on what went wrong, including out of order guests. I hope there's one here post T-Day. Makes my guests seem like fairy-dusted angels.

                      2. Asking people to bring their "special" dish is definitely the way to go. Your regulars are going to expect your usual spread. No reason to disappoint them, is there?

                        PS I asked my daughter from about age six what she wanted to eat for Thanksgiving. Her answer: Salad. I never would have guessed!

                        1. If you are accustomed to making all the dishes you listed and you have a routine down pat, then make that menu. It is very extensive and there WILL be something for everyone, even picky children. I agree with the suggestion to ask the in-laws if there is something specific they want, and to ask them to bring a dish if there is something they are known for, but otherwise, do what you're comfortable with.

                          1. Is emailing requests for side dishes either to add or to be brought by guests improper or seen as "I cant beeeelieve she emailed me instead of call me?!"Lol my grandmothers with the golden spoons are standing over me with amazement that I would even "give a hoot" as one would often say when drama would begin the surface.....

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: shellie76

                              I would call those you want to bring something; they might not respond to a email then show up empty handed and acting like they didn't get the email

                            2. I soooo..... love thanksgiving and love doing the my bird on the grill... doesn't cost a penny more, it's easy, it gives a diversion and makes thanksgiving so more fun. consider doing that to mix things up.

                              Often it's not the food, it's the holidays. I might recommend having some friends over too? It keeps more things more lively and helps the keep the family bs out of the way.

                              Finally, my mom, when she hosted holiday or large dinners she was so worried that every one was enjoying themselves that she over did it to such a point that no one dare have a bad time... cook your great food, don't stress and let things unfold..... pressure to create a great meal is self defeating.. the holidays are about slowing down and enjoying company... the rest takes care of itself

                              1. I appreciate everyones input and advice. Though I thoroughly enjoy reading and listening to everything yall are telling me, I have put forth a few of your ideas. I appointed the mister to handle the meat by smoking the turkey and ham thus freeing up oven time. I emailed all that I could with an open invitation to "reply all" to keep everyone on the same page instead of 6 people with a dozen deviled eggs each. Found myself appealing to everyone instead of concentrating on the MIL issues. And as far as the pickiness I made a decision to lighten things up with steamed broccoli and a green salad and did away with a couple casseroles. I decided not to devulge my nervousness to my guests. Instead I insisted on everyone have a great time in hopes of creating a tradition and not a topic for a talk show. I prepared a menu in the email. I listed some things that could be made instead of an addition to the menu, freeing me from another side dish. I asked everyone for allergies. My husband, though great with a grilk is feeling some tention with smoking our meat. He wants to have a trial run. Lol...turkey is awesome twice a year. Twice in the same month?! So I forsee some batch cooking with turkey incorporated. Any good tips when smoking a turkey? ??

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: shellie76

                                  Since I am the queen of gravy and consider it the most important item of the meal, I never grill the bird.
                                  How do you make the gravy?

                                  1. re: magiesmom

                                    I use an disposable pan, rack etc. just like you do in the oven.... I add vegs, wine etc...

                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                        I buy turkey wings... roast them... use the yummy juices for the roux.

                                      2. re: shellie76

                                        I don't have any smoking tips for you, just wanted to say--good for you! Sounds like you are more relaxed all ready. Happy T-Day to you and your family!

                                        1. re: shellie76

                                          There are lots of good threads on how to smoke the bird.

                                          I have done mine this way for the last 15 years.... see my comments below. on this thread... it's seems a daunting at first... but it's really no different than cooking it in the oven.


                                        2. As Gourmanda pointed out, you have a lot of starches on this menu. After preparing T-day dinner for several years, I cut out the mashed potatoes and had the stuffing/dressing and sweet potatoes as the starches.

                                          If it were me, at a minimum, I'd cut the ham, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, and broccoli from your amazingly abundant menu.

                                          Happy Thanksgiving! :)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Kate is always hungry

                                            You were able to cut out the mashed potatoes safely? I'd have to run for cover if I did that, lol. (We don't have sweet potatoes, though ...) :)

                                          2. Were always trying to please. Great menu.It's Thanks-Giving.There invited, and what will they bring, or help you out with? Relax.They love you. Anything you make is going to be great.

                                            1. Reading your follow-up posts, it sounds like you have a good handle on the menu, especially the lighter aspect. And as Jerseygirl and others said, you can't please everyone ("More leftovers for MOI! Woohoo!).

                                              May I just poke my long sharp nose of experience into your affairs? Grab the handsome hubby this weekend and sit down over coffee or wine, and discuss how you'll both handle when (not if, but WHEN -- c'mon universe, prove me wrong!) someone acts up. Folks in families like your husband's tend to survive by keeping their heads down and hoping the flak passes overhead. Your husband may need to step in with (verbal) diversionary tactics, to help manage his family's behaviors; it may be a first for him to do so.

                                              1. My cornbread stuffing needs some tlc... the "hefty heifers" (my grandmothers, aunts and mother deemed their own wonderfully funny nickname) never used measuring cups. Everything was done with your 5 senses and a 6th was an innocent bystander getting a spoonful of whatever they shoved your way. Smelling and tasting was a huge part of learning to cook with them. BUT I have noted year after year that the sage dressing is drab now, and it is taking me way too long to cook out the broth. I bake 6 boxes of cornbread. Sometimes I let it set til cold sometimes I dont. I crumbled it in the roasting pan. I add enough chicken broth to cover the bread. I add chopped onion and celery. A be-ton of sage. Salt and pepper. I taste for the sage. I feel for the crunch of the veggies. After satisfying my tastebuds and the look is right. I add the eggs and begin to cook. After an hour or so I stir. Check the consistency And stir again. But it seems like it takes forever. Maybe im cooking too much at one time? Maybe im missing a step? The dressing turns out very dense....not fluffy.....

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: shellie76

                                                  Sounds like too much broth...when I make my cornbread stuffing, I only add enough broth to moisten the mix and add it a little at a time, mixing ingredients in between the additions until its damp but not drowned.

                                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                                    For a 13x9 pan, I add one cup of broth and 1/2 cup of vermouth. It's very moist. I do have a couple of eggs and a bit of heavy cream in there too though.

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      That doesn't sound like too much for the amount of cornbread you're using...perhaps using a little baking powder will give it the lift you're looking for. Also, don't make it with warm cornbread; the bread needs to be cold. I make mine then cut it in cubes or large crumble and let it dry out at room temp overnight. Using warm bread will make everything soft like mashed potatoes.

                                                  2. re: shellie76

                                                    (quote) "I bake 6 boxes of cornbread. Sometimes I let it set til cold sometimes I dont."

                                                    Shellie76, IMHO you need to bake the cornbread ahead of time, crumble it up and let it get really stale and dry before turning it into stuffing. I make mine at least one day ahead, crumble it onto a big cookie sheet, and dry/toast it in the oven around 250F until the cornbread is thoroughly dried out and toasty. In my experience with stuffing/dressing, using moist, fresh bread causes it to come out gummy and dense. I also agree with the other posters that you may be adding too much broth. I also never stir my stuffing/dressing once it goes in the oven. I hope this helps and good luck!

                                                  3. Just relax!!! Some of the sides can be made a day or two in advance and you have your husband and daughters to help clean the house and set the table.

                                                    How many people are you planning to have over? How, exactly, are the in-laws "picky"? Are they rigid in what they expect on the table or do they only eat certain kinds of foods?

                                                    Where are you from and what dishes are traditional? For example, here in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, macaroni and cheese isn't something you'd commonly find on a Thanksgiving table so I would say skip it unless you are from the South where I gather it is very common. Fresh corn also wouldn't be something we've have because it is entirely out of season here but, again, if you are from the South, I imagine you can still get it.

                                                    A ham and a turkey? Are there people who don't eat turkey or is the ham your in-laws' tradition? You could probably skip one or the other unless they are non-negotiable for some reason. For example, I would totally skip ham on Thanksgiving.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Njchicaa

                                                      Im from texas. The mac n cheese isnt on my traditional menu. But his kids are so picky if left up to them they would eat maybe the ham and a some mashed potatoes. Their mother is a macsonalds mom. She dont cook often at all. So when I cook its like pulling teeth to get them to try something new. And their will be 15 for sure and possibly 25 people. Ham and turkey has been a family tradition as well. Big family...big eaters... mostly all men. Im the baby of 6. Only female. So I make sure I have plenty of meat. Some of my family work in the oilfield where a warm cooked homemade dinner is a luxury. So I make sure I make enough. Maybe even some lunch for those guys heading out to work that evening. And my mother in law I believe is bitter like I said earlier because her family stopped having t day with her. And I have always had my family over. But when my husband told me he wanted to invite his mother I kinda cringed a little. But smiled and said great. I have never cooked for them but once. And everything became a pissing match..excuse my language.. with her. Perfect example.... I made a country ham, red beans n cornbread, cabbage, fried potatoes n peach cobbler for sunday lunch. I have his oldest daughter helping me. Of course she had never seen a ham actually with a bone. Im explaining to her kinda how a ham is made into the ham sandwich she loves so well. His mother says this " yes valery I used to make hams and big dinners like this all the time but no one would show up and when they did they wouldnt eat much and everyone would leave me wiyh the cleanup mess. So I stopped and refused to cook another meal for them" I was like... well hell after hearing that I dont blame my hubby for not wanting to invite hermuch. I dont know how his family or previous wife helped with thier family meals or not but my family enjoyed the cooking together. We caught up on old times, solved all the worlds problems, and ttalked about whoever didnt show up...lol.... that included cleaning up as well. But I forget that not many women had that kinda experience where cooking isnt just a duty but a pleasure......

                                                    2. I have been tossing around in my head about cooking my cornnread in my 10x10 electric skilet... keeping the cornbread in it the day before. The mixing it all ip and baking it in thier. Freeing ip my oven and the cleanup will be one pan..... a n y thoughts??

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: shellie76

                                                        Are you also mixing/baking the stuffing in there? If not, cleanup of an electric skillet is hand-washing and not something I'd want to trust to others on the day. Since bread is made & baked the day before, I'd use bowl and baking pan that can go in the dishwasher (bread can be cubed dry on counter in a different pan that will hold the stuffing).