Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner

As a child and a young adult, I have to admit Christmas was my favorite holiday.  Now that I am older, I would have to say that Thanksgiving has taken the top spot as my favorite holiday of the year.. well, besides my birthday.  *HA HA*

This year will be the first in seven years that I have not hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my home.  I truly enjoy and look forward to making a Thanksgiving feast from scratch every year for my family and friends.  Everyone arrives around 1pm and the festivities start...  football, homemade appetizers, drinking wine and enjoying each other's company.  Finally dinner is served at 6pm (after slaving all day in the kitchen of course).

Since I will be at my parent's home this year for Thanksgiving, I decided that I was still going to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner and then donate it to a needy family.  With my sister's help, we found a family of seven that had just relocated to our area and could use some warm food.  For just $89 and 12 hours out of my life, I was able to make an entire Thanksgiving feast that would feed twelve people.

This is the same menu that I serve my family year after year.  The best thing about this menu is that all the recipes compliment each other, which in my opinion, is the key to a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.

Click on the links to view the recipes

Try and take advantage of everything you can do and make the night before, including setting the table, making the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and brining the turkey.

I start by soaking the turkey overnight in a brine made of water, fresh vegetables, spices and salt.  Brining the turkey will make it juicier and more tender.  You will add a lot of extra flavor to the turkey as well.

I throw everything into a 5 gallon bucket, cover it with foil, and set it on the gargage floor overnight, or for at least 12 hours.  This time of year our garage is the same temperature as the fridge, so it works.

Then I set the table, which I look foward to every year... I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Thanksgiving table when it's all set up.

What I like the most is how festive and ready for fall my table looks!

After you make it, the crust for the pumpkin pie needs to sit in the fridge for at least two hours before you can use it.   I used to be afraid of pie crust until I watched this video on how to make it.  I always assumed that pie crust should form into a ball in the food processor...not so much.  Always use very cold ingredients...

When you turn out the mixture onto your surface, it should resemble coarse crumbs, just hold together when you squeeze it, yet not be sticky.

Form into two discs and place in the fridge for at least two hours to chill.  I like to put leaves around the edges of my pie plate for pumpkin pie. 

I filled this pie plate a little too full with pie filling, but it still turned out alright.  Let the pie cool for about 2 hours, then put in the fridge overnight so it will firm up.

While your pie crust is chilling in the fridge, start the cranberry sauce.  This recipe couldn't be easier!  Cranberries are my absolute favorite fruit.  This is the only time of year I get to eat them, so several of my recipes are laced with cranberries.  Plus, they help tie all the dishes together!

Boil the sugar and water for about 5 minutes, then add the cranberries and orange zest and boil 5 minutes longer.

The cranberries will begin to burst and will look like this when it's ready.

Put in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.  Fresh, homemade cranberry sauce.  Couldn't be easier, right?  Yum!

Also while the pie crust is chilling you can start the potatoes.  These are incredibly easy, just tedious as you have to peel 8 pounds of potatoes.  Something I've found that makes for easier clean up is to peel them over a few paper towels.  When you're done, just fold up the paper towels and throw them away.  If you cut the potatoes up into quarters they will boil faster for you.  You will need a very large pot for these as there's several of them.

Drain the potatoes and then place them back in the pot.  Add in the cream cheese, milk, sour cream and the spices.  Take your hand held electric mixer and mix until smooth.  At this point, you can refrigerate them overnight.  The day of, bring them to room temperature (about 4 hours) and then bake for about an hour.  If you are making these the day of, mix up the mashed potatoes and then bake for about an hour.

With sour cream, cream cheese, and whole milk... these are the best potatoes ever!

On the day of, I get up very early.  The first thing I do is cut up the bread to make the stuffing.

Using white bread as well as wheat bread makes for pretty stuffing.

Put all cubes onto two cookie sheets and bake at 225 degrees for 50 minutes to toast the bread and make it very crisp.  Crispy bread helps withstand the chicken stock and butter you will pour on it later.

Cook the sausage and onion, add in the celery and spices.  Place the bread cubes in a large stock pot, pour the sausage mixture over them and mix lightly.  Add in the apples, cranberries and parsley.  Drizzle with butter and chicken stock until bread cubes are softened to your liking and mix lightly again.

I enjoy my mom's traditional stuffing, but I have to say, I like this recipe the very best.

Next, I start the cornbread.  This can be made first thing in the morning, cooled for a few hours, cut up and wrapped with plastic wrap to keep it from getting stale.  Every time I serve this, people ask me for the recipe.  Can I share a secret with you?  It's the recipe on the back of the corn meal box, I just doubled the sugar and increased the baking time by 10 minutes.  Perfect cornbread every time.

My husband usually barbeques our turkey every year. It gives him something to 'be in charge of' on the big day, and it frees up my oven so I can bake all the side dishes.

This year though, I decided to bake the turkey in one of those oven bags. I brushed it with a half stick of melted butter and then seasoned it with a mixture of thyme, sage, marjoram, paprika and rosemary and threw it in the bag. I also added to the bag, the left over fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and parsely
 that I had purchased for the brine.

Brining the turkey will help it cook much faster, so check your turkey temperature after about 2 hours in a 350 degree oven. 180 degrees is a pretty dry turkey, so if you test the bird in the thigh and the breast, and they are both at least 165 degrees, it should be ready!

This recipe for green bean casserole is like none that I've ever found.  People who don't particularly care for green bean casserole seem to like this dish alot!  It does have your traditional cream of mushroom soup in it as well as french fried onions, however it also has red pepper, bacon, soy sauce, vermouth, milk and Mozzarella cheese.

When I used to think of sweet potatoes, I thought of orange mashed up potatoes covered with marshmallows and then baked.  Well, those are yams.  Sweet potatoes are white on the inside when you cut into them, and taste totally different than yams.

This recipe for sweet potatoes is aboslutely fabulous and smells like love when you bring it out of the oven!  It's mashed sweet potatoes mixed with cream cheese, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Then top with apples and cranberries.  Mix together some flour, brown sugar and butter, stir in some Honey Bunches of Oats cereal and sprinke mixture over the apples and cranberries.  Bake this for 40 mintues.

When you cut into this dish, it's so pretty!  The cereal mixture is on top, followed by apples and cranberries, and then the white sweet potatoes. This is probably my favorite recipe out of all the side dishes that I make.

Lastly, I make the gravy.  As I said before we usually barbeque our turkey, so we miss out on all the juices and fat that comes with an oven roasted turkey.  I've tested out dozens of gravy recipes and this one is the best that I've found.  It calls for three packets of turkey gravy, chopped up turkey giblets, chicken broth and a little bit of flour.

I like to serve my Thanksgiving dinner buffet style on my kitchen island.  This way, the dinner table is not over crowded with food and people passing dishes back and forth.  It seems more intimate this way and we are able to enjoy each other's conversation over the candle light from the centerpieces.

So after 8 hours, this....

turned into this.

Considering this serves 12 for Thanksgiving dinner *plus left-overs*, the family of seven that we donated this food to should be able to eat wonderful homemade food for a few days at the very least.


  1. wow that s really a nice thought and the dinner look fantastic. I love your blog :)

  2. I found you via Bake@350.
    What a wonderful post! I think I will try your mashed sweet potatoes recipe. It looks so different and yummy!
    I can't wait to look through some older posts and read the upcoming ones.
    Keep up the great work -- very enjoyable and informative!

  3. Your table looks gorgeous and very nice with all your donations! Your site is great ~ thanks for stopping by mine!

  4. Hi we are the family that got to enjoy that wonderful meal. Thank you we loved it and Im using a couple of the recipes myself this year.... Per my daughter's request..LOL Thanks again and HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you and yours!.....

  5. Love the leaves around your pie - nice touch! Enjoyed stopping by your blog :)

  6. Hi

    What size turkey did you use.

  7. I'm sorry, I don't recall the size, but it wasn't an unusual size. Probably 14-16 pounds...

  8. What a great way to give back. I love it that you went all out just like you would have for your family. That's awesome! Thanks for linking up.:) Adding you to my blogroll. :)