Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever

I can officially say that this year’s meal was the biggest single meal I have ever cooked on my own with no help or contribution from others.  It seems that I have built up to this gradually over the decades, first starting off by bringing a couple of dishes to lunch at my mother’s house, then cooking at home combined with some pre-prepared dishes from the grocery store.  After growing a bit tired of those pre-prepared dishes and realizing that just a bit more effort upfront could save us from that mediocrity, I opted to give this a try.  There were just six of us for lunch, so it was a manageable number to prepare a meal for on my own.

Below is my schedule for Thanksgiving week this year, along with a few progress pictures when I had time to take them, as well as a few from a couple of years ago.  Just having this list saved me, I think.  I am blessed to now have a double oven,  a smaller counter-top convection oven, a roasting oven, a large crock pot, a large griddle and a large microwave at my disposal, so keep this in mind as I  share how I handled the meal preparations.  (I am particularly thankful for the new double oven this year!)  I use the crock pot, roasting oven, convection oven and griddle as needed to help keep food warm before and during our meal, in addition to items that are left on the stove for serving.  I am a stickler for keeping food properly warm for both taste and safety reasons.  We improvise where we must to keep food warm, not only before the meal, but during the meal and afterward until we are ready to store the leftovers.  I also use a food processor for most of the finer vegetable chopping chores, which saves a lot of time.

FYI – I use Alton Brown’s Roast Turkey recipe which can be found here.

Here is my prep schedule.

Sunday (or earlier!)

  • Review recipes and finalize menu and shopping list.  Do this earlier than Sunday, if possible, too.
  • Buy all groceries.  It’s imperative to me to avoid crowds and long, long lines at the grocery store on Tuesday and Wednesday.  No sense wasting time unnecessarily in this cooking project.
  • Place the frozen 14 lb. Turkey on rimmed pan and move it from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw on Sunday.
  • Make Honeycrisp Apple Cranberry Sauce.  Refrigerate.
  • Make pie crusts (2) and freeze them.

Monday

  • Bake cornbread for the dressing and let it sit out, covered with a clean kitchen towel.  This can be made even further in advance, as it will just have more time to dry out on its own, a necessary step to make good dressing.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6865
  • Brown sausage for the dressing and store in the refrigerator.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6868
  • Saute onion and celery for the dressing and store in the refrigerator.Cornbread Sausage Dressing-6870
  • Make vegetable broth and turkey brine (includes the vegetable broth).  Store the brine for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.Vege Broth-6863
  • Thaw pie crusts if made ahead of time and frozen.

 

Tuesday

  • Make Pumpkin Pie and Lemon Chess Pie, along with homemade pie crusts if not made ahead of time, and refrigerate after they have cooled.  The homemade crust is so much better than any of the pre-prepared ones.
    Pumpkin Pie-6883
  • Make Fudge.  My family loves the microwave fudge best of all actually, and it is quick and easy.  I make this in keeping with a tradition that my mother started years ago to get a little head start on some Christmas treats, and everyone takes home a few pieces at the end of the day.
  • Make Marinated Pea Salad, as it is best after it sits a day or two in the refrigerator.  This is an absolute must at every holiday meal we serve and has been for years, along with my mom’s mac and cheese, which is made on Thanksgiving morning.
    Marinated English Pea Salad

Wednesday

  • Make Creamy Pea Salad.  Yes, we like two different pea salads with our meal.  Actually, some family members like one and some like the other.  If your family would prefer something else, a tossed salad could also be prepared on this day.  Just dice the individual ingredients, store them separately, then combine them tomorrow just before serving the meal.
  • Make and bake Squash Casserole or Green Bean Casserole.  I opted for a good yellow squash casserole this time.
    Squash Casserole-6881
  • Make and bake Creamy Mashed Potatoes.  This is the recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  It has cream cheese in it.  Yes, we needed a few more calories in this meal.
    PW Mashed Potatoes-6887
  • Make Deviled Eggs.  Homemade deviled eggs are so much better than the ones we buy from the deli at the grocery store, and they are so easy to make.
  • If needed, crumble cornbread for the dressing and bake in a 250 degree oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring every 10-15 minutes until crumbs are very dry. Leave the crumbs out again, covered with the towel.  (If the cornbread is already dry, this step can be skipped.)
  • Set table with everything except dishes, silverware and glassware.  I like to keep the table decor simple, leaving room for condiments without crowding the table.
  • Brew a large jug of tea and refrigerate in a sealed container.
  • Just before bedtime, put Turkey in the iced brine mixture and keep in refrigerator overnight (8 – 12 hours), making sure that all of the Turkey is covered in the brine mixture.
    Vegetable Broth-6864

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day

  • Set frozen Yeast Rolls out to rise 5 – 6 hours before lunch.  (I used Rhodes Rolls to save time and not sacrifice quality this year.  They really are good rolls with a great homemade taste.  I recommend baking a batch or two before the big day to test the rising time in your own kitchen, and I also recommend keeping them away from any cool drafts while they are rising.  I put ours in the laundry room and shut the door.)
  • Remove Turkey from brine mixture, rinse well with cold water and discard brine.  Place aeromatics in the center of the bird for baking.
  • 4 hours before lunch, place uncovered Turkey in to bake (bottom oven), starting at 500 degrees for the first 30 minutes, then reduce heat, per recipe instructions.  Will cook for 2 – 3 hours, depending on size, when started at 500 degrees.
  • Begin reheating other dishes in top oven, smaller convection oven and roasting oven.
  • Let Turkey stand for a few minutes prior to carving.  Save the pan drippings, as it makes the best gravy ever!
  • Make Turkey gravy from the pan drippings (strain out any vegetables), adding flour, water and a little milk. No additional salt is needed.  Keep warm on the stove.
  • Make Creamy Mac and Cheese using Velveeta, butter and whole milk.
    Mother's Mac and Cheese
  • Combine Dressing ingredients and bake until just brown on top and done in the center.
  • Saute Portobello or Crimini Mushrooms in butter, using the same skillet as the Turkey Gravy.
    Mushrooms-6899
  • Finish setting the table.
    Table-6893
  • Bake rolls just prior to mealtime, using both top and bottom ovens if needed.
  • Set butter out to soften 15 minutes before mealtime.  This makes it easier to spread on the rolls.
  • As food is warmed, place it in or on an appropriate device to keep it properly warm until mealtime.
  • Gather the family and say a heartfelt prayer of Thanksgiving for so many people and blessings in our lives. This is what it’s all about anyway!  Make lunch a laid-back time and don’t rush.  Turn off the TV and put on some nice dinner music instead.  Football can wait an hour or so.  After going to all this effort to put a spectacular meal on the table, no one should fuss about turning off the TV for a bit.  Savor all of the wonderful homemade goodness and ask for volunteers to do the dishes for you.

Table-6890

  • After dinner, just before everyone is ready for pie, whip the cream so that it can be served fresh, adding sugar to taste.  Fresh whipped cream is so much better than the stuff out of the freezer case at the store.

As far as I’m concerned, this was the best Thanksgiving meal ever for me.  I proved to myself that I could actually do it on my own, and all of the food was so tasty and good!  Everyone just loved it, too, and that made me very happy indeed.  Having this schedule helped to keep me on track in my preparations, and it also kept my stress level down in the process, knowing that I had a workable plan to get it all done in time, while not loading too much up on any single day in the process.

I hope this helps you in your future preparations, too.  Bringing a bit of planning to this project just makes all the difference in the world.  😉

And the leftovers are truly wonderful!

Roast Turkey – Alton Brown’s recipe
D All Original Content — © fivefs.wordpress.com — All Rights Reserved

Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving cooking is underway in my home, and I am excited once again to begin this ritual that becomes a little more near and dear to my heart with each passing year.  I am so blessed to still have my mother around to enjoy the holidays with, and I don’t ever take that for granted during the holidays now.  She is 89 years young, but she is still in good health for the most part.  I am missing my daughter and her husband, though, as this will be another holiday season that we will have to share with them over Skype.  I am grateful for the technology that is available that families in earlier times never had, but I still don’t like them being gone every year during the holidays.  It just stinks.  But, that’s life, I guess.  At least they have good jobs and are happy and healthy.  In these days, that is so much to be grateful for… which I am.  I just miss them, but I will also enjoy all of my family members that still live here, too.

Anyway, I want to move on to a much happier topic… holiday cooking!

The first recipe up for this year is a new little twist on my grandmother’s traditional cranberry sauce, and I even have some step by step photos to share as well.

It’s hard to go wrong with homemade cranberry sauce, in my humble opinion.  Just follow some basic steps, and then experiment with ingredients that you and your family might like.  That is exactly what I did today, and I must admit that the outcome is so stinkin’ good!  I have already posted about being a fan of Honeycrisp apples, so this was the next step in the evolution of my love of them.  I honestly think they are the best “eating apples” sold today.

Here we go.  This is my grandmother’s traditional cranberry sauce… with some slight tweaking on the juice and spices.

 

Ingredients:

4 C. Cranberries (I used Ocean Spray)
1 C. Honeycrisp Apple Cider (Litehouse Brand or any good quality apple cider)
3/4 C. Sugar (Add more or less to your taste)
1/2 Large Honeycrisp Apple, peeled and diced into small bits
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon (I love Watkins brand)
1/8 tsp. Ground Cloves

 

Rinse the cranberries well under cold water and pick out any bad ones. (I didn’t find any today.)  Dry the cranberries and place them in a non-stick saucepan…

Cranberries
4 C. Cranberries, rinsed and dried

Add the Honeycrisp Apple Cider…

1 C. Honeycrisp Apple Cider

Then add the sugar, stir it in well and bring the mixture to a quick boil while stirring… please don’t let this beautiful mixture stick to the pan… and add more or less sugar, depending on your taste preference (tart or sweet)…

3/4 C. Sugar

 

Stir mixture well, dissolving all of the sugar

 

Bring mixture to a quick boil, then reduce heat to simmer

After mixture simmers for 10 minutes, stir in Honeycrisp apple bits…

After 10 minutes, add Honeycrisp apple bits and stir in well

After stirring in the apple bits well, add the remaining ingredients… cinnamon, ground cloves and orange zest…

Cranberry Sauce-6821


Cranberry Sauce-6822

Continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring often…

Cranberry Sauce-6825

Finally, after the last 10 minutes of cooking…

Pure cranberry bliss!  And the aroma… wonderful!

What a great way to kick off holiday cooking!

 

Cranberry Sauce-6826

Let the sauce cool just a bit, then pour it into a container with a sealed lid and cool in the refrigerator several hours or overnight.  This should keep well for several days, which makes it a great dish to prepare ahead of time for the holidays.  Cranberry sauce never lasts more than a couple of days at my house, since it is fabulous on a turkey sandwich after the holiday is over.

Cranberry Sauce-6827
This is just a little piece of Heaven.  I cheated and spooned a little bit of the mostly cooled sauce over some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream tonight, too.  Oh my goodness… 🙂  It would also be nice over a plain cheesecake.

Yum!

Enjoy!

And, think twice about buying that stuff in the can ever again… 😉

D

Christmas Card for 2010

I just received our Christmas cards for this year, and I just love them! Thanks to Shutterfly, here is the cover of our card.  I’m quite pleased with both the quality of the card stock and the photo printing, and I would recommend them to anyone that is looking for a printer for their own cards this year.  I have also made a custom calendar there for 2011, too.

Gorgeous Gift Tag Christmas 5×7 folded card
Shop Shutterfly for elegant custom Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

DPS Photo Challenge, “Zoom”

There is a photo challenge up this week from the Digital Photography School site, and this week’s challenge is called “Zoom.” I have been enjoying all of the helpful tips from that site lately, and I have decided to start jumping into the challenges a bit, too.  The details about the challenge and links to the submissions can be found at that link.

The first photo that came to mind after reading the topic was this one.  I took it last year on a trip to Washington DC with my daughter during Cherry Blossom  Festival.  I honestly got the better end of the deal, since she was in a seminar much of the time while I was out and about with my camera having such a grand ol’ time.  Maybe that’s a bit of payback for being in labor with her for 48 hours… 😉 You know, moms remember that kind of stuff.

Ok, enough of that… on to the photo.

Wash DC Apr 2-7741

The DC Metro is such a photographic place.  Even though I didn’t have my tripod along for this shot, I really like how it came out.  I love the contrast of the train in motion as compared to the rest of the picture, and I like the amount of motion that was captured, too. ..  at 800 ISO and 1/10 sec.  I also like how it captured the glow of the orange lights on the side of the train.  This is such a fun shot, as well as a great trip souvenir, since we rode the Metro everywhere we went.

But when I think of “zoom,” I also think of “zooming in” with my 70-300mm zoom lens, too.  I discovered early on after I purchased that lens that it is a great photographic tool, not to simply zoom in on the subject from a distance, but to get some great bokeh in the background of the main subject(s) as well.  I jut love taking this lens along when I have the opportunity to photograph all of the little kids in our extended family, mostly during the holidays.  Some of my family members have wondered about me backing off so far and using the zoom lens, instead of using my 18-55mm zoom lens and getting much closer when taking pictures, but after a couple of years and seeing the results, I don’t get questioned about it anymore.  Besides, there are plenty of other family members around with point and shoots to cover the wider group shots that I don’t typically get with the zoom lens.

Easter Egg Hunt-2087

I don’t share my pictures of the little kids much online, but this one is a great example of the point I just made.  This was taken last Easter at the full 300mm focal length, and I just adore the end result.  It was a bright and sunny Easter afternoon at a nearby playground on one of the first warm days we had after a particularly cold winter last year.  I took over 100 photos of all the little kids, and their parents (my nephews and their wives), were pretty thrilled with the results.  Being so far away while shooting kept the kids from “posing” for the pictures too much, although I did shout out to them a few times to “hold still” to make sure I captured a great smile from them.  😉  You know, little kids at the playground are more interested in having fun than posing, and that is what is so great about using a zoom lens for times like this.  Nothing is fake, including the smiles, and the “zoom” helps to focus in on them and not so much on what all is around them.

Thanks to DPS for the fun topic.  Can’t wait to see all the submissions by others!

D

I Love Autumn & Photoshop Elements 9!

I just adore Autumn!  After enduring the heat of summer, it is literally a breath of fresh, cool air again!  It seems the older I get, the less I like the hot, hot days of summer.  I much prefer the more moderate seasons of Autumn and Spring now.  It is tolerable to take the dog for a walk again, and I don’t risk burning to death when I get in my car after a shopping excursion to the mall or the grocery store.  Pumpkins are everywhere, and the holidays are just on the horizon.  Colors are beginning to burst forth in the trees, and people seem to generally be in a much better humor.  Football makes a comeback, which can be a good or not-so-good thing, depending on whether or not my team is winning.   I guess it is a not-so-good thing for me this year because my teams are losing… big time.  Don’t get me started… ;-).  But, I still love Autumn… really, really love it.

Recently, I also upgraded to Adobe Photoshop Elements 9… on my new laptop, of course.  (See earlier post.)  I missed several previous upgrades to Elements, so this is a real treat for me.  After getting things up and running with PSE9, I am now on the hunt for some updated action sets, brushes and textures on the web.  Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) has some nice action sets that I have already downloaded, and I am also checking out some sets from The Coffee Shop Blog.

If you know of some nice downloads for Elements on the web, preferably free at this point because I am now saving my pennies for a cruise in December, please let me know.  No, I am not letting the fire on the Carnival Splendor scare me off of the cruise.  I seriously need a vacation right now.  Despite how much I love Autumn, I’m ready to get out-of-town and take a little break from the real world.

I still use my first generation Lightroom software, too.  I really love that program, too… almost as much as I love Autumn.  But I must admit that I think I am a bit partial to Elements right now.  It’s nice to have both, though.

D

Water Lilies

I have been absent online for a bit, but it’s been fun… learning more about using PSE9 that was just recently released.  It is a great tool, although I still use Lightroom for my basic photo editing.  I have found many great free action sets online that run in PSE9, and I like them better than most of the actions I have in Lightroom so far.

I have a favorite photo from a 2009 trip to Grand Cayman that I recently pulled from my trip archives to re-edit, and it is now much closer to what I envisioned when I took it.  By adding an adjustment layer and removing much of the yellow that was in the background and taking away from the beautiful floral bloom, the flower itself now stands out more.  Using a black brush to remove the opacity of that adjustment over the yellow in the center of the flower kept the bloom vivid while muting the background just a bit.  I love the end result, and I think it’s finally time to send it for printing and framing.

Taken at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Gardens in Grand Cayman

Isn’t the water-lily just one of the most beautiful, delicate flowers ever?