Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankful

I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving and a holiday season to come that is full of fabulous food, terrific times, loads of laughs, fun fellowship and lots of love all round.

D
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Am I Prepared for Thanksgiving?

Before I move on with today’s topic, I wanted to express my thanks to those that are coming to my site to read my various Thanksgiving related posts.  As I looked through the search terms yesterday, there is no doubt what is on the minds of so many right now, and that is Thanksgiving food preparations.

Search terms

I hope that my ideas have been helpful to those of you that have read them.  It seems that I will be taking my own advice this year, too, as we have decided to dine at home again instead of dining out, and I’m quite happy about that, too.

I started my own food preparations yesterday and baked a big pan of cornbread for the dressing last night so that it would have time to thoroughly dry out by Thursday morning.  As it baked, I decided to quickly check my Facebook page to see how my friends were faring with their own holiday preparations.

The first post that showed up, however, was anything but fun holiday happenings.  It was an update post from a friend’s page concerning her little grandson that is extremely ill and has recently been transferred to a large hospital in another city for more specialized treatment.  I think it is safe to say that while so many of us are supporting this precious little one with our prayers, he may not make it.  We’re going to keep bombarding God with our prayers anyway.  He is in very capable medical hands now as well.

What has struck me and literally brings tears to my eyes every time I read a new update from the family is how faithful they are and how willingly they are opening up and sharing their heart with hundreds of us each day.  Thanksgiving meal preparations are not on their agenda right now, but Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

Let me just say that one more time… mostly for my own benefit… because it hit me like a ton of bricks last night.

Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

God never ceases to amaze me how he speaks at times.  My friends are already prepared for Thanksgiving.  They are living it on a daily basis in the midst of a struggle that few of us can even imagine.  I am so humbled by their faith, and now I must ask myself if I am also prepared for Thanksgiving, not only this week but every single day in the future.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

“…give thanks *in* *all* *circumstances*…

D
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Easy Thanksgiving Lunch

For my last post on Thanksgiving food this year, I thought I would share how I prepared a quick Thanksgiving lunch for four last week when my dear aunt came for a quick visit.  She does not come to see us very often, as she is getting on in years, so I decided to make an early Thanksgiving lunch in honor of her special visit.

I didn’t know that she was coming until 5 pm the day before, so there was not much time for advance food preparation.  I really wanted to serve some homemade goodness, so after a little thought, here is what I came up with.

Table Mums_edited-1
Some pretty mums were on closeout in the floral department

Boar’s Head Maple Glazed Honey Coat Cured Turkey Breast
I simply went to the deli counter at the grocery store and got four slices of this delicious turkey in dinner slices.  Just before we were ready to eat and after removing the dressing from the oven, I warmed the slices in the 350 degree oven on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for about five minutes.  After the turkey slices were warm, I then put the rolls in to warm.  (see below)

Mashed Potatoes with “Extras”
I bought a tub of plain prepared mashed potatoes in the refrigerated section, then added some extras on the stove over low heat, adding a little milk, butter and cream cheese to make them creamier and tastier.  I was astounded at how good they were, too.  This was my quick version of my favorite mashed potatoes recipe by The Pioneer Woman, which can be found here, although I made a much smaller batch.  I was careful to only add the additional ingredients a little bit at a time, and I didn’t need to really add any additional seasonings to my batch, since they were already seasoned.

Homemade Cornbread Dressing
The only thing that I cooked the night before was a double recipe of cornbread.  (I also washed a head of romaine lettuce – see salad below.)  I used two packages of Jiffy Cornbread Mix and just followed the instructions on the box.  After it cooked, I crumbled it up finely and put it back in the oven at 225 degrees to allow the crumbs to try out for about 45 minutes and left the pan of crumbs on the kitchen counter overnight, covered by a clean towel.  An hour before lunch the next morning, I chopped a small sweet onion and four celery stalks in the food processor, then sautéed them in a small skillet with some butter until they were soft.  Next, I combined the cornbread and veggies in a large mixing bowl, added some chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time until the mixture was a smooth consistency but not runny.  Finally, I added roughly a teaspoon each of thyme, sage, garlic powder, salt and 1/4 tsp of black pepper.  I poured it into a glass baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray and baked it at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until it was slightly brown on top and completely done in the middle.  Easy peasy!  I have a friend that just seasons hers with poultry seasoning, if you don’t already have the other spices on hand.

Easy Garlic Green Beans
Instead of opting for a typical green bean casserole, I opted to just prepare some good green beans instead.  I used this ten-minute recipe that uses frozen green beans, and they were delicious!  For a little splash of color, I also added a few diced pimentos from a jar to them just before serving.

Romaine Tossed Salad
My “go to” tossed salad anytime is simply a head of romaine lettuce that is thoroughly washed and dried leaf by leaf and torn by hand, diced Roma tomatoes and carrot that has been peeled with a vegetable peeler.  I serve it with either bottled ranch dressing or olive oil/balsamic vinegar right on the table, along with some freshly ground black pepper for anyone that might like it.  For my salad, I also toss in a few pine nuts, too.  In fact, I’m happy to toss a few pine nuts in just about anything now.

Sister Shubert Dinner Yeast Rolls
If you have not already discovered these excellent yeast rolls, hang on to your hat.  They are already cooked and found in the freezer section.  They only need about ten minutes to warm in a 350 degree oven and even less time if you let them sit out to thaw just a bit before warming.  I keep one or two packages in the freezer at all times and just pull out what I need for dinner.  They are one of my favorite dinner rolls ever, even though they are frozen, and we always take some in the freezer of the RV when we go camping, too.

Dessert – Blue Bell Pralines and Cream Ice Cream
Since I really didn’t have time to bake a pie, I just bought a pint of this delicious ice cream and served it in single scoops in my small glass dessert cups.  A single scoop of ice cream was just the ticket for our group after this lunch and required no prep time.

In actual prep time on my part, not counting the oven cooking times where I was free to do other things, I spent less than 30 minutes the night before and about 30 minutes the next day before lunch.  My lunch guests were so pleased to have an early Thanksgiving lunch, and it was very easy to pull together.

I’ve had quite a number of hits on my site over the past few days from people looking for Thanksgiving meals ideas and prep information, so I hope this gives another option to those folks that want to prepare a good, quick meal for a small group and not spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

I’m off to finish some final preparations for our camping trip tomorrow.  I’m a little “iffy” about this trip, as the forecast is not looking too promising, but we are prepared for the cold.  I just hope the roads stay clear of ice and snow, as the first big arctic front is going to pass through while we are gone.

D
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Thanksgiving Meal Prep Schedule

Our Thanksgiving Table
“Giving Thanks” – Our Thanksgiving Table

Three years ago, I wrote a post about my own Thanksgiving meal preparation schedule, and it detailed how I prepared the big meal on my own with all homemade foods for six people over the course of the days just prior to Thanksgiving.  On that particular Thanksgiving, I wanted to serve all homemade items for the first time, instead of opting for a just a few homemade items and others that were frozen from the grocery store or purchased elsewhere.  I wanted to see if a little more organization could help simplify the task and lessen my stress level, and it absolutely worked.

The only shortcut that I used in the prep work was to buy Rhodes Frozen White Rolls, as they are honestly as good as the homemade rolls that my mother always made.  The rolls still needed to rise on their own, so I figured that had to count for something in the whole “homemade” concept.  I factored that prep time in the schedule as well.

For the record, I used (and still use) Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey Recipe, as it is the best way I’ve ever found to prepare a flavorful and moist turkey.  No dry turkey at our house – ever!  Brining the turkey according to the directions in the recipe is an essential step.

To make the food prep process a little more fun each year during the holidays, I turn on the DVD player in the kitchen while I cook and watch some favorite movies from years past.  Spending two hours in the kitchen cooking and watching Steel Magnolias once again is always a good thing, unless you pay a little too much attention to the movie and not enough to the recipe at hand.  I did that a time or two, but at the very least, it always makes me feel good to see that my cooking creation surely is better than the bleedin’ armadillo cake served at Shelby’s wedding.

This prep schedule for Thanksgiving worked well for me, and I want to share a link to that detailed post again here today.  Perhaps it can serve as a guide for someone else that wants or needs to prepare the big feast on their own for the first time.  With just a little bit of advance planning and proper scheduling, preparing the whole feast is really not a difficult task at all.  It just takes a little time each day over the course of a few days, but perhaps not as much time as you might think, depending on how you approach it for your own family.  Of course, if you have someone else in your family that can help cook, that is even better!  Just know that it is possible to do the whole thing on your own, perhaps a little easier than you might think.  😉

Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever
(click here for detailed post)

I’m almost sad that I won’t be preparing our own feast this year, due to some of our travel plans right before Thanksgiving.  The turkey that we cook (according to Alton Brown’s recipe above) is so good and so much better than what we will eat at the hotel buffet.  However, I will soon be back to baking and decorating cookies for Christmas gifts again, hopefully beginning the first week of December.  That was so much fun, and I can’t wait to do it again this year!

D
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Thanksgiving Thoughts

I am in uncharted territory right now.  I am *not* cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Actually, this is not totally uncharted territory, I guess, as we opted to go out to eat one other time about five years ago when a lot of other things were happening in our family.  But, it just feels quite different this time, since we are doing this more by our choice and not by necessity.  Plus, I think I should admit that I’m feeling a little unappreciated right now as well.  It has just been a tough year as far as some local family relationships are concerned in a couple of respects.  I actually miss the cooking that I normally would be doing this week, but at least for this year, I am also enjoying some other preparations right now, as we have decided to head out-of-town to go camping on Thanksgiving afternoon for a few days once again.  We did this last year after I cooked our big feast for lunch, and it was a real treat for us.

I have also been focusing on my own “attitude of gratitude” even more this year, as I have mentioned here in earlier posts.  As I contemplate on how to really be thankful, the thought of sitting around with a few other family members and watching football and perusing Black Friday ads for hours on Thanksgiving afternoon just isn’t sitting well with me.  For me, Thanksgiving has almost eroded into a pre-Christmas shopping feast that has little resemblance to our celebrations decades ago where we got together for a big extended family celebration and spent time playing games together and really enjoyed each other’s company.  I’ve made a couple of attempts to turn the TV off, but it just has not worked.  Frankly, I’m just pretty tired of it all, to be honest.  I’m wondering if this also resonates with anyone else these days.

Last year, getting away to a remote state park really did the trick for me as far as enjoying Thanksgiving and having time to relax and really count my many blessings.  Just getting out in nature helps, for sure, but completely getting out of that old routine of football games and Black Friday ads really helped most of all.  It’s like we made a conscious choice to give that up to honor God and take some time to really be thankful, and it did so much for my soul.  It also helped me to get in a better frame of mind to keep the Christmas holiday in a proper perspective as well.  I don’t think we would have to get away to do this either if we could just turn the TV off and do some things together instead, but that just has not happened and likely will not happen, unfortunately.

I am so very blessed, and it seems appropriate to take some quality time to acknowledge these blessings at Thanksgiving.  I will also begin anew my daily gratitude list for the next year, since for me, Thanksgiving is also a wrap-up time to summarize my year of personal Thanksgiving that I’ve done in a smaller way each day, and for me, that is really something to celebrate.

Here are my Three Little Thankfuls for today.

— Freshness in the air after a wonderful and unexpected rain shower

— A perfect cup of hazelnut coffee this morning

— Black-eyed peas that I put up fresh in the summer that are now cooking on my stove

Feel free to chime in with your own Three Little Thankfuls, if you would like, too.

I am certainly looking forward to enjoying a good meal (cooked by someone else) with some family members at lunch on Thanksgiving, and we will certainly be thinking of and praying for those that are not as fortunate this year, especially those impacted by Hurricane Sandy in the northeast.  I will also continue in prayer for the restoration of family relationships that have suffered this past year, both for us and some other family members.

I wish for your, dear readers, a most blessed and happy Thanksgiving, and I invite you to begin a full-year of sincerely counting your own blessings each day, too.  If you would like a good book to help you get started, I highly recommend One Thousand Gifts from Ann Voskamp.

Evening update:  Once again, God has spoken to my heart, as I read the following passage tonight.

“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.”
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Ar

Tuesday morning update:  This article just came out this morning in the NY Post, by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, an excellent read.

D
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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
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