Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving dinner helps and hints

Nearly every year I try to post a few recipes and helps for Thanksgiving dinner.  This is pretty much a repost of last year's post on the topic (with a few additions), but I'm sure some of my newer readers have missed the ones I've done previously.  So, if you need a little help with the Thanksgiving feast, you are invited to borrow whatever you may need from these tried-and-true ideas and recipes.

Thanksgiving is just one week away -- so if you still have some planning to do, grab a pen and paper and make some lists.  Then get to the grocery store and avoid the rush!

I posted the following in 2012, and it includes a lot of the same links I'm sharing today, but it might be helpful to someone:  A Gathering of Thanksgiving Tips and Recipes.

I'll start with some ideas for pies, which one might be baking a day or two ahead of time.  Pies are the most intimidating part of the meal for many people, so I offer you these Helpful Tips for Thanksgiving Pies.  If pie crust intimidates you (as it does many others), then don't stress about it.  I give you a recipe for an easy oil pastry, but if you don't want to go that route, then the sheets of refrigerated pie crust one can buy (I've even seen them in store brands!) work very well.  You can even buy frozen pie shells that aren't half bad.  Or if you just don't want to make pies, you can buy some very nice pies from bakeries that specialize in them.

Some of our Favorite Thanksgiving Pie Recipes are included in this post.  Maybe you will find a new family favorite!

But what if you are avoiding wheat, or a family member who'll be at your table is eating gluten free?  No worries.  This Gluten Free Pie Crust is easy to make and very good.  It's a simple press-in-pan crust and so it really won't work for a double crust pie.  But anyone who has lived without wheat for any length of time will be so happy to have a pie they can eat that they won't care if it's just a single crust pie.  It works perfectly for pumpkin pie, for example.

Probably the next most intimidating part of the meal is the turkey itself.  
Photo from Pixabay
If you have, or are buying a frozen turkey, the rule of thumb for thawing it is to allow 24 hours in the fridge for each 5 pounds of the turkey's weight.  I find this not quite enough, so allowing an extra day would be my advice.  Invariably if I follow that rule of thumb, the giblets are still frozen in place.  Last year I bought my frozen turkey (21 pounds) on the Thursday before Thanksgiving and put it right into the fridge to start thawing.  So if you have a large turkey and it's frozen, get it out right now and put it in your fridge.

Cooking it in an oven bag is my best advice on roasting a turkey.  It shortens the time considerably and produces tender, juicy meat.

From my Autumn in the Air booklet (Cracker Barrel, 2001)
Then there is gravy, which can also be intimidating and which I stressed about for many years.  People love it and expect it, but making it at the last minute can be very stressful.  Usually there are other people in the kitchen, helping out with other things, and that complicates matters (even though they are truly trying to help when they watch over your shoulder and give advice).  So for a few years I then turned to canned or jarred gravy, transferring it to a saucepan and removing the evidence of the cans and jars well ahead of the guests' arrival.  That was great, but I found the gravy packets made even better gravy.

And then finally, I found this recipe:  Easy Turkey Gravy.  It truly is easy and it makes lots and lots of gravy.  If you are feeding people who think there is never enough gravy, try this.  For once they will be satisfied and there may even be some gravy left to serve with the leftovers or to make hot turkey sandwiches.

 So there are a number of good options for gravy: jars, packets, or the above great recipe.

Stuffing (or dressing) can also be a source of discouragement.  I usually use a bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepare it with celery and onion as the package instructions suggest, and also add dried cranberries.  In my tips and recipes post ( the first link at top) I detail how I cook it in a slow cooker.  Just don't leave it in there for too long, as it will burn and dry out.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes is my go-to recipe for making mashed potatoes for a lot of people.  One year I was seriously thinking of using the Idahoan instant mashed potatoes, which are actually very good and are only $1 per packet, but my hubby urged me not to because he loves the make-ahead mashed potatoes so much!

Sweet Potato Casserole is our family's festive sweet potato recipe.  I've made it with canned sweet potatoes and it comes out just fine.  I don't make it every year because personally, my husband and I prefer buttercup squash.  But if we are having a lot of people, I'll usually do the sweet potatoes as well.  (For sweet potatoes as a general rule, we prefer them roasted.)

Broccoli Casserole is another great side dish that always goes over well.  This is a recipe from my sister-in-law Dawn.

I tend to skip serving rolls when there is so much other good food on the table, but if your family won't let you, then try these: Homemade Dinner Rolls.  They're a homemade crescent roll and are really delicious.

If your family insists on creamed onions (as mine does), here's the recipe I use:  Scalloped Onions.  It uses the frozen small onions.  Life is far too short to peel those little pearl onions.  I always buy the frozen (unsauced) ones and make my own sauce.

Cranberry sauce or relish can be purchased and is just fine.  If you want to make your own, try the Taste of Home site for some good recipes, or you may be able to find one here.  Cran-Apple Sauce is one delicious option.  Some of the bags of fresh cranberries also feature a cranberry sauce recipe, and I have made those, often substituting brown sugar for white, which gives a nicer flavor in my opinion.

For a memory of my childhood Thanksgivings at my grandmother's farmhouse,  you might like to read A Thanksgiving Memory for a little nostalgia.

By the way, that's my grandmother in the photo above, and the recipe is for my great-grandmother's Date Cake, which was somewhat of a tradition at our holiday dinners.  It was served thickly frosted with white frosting and with walnut or pecan halves pressed into the frosting.  It was never a favorite of mine and I haven't made it since, but I think I may make one this year for either Thanksgiving or Christmas -- just for old time's sake!

And if you enjoy vintage things, you might like to take a peek at this Children's Book of Thanksgiving Prayers.  This was actually sold as a greeting card, I believe. 

 Setting the Thanksgiving table is always an enjoyable task, and I like to get it taken care of well ahead of time.  I've made a few Thanksgiving table toppers, hot mats, and so on over the years.  These Thanksgiving Candle Mats always make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table!
Some years I bring out the cornucopia!
 For more Thanksgiving posts, click on the "Thanksgiving" label in the word cloud of labels in the right sidebar.  You may find some surprises I've forgotten about!

I hope this oft-repeated advice is helpful to someone this holiday.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your recipes and helpful tips! This year, it's just my husband and me so we opted to go out for dinner. But I will save your recipes for other meals. God bless you!

    1. You are welcome, Carol!! I hope that the recipes are helpful to you at some point. And, I must say that this year my husband and I are thinking we will also go out for Thanksgiving dinner! It sounds like a great idea to me.

  2. The only thing I am responsible for this year is a pecan pie. 🤗 Yay! Perhaps I will be the one hanging over someone’s shoulder offering advice. (I’ll try not to, though.)

    1. Yay, indeed! Pecan pie is a nice easy one, too. We are thinking seriously of going out for Thanksgiving dinner, but I'll likely make a pie or two anyway.

  3. Enjoyed reading all of your Thanksgiving tips and clicked on some of your recipes as well. I like your Thanksgiving gravy recipe it sounds really good as well as Dawn's broccoli casserole. Hard to believe that we are already celebrating Thanksgiving!

    1. It is hard to believe, isn't it, Marilyn? This year has simply flown by! Hope you will enjoy the recipes if you try them. That gravy recipe is a keeper for sure!


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