Our Thanksgiving in a Nutshell

This year we hosted Thanksgiving at our house for 12 adults, 2 little ones and 3 dogs. This is the fourth time we’ve hosted and this time I think we finally got the menu down pat. So much so that we opted against a competitive food ranking that Robert created (complete with a spreadsheet and voting system), and agreed that every item had its place at the table.

With two small children, I need all the help I can get with hosting the big meal at my house. Here’s how we were able to pull it off without a hitch:

The Table: Each year I try to add to my dining collection. I have neutral set of place mats, table cloths, cloth napkins, and a table runner made from burlap that I got from Joanne’s. We use my grandma’s old China and Silver and I typically throw some gourds and candles in the center for a centerpiece. This year I added gold chargers to my collection. Next year I’m thinking napkin rings or cute little place cards need to be added!

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The Menu: I definitely don’t try to do all this myself. My gracious family consists of great cooks who pitch in to help. Here’s the menu we used, which I think covers all the bases:

Turkey
Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy
Sweet Potatoes WITH Marshmallows
Cornbread Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Jell-O Fruit Mix
Rolls
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie

Our vegan family members created a stuffed butternut squash dish and pumpkin pudding, which were both unexpected but greatly appreciated additions!

The cooking was extremely stress-free, mainly because there were only a few items being cooked in my kitchen. We would definitely need a double oven to pull all this off in a single kitchen.

The Turkey: We have made our turkey several different ways, including deep frying it, but no one has ever been very impressed with it. This year I didn’t want to put a whole lot of effort into the turkey since no matter what I do, it’s never that great, but to my surprise, it was actually really good this year! Part of the reason I wanted to make a Thanksgiving post was to write down what I did so I’d remember it for next year! Here’s what we did:

I bought a roasting pan with a wire rack at Bed Bath and Beyond a week before the big day. I saw they had them for only $14.99 and we’ve previously used foil ones so I bought it on a whim. They had brine mixes and brining bags displayed right next to them and I figured I’d give that a shot. In the past, we brined a turkey but it was such a mess! We were lugging the turkey in and out of a cooler because there was no room in the fridge. Raw turkey juice was dripping everywhere. And then it didn’t even seem to make the turkey taste any better.

The brining mix I purchased consisted of salt and herbs. You boil it, let it cool and then put it on the turkey in the brining bag, along with additional water. If you go this route, boil the brine mix and let it cool a day before you want to use it because it really takes a while to fully cool. It’s recommended to have the turkey in the brine for 12-24 hours, so preparing the brine needs to be done the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

The brining bag was a lifesaver. Without it, we’d be cleaning out an entire cooler, filling the cooler with water and putting the bird in it, only to clean it out again when we were finished. With the bag, we filled it up, put it in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, and tossed it when we were done.

Once it was time to put the turkey in the oven, we rinsed the brine off, patted it dry with paper towels and let it sit out for 30 minutes. While it was sitting out I prepared a rub for it. Here’s my recipe, which I adapted from Neighborfood.

Simple Garlic and Herb Roasted Turkey

Ingredients

  • 16 lb. turkey (we used Butterball)
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons assorted herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and sage)
  • 2 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped in long strips
  • One head of garlic, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, stir together softened butter, olive oil and herbs.
  3. Rub butter mixture all over the turkey, including over the wings and breast, underneath, in the cavity, and under the skin.
  4. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly all over the bird and inside the cavity.
  5. Stuff the onions, celery and garlic, then place the bird in the oven.
  6. Bake the turkey at 450 for 30 minutes then turn the heat down to 350, tent with foil, and continue to cook for 1½-2 hours. Take the bird out after 1½ hours and insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. (It’s easiest to place your thermometer straight down right where the thigh and breast connect). You want the thigh to register 165 degrees before removing it. If it’s at 150, you know you’re getting close–check every 10-15 minutes from there. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of baking, unless it’s getting too browned. (Thanks again Neighborfood for these great tips!)
  7. Once the thigh registers 165 degrees, remove the turkey from the oven, and allow to stand for 30 minutes before carving.

We checked the turkey an hour and a half after tenting it and it was done! We let it rest for a while because it was done much sooner than I expected. This turkey was so juicy, the people who don’t even like turkey liked it! I think our success was a combination of the turkey itself (Butterball), the brining, the oily rub and the fact that we didn’t overcook it.

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The Stuffing: Stuffing is my favorite side dish on Thanksgiving, so I tried something new this year. It turned out well so I wanted to share this recipe as well, which I adapted from Wicked Good Kitchen.

Crock Pot Five-Star Apple Sausage and Cranberry Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2.5 boxes Stove Top Herb Stuffing
  • 1 Tube Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1½ cups grated carrot (2 to 3 large carrots)
  • 1¼ cups chopped celery
  • 1 large Golden Delicious apple, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 1¼ cups dried cranberries
  • Half Carton Chicken broth
  • Half stick unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the carrots and celery; cook for 2 minutes while stirring.
  2. Pour sausage mixture, apples and cranberries into crock pot. Mix well and then mix in chicken broth. (I don’t know exactly how much chicken broth I actually used, but I kept pouring until the bread was saturated. I think it was about half a carton). Cook on high for 30 minutes*
  3. Drizzle butter over top and turn crock pot to low for another 3o minutes*

*Cook times are all approximates! I kind of winged it and don’t really know how long this cooked.

And most importantly, The Family:

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