Need Thanksgiving Help? No Problem!

November 20, 2011  •  Menus

If you’ve actually clicked through to read this post, I’m guessing you just might be one of those Thanksgiving procrastinators who find themselves with no firm plan yet for the big food day which happens to be upon us in just 3 days. Not to worry! This blog post will take you through a step by step plan for Thanksgiving, starting on Monday (tomorrow) – even if you’ve done nothing yet.


Here’s your menu for the big day:

Roasted Turkey with Gravy
Sage Stuffing
Sweet Potato Casserole
Pancetta Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Cranberry Relish
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce

But don’t be overwhelmed, as today you just need to shop and brine your turkey. Link through to each of the recipes (see links below in the post) I’m including for your menu, print out the recipes, check your pantry, and make a list. Going to the store organized like this will make your time more efficient and your trip less costly.

If you already have your turkey I hope you’ve begun thawing it out. You can finish thawing it more quickly in a sink of cool (not hot) water. If you haven’t bought one yet, buy a fresh turkey so you can skip the big thaw. Brining a turkey adds tremendous flavor and keeps it moist, but if you want to skip this step, move on to Tuesday. Briners, you’ll need a brining bag – they are sold at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and also at many grocery stores this time of year. Don’t confuse it with an oven roasting bag which isn’t strong enough.

Once you’re back home with everything in hand, make the brine for the turkey, set, the brining bag in a large roasting pan large enough to hold the bird, put the bird and the brine in the brining bag, pushing out as much air as possible so the bird is fully submerged, and refrigerate the whole thing. Alternatively, if you don’t have enough refrigerator space, put the bag in a cooler and use ice packs to keep it cool. Check it a couple of times a day to make sure you don’t need to add more ice.

Today you’ll be getting your side dishes ready – some will be precooked and you can just reheat them on Thursday, some will be ready to cook on Thursday. Here we go:

Mashed Potatoes – no Thanksgiving is complete without the basic mashed potato, classic for soaking up all that lovely turkey gravy. Make your mashed potatoes completely today and put them in a casserole dish. They can either be reheated in the oven (dot the top with some butter) or zapped in the microwave.

Dressing/Stuffing – gotta have it, right? I like to cook mine outside the bird – it’s safer and the bird cooks better that way. At the end, drizzle it with turkey drippings and it will taste just like it cooked inside the turkey. Assemble your dressing today, cover it with foil, and refrigerate it. You’ll cook it about an hour before dinner service on Thanksgiving so that it’s hot and fresh. Note that this recipe uses chestnuts, which you can omit entirely or replace with sauteed mushrooms if you like.

Pancetta Roasted Brussels Sprouts – you can tell me you don’t like brussels sprouts, but I’m here to tell you this was a HUGE hit at my last Thanksgiving dinner, even for those who think they don’t like them. You can swap this out for any green vegetable you like, but if I were you, I’d give it a try. Cook the pancetta, clean and slice the brussels sprouts, and lay it all out on a baking sheet, ready to pop in the oven. Cover and refrigerate it until Thanksgiving and finish it then.

Sweet Potato Casserole – make this one if you like the sweeter kind of casserole, or layer sliced sweet potatoes and heavy cream to make a gratin if you don’t like the sweet version. Either way, prep it all today, but don’t bake it until Thursday. Cover and refrigerate.

Roasted Cranberry Relish – easy, delicious, different. Give this one a try instead of the canned stuff. Make it fully today and refrigerate for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce – sinfully good, and a nice change from the classic pumpkin pie. Make the cheesecake today and refrigerate until Thanksgiving.

By the end of Tuesday you should be really tired from cooking. That’s the point – do it on Tuesday and you have Wednesday to recover so that you’re rested on Thanksgiving, not running around like a turkey with it’s head cut off. 🙂


Set the table today for your holiday dinner. You don’t have any cooking to do today, so you can relax, do it leisurely, make sure it looks pretty. When you’ve finished setting the table, make a visit to the wine store and pick your wines for dinner. I suggest pinot noir and an off dry Riesling with turkey. Ask the wine specialist to pick out the producer for you if you need help. On the way home, swing by the flower store and pick up some flowers for the table. Tonight, kick your feet up and relax!


And it’s show time! Pull your turkey out of the brine and rinse it complete. Place it on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub the outside of the skin with olive oil and season with pepper. No need to add more salt if you brined it, but if you skipped that step season it well with salt too. Roast at 375 degrees about 15 minutes per pound, but check it early to make sure you don’t over cook it. The juices should run clear and the thigh temperature should be 175 degrees. I like to get mine nice and browned and then cover with foil so it doesn’t burn. And it seems to me that brined turkey cooks faster, so plan accordingly.

While the turkey is roasting, make gravy. Here’s a great Food Network link for gravy tips.

When you pull the turkey out to rest, wrap it well in foil to stay warm, and cook your brussels sprouts, dressing, and sweet potatoes. (If you have more than one oven you can start these while the bird is getting close to cooked.) Heat up your mashed potatoes. And you’re set. Carve the turkey and bring it all to the table and give thanks! Now that doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

If you live in the Denver area and really want to make it easy on yourself, I still have a couple of slots open for the Thanksgiving cooking class on Tuesday. We’ll make everything as a group and you take it all home. You’ll get your work done and have lots of fun! Call me if you’d like to join us.


One Comment  •  Comments Feed

  1. Lisa Breashears says:

    Michele – These recipes look amazing, namely the Pancetta Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Stuffing. Can’t wait to try them out.

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