This year things were different for our Thanksgiving because of all the changes that have occurred in recent weeks. I was still determined to make the holiday great. I wanted the boys to have a positive memory from this holiday time AND it will be the last Thanksgiving where they will all be living under one roof.
We had the opportunity to visit with family for the holiday, but we opted to stay closer to home. With that in mind, I was determined that they would have the same cornucopia of options they would find at any large family gathering.
Thanksgiving Plan 2017
- Green bean casserole
Cooking this much is not as much of a challenge as it would have been before I started doing once a month cooking. I just go into it with a plan based on the length of time each item needs to cook (and I start developing a plan for what to do with the leftovers – or, as I prefer to call them, PLANNED overs).
My biggest mistake was waiting too long to get started on the prep work. Had I been more prepared, then I would have only had to make one trip to the grocery store. Well, technically I did only make one trip. I sent my husband and my oldest for round two and three.
What I would normally have done was look at all of my dishes, pull out all non-perishable ingredients, and add any missing items to my grocery list.
I didn’t do that this time. I know better, but I chose not better. That is a perfect metaphor for how I often end up in trouble in my life journey as well.
I saw all the social media posts that others were sharing about the food they were making and I felt guilty. Not guilty enough to get up and get started myself, but guilty enough to keep adding items to my list.
On Thursday morning, I woke up a little late, but still early enough to hit the ground running just before 6 am (which was my designated start time). I prepped the turkey and got it started, then began working down my check list.
Prep, cook, and clean time was less than six hours.
Complete Thanksgiving Lunch for 2017
- Green bean casserole
Dijon Brussel sprouts
Tossed Green salad
Refrigerated yeast rolls
Homemade Cranberry Dressing
What Changed and Why
I have never been great at following recipes, so I often just do what I need to do to get done. Since I knew I was cooking for the long term and not just for one meal, I made some adjustments.
- Out with the mushrooms. I LOVE stuffed mushrooms, but I am about the only one in my immediate family that does love them. I had time and space to do the mushrooms, but just made the call to let them go this year. NOTE: Next time, go ahead and make a full batch of mushrooms then cook up a few but freeze the rest for future meals.
- From Spinach Balls to Spinach Pie. As I contemplated my game plan for the next day, I determined that the spinach balls – which are designed to be a finger food/appetizer – could easily be turned into a pie instead. I already knew the pie crusts I had for the baked pies were not going to be used. It worked out great and my spinach lover declared it to be the best spinach he ever had. NOTE: Next time, use the filling to make TWO pies instead of one – that way the filling will get firmer and crisp up on the top without worrying about overcooking the crust.
- The chocolate pie and peanut butter pie became no bake versions. My family LOVES the no-bake version, so why mess with a good thing.
- Apple crisp was added to the mix. We had a large number of apples and my middle son wanted to do something with them. A crisp was chosen over a pie because originally it was going to be cooked in a crockpot.
The meal was a complete success. The boys filled up on the sides and dessert was something we were able to enjoy at a later time during the day.
Making the Holidays Simple
- Crockpots. I cooked three of my side dishes in the crockpot which left plenty of room for the other items that had to go into the oven. The green bean casserole, Brussel sprouts, and potatoes cooked wonderfully. Just be sure that you plan in the time the crockpots will need to cook (usually around 4 to 5 hours on low for many items).
- Do make a schedule. Look over the recipes and determine what needs to go into the oven and when. Be sure to take into account any “sitting times.” Things like cranberry sauce and cheesecake need time to settle or set up. The meats should be allowed to rest before they are carved. Also think about PREcook times – like how long the dough needs to rise before you can make the rolls. Write down the schedule so you can keep up with what you are doing and what you need to be doing next.
- Clean as you go. Do as much of the washing, drying, and putting away as you possibly can. You might even want to add that time into your schedule. You will be able to enjoy the holiday more if you know there isn’t a sink full of dishes taunting you from the other room.
- Make it a team sport. I started letting my sons cook the sides when they were big enough to see the stovetop and reach it safely. They would choose the sides and we would find recipes together. They also helped with desserts. Now, we are able to work together (safely even) in the kitchen. Cooking and cleaning goes so much easier when we do it together.
- Think about tomorrow. There are always leftovers after a big holiday. There were years when we had turkey and dressing until either the dressing or the gravy ran out (somehow there was always plenty of turkey). Now I plan dishes around the leftovers and I will even precook or prepackage the PLANNED OVER dishes so they will be easy fixes down the road.
- Turkey Pot Pie – perfect way to reuse veggies
- Turkey broth – I use the HUGE pot we had for deep frying the turkey to boil up some broth for the days ahead.
- Turkey soup – just add noodles to your turkey broth.
- Ham and cheese strudel – chopped ham with some shredded cheese rolled up in puff pastry . . . perfect for a relaxed morning meal (or for an easy dinner as well).
- Ham hash – another great morning treat.
The key to enjoying the holidays is to plan to enjoy it and then work the plan so you can enjoy it. It is not about the food, or even about the day of the month. This holiday, like all days, is about the people around us. Invest in those relationships first – make them the priority – and no matter how the turkey turns our (or even if it gets away) you will still have a blessed holiday to remember.
Time for Planned-Overs
- Thanksgiving Pot Pie – normally I would have made turkey pot pie, but I completely forgot to set aside some potatoes to cube for this dish. So, I improvised. I layered a deep dish pie crust with turkey, made another layer of green bean casserole, added in some carrots (saved and frozen from a previous meal), stirred in some raw garlic (because . . . garlic!), smothered in all in gravy, and then topped it off with a mashed potato crust. Turned out good and was a nice change from just repeating the meal from before.
Confession Time: I really only made this because I had a leftover pie crust that I had to use because I forgot to put it away. It was still good though and will definitely be a repeat in the holidays to come.
- Ham and Cheese Strudel – all you need is some puff pastry sheets (found in the freezer section usually above or around the pie crusts). Let the pastry sheet thaw over-night in the frig. Roll it out until it’s thin. Spread out a layer of diced ham to within an inch of the sides. Spread out a layer of shredded cheese on top of that. Dampen the edges of the dough (this will help seal the strudel shut) and then begin to roll it up like a log. Put the strudel on a baking sheet – seam side down and then puncture the top with a fork (about 12 holes should be plenty – you are just giving steam from the cooking a place to escape). Cook at 375 F until golden brown.
- Green Eggs and Ham
My son came up with this little gem. He started by scrambling some eggs and before they were done he threw in some of the chopped up spinach pie. Fry up a couple of pieces of ham and you have a great breakfast to start the day after Thanksgiving.
- Chefs Salad. Save a few of your boiled eggs from the Deviled Egg line and you can throw a healthy lunch together in a flash. Make it a T-day special by layering green salad, chopped turkey, chopped ham, chopped boiled egg, and then use home-made cranberry sauce as a tart dressing for your salad (you can even create an actual salad dressing with it as your base).
Enjoy the holidays but also let the day or two of holiday cooking be a time that you can use to prepare for the weeks ahead. Things can get crazy this time of year, but if you are prepared and have a plan you can find a way to keep it simple.
Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite holiday time savers?