If this is what you feel like when Planning a Thanksgiving Dinner Menu, then read on…
Thanksgiving is next week. Are you prepared? Here’s a few tips to get you thinking of what to serve and when to make it. Don’t make this a big deal. What’s the worst that can happen? People will come and eat whatever is in placed in front of them. If they complain about something not being perfect don’t invite them next year! Thanksgiving is about being thankful for your family, thankful for what you have, what you have accomplished, being together, and FAMILY DRAMA! Enjoy it. It only comes once a year. Don’t stress out. Try and prepare what you can ahead of time and let everything else come as it comes.
My first big Thanksgiving dinner story is not uncommon. There I was all proud of cooking my turkey and having all the fixings. It was the first time I cooked the turkey because my Dad is the turkey master. I brined and seasoned and roasted the bird upside down and sideways and did silly things that people tell you to do. My Dad laughed at me and shook his head. Yes, it was brown all over and looked nice. I placed it on the table and you probably already know what I forgot to do. I forgot to take the stupid giblet bag out. Ya, everyone laughed. My face turned beat red. But, what did I care? It’s family. I don’t have to impress them. They were going to eat what I put in front of them otherwise they would go hungry. And, if you knew my family, they won’t ever go hungry. They eat. I took the jokes for a minute then threatened them with my spatula if they didn’t tone it down.
First piece of advice I will give you is to delegate. I delegate the roasting of the turkey to my Dad and he also bakes the apple pies. My aunt Renee always brings an appetizer and a side. My Mom helps set the table with my kids. My in-laws bring assorted pastries for dessert. My brother-in-law helps with clean up and I am extremely grateful for that. My husband is the dishwasher. My kids clean the table and make sure the rest of my company is taken care of. My aunt Julia brings cookies and cannoli. Don’t be afraid to answer someone when they ask, “What can I bring?”
I am a procrastinator and work better under pressure. I have about 18 guests for dinner and many many more for dessert afterwards. I spend the Wednesday before Thanksgiving cooking the entire day. It’s a tradition in my house. My husband used to take the kids to work which kept them out of my way. Now that they are older, I keep them home and make them clean and help. There is no choice. You want to eat, you need to help. I put my favorite music on and blare it loud all day. It makes me happy and I sing, cook, sauté and dance. By the end of the day, everything is pretty much done.
Here are a few tips I have learned from many years of experimenting and learning from my mistakes.
I serve 2 turkeys for Thanksgiving. My Dad roasts a 20 – 22 pound bird which is an incredible help and it frees my oven up for everything else. If you are having 8 to 12 guests, a 16 pound turkey should be fine. I always cook enough to have leftovers for sandwiches the next day. I actually look forward to leftovers the next day with my parents where everything is put out on the island, we take what we want, we eat in the family room, and most of us are in sweats. One turkey could be enough for your crowd. Again, my Dad roasts one and I fry a 14 – 16 pound turkey using my tgc Spice Rub which produces a spicy delicious juicy bird. Oh my.
Here’s my menu and it’s basically the same every Thanksgiving:
Peruvian Deviled Eggs – These are incredible. They are easy to prepare, can be made ahead, the presentation is impressive because I find eggs to be incredible and edible (hahaha), and everyone loves them!
Cheese and crackers – I love cheese! I serve Brie, cheddar, jalapeño Monterey jack, Swiss, and whatever I can find with several different crackers and some grapes. You can make it fancy with honey and fruit or just plain. I have my kids cut the cheese – okay cracking up right now – I am so immature – can’t stop laughing – and display it on a platter along with the crackers. Can be done that morning. Don’t unwrap the crackers until guests arrive. Once my kids thought they were helping and prepared the whole platter and placed it in fridge the night before. Needless to say, the crackers weren’t crunchy.
Stuffed Mushrooms – My Stuffed Mushrooms are simple with no fancy stuff. Sometimes the less the better and that is the case for these Stuffed Mushrooms. Between you and me, I take a bunch and set them aside for my Mom and me for the next day for our leftover dinner. These can be made a day or two ahead and heated right before your guests arrive. Easy! I promise to post recipe someday.
Fried Yuca – My Tía Renee brings these fried delicious treats and my father-in-law who is always waiting patiently for them (because my aunt is always late) smiles at their arrival. My father-in-law didn’t even know what yuca was until his son went out with me. Sometimes when I watch him eat these I think he thinks that was the best thing that came out of our relationship! I jest…I think…
Roast turkey and Gravy – made by my Dad and always juicy and delicious. Homemade gravy – never, ever, ever the jarred stuff. NEVER!
Fried turkey coated with my tgc Spice Rub that gives it a subtle kick. Not even my mother-in-law notices the heat only the flavor. If something is too hot it makes her head tingle. The story about that is on the post for my tgc Spice Rub. Check it out. Of course, the spice can be made ahead – weeks ahead – and the turkey is coated in the spice the night before, wrapped in plastic, and put in the fridge until the next day. It only takes about an hour or so to fry the turkey. It depends on the size. I take out the turkey to bring to room temp an hour or so beforehand. Fried turkey is the best and once you have it, you may never go back.
Sweet Potato Casserole – Want to impress your guests? Make this! Even my brother-in-law who hates sweet potatoes or squash enjoyed it. It’s delicious, not too sweet, and topped with an amazing pecan topping that is a dessert by itself! I always save a little of the topping for myself. Don’t tell anyone. Can be prepared a day or two or three ahead. Place in fridge and bake a few minutes longer on the big day.
Perfect Rice – With my family, a meal isn’t a meal without some form of rice. We either have my Perfect Rice or my Tía Renee’s Chinese Rice which is actually a common Peruvian dish. Go figure. Have a rice cooker? Use it and forget about it. It only takes 20 minutes to make so we don’t stress out about it.
Homemade Stuffing – My stuffing is magical because it disappears before your eyes. Simple ingredients and no funny stuff. It was requested I make a double batch this year. I guess they like it, huh? I haven’t shared this recipe yet. Someday I will. This can be made a day or two ahead.
Broccoli Casserole – This started out as a recipe my mother-in-law gave me years and years ago. I made it for years. But then I decided after having kids that I wanted to make everything from scratch and to limit using the processed stuff. I created a recipe that is even better from scratch and everyone loves it. It is made in a crock pot and cooks all day so preparing it is a breeze. But, one day, my favorite crockpot broke. I have gone through 4 since and none of them work like the old fashioned flower decorated ones that actually slow cooked the food. Now even if I cook the same thing the way I used to, it cooks unevenly and the edges brown just a little too much. Why, why, why don’t they make things right anymore? Have a recommendation on a good one? Please email me. I would love to try it out. This is made in the morning and not a big deal to put together. Takes less than a half hour to prepare and if baking in oven it takes about 40 minutes. If using a good OLD crockpot, you can set it and forget it that morning.
Perfect Dinner Rolls – No holiday meal is complete without homemade bread like my Single Rise White Bread or my Perfect Dinner Rolls (recipe coming soon). You can make ahead and freeze. Or make it a day or two ahead and warm in oven before serving.
Cranberry Sauce – Making Cranberry Sauce is so easy and it only requires 3 ingredients and about 30 minutes to prepare. So easy and delicious. It’s tart and not too sweet. You can serve it chunky or smooth. I prefer smooth even though it’s a little more work. Perfect for any meal not just Thanksgiving. Make this a day or two or three or four ahead. It’s okay and not a big deal.
I believe I included everything but if I forgot something or change something I will amend this post.
Now for dessert…
Dad’s Apple Pie – My oh my…A hit every year. He brings 2 and I only put out 1. I am starting to think I am a hoarder of food.
Pumpkin Pie – I make Pumpkin Pie especially for my daughter, Elena, who loves pumpkin anything. I make my pies the day before.
I use a my Cream Cheese Pie Crust because it is foolproof but any crust will do.
Custard Pie – Who doesn’t love custard pie? Yum.
Assorted Pastries – brought by my mother-in-law.
Butterfly Cookies – My Tía Renee’s fried Butterfly Cookies. Crispy, crunchy, topped with confectioners’ sugar, and delicious. They disappear every time.
Assorted Biscotti – Brought by my aunt Julia. These include fig stuffed biscotti, almond biscotti, and whatever else she made. I may make my Anisette Toasts just to shake things up. They can be made ahead and last (if they last) in a sealed container for up to a week.
Cannoli – made and brought by my aunt Julia. She’s amazing and loves to cook for everyone. Sometimes these don’t make it out either. Instead, they end up in my secret cabinet where I can stuff my face later. I think I really do have a problem. What do you think?
Cheesecake – If I have time (which I don’t) I make my homemade cheesecake which is superior to any other. Just ask me. I make it a day or two ahead. Otherwise, I con someone to bring a good quality one. And by good quality I don’t mean the supermarket shelf. If they do, I put on a fake smile, set it aside, and give it to my Pop to take with him. He will eat anything. Read about it on my Pumpkin Pie post. Gotta love a guy who eats!
Coffee, wine, Irish cream, nutcracker cocktails, and maybe a Peruvian Pisco Sour! Then it starts to get interesting!
I hope this helps you in Planning a Thanksgiving Day Menu. Make a few items and serve them for that special day.
Leave a comment if you want to share your funny experiences for Planning a Thanksgiving Day Menu.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!