The first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner was five years ago for my in-laws. It was our first time to use our china, though not my first time meal planning for a crowd (I had previously planned and shopped for 35+ people for weekend family reunions). So I guess you can say I have a little experience in this arena.
Five years ago I felt rushed and somewhat stressed – probably because I planned too many dishes and had trouble allowing others to fully help me. Daniel's family all stepped in as wonderful sous chefs, but my own character flaws made it more stressful than it had to be.
This time around, I am older and hopefully wiser. I planned out my menu the week before. Knocked out the shopping on the Sunday before Thanksgiving (by myself!) and felt ready to go.
Along with my recipes, I had a plan of how long items took to cook and at what temps. This made it tremendously easy to get everything done without being stressed. Though the last 30 minutes of prep was a mad dash, but it all came off without a hitch!
Another thing we did differently this time was baking most of the pies the night before. While the pies baked, I took the opportunity to also bake my sweet potatoes for our sweet potato casserole.
Here are my thoughts on each dish on my menu:
Maple Roasted Turkey with Smoked Bacon
[recipe from Tyler Florence on The Food Network]
This was my third turkey to do with bacon and it did not disappoint. Each time I have tried a different recipe or variation, but this one was by far the simplest to make, and perhaps most flavorful. My 20lb turkey took exactly 3.5 hours to bake. The maple syrup gave it a slight sweetness that I enjoyed and that meshed well with the other dishes that incorporated maple syrup. My mom thought the maple syrup made her gravy a bit sweet, but I thought it was all delicious.
My mom made her usual stuffing (she even pre-cooked the cornbread and brought it with her from Arkansas). In the future I might consider making another pan of stuffing for such a large crowd.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Cinnamon Butternut Squash, Pecans and Cranberries
[recipe floating around Facebook]
The week before Thanksgiving I saw this recipe on Facebook and thought that it would be a good addition to our spread. It had maple syrup as an ingredient and that tied in wonderfully with the turkey. I accidentally bought fresh cranberries instead of dried, so at the last minute I ended up adding dried apples (found in my pantry) to the dish instead. The flavors all worked well together.
Green Bean Casserole
[recipe from French's]
We had the traditional green bean casserole recipe found on the French's French Fried Onion can. I had the wrong kind of green beans (flat, wide ones instead of skinny french cut). I don't think my sister was a fan, and while I agree I like the skinny green beans better, this dish was still tasty and there were no leftovers.
[recipe from Pioneer Woman]
The Pioneer Woman NEVER lets me down with her recipes. These mashed potatoes were decadent in a savory kind of way. You could eat them without gravy, they were that good. They were also good cold and I even threw them in broccoli-potato soup at the end of the week. Five pounds of potatoes really went a long way and they were amazing!
Soul Sweet Taters
[recipe from Pioneer Woman]
Another score for The Pioneer Woman. I baked the sweet potatoes the night before. The only negative was that one of my potatoes didn't fully cook and so it didn't mash up completely in the casserole. It was still good though! Also, I need to buy one more 9x13 dish. I ended up making this casserole in a shorter, deeper dish and the ratio of topping to potatoes was off.
PW Dinner Rolls
[recipe from Pioneer Woman]
These rolls were a bit finicky – though I always have trouble with bread. The dough was SUPER moist and I couldn't seem to make it dry enough. I more than doubled the recipes stated 4 cups of flour! I literally kept stirring in flour until I could work with it. And even then, I ended up pouring the batter directly into the muffin tins. So basically we had muffin rolls. They still tasted good though!
5 Cup Salad
[oranges, pineapple, marshmallows, sour cream and coconut]
This is one of my favorite family recipes. We have been making this dish for Thanksgiving as long as I can remember. Daniel doesn't care for sour cream or coconut, but that just leaves more for me!
Cherry Yum Yum
[recipe found on Pinterest]
Daniel's family makes this dessert for every holiday and I have really come to love it. I don't think this particular recipe is the same one as what his family makes, but I have had a hard time getting Daniel's Great Aunt Thula or his Grandmother to write down the exact recipe. I need to bug them some more!
Pecan and Pumpkin Pie
My mom made the pecan and pumpkin pies that she has been making forever. I especially love her pecan pie. My parents always gather pecans from the trees around town and share their spoils with us. I think we all agreed we need to make homemade crusts next year.
My cousin Moriah made an apple pie with the help of my niece, Izzy. They did an excellent job. I didn't have any shortening on hand for her crust, so she made it with butter and it was SO GOOD. I want her to make all of our crusts with butter in the future!
So that was our meal in a nutshell. It was delicious and decadent and made with loving hands. I didn't feel stressed and everyone had more than their fill of good food (plus lots of good leftovers!).