Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks

Stress Free Thanksgiving  

I love Thanksgiving.  It is MY holiday, the time that I have the largest number of family members in one place for the longest time.  My husband and I have a plan that works for us and even though we number 25ish, it is not so daunting.  Over the years, we have had various friends, in-laws, and co-workers that may have needed a place to go.  Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?  I am grateful for the fact that I have a full table of loved ones each year and therefore am happy to share dinner with extended family and friends. 

Commonly referred to as the biggest meal of the year, now is the time to start checking your Thanksgiving lists to make dinner planning and preparation a breeze.  There have been many Thanksgiving articles in newspapers and food magazines in the past years but the one thing that I vividly remember is an article saying that only those who enjoy cooking should take on Thanksgiving dinner.  My son refers to Thanksgiving as the nicest holiday of the season because there is no problem with gift giving and we are not yet exhausted from all the shopping, wrapping and other associated Holiday chaos.   I must agree with him (he’s brilliant, you know).  Your preparations can begin with the checklists provided here.  Many of us have the same guest list every year but if your Thanksgiving seems to change each year, now is the time to confirm guests or commit to where you are going to have dinner so that you or your host(ess) can plan accordingly.

So let’s talk turkey.  The Turkey is the Thanksgiving Center piece and it’s actually the easiest part of the meal.  My readers and students frequently ask how to get everything to come out at the same time.  The simplest answer to that question is to cook the turkey with plenty of time before serving so that the turkey can rest for 30 – 60 minutes.    This gives you the time you need to reheat other food in your oven and put the final touches on things.  A turkey will be moister and more flavorful if is allowed to rest, meaning that the juices will be absorbed back into the meat rather than being released when you start slicing too soon after removing from the oven.  So give yourself a little extra time to get everything out at the same time by building a generous resting period into your time plan before it’s time to serve dinner. 

The Perfectly Cooked Turkey is rather simple.  According to the website, here’s all you have to do to have a perfectly prepared bird. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove turkey from bag. Remove giblet package from neck skin area. With legs facing away, press one leg down near leg clamp to release. Release other leg. Do not remove clamp from turkey. Remove neck from body cavity. Rinse inside and outside of turkey with cold water. Drain well and pat dry.  If stuffing turkey, allow 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra in casserole dish. Stuff just before roasting, not ahead, as this is unsafe.   Re-tuck legs in clamp. Roast immediately. Place turkey in roaster or in shallow pan with rack. Brush turkey with vegetable oil. Roast at 325°F according to chart. It is not necessary to baste your Shady Brook Farms™ turkey, and opening the oven door will slow cooking time. Using a meat thermometer is recommended. Insert into the thickest part of the breast without touching the bone. Thermometer should read 170°F when turkey is done. Start checking pop-up timer and meat thermometer 1 hour before turkey is due to be done according to chart. When turkey is golden brown, cover with a loose tent of aluminum foil to prevent over browning.  Alternative checks for doneness: leg joint moves freely when the drumstick is rotated; or, when a fork is inserted into the deepest part of the leg joint, the juices are clear.  Remove turkey from pan to serving platter, reserving dripping in pan for gravy, if desired. Let turkey stand at least 10 to 15 minutes before carving, to allow juices near the surface of the skin to be redistributed for juicier meat and easier carving. A turkey can rest up to 1 hour and still be hot.  Make gravy during standing time and garnish turkey with fresh herb sprigs, if desired.  Side dishes can be done ahead and frozen so that all you have to do is take them out of your freezer on Wednesday and reheat on Thursday while the Turkey is resting.

 Thanksgiving Check List

Clean out pantry, fridge, and freezer so that you can make room for holiday groceries.

Do you have all your recipes selected so that you can make your shopping list?  Place them in a folder so that they are at your fingertips when you need them.

Do the mixer, blender, food processor all work correctly – do you have the necessary attachments?

Are your kitchen knives sharp?

Inventory glassware, dishes, flatware, serving pieces.

Do you have enough seating?  Count heads, you will be surprised how large the number can be!

How about Linens?  Do you want to purchase a new tablecloth?

Place cards?  They alleviate the last minute confusion at the table allowing the food to cool down.

Candles-which candlesticks, do you have enough?

Which wine will you serve? Think not only about the turkey but the other dishes that have more deliberate flavors.  There is a lot going on with both sweet and savory.  Beaujolais or Pinot Noir are good choices. I am also considering a Rose this year.

Will there be overnight guests?  Do you have enough bedding, towels, etc.

What will your guests be bringing, pin them down to a specific category such as dessert or appetizer.  Don’t let the notoriously late bring appetizers. 

Plan the Menu:

First Course or Hors D’oeuvres?

Turkey – Decide what kind of turkey you will have, fresh, frozen, will it be given to you?  If necessary, order your Turkey.

Mashed or Sweet Potatoes or both

Vegetables – fresh or frozen.  Using some frozen can help lighten the workload.

Dressing or Stuffing, Bread, Rolls

Cranberry Sauce – will it be canned or do you make it yourself?


Desserts—Suggestion: have guest bring desserts.

Wine, Sparkling Water, non-alcoholic beverages 

Shopping List – begin purchasing staple items-pick up a few each time you go to the store for something else.

Turkey or Turkey Breast

Chicken, Vegetable, Mushroom or Turkey Broth

Potatoes – white or sweet, can these be made ahead and frozen (recipe follows)

Onions, Garlic, Fresh Herbs


Fruit & Nuts (make a great centerpiece and serves as a light dessert)


Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Non-stick cooking spray

Fine Sea Salt

Peppercorns for the peppermill

Extra Paper Towels, Toilet Tissue, Guest Towels

Dishwashing soaps

Pot Scrubbies

Plastic Wraps

Aluminum Foil

Foil pans to make clean up easier and to fill with leftovers for guests to take home.

Freezer baggies in all sizes

Parchment paper

Turkey dog & cat food


Estimate the number of guests and allow 1-1 1 / 2 pounds per person.   Plan on cooking your turkey approximately 15 minutes per pound.  Use a meat thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking times.  The thermometer should read 170° in the leg and thigh joint.  Do not depend on the pop up timer, it pops up at a higher temperature.  It generally gets there before you guesstimate that it is, so avoid overcooking with a $10 instant read meat thermometer.  Give the turkey the food equivalent of your aerobic cool down and let it rest 20-60 minutes for easier slicing and juicier slices.  This also gives you time to put finishing touches on side dishes and frees up oven for other items as well. 

Cooking two smaller turkeys, rather than one large one, might be more appropriate according to your oven size and other demands on the oven. Make sure the turkey you plan on purchasing will fit in your oven and refrigerator.  If you have a large crowd and need to cook two, cook one a day ahead, carve, cover and reheat gently on the day of the gathering.  The second turkey can be the bird everyone oohs and aahs over. 

Remember to allow adequate defrosting time for frozen turkeys. You should figure 24 hours of defrosting in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey.  This can take 3-5 days, not counting the day of cooking.  If you are planning a fresh turkey, decide where you will purchase it and order it now.

You can also call the following turkey hotlines with turkey questions:  The USDA at 888-674-6854, Butterball at 800-288-8372, or Reynolds Turkey Hotline at 800-745-4000.

Also, remember to store leftovers within 2 hours to avoid any food safety risks.

A Few Extra Tips:

Select music ahead of time.  Set up the CD player early in the day or a day ahead.

Use lots of candles for atmosphere.  Group multiple candle holders as centerpieces.

Get all serving pieces, ice buckets, trays, etc. out ahead of time and place sticky notes on them as to what menu item they will hold to avoid last minute rummaging through cabinets.  This will be beneficial to those helping you at the last minute.

Prepare garnishes for drinks and plates a day before, i.e. slice lemons, wash herbs.

Use recipes that can be made ahead. 

Garlic Mashed Potatoes 

These potatoes freeze well.  Freeze them in an ovenproof baking dish and defrost before reheating.  Bring the dish to room temperature before placing in a hot oven.  

Serves 8 

12 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

6 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

4-6 cups chicken, vegetable or beef stock

Freshly ground pepper, to taste 



Colander placed in large bowl

Electric mixer 

Place potatoes, garlic and salt in heavy saucepan; add stock and additional water to cover. 

Boil until potatoes are fork tender. 

Drain liquid from potatoes into a bowl and reserve to add back to potatoes. 

Place potatoes in mixer bowl.  Mix until smooth and add the hot cooking liquid until potatoes are desired consistency. 

Healthy Note: You have saved all the vitamins and minerals by using the cooking liquid!  Also, by using the cooking water you will retain the potato starch, which will add richness to the dish. 

Cook’s Tip: Leftover cooking liquid can be used in gravy, sauces, or soups.  These potatoes can be frozen in an ovenproof casserole dish, defrosted and reheated in a 350 degree oven until piping hot, approximately 45 minutes. 

ãBarbara Seelig Brown 

Traditional Bread Stuffing with Apple, Celery & Onion 

Yield:  enough to accompany a 16-18 pound bird 

16 ounce bag bread cubes for stuffing

1 medium onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, sliced

1 medium apple, chopped with skin

Extra Virgin Olive Oil or EVOO plus some unsalted butter

2-4 cups chicken stock

1 Tablespoon Poultry Seasoning (such as Bell’s Brand)


Large sauté or saucepan 

Thinly film the bottom of the pan with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Add 1-2 Tablespoons butter, if desired.  

Sauté onion, celery, and apple.  Add Poultry Seasoning.  Sauté until fragrant. 

Add bread cubes and 2 cups stock.  Toss well.  If moister stuffing is desired, add additional stock. 

 Place in shallow casserole dish and heat approximately 30 minutes until steaming. 

Optional Add-ins: 

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup chopped dried cranberries 

Note:  If stuffing a bird, cool the stuffing before placing inside bird.  

ãBarbara Seelig Brown 

Spaghetti Squash with Parmigiano Reggiano 

1 spaghetti squash

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fine Sea Salt

Pepper Mill

Parmigiano Reggiano – 1/2 cup divided, 1/4 cup and 1/4 cup 

Wash spaghetti squash, pierce with a fork in several places and place in microwave on high until skin if soft, approximately 8-10 minutes. Let cool. 

Cut squash in half and make “spaghetti.”  Using a fork, pull out individual strands of “spaghetti.”   Toss spaghetti squash with some olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Place in pie plate for serving dish.  Top with additional Reggiano. 

ãBarbara Seelig Brown 

Dried Fruit & Brandy Compote 

Serve this holiday helpers as a condiment with cheese, a side dish for the meal, or with ice cream. 

1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups dried fruit of your choice

1 tablespoon orange zest

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup brandy

 Bring vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil and cook until sugar dissolves.  Add the fruit and spices and simmer until thickened.  Stir in brandy. 

Can be made several days ahead. 

ãBarbara Seelig Brown

 Harvest Muffins 

These muffins are a lovely addition to any meal and they are also a terrific Breakfast to Go.  Try filling them with some mascarpone cheese and smoked turkey for an hors d’oeuvre. 


1¼ cups whole wheat flour

¾ cup white flour

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups finely chopped unpeeled apples, about 2 large

½ finely chopped unpeeled carrots, about 2 medium

½ cup raisins

1 cup nonfat yogurt

¾ cup skim milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 whole eggs or 4 whites 


 Large mixing bowls

Muffin tins

Food processor with shredding disk

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Combine dry ingredients in a 4 quart bowl.   

Shred apples and carrots in a food processor with a shredding disk. 

Add apples, carrots, and raisins to dry ingredients. 

Mix wet ingredients and add to dry. 

Prepare pan by either spraying with a no-stick flour spray or spreading with butter and then sprinkling with flour.  Discard any excess flour.  Fill pans ¾ full. 

Bake as follows:

 Mini – 20 minutes, yield 36

Regular – 25-30 minutes, yield 18

Large – 35-45 minutes, yield 9

Cook’s Tips: 

This recipe keeps well but must be refrigerated or frozen after 1 day due to the use of the yogurt. 

These muffins are very moist so you don’t need to line the muffin tins with bake cups. If you choose to line the muffin tins, aluminum, rather than paper bake cups are suggested. 

Serving Suggestion: For Breakfast to Go, freeze muffins in individual baggies. 

ãBarbara Seelig Brown

 Turkey Breast Stuffed with Wild Rice, Fruit and Herbs 

This dish is wonderful for a small group.  Prepare wild rice a day ahead or several hours in advance for quick preparation on the day you serve this special dish.

 Serves 4 – 6 

Wild Rice Stuffing: 

1 cup wild rice

3 tablespoons minced shallots

1 bay leaf

1 / 4 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 cups chicken stock

1 / 2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as thyme, Italian parsley, chives, rosemary, sage

1 cup chopped dried fruit such as apricots and cherries

1 cup chopped nuts such as walnuts or pecans

Freshly ground pepper 


 1 1 / 2 pounds boneless turkey breast with skin

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground pepper 


4 quart saucepan with lid for stuffing

Roasting pan with rack for turkey

Meat pounder


To prepare Wild Rice Stuffing: 

Rinse rice under running water and pick out any grains that do not look good to you.  Place rice, shallots, bay leaf, salt and stock in a 4 quart pan and cook until rice is tender, approx. 45 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.  Add herbs, dried fruit and nuts.  Set aside to cool before stuffing turkey breast. 

Assembling turkey breast and stuffing: 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

 Place turkey breast on cutting board and butterfly.  Pound to even thickness.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Place stuffing over turkey breast and roll turkey breast to enclose.  Tie at 3 inch intervals.

 Place on roasting rack and roast for approximately 45-60 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 155-160 degrees.  Let rest at least 15 minutes before slicing. 

Cook’s Tips: 

To butterfly turkey breast: lay the breast on a cutting board, slice through the thickest past of the breast so that you end up with a split breast that is still connected in the middle. The surface area of the butterflied breast will be double the size and thinner than the original breast. 

Stuffing can be used with chicken, turkey or pork and can be made a day ahead. 

ãBarbara Seelig Brown

 Happy Thanksgiving! 

You can also watch my cooking show, Stress Free Cooking – visit my website for info. 

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