Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

If you guessed my sister Tracy, her cute husband Odie and their even cuter son Drew, you would be correct.

But I think the better question to ask is: guess who’s cooking dinner?

Yep.  That would be me.

Am I scared?

You betcha.

Do I have any idea what I’m doing?

Not really, no.

That’s why I’m kind of hoping for some help.  See, it’s my first time ever preparing Thanksgiving dinner on my own.  I’ll be doing the turkey, the ham, the pies, the stuffing, the green beans, the whatever-else-you’re-supposed-to-fix-on-Thanksgiving-dishes.  But here’s the kicker: I’ve never cooked any of those things.  With the exception of green beans.  I make a great green bean casserole (thanks to Pioneer Woman) and I’ve done a pie a time or two that would have passed inspection, but it’s definitely been a while.

So I’m looking for some tips.  Recipes, suggestions, advice… basically help.  Lots and lots of help.  I even have some questions to get you started:

  • How do you purchase a turkey?  Is it based on the size of your oven?  Do you buy it frozen?  How much can I expect to pay?
  • Is there  a dish that you would recommend buying vs. making from scratch?
  • Would you include ham with your meal or is one meat enough?

Those are just a few that come to mind.  Like I said, I’m open to any and all suggestions…

Are you cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your family?  Are you traveling or having Thanksgiving at your home?


Bonnie - November 16, 2010 - 9:00 pm

The standard amount of turkey to buy is 1 pound per person and you will have some leftovers. About the smallest turkey I’ve ever gotten was about 12 pounds (the biggest was around 24 pounds.) The extra can be taken off the bone and frozen for later use in turkey pot pies or another meal of turkey and dressing. The cost of turkey probably varies by area, but here in KY the frozen ones are going for sixty-nine cents a pound. You will need to thaw the frozen turkey for several days in the refrigerator. The fresh turkeys usually run at least double in price, but then you don’t have to thaw it. Since everyone in our family likes turkey I never fix another meat. I buy frozen Sister Shubert rolls instead of making them from scratch and also use a stuffing mix (such as Pepperidge Farm) to make my dressing. We have homemade mashed potatoes & gravy, home grown green beans,fried sweet potatoes, squash casserole, and a relish tray. Every year I try to come up with at least one new recipe. I get started early on Wednesday and bake pies — we usually have Chocolate, Butterscotch, Pumpkin, and sometimes Mincemeat & Pecan. Do all that you can a day early. There is a mad rush at the last minute to get it all together, but other than that it’s not bad. Mostly just waiting for the bird to get done! I love cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for my family!! Good Luck!!

Stefanie - November 17, 2010 - 3:17 am

Tabitha, in order to decrease the amount of stress such a huge dinner can cause if you try to prepare everything in time, I suggest you make it a “cooking-with-friends-dinner”. I like trying to get everybody involved and feel responsible for a part of the dinner: starters, turkey, dessert, babysitting, music, wine etc. This is probably not the advice you were looking for, though.
I personally would skip the ham next to the turkey, but since I am German and we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here, I have no idea in how far ham is part of the tradition and thus a “must”.
Viele Grüße,

April - November 17, 2010 - 4:49 am

Yes, skip the ham, unless you are having many more than four adults. We do a ham in addition to turkey, but we also usually have 20 plus adults for dinner. Even then, to make it easier, we bake the ham the night before, so that we are only doing the turkey on Thursday.

Since space is tight, another consideration you will need to make, unless you have a double oven, is whether you have side dishes or desserts that require oven time. If so, you’ll want to do as much of that ahead of time as possible, given that the turkey will dominate the oven on the day.

We do mostly everything homemade these days, but when we did our first big dinner, we most definitely did not, so don’t feel bad taking any advantage gained by purchasing some items. Bottom line is, it’s family and they are really there to visit with you; the food, despite what every tv ad or website tells you, is secondary. You’ll be fine!

Joanna - November 17, 2010 - 5:47 am

If there’s a side dish you can make ahead and then warm up in the crockpot (mashed potatoes come to mind) I highly suggest doing that. Saves oven space and gets one thing off your timetable.

Definitely just buy the bread unless you love making bread.

Pick a dessert you can bake a day or two before.

Keep it simple. Turkey and a few sides with your rolls. Keep the sides easy and something the kiddos can enjoy, too, so you’re not making two meals.

And turkeys take a while to defrost. Just a little FYI based on a bad experience :) Butterball has a turkey tip line (1.800.BUTTERBALL) that you can call if you have questions. :)
.-= Joanna´s last blog ..Remembering =-.

Kristy - November 17, 2010 - 7:37 am

I would probably skip the ham. If your heart is set on a ham, then put it in the crockpot–set it on low for about 8 hours and pour a coke over the top of it. Then you can forget it. You could also put this in the basement or somewhere else out of the way so it doesn’t take up room in your bustling kitchen.

For stuffing, saute onion and celery in butter (varies by amount you want to make)–1/2 a diced onion, 2 diced stalks of celery, and 4 Tablespoons of butter until the onion is brown is a good amount. Mix with dried bread crumbs (I just buy these–Pepridge Farm makes a good mix) then add the appropriate amount of broth (it’s on the package). I also add a good bit of Sage to my dressing–yum.

I like to keep it simple–plain green beans, plain mashed potatoes, yellow squash, canned cranberry sauce, simple rolls. Choose one or two dishes that you really want, and keep the rest simple. Plan out where each item will be cooked (and when) so you don’t run out of burners on the stove or time in the oven.

Over Night Refrigerator Rolls, from a former Home Ec. teacher I worked with:
2 pkgs of yeast dissolved in 2 1/2 Cups of water (115-120*)
Mix together:3/4 Cup sugar, 3/4 Cup shortening, 2 eggs, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 4 cups of flour, and dissolved yeast. Slowly mix in 4 MORE cups of yeast. Cover and refrigerate over night (for up to three days). Knead for 4-5 minutes. Shape into 4 dozen rolls. Allow to rise for 45-60 minutes. Then bake at 400* until tops are brown.

Alternatively, Parker House (Sister Schubert makes them as long with a couple of other companies) rolls are really good–they are in the frozen breads.

Make your pie(s) up a day or two ahead of time, so that they are out of the way.

We buy our turkey frozen and just thaw it for three or four days. If it’s not quite thawed, just toss it in the kitchen sink and rinse it with cool water until it’s all the way thawed. Turkey’s aren’t really hard, they just take some time. Turkey soaked in brine is really good (PW has a good recipe), but be sure to put the bag in the roaster, as it may leak.
.-= Kristy´s last blog ..Thats Just Rotten =-.

admin - November 17, 2010 - 9:28 am

Excellent suggestions and things I haven’t thought about before. Another question: do you use your good china or just regular every day dishes? I’d love to bring out the good stuff but am worried about using it. Kind of defeats the point of having it though, doesn’t it? :)

Märtha - November 17, 2010 - 9:41 am

As I am from Germany, I don’t know how special Thanksgiving really is – but even having someone for dinner can be special and since it’s a holiday: I would use the good china.
.-= Märtha´s last blog ..Summertime- And the livin’ is easy… =-.

Kathy - November 17, 2010 - 10:00 am

If you’ve ever been interested in getting a roaster, I HIGHLY recommend it. Basically a metal crockpot big enough to fit your turkey, you can plug it in anywhere. Ideal for small kitchens and when you wish you had the oven free to bake your other dishes fresh and hot.

Just a thought!

Casper - November 17, 2010 - 10:07 am

I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year since I was little one. It was always my favorite. Waking up early and trying to juggle everything with only four burners and one stove!

1. I would only cook one meat as long as all your guest enjoy turkey. Not everyone likes ham, it isn’t needed and just adds to your to do list. Also it is a lot easier to think of left over recipes for turkey, in my opinion. Also, your oven will be busy with sides and the turkey, ham just gets in the way.

2. You want to buy a turkey that fits in your oven of course but you also want to make sure you are buying one that will feed all your guest. Yes, most often you buy it frozen, just make sure you get it this weekend and leave it in the fridge so it has time to thaw. A frozen bird makes for a bad dry bird! Price depends, most stores have a coupon out this weekend “spend this much and get a turkey free” so check around. Usually I can get everything on my shopping list and get my turkey free.

3. Make vs purchase. This one I am bias on, I prefer all homemade. But if you are purchasing pre-made to save on time and prep I would say buy the pies and/or rolls.

4. Dishes I think are essential to Thanksgiving if you want to go with the basics. Turkey, Gravy, Rolls, Green Bean Casserole, Stuffing, Pie (apple for me). The rest of the dishes you really can do without (in my opinion).

Turkey – I go pretty basic. (Normally I stuff my bird but can’t this year since I am pregnant.). Rinse your turkey, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity, pat dry, rub with a mixture of salt, pepper, brown sugar, and olive oil. (I also like to slip a couple pats of butter under the skin but that is optional). Tent the turkey, pop it in the oven and cook for needed time. About an hour before done remove the tent so it can brown up nicely.

However, I am thinking about giving this (link below) a try this year, I haven’t don’t a brine before on my turkey so I am interested to give it a try. This recipe gets rave reviews. You just have to change the cooking times to suit how big your bird is.

Gravy – I am homemade all the way, a little bacon grease, flour, milk, drippings, salt, and pepper, and you are good to go. You can always add a little broth or bouillon for flavor if you didn’t get enough out of the bird.

Stuffing – Once again I go pretty basic with bread cubes, seasoning, broth. That is about it. I hate celery or other weird things in my stuffing. If all else fails you can go buy the packages of stuffing cubes and follow the directions on the back. That is how I started out!

You will do great! My suggestion, make what you can ahead of time and just pop it in the oven for heating. Also, my being the planner I am. I write up, what I am making, how long it takes, whether you make it on the stove or oven, than I make a schedule for the burners and stove so I know everything will get on time and still be warm when everything is finished. But I probably go overboard!
.-= Casper´s last blog ..French Dip Experiment =-.

Bonnie - November 17, 2010 - 12:54 pm

I’ve been married 38 years and never had good china. I use Pfaltzgraf dishes daily, but when the holidays roll around I pull out all the silver and crystal that I can find. Yes, I would definitely use good china if I had it.
If you’re worried about oven space on the big day, you can bake the turkey the day before and have it sliced up already. I know it doesn’t sound as good and I’ve never done it, but our niece had Thanksgiving at her house last year and did that and with everything else it didn’t really matter! I’ve watched the shows where they bring the whole turkey to the table and it looks great, but in reality, it’s easier to carve it in the kitchen before you serve it.

Paula @ KnitandSeek - November 17, 2010 - 1:27 pm

I LOVE cooking Thanksgiving dinner! You’ve gotten some fab advice here, but I’ll throw my $.02 in anyway…

Your best friend when you’re cooking a turkey is one of those meat thermometers you can stick into the oven. Just stick it into the thigh of the turkey (making sure it isn’t touching bone) when you put it in the oven. It’s done when it’s about 5 degrees less than the recommended poultry temp (it’ll continue to cook for a bit when you take it out of the oven).

As for the other stuff, Pioneer Woman is the place to go. Her dinner rolls are the best I’ve ever had — and they’re made from the frozen ones at the supermarket.


And super easy, way beyond yummy cranberry sauce that you can make several days ahead is here:

Oh, and skip the ham. You’ll have food coming out your ears as is. :)

.-= Paula @ KnitandSeek´s last blog ..Jackpot! =-.

Courtney - November 17, 2010 - 2:02 pm

I won’t bog you down with recipes, but here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

1. Turkey: Buy a turkey based on how many people are eating. You can ask your grocer’s butcher for guidance. BIG TIP: Make sure you start to thaw turkey several days in advance by putting it in the refrigerator. Just FYI – the neck and giblets will be stuffed in the cavity, so don’t forget to remove those before cooking (You can cook those & use for the gravy!). Also, if oven space is a factor, consider frying your turkey. Not certain if that’s a big deal up in DC, but if you’ve never tried fried turkey – you need to! It’s sensational! And will definitely be a hit. I think Butterball now makes an indoor electric fryer – should cut down on the hassle of a big outdoor fryer.

2. Dressing: Since it’s your first attempt at making a Thanksgiving meal, skip stuffing the turkey. It can be tricky (especially if you don’t have a meat thermometer!) because you want the dressing to reach a certain temperature to avoid food poisoning. Just make the dressing and put in a cassrole dish to bake. It turns out just as good! I’m from the south and cornbread dressing is the way to go! Especially if you add a little crumbled sausage to it – yum, yum!! I use a combination of cornbread and bread cubes for my dressing.

3. Gravy: Use the drippings from the pan and some canned chicken broth if you need to add more volume. I use Wondra flour as a thickening agent. I find it in the baking & spices aisle in my grocery store.

4. Green bean casserole: Consider adding just a few splashes of soy sauce (if you don’t already). Sounds funny, but trust me, it just adds a bit of additional flavor.

Hope this helps! Good Luck and have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!
.-= Courtney´s last blog ..Im Back! =-.

admin - November 17, 2010 - 2:59 pm

Love, love LOVE all of your comments and suggestions. Seriously – half of it is stuff that I’ve not heard of but makes total sense! My sister is going to go shopping with me this weekend so we can pick out a turkey after putting together our menu. I like your idea, Bonnie, about cooking the turkey and slicing it up the day before. Hmm….

Erin - November 17, 2010 - 3:37 pm

I didn’t read all the comments so I hope I”m not repeating anything:

- Turkey: the best way I’ve found to prepare it is by brining it first, which is basically just soaking it in salt water the night before. It turns out super moist and yummy! I bought the brine and a bag to hold it in at Williams Sonoma. Super easy.

- Make as much as you can ahead of time!!! Cranberry sauce and pies are easy to make ahead.

- Less is actually more. I sometimes skip a few sides that no one really eats. It’s all about the turkey and mashed potatos right? And of course, pie!

- Use the good china!

- Let others help.

Have so much fun!! I love that sister of yours. Give her my best! Happy Thanksgiving!!!
.-= Erin´s last blog ..Grateful- Day 15 =-.

cristine - November 17, 2010 - 7:06 pm

Hi Tabitha! I have never done Thanksgiving dinner before, but I have done Thanksgiving-day-after dinners (you know, when you can’t see some people on the big day so you do another dinner on Sunday or some other time during the weekend). We did a dinner for 5. I would honestly suggest just getting one or a few turkey breasts rather than doing the whole bird. People prefer the breasts, plus they are easier to thaw and just generally “deal” with all day long. They don’t take up as much time to cook, or room in the oven (I know you’ve said your kitchen is small– as is mine!– so this can be a real help), cook evenly, and are just altogether easier! Plus you end up cutting up the bird before you serve it anyway, so there’s rarely a “ta-da” moment with a whole bird being presented to the family. I think stuffing, green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole are really required…the rest you can decide for yourself! A pumpkin pie, too of course. Honestly I don’t see the difference between a store-bought pumpkin pie or a home-baked one. I think a lot of those basic casseroles can be assembled ahead of time and then baked on the day of! Everyone’s suggestions are great! Have fun! Whatever you do, don’t stress too much!
.-= cristine´s last blog ..Waiting and Daydreaming =-.

Vicky - November 17, 2010 - 8:20 pm

My mother-in-law fools everyone each year- she gets her pumpkin pie from Boston Market! It is really good!

admin - November 17, 2010 - 8:29 pm

Vicky – I have to tell you that last year the CPA and I had our Thanksgiving dinner at Boston Market. You’re right – it was tasty! :)

Natalia - November 17, 2010 - 9:11 pm

I’ve only ever cooked Thanksgiving once. I made the turkey in a plastic bag and it turned out surprisingly good. I would recommend buying pies (unless it is one of your specialties) simply bc it saves a ton of time.

Nicole - November 18, 2010 - 5:07 am

I’ve never cooked a turkey either… I’m starting slow and just bought a turkey breast for my crock-pot. :)
.-= Nicole´s last blog ..That’s the Way it Goes =-.

Mindee@ourfrontdoor - November 18, 2010 - 5:35 am

It looks like you’ve already gotten a lot of great tips so I’ll just say “good luck” and remember – a sense of humor is key. :)

Oh! I just thought of one. Figure out how long each dish will take to prepare and make yourself a timeline to follow. It will bring you a lot of peace of mind. And remember – the turkey needs to “rest” at least 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven before you start cutting into it.
.-= Mindee@ourfrontdoor´s last blog ..Not a Recipe For In The Fridge =-.

Monisha - November 18, 2010 - 7:53 am

I have never cooked the turkey (we typically get it from Whole Foods), but I am doing some sides this year. I plan to use our slow cooker for this recipe: We always use our nice china since there are hardly enough occasions to use it. We are going to a friend’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, so let me know if you need to use our oven or borrow some extra dishes!

erin - November 18, 2010 - 10:45 am

If it’s just the four (well, six… or five? Two and a half plus two and a half?) of you, you might want to get a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. It’s easier to cook and you can get it smaller. Leftovers are fabulous, but leftovers for weeks on end are not. If you do a whole turkey, try brining it before you cook it. That’s what I do and it always makes a fabulous turkey. The “recipe” is 1 c. salt (or 2 c. kosher salt) to 2 quarts of water. Rinse/clean your thawed turkey, then completely submerge it in the brine and let it soak for up to 24 hours. I do mine in a 5-gallon bucket that I have lined with a clean plastic bag – I like trash compactor bags for that. They are sturdy and you can buy them in very small packages, like 4 to a box, so you don’t have a ton leftover and no compactor. Then I cover it and stick it outside in the shade, because it doesn’t fit in my fridge and it is cool enough outside by Thanksgiving.

Also, it really helps to make a “countdown” plan, so you can get everything on the table at the same time instead of having mashed potatoes getting cold while you’re waiting for the turkey to finish roasting. I make mine incredibly detailed, which is kind of nerdy and ridiculous (like: T-1 hour – start green bean casserole) but it really helps. One year I actually made a full on spreadsheet thing with my recipes and everything, like “T-1 day – brine turkey. 2 qts. water, 1 c. salt” and I have just used it from year to year. Then I write on my grocery list white board general notes on what to do when based on when we are doing dinner, like “2p: start cooking turkey.”

I have a FABULOUS dried fig-sage-walnut stuffing recipe I can send you if you want. It is AMAZING and a “new” tradition at my house. :)
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

erin - November 18, 2010 - 10:46 am

PS, good for you to do all this! When it is just me and Brian and MIL (like it will be this year), I just do mashed potatoes from a box, Stove Top stuffing, gravy from a packet, roast a small turkey breast, some green beans, carrots, and yams. Oh, and pumpkin pie of course. Easy peasy box cooking. :)
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

Melody C. - November 18, 2010 - 2:25 pm

You’ve already gotten enough food suggestions. I’ll tell you to use the good china. I would this year, but it’s buried in a box in the garage waiting until we move to a house where it will be in an easy-to-access place. I’m the kind of person that buys pretty platters and bowls, but only if they are food-safe. I like usable art!
Enjoy this week with your sister and letting the cousins play together! I miss Thanksgivings at my mom’s with my cousins. But Mom is heading to San Antonio this year!!! I’m looking forward to cooking for 4.

Connie @ Sogni e Sorrisi - November 18, 2010 - 4:20 pm

Oh, man! I wish I could help but the thought of cooking a turkey scares me!

she who will not be named - November 18, 2010 - 6:23 pm

two things: 1-i’m so excited to see you TOMORROW. 2-i hate that picture of me. the end.

admin - November 18, 2010 - 6:51 pm

You guys are fabulous – simply wonderful! I think the verdict on the china is in: I’m definitely using it! It’s too beautiful not too plus I have one of those huge platters that will be perfect for a turkey. I’m feeling better about this little adventure already. Besides… I’ll my sister (she who will not be named – whose picture looks AMAZING btw) with m so it won’t be too bad. :)

Cynthia - November 18, 2010 - 9:52 pm

I wish I could help! I have never cooked it on my own!! I only have a great Sweet Potato recipe (with brown sugar and pecans), if you need that recipe :) I would say if you stay simple your dishes will be able to be better :) My Mom always cooks a turkey and does a small honey bake ham on the side (I know maybe that is cheating, but hey, it works, half of our family does not eat any meat other than chicken or turkey anyways. Well Good Luck, I know someday this will be me and I will be freaking out!!!
.-= Cynthia´s last blog ..A Little Sunshine =-.

Courtney - November 19, 2010 - 5:39 pm

Such a fun thing! I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner – it’s my favorite meal of the year.

The two most important things I have found: Do as much as possible the day before, and get a schedule together! I work off a legal pad, with times, oven temps, etc.

My menu looks like this (granted, I split this with a friend and we have a big dinner for both families:)

Turkey (brined the night before. Fresh. Purchase 1.5lbs/person for plenty of leftovers. The brine guarantees a moist bird.)

Mashed potatoes (From scratch, done on the stove to avoid oven use.)

Sweet potatoes (From scratch, with little marshmallows. On the stove, finished in the oven while the bird rests.)

Green beans (day before. Warmed while the bird rests.)

Some other kind of veggie (Probably burgundy mushrooms this year…)

Stuffing (day before. Warmed while the bird rests.)

2 pies (day before)

Rolls (day before)

Hors d’oeuvres (handled by friend)

It’s all from scratch, but it’s pretty easy really. Good luck and have fun! (And check out Food Network’s Thanksgiving programs… very helpful things!)

erin - November 22, 2010 - 3:45 pm

(Glad you decided to use the good china! If you have it, why not use it? Splurge! We do not have good china, just pretty white everyday dishes. We do have good crystal though so we use that for special dinners. It makes the everyday dishes look special. Besides, we don’t have enough everyday wineglasses to serve a big family dinner, so we have not choice but to use the good crystal. :) )
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

Suzanne at Window on The Prairie - November 23, 2010 - 8:41 am

I did a post for each of the standard Thanksgiving dishes in the last couple weeks, Turkey, Stuffing, Gravy, Brown and Serve Rolls, Cranberry Sauce, Pumpkin Pie, and Apple Pie. Lots of pics and detailed how-to directions. Click Here: Suzanne
.-= Suzanne at Window on The Prairie´s last blog ..History Of Thanksgiving =-.

Merrilee Micallef - November 29, 2010 - 6:19 am

I’ve invited the whole family round this xmas for a big dinner, so obviously the roast is pretty important! I found a lot of recipes at this roast recipe site, but cant decide on one in particular – there’s so many to choose from! It’s fun planning such a big xmas dinner though!

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