I've completed my Thanksgiving cards and placed them in the mail, ate a whoopie pie for breakfast and sit here in utter disbelief over the happenings of my life over the past 24 hours. Indulge me before we talk of casseroles. I've mentioned before that I sing in my marvelous church choir. Last night we were invited to sing for the Reverend Billy Graham at his 60th anniversary commemorating his extraordinary years in the ministry. He is the greatest evangelist of our time. I was awestruck and overwhelmed. How I got chosen to be part of this, I'll never know. It was a once in a lifetime honor and it blessed me beyond measure. I was humbled at how he takes no credit for any of the great work he's done - the millions he's ministered to and lives that have been changed. What an example of a life to lead.
Thank you for allowing me to share that. Let's transition back to our Thanksgiving planning so you can whip up a feast that will awe and inspire, all while giving thanks for the things that really matter most, to the One who matters most.
I've had you make a guest list, a food-to-fix list and an ingredient list. You're mosey-ing off to the store to get your ingredients. What's next? Eat a piece of leftover candy from the Halloween stash and I'll tell you.
Days in advance, you can set your formal dining room table with the plates, napkins, doo-dads of decor and such - just forbid the kids from playing stomp rocket, tag or basketball in that room. Involve the kids in the preparation - let them feel it's their important job so they can get into the holiday more than stuffing their faces. It's ok if they miss a butter knife or two - the kitchen is just a few feet away. If you don't have a dining room table - no worries! Take the family out for dinner the night before so you can have the kitchen table set in advance. Everyone likes the special feel of the holidays by doing special things like going out.
In setting your table, I happen to be a proponent of name place cards and decor my kids have made in preschool for my centerpiece- if that's too bumpkin for you, a beautiful floral arrangement and figurines of pilgrims will have to do.
Now to the nitty gritty. When can you start making these food items so you can at least have an ounce of sleep before Uncle Bart and Aunt Vivian arrive? Tuesday. The Tuesday before you can start cooking like a FoodNetwork Star. You saw my list in the last post - I'll break it down for you.
Green Bean Casserole - make it and stash it in the frig. Keep the French Fried Onions off until you bake it in the oven the day of, or they'll be a soggy mushy mess.
Yellow Squash Casserole - another beauty that can be made ahead! This goes for the Broccoli Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole. Often, these flavors get better with time, so Tuesday is your golden day!
Cranberry Sauce - don't laugh at my caveman view on this, but I happen to enjoy it pulled straight from the can with the can rings still impressed on it in a tube of cranberry jello-yness. Slice it into discs and slap it on a platter. I also like the kind with orange zest that you make fresh, but the can rings take me back to my childhood.
Now, we have a few key items left - Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Lettuce Salad, Fruit Salad and Rolls. They are day-of makers. No getting around it. Here's why - the turkey will get a strong game flavor over time - it's best cooked in the oven the day of. The stuffing...whether you are a stuffing or dressing fan (i.e. stuff in turkey to cook vs. in a casserole dish) it's best day of as well - the bread will otherwise get weird. Mashed Potatoes, ah yes - if you want them light and fluffy, they have to be made the day of. When they cool, they get much more dense and we all know the day after reheat in the microwave just doesn't taste the same. Lettuce salad - the lettuce will wilt, and no one wants a wilted lettuce salad. Rolls - a quick heat 'em up in the oven that is 5-10 minutes. No worries there!
Now, a few recipes to get you going, if you're stumped.
I mentioned appetizers the other day. I feel they are key. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, cause a delay or several family members are late (surely this never happens?!). To keep every one happy and free from knawing on their shoes - have some light appetizers on hand. Hint: placing these OUT of the kitchen is key, so people aren't bothering you and getting in your way. You don't have to go crazy with apps, as you don't want everyone to fill up on them. Think block of cream cheese with pepper jelly on top served with crackers. Think mixed nuts and a bowl of cheese cubes. Think artichoke or olive tapenade from a jar with crackers (replate the jar please). Light and easy - operative words here.
And finally, I'll leave you with my Dressing Recipe. I'm not a turkey stuffer - I have nightmares of undercooking salmonella horribleness and like to keep it safe by baking these items separately. I found a recipe last year on Allrecipes.com and have modified it beyond recognition, so it's now completely my own - but I did want to at least give the source of my inspiration.
Step aside STOVE TOP! The real deal is comin to town!
Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Dressing (and for those skeptics out there who question the sausage - don't knock it until you've tried it! I have people clamboring for this recipe and have gotten so many ooh's and aaah's over it, I KNOW it's delish).
3 cups cubed Italian or French Bread
4 cups Herb Stuffing Bread (this will be in the bakery section of the grocery store and for my loyal HT Shoppers, is B1G1 this week)
1 pound of ground sausage (Jimmy Dean = perfection)
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2.5 t. dried sage (fresh is fun too! - double if you go fresh)
1.5 t. dried rosemary
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and chopped
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley (if you go dried - half this amount)
3/4 c. turkey or chicken stock
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes until evenly toasted. Transfer all cubes to a large bowl.
In a skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat. Add the celery, sage, rosemary and thyme (this so feels like a Simon and Garfunkle song). Cook, stirring for 2 minutes to blend the flavors.
Pour the sausage mixture over the bread in the bowl. Mix in the chopped apples, dried cranberries and parsley. Drizzle with the turkey or chicken stock and butter. Mix LIGHTLY and put in a large buttered casserole dish. You just need to heat this through - 25 minutes or so. If you want it crisp on top, leave the lid off your casserole dish. This is SOOOOO good and you'll forget you ever even saw a box of Stove Top once you've had it.
Next up - how do you cook that crazy turkey and can we put any more fattening ingredients in the potatoes? Chat more tomorrow!