Category Archives: Thanksgiving

Kitchen Fun: Thanksgiving Success = Staying Organized

Even though I am an organizational nut (remember how Staples is my favorite store?), I really do think that the easiest way to host a successful Thanksgiving meal is to have a well thought out plan in place. So, I thought I would share the super neato spreadsheets I created to make sure I knew what was next in the t-day game plan. If spreadsheets don’t do it for you, you might want to just wait for my next post… this one is for the nerds.

First, my checklist, which is really a time line of sorts:

I spent some time first deciding what I was going to make and then determining which of those things could be made or perhaps prepared ahead of time. This was nice because I was able to spread out the work over several days, which meant I could actually see my family while they were in town!

The other two spreadsheets I made had to do with shopping for the big day. First I made a comprehensive list of everything I was making and the ingredients each dish required.

Then I took all the information there and made one big shopping list that included everything I would need for the big day. I added a column for “store” so that I could note if I had items at home or wanted to get them from a particular place (for example, the only place I could find Challah was at the Fresh Market).

The final organizational idea I had was to make sure I had enough dishes to hold everything I was making. So, I pulled out all my serving dishes and labeled them with little post-its.

This ended up being super useful, because I found out I didn’t have anything for my stuffing! Thank goodness my mother-in-law could bring one down with her since they were driving… Not sure if you noticed in the above picture, but there are a few odd post-it notes (like on the candle) because my dad decided it would be really funny to relabel everything.

I, in my “I have way too many things going on right now” state, thought this was hilarious, obviously.

He also tried to rearrange my Welcome Pears to spell something… less welcoming… thankfully he couldn’t come up with anything.

So, that’s it! All my holiday organizing tips. Do you have any suggestions for ways to maintain your sanity (besides drinking heavily)? Would love to hear what you’ve done to make things run more smoothly…


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Kitchen Fun: Thanksgiving Recap

Wait, what?! Thanksgiving, you say? It’s December, Natalie. Christmas is in four days. You’re way behind.

I know this is what you are all thinking, but it’s intentional, I promise. I decided not to do a recap right after T-day because I was totally Thanksgiving’d out. I had thought about it SO much and tried SO many recipes and ate SO much food that I just couldn’t bring myself to do any more Thanksgiving. But, I knew hosting Thanksgiving was a super grown up thing to do, so I wanted to make sure it got on the blog. Then I thought, some people may want to try out some of these recipes for Christmas! Voila! A reason to share my T-day recap. So, without further ado…

Here’s what I made:


I got my turkey from a local farmer, Wild Turkey Farms, if you’re a local and decided to brine it using Williams Sonoma’s brine and brining bags, which were both wonderful. Then I cooked it loosely following the Pioneer Woman’s directions (my turkey was much smaller).

I put some extra onions and celery in the cavity, which my mom suggested to give it more depth of flavor. My father-in-law, the surgeon, was assigned to carve the turkey.  He did an excellent job.


I made gravy using the Pioneer Woman’s directions, also, but ended up veering off her course because mine wasn’t thickening up.  I ended up adding some cornstarch, which did the trick!


I used Martha’s dinner roll recipe, which was a huge success.

Apparently my father-in-law is obsessed with rolls, which I didn’t know about him before Thanksgiving. Good to know.

Sweet Potatoes

I used Martha’s sweet potato recipe, also, which I liked, but I think I’m going to use another one next year because toasting nuts at the last minute when you’re trying to do one million other things was just too much. They were burned (several times). Thanks goodness I had extras.

Mashed Potatoes and Stuffing

For my mashed potatoes, I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, which was a godsend because I could make them the day before and heat them up once I pulled the turkey out of the oven. Amazing.

And for my stuffing, I actually sort of made up a recipe (scary, I know) using Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Challah stuffing and making it into a semi-bread pudding. It was delicious, if I do say so myself. Happy to share the recipe if anyone is interested.

Mac and Cheese

I used Smitten Kitchen’s mac and cheese recipe, but just used cheddar cheese, which both Brian and I liked better. Also, Brian isn’t a fan of breadcrumbs on top, so we nixed them as well.

Also, make sure you get a really good cheddar, none of the cheap-o stuff.  It’s called mac and CHEESE, so you want to make sure your cheese has a chance to live up to people’s expectations.

Cranberry Sauce

I made it, but I won’t again because even though this was pretty tasty, no one touched it.  We had this amazing fruity dish that my mother-in-law made, which just totally outshined my cranberry sauce.

If you’re need a recipe for it, though, I used one from The Bitten Word and it was super easy and very tasty.

Things not made by me

My mother-in-law’s deeeeelicious pretzel salad, which we agree is really a health food (it is a SALAD after all). My mom dubbed it “Kentucky Salad” which I kind of like.I have to warn you, this isn’t a very flattering picture, but it was scrumptious.

My mom made a salad and greens, which were both a tasty and fairly healthful additions. We decided that we don’t need a salad next year, though. It was good, but just another thing to worry about and no one would miss it (more room for mac and cheese!).

All in all, it was a great meal and a great weekend. I was so happy to have my family in town and, in the end, wasn’t nearly as stressed out as I thought I would be. Everything turned out wonderfully and I’m excited to do it all over again next year!

Coming later this week: some tips I have for the big day, including my uber cool spreadsheets. Yes, spreadsheets. I heart excel.



Filed under cooking, Thanksgiving

Friday Finds: Thanksgiving Solution

Nevermind all the Thanksgiving prep I’ve been talking about.  I’m changing my plans and going with a Thanksgiving Cake.

This cake from CHOW is made up of two turkey meatloaf layers (the top and bottom layers) and a stuffing/cranberry sauce layer. The layers are sandwiched together by a mashed potato filling and the cake is topped off with sweet potatoes and roasted marshmallows.

I can only imagine the looks one would get if they served up this “cake” for Thanksgiving dinner.

What do you think? Genius or idiotic?



Filed under cooking, Friday Finds, Thanksgiving

Kitchen Fun: Thanksgiving Recipe Testing

As promised, I’m going to share with you my adventures in recipe testing for Thanksgiving.

I was a little unsure about the best way to do this, since if I did a post about each recipe I tried it’ll be next Thanksgiving before I’m finished and there are other things I want to talk about. So! I’m going to link you guys to my Thanksgiving Flickr page with these handy mosaics I made for each dish. Each mosaic represents a collection that has pictures of all the recipes I tried.

For example, my stuffing flickr collection includes pics of all the recipes I tried: Joy of Cooking’s Sausage and Apple Stuffing (it’s on page 483 of the Joy of Cooking), Martha’s Chestnut Stuffing, and (the winner) Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Challah Stuffing.

Stuffing was the one I struggled with most- I actually STILL haven’t nailed down the final details of my recipe!  I don’t know whether I just had unrealistic expectations or whether I am just too used to the box kind… but all mine didn’t really stick together like I thought they should.  They were moist, but still crumbly… So! I’m going to try to adapt Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s recipe by melding it with a savory bread pudding recipe I have.  I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.

The other dish I struggled with was sweet potatoes. I tried four recipes: Williams Sonoma’s Sweet Potato Mash (from their Bride and Groom Cookbook), Bon Appetit’s Sweet Potato Pudding, my own recipe for Sweet Potatoes Anna, and (the winner) Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Puree with Maple Glaze (in this month’s Martha Stewart Living).

It took me the longest time to find one that was what I wanted – so many of them changed either the flavor or texture of the sweet potato so much that it just wasn’t sweet potato-y enough for Thanksgiving (or at least my Thanksgiving).  I really liked all the ones I tried (Brian loved Williams Sonoma’s – we’ll definitely be having that again), but only Martha’s version gave me what I wanted for t-day.

Mac and cheese was a special request of Brian’s and it took me three tries to find the perfect version (for him). The first one (from the Nourish cookbook – a favorite of mine) had a good flavor, but was not the consistency/texture that Brian was hoping for.  The next one I tried (Martha’s via Smitten Kitchen) was the perfect texture/consistency, but he didn’t like the flavor as much.  To solve the flavor problem, I went back to the cheese in the first one (just cheddar – the second had both cheddar and gruyere) but stuck with SK for the rest of the recipe.  Oh boy, was it yummy.

The rest of my dishes were less of a struggle (thankfully!) – I just tried one recipe for each.

I’m using the Pioneer Woman’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes (yea for being able to make them in advance and bake them the day of!) and Cranberry Pomegranate Relish that I saw on the Bitten Word this past week.

So, what about dessert you may ask? I have only tried one of the two I’m making – Apple Pie.  The other, Pumpkin Cream Pie, is by Martha and seems pretty simple (let’s keep our fingers crossed!).

As for turkey and gravy, I’m planning to use the Pioneer Woman‘s directions/recipes, mixed with a few things I picked up elsewhere…

Oh, and I know there is absolutely nothing healthy about the above… don’t worry, I’m also including sauteed greens and a big ol’ salad in the menu.

After all that, what do you think of my menu?  I’m pretty excited about it!

{P.S. – Sorry the mosaics are SO SMALL… I couldn’t figure out how to make them any bigger… any techies out there that can help me?!}


Filed under cooking, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2010

As I mentioned yesterday, Brian and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year.  That’s right, in just two weeks, my parents, Brian’s parents, and Brian’s brother are all eating a meal I will prepare in my kitchen and serve in my dining room.  This is terrifies me and elates me all at the same time.

I’m nervous because:

1) we only have four chairs
2) I’ve never made a turkey before and
3) there is a chance no matter what I make, I won’t live up to my own ridiculously high standards for a Thanksgiving meal.

However, the thing that is keeping me going is the fact that my whole family will be here and I’m pretty sure they’ll love me even if I totally mess up Thanksgiving (I mean, at least it’s not Christmas).

So, in preparation for the big day, I’m going to be testing recipes to decide which are going to make an appearance on my Thanksgiving table.  Thankfully, I have a rough idea of the menu I want:

Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce

Since hosting Thanksgiving is a pretty grown up thing to do, I think it totally makes sense for me to subject all of you , my dear readers, to the various recipes I attempt.  Though, just to warn you, I’m not planning to make a turkey before the big day (I like to live dangerously).

Hope you enjoy!



Filed under cooking, family, Thanksgiving