Your Easiest Thanksgiving Dinner Ever
Hosting Your First Thanksgiving
Even if you've never made a turkey or only have one child-free arm to stir the gravy, our step-by-step plan will make you seem like a Thanksgiving pro. The secret: Prep most of your dishes the day before the meal so you can focus your energy on the turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Our delicious menu feeds eight adults and a couple of young kids, but feel free to buy a bigger turkey and double the side dishes if your family is larger. Then gobble up all the compliments!
The Day Before: Make the Cranberry Sauce
A little balsamic vinaigrette gives great flavor to this sauce. Whip it up today right in the serving bowl you plan to use, and tomorrow you'll only have to take it out of the fridge. Another reason to start with cranberry sauce: You'll need a cup for the Thanksgiving dessert that you're baking next.
The Day Before: Bake Your Dessert
Your guests will probably offer to bring a pie to dinner. Take them up on that, but bake this stunning Bundt cake, too! The filling is the cranberry sauce you just made (Isn't that cool?). The boxed cake mix saves even more time. Don't glaze the cake until tomorrow, though.
The Day Before: Put Together the Stuffing
Our pecan stuffing with dried cherries tastes absolutely divine -- and the whole grain croutons are healthy to boot! Mix it up today so you just have to pop it in the oven tomorrow.
The Day Before: Whip Up the Cinnamon Butter
Tomorrow, you'll bake sweet potatoes and serve them with this amazingly flavorful butter. We added in some Greek yogurt to cut back a little on saturated fat. Save a few dishes by making it in the bowl you plan to use tomorrow.
The Day Before: Prep the Green Beans
This is an easy task for the kids if you want to enlist their help. Wash 2 pounds of fresh green beans to use in your recipe tomorrow. Pat dry then break off the stem ends. Wrap the beans in plastic and refrigerate them until morning.
The Day Before: Make Herb Ricotta
You can mix up this delicious herb-cheese mixture in just a few minutes. Cover and refrigerate it until you clean and prep the turkey. When it's ready, you'll slip this cheesy mixture under the skin of the turkey to keep the meat moist and flavorful!
The Day Before: Tackle the Turkey
Start with a 15-pound turkey -- it'll be enough to feed your guests and still have leftovers. You can buy a frozen turkey and let it thaw in the fridge for several days, but it's best to buy one fresh. It's tricky to cook a turkey's thighs and legs without drying out the breast. Our solution? Butterfly the bird -- essentially, flatten it so it cooks faster. You can ask your butcher to do this, but it's easy enough to do yourself once you know how. After you've butterflied the turkey and before you leave the kitchen for the day, place the turkey, cavity side down, in a large roasting pan. Loosen the skin over the breast and legs, then place the prepared ricotta mixture under the skin. Sprinkle on salt and pepper before covering the turkey with plastic wrap and leaving it to chill in the refrigerator overnight.
3-1/2 Hours Before Dinner: Roast the Turkey
Preheat your oven to 400?F. Remove the plastic wrap from the turkey, then cover it with aluminum foil. Place your turkey in the oven -- it'll take about three hours to fully cook. Take our word for it -- the turkey will cook faster since it's butterflied! If you decided not to butterfly the turkey, use our roasting guide to help you determine cooking times.
1-1/2 Hours Before Dinner: Glaze Your Cake and Prep Potatoes
Glaze your Bundt cake and place it on the table once you're finished. Also, set out serving dishes and utensils for the sweet potatoes, green beans, gravy, and turkey. Scrub and slice eight sweet potatoes and place them on a baking sheet.
1 Hour Before Dinner: Cook Potatoes and Stuffing
Put the sweet potatoes and the stuffing you prepared yesterday in the oven. Remove the foil from the turkey so the skin can brown.
30 Minutes Before Dinner: Take Out the Turkey
Your turkey should be done now -- check it with a food thermometer to make sure the meat registers 165?F. If it's ready, take it out of the oven and transfer it to a large cutting board or platter. Set out the cranberry sauce and cinnamon butter.
25 Minutes Before Dinner: Make the Gravy
Whip up perfect gravy every time with our simple recipe! Dissolving the cornstarch in cold or room temperature stock will prevent the gravy from clumping.
20 Minutes Before Dinner: Finish the Sweet Potatoes
Take your now-crispy sweet potatoes out of the oven and place them on a platter with the cinnamon butter. Mmm!
15 Minutes Before Dinner: Remove the Stuffing
Take your stuffing out of the oven -- and turn your oven knob to off! (You shouldn't have anything left to bake!) Bring the stuffing and the gravy to the dinner table.
12 Minutes Before Dinner: Make the Green Beans
Green beans don't stay hot for long, so it's important to cook them at the last minute. (That's why you prepped them yesterday!)
Bring the rest of your homemade Thanksgiving dinner dishes to the table -- and ask your kids to announce that dinner is ready. Don't be surprised if they swipe a green bean or two while guests are starting to take their seats!
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine.