In case you didn't know, I've never hosted Thanksgiving dinner. My family has set plans. Plans that haven't been changed in years. We have lunch at Nana's at 1:00 on Thanksgiving. For years Aaron and I would split up for the day to cover both families. Since we had Bailey we've been attempting to make it to both family meals, but that's difficult when Nana wants to eat at 1:00 and then his family makes reservations at a restaurant an hour away at 3:00.
So this year I made an executive decision to cook dinner at Aaron's parents' house and serve at 7:00. That will give me time to have lunch with my family and then head out to his parents' house to cook all afternoon. (Mostly I'm just hoping I won't be too full from lunch to want to cook.) The thing is, I've never roasted a turkey, I've never made sweet potato casserole, and I've never put together a meal this big for this many people. (We're estimating having 16-18 guests.) I'm just a little worried so I'm making a big deal of planning and this post has helped tremendously. So let's get to the Thanksgiving goodies!
A Wish for a Juicy Roasted Turkey:
Oven Roasted Turkey Breast from Pocket Change Gourmet
This is just a small 2-3 lb boneless breast but it looks amazing! I'm not sure I'll be making this one but we are going with a turkey breast rather than a whole turkey this year. Since I've never roasted a turkey I may go find a tutorial on turkey and educate myself. I have roasted a chicken; besides the size it can't be too terribly different.
A Wish for "Cream of ... Soup"-Free Casseroles:
Green Bean Casserole from Buns in my Oven
I have been making my own cream of chicken and cream of vegetable soup for about a year now and even used it in a recipe last Thanksgiving (Yaya's Broccoli Casserole) so this recipe is right up my alley. Green bean casserole was a childhood favorite of mine. I used to ask for it alongside my baby back ribs every year for my birthday and was always the kid standing in the kitchen finish it off at Thanksgiving dinner with Admiral's family. Plus, this one has bacon! Be still my heart.
A Wish for Unboxed Mac and Cheese:
Tricia Yearwood's Crock Pot Mac and Cheese from The Pub and Grub Forum
My family has never served mac and cheese at Thanksgiving dinner. I guess my family is just more interested in traditional Thanksgiving foods like broccoli casserole and turkey and dressing. Aaron's family has a lot more kids who are less impressed by turkey and dressing so they have a huge pot of mac and cheese at their dinner. This year (to save time and energy) I'm serving Kraft macaroni and cheese (not the disgusting powdered stuff, don't worry) but next year when I've got a Thanksgiving under my belt I'll probably attempt something like this.
A Wish for My First Sweet Potato Casserole:
Candied Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole from Creme de la Crumb
This one actually is on the menu this year. I've never made a sweet potato casserole. From what I understand my family usually uses canned yams topped with marshmallows (yuck!) so I went searching for something a little more sophisticated. I know for some it's just not Thanksgiving without the marshmallows on top but I've never been fond of them so I think I'm only going to put marshmallows on half of mine. I'll let you know how it turns out. I can't wait to try it!
A Wish for Amped Up Mashed Potatoes:
Loaded Baked Mashed Potatoes from Home Cooking Memories
For almost five years I was in charge of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. I don't know if it was the only thing they trusted me to make or if they just really like my mashed potatoes, but I decided the first year they assigned them to me that I would definitely not be doing plain, boring, or ordinary. I mashed my potatoes and then put them in a casserole dish and topped them with cheese and crispy bacon and they were a huge hit. This is really similar to the potatoes I usually make for family gatherings. It tastes like the filling in a twice baked potato but it still works well with the gravy.
A Wish for a Tricked Out Apple Pie:
Maple Apple Pie with Walnut Crumble Topping from Brown Eyed Baker
Apple pie is great, but it can be a bit boring. Why not pump it up with maple flavor and top it with walnut crumble? This pie looks amazing and if I didn't already have my pies planned I would probably add this to the lineup. And of course it's from Brown Eyed Baker who is just amazing in general. Seriously, in my list of top blogs to follow she's definitely in my top five.
A Wish for a Chocolaty Twist on a Traditional Thanksgiving Favorite:
Chocolate Pecan Pie from Feasts for All Seasons
Admiral is a purist when it comes to pecan pie but I'm all for adding a little bourbon or chocolate to mine. If you've never had chocolate pecan pie, definitely try it if you get the chance. People assume adding chocolate to pecan pie will ruin it but they are wrong! Try it! Try it! TRY IT!
A Wish for Some Awesome Decorations:
Okay, I'm lumping all of the decorations under one wish but there's something here for everyone. I've included a pair of kid crafts and a couple of more elegant centerpiece designs. I'm not planning on doing any of these because there won't be room on our table but for those of you who have a large dining room table these will be perfect for you!
I'll start with the kid stuff.
Gratitude Turkeys from Happiness is Homemade
This is on the simple end of the scale, I guess for younger kids. I would love to do one of these with Bailey if I have time. It's not difficult and uses materials I already have around the house. It would also be fun to make them year after year and keep them to remember all the things you have to be thankful for every year.
The Kid's Table Paper Bag Turkey from One Charming Party
I love this little thing. You fill it with popcorn for the kids to munch on while waiting for their dinner plates and it looks like a roasted turkey! How adorable is that?
Cranberry Floating Centerpiece from Elizabeth Anne Designs
Okay, so this one is for a wedding but the concept translates well to Thanksgiving. You can do these a couple of ways: 1) You fill the bowl with cranberries and water and then float the candles on the water. 2) You put the candle in an apothecary jar or hurricane candle holder and then fill in around it with cranberries. If you choose option 2 you get the added benefit of the candle warming the cranberries and filling the air with cranberry scent.
Fall Candle Centerpiece from That's What Che Said
These are beautiful and simple. I think she used fake leaves in hers but if you have some brightly colored leaves still on your trees at this point you could use those as well. What a pretty product from just some leaves, some twine, and some burlap.
And just because I've been doing this for a week now I'll include my favorite homemade air freshener.
All you do is peel two oranges with a vegetable peeler (yes, you can still eat the oranges), add a handful or two of fresh cranberries, a stick of cinnamon, and maybe a few whole cloves. Combine everything in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover everything plus about an inch more. Put it on the stove and let it simmer on very low heat for as long as you want. Make sure to keep plenty of water in it because the water will evaporate as it cooks, but you can use this for up to a week or so if you keep a lid on it when it's not on the heat. I promise you it smells just like the Sparkling Cinnamon at Yankee Candle.