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The first Thanksgiving meal that I cooked was for my parents in the first apartment that my new husband and I shared. It was just the four of us, but I cooked like I was feeding an army of people. I must have had 10 side dishes plus a ham, and a turkey, and dessert. We ate Thanksgiving for weeks and I think it took me a good 3 days to wash all of the dishes. Since then, I have cooked over a dozen Thanksgivings and I have experienced just about all of the problems that can arise while cooking the big meal. I have dealt with the still-frozen turkey, the vegetarian guest, and the gravy that just won’t thicken. Heck, I even went into labor while preparing the Thanksgiving ham! Along the way, I have learned a few things to make cooking the Thanksgiving meal much smoother. Here are some tips that I have learned plus a few that my friends have shared with me, too:
- Plan ahead. Write out your whole menu, plus the shopping list, well in advance. Take into account what can be made ahead, what can cook at the same temperature in the oven, and how long each dish will take.
- Accept any help that is offered. If none is offered, ask for help! Aunt Sue wants to bring the pie? Great! Little Timmy wants to set the table? Go for it! Out of ice? Send the teenager on the couch!
- Don’t try to make this meal healthy, or fancy, or “non-traditional”. Your guests have been looking forward to this meal for 364 days, don’t deprive them of their turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. Stick to only one or two new dishes to go with the old favorites.
- Embrace disposable pans and dishes, especially if you are feeding a lot of people. There will still be plenty of dishes to wash. That being said…
- The rule is – IF YOU COOK IT, THEN SOMEONE ELSE CLEANS IT. Cooking a feast is no joke, make sure someone else is rolling up their sleeves to scrub the potatoes out of the pot.
The most important thing to remember on Thanksgiving is to enjoy the day. Don’t freak out if you left the giblets in the turkey, or if your chess pie is still runny in the middle, or if the dog helped himself to the deviled eggs. Just pour yourself a cup of cheer and enjoy the company of the ones you love.
If you are looking for something new for the table, here is a decadent make-ahead sweet potato dish. It’s a take on duchess potatoes without the fuss of piping out individual portions. Is smooth and creamy and topped with a nutty crunch.
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 4 Tablespoons butter divided
- ¼ teaspoon apple pie spice
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ cup chopped and toasted pecans
- Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Pierce the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and place on the middle rack. Bake until potatoes are soft.
- Scoop the flesh of the sweet potatoes out into a large bowl while still warm. With a potato masher, mix in 3 tablespoons of butter, spices, salt, sugar, ginger and the egg yolks. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If you want to get fancy, you can spoon the potato mixture into a piping bag with a star tip and pipe into a buttered baking dish, or you can spread the sweet potatoes into a buttered, 9-inch baking dish and then use a fork to create peaks on the surface. It’s up to you.
- Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush over the top of the potato peaks. Bake the dish at 425 degrees until nicely browned on top, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with toasted pecans and serve or store for up to 3 days in the fridge. Reheat before serving.
- Tip: Toast pecans by putting them into a dry skillet over medium heat and stirring until they begin to smell nutty.