After the Thanksgiving Feast

Well, hopefully your meal was a great success and everyone got wonderfully full and went into turkey comas.  I know I did!  Now what do you do with the leftovers?  There is a lot you can do.  FIRST…do NOT throw away that turkey carcass!  Keep it in the refrigerator to make Turkey Stock for Turkey Stew!  Mine is doing a slow boil now and once again, my house smells YUMMY!

You can also freeze leftovers in single size containers to take our and have a ready made turkey dinner!

You can make delicious Open Faced Hot Turkey Sandwiches

You can make Turkey Salad (for sandwiches or a side dish)

There are tons of things to do with your leftovers.  Don’t let them sit in the refrigerator and become a science experiment.  If you can’t eat them all within a week, freeze them!

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Planning and Creating your Thanksgiving Feast

Planning a big meal (or feast) isn’t much different than planning a dinner party or a party.  First you figure out what kind of food you want to serve, then you make a list of ingredients needed, shop for them and then put them all together and wah lah!  done.  Well, it is more work than it sounds like, but with careful planing you can do a lot ahead of time and prepare some things in advance.

Some tips for doing things ahead is to shop for everything at least a week in advance (unless you are planning to serve fresh fruit or veggies and then I would get everything except them in advance and buy the fresh items the day before.

An easy way to make sure that you do not forget anything is to pull your recipes for each dish on your list and then verify that you have all ingredients for each recipe in stock.  Make your shopping list as you do this and you will not find yourself short something at the last minute.

My Thanksgiving Feast changes from year to year depending on how many people will be attending.  If  it is just my husband and me, I keep the menu simple with a few items we both love.  There are the standards, which will always be on the menu for Thanksgiving.  Deviled Eggs, Pumpkin and Apple Pies, and of course, TURKEY and Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy.  This year we have two friends coming for dinner, so I added a few things.

I also make a few of the ingredients called for in my recipes, like sage butterand homemade nature’s seasons.  These can be made ahead and stored (sage butter in refrigerator and take out 1-2 hours prior to using to soften; nature’s seasoning in an airtight container in your spice cabinet.).  I make a big batch of nature’s seasons, as I use it in almost everything I cook.  You’ll find the recipes on the page with the Roasted Turkey, as you will need both for that recipe.  Or simply click on the link to go to that page.

I also make the dips the day before (you can make them 2-3 days in advance) and I hard boil my eggs for deviled eggs the day before.  I usually make the deviled eggs the night before and refrigerate them  or I make the filling and put in a zip-lock in the fridge so all I have to do is plate them and cut the corner of the bag and fill them in the morning.  I also chop my onions and celery the day before and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator, so once again in the morning, all I have to do is throw them in the pan with butter and go.  If I am making homemade bread or pies, I will also make them the day before and then heat them up prior to serving.  My bread maker makes homemade bread so easily that I do that the morning of the feast and the aroma of fresh baked bread adds to all the other yummy smells of the day.  Fresh vegetables are better prepped, cooked and served the same day.

Once my turkey is getting happy in the oven, I peel and quarter the potatoes and put them in water (or chicken broth) in a pan on the stove (keeps them from turning brown).  I wash the baby carrots and put them in water also.   Then when the turkey is done, all I need to do is turn on the burners and start cooking the veggies.  I also get my serving dishes ready so it is like an assembly line when everything is done.  By now the guests are arriving and I want to spend as much time with them as possible, so I already have the table set, the appetizers out and my wine glass full.  Then it’s a quick check on everything and back to my friends.

NOTE:  If your turkey is frozen, MAKE SURE YOU TAKE IT OUT OF THE FREEZER AT LEAST 4 DAYS IN ADVANCE OF THE MEAL. A 15-20 pound turkey will take at least 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator!  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ROAST A FROZEN TURKEY!  If you find the turkey is not completely thawed, leave in original packaging or place in an airtight plastic bag and submerge in cold water.  Change water often and it takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw in water.  DO NOT LEAVE TURKEY ON COUNTERTOP TO THAW.  You are inviting that pesky bacteria called Salmonella to breed.  Also do not stuff your turkey until you are ready to put it in the oven.  This will also become a breeding ground for Salmonella.

Also, make sure to clean any utensils or surfaces that come in contact with the turkey and wash hands thoroughly after handling the turkey to prevent cross contamination.

I also cheated this year and bought my rolls and pies in the bakery at the local supermarket.  They are very reasonable and very good.  I simply place the pies in a warm oven (200 degrees) before serving dinner and by dessert time they are nice and warm.  You can also buy ready made dips for chips or veggie platters, I simply prefer to make my own.

One additional note.  This is a special day.  Plate your appetizers and put chips in bowls.  Don’t just throw the chip bag next to the dip, make the extra effort to make it look appealing.   Set the stage.  Make a nice presentation of your hard work.  Set the table up nicely.  Get yourself in the festive mood by dressing up and putting on makeup.  It’s going to take hours to cook that bird and you’ll have plenty of time to do it all.  Don’t stress and enjoy yourself.  Today is supposed to be fun and enjoyable.  Have a glass of wine while you are cooking and put on some music you love.  Your guests will appreciate the work you put into it and will feel special that you worked so hard to make it nice for them.  Although it is difficult for me to share my kitchen, you can also enlist their assistance and continue socializing while cooking.

Last Thanksgiving we did something really different and went our friends’ home and did a “Pot Luck” style dinner.  It takes a bit more planning in the beginning, but went off without a hitch and we all had a wonderful meal and a wonderful time.  To host this type of feast, first make a list of all the foods you want to have.  If you are into socializing with your friends you will know what they make that you and everyone else loves, so do not forget the “specialties” of each of your friends.  Then call and invite them and ask them to bring something on your list.  You can also leave it open ended and just ask them to bring a bread item, or a dessert item, or a side dish.  That way it is truly pot luck and you never know what you are going to end up with.  This is a great idea for a dinner party.  I would choose to do it like my friend and ask for specific side dishes and desserts, as we wanted traditional Thanksgiving foods.  They did a deep fried turkey and someone else did a traditional roasted turkey.  Someone else brought mashed potatoes, etc.  I did what my friends consider my specialties:  Bacon Wrapped BreadsticksDeviled Eggsand Italian Style “Spanakopita”.

This year’s menu is pretty simple…here it is.

Appitizers/Finger Food/Munchies

  • Deviled Eggs (make more than you think you’ll need, they go fast!)
  • Procuitto & Cheese Roll (you can buy this in the deli section at your supermarket. Slice thin and serve with any type of crackers) with Roasted Garlic Triscuits
  • Beefy Onion Dip with Chips
  • Mexican Dip with Tostitos Scoops
  • Stuffed Celery

Main Course

DESSERT

  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Apple Pie

There are many different things you can make or buy to make your meal special and inviting.  Just remember, even if you buy something pre-made instead of making from scratch, transfer it to an appealing serving bowl or plate.  It only takes a few minutes, but makes it look like you spent hours putting things together.

Here are just a few examples of things I have done on prior Thanksgivings or special dinners.  The only limit is your imagination.

APPETIZERS  (you can pick and choose between any of these depending on the number of people you are feeding)

MAIN COURSES

SIDE DISHES

DESSERTS

  • Pies:  Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat, Blueberry, Cherry
  • Cheesecake
  • Pudding
  • Bread Pudding
  • Cobblers:  Apple, Blueberry, Raspberry, Peach
  • Cake
  • Brownies
  • Fudge
  • Fruit Salad
  • Jello Molds

ADDITIONAL NOTE:  DON’T THROW AWAY THE TURKEY CARCASS!  SAVE IT FOR MY NEXT TRADITION…MAKING TURKEY STEW!

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  It is the day we all eat until our bodies ache and simply cannot move.  Then comes the nap.  Consider it an award of your culinary accomplishments if everyone falls asleep a few hours after the meal.

When I was growing up we always went to my grandparents’s house for Thanksgiving.  It was up an at ’em bright and early as we had an hour drive and we could not miss Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.  We would arrive between 8 & 9 am and the house was already filled with the wonderful smells of nana’s cooking.  We had a large family, so she had been baking pies and breads, fudge, and all kinds of wonderful goodies for us to munch throughout the day.  When we arrived she had always starting the stuffing, which as a kid I did not like to eat, but I always loved the smell of it.  She made it the old fashioned way, giblets and all.  My dad would help her prepare the turkey, which we always referred to as “Tom.”  The turkey was always huge, so my dad had to hold on to it while she stuffed him to the brim with her wonderful stuffing.  Then it was also dad’s job to put Tom in the oven as the sheer weight of the turkey was more than most of the women in our family could have managed.  Nana would rub him down it butter and sprinkle sage and spices on him and then he would be hidden away in the oven and would emerge hours later looking like a golden masterpiece.  As a child I didn’t really pay much attention to the work that went into the entire meal, but as I grew, Nana taught me a few secrets and allowed me into the inner sanctum of her kitchen to help.  Between my dad (who is one of the best cooks I have ever met) and my Nana, I truly had the best cooking teachers in the world.  They never measured anything unless it was for bread or pastry.  Everything was done by taste and smell and approximate.  I learned a dollop was about a heaping tablespoon, give or take and if the texture didn’t come out right add a little more of something.  It was a bit of a learning curve at first, but it helps to be adaptable in the kitchen.

There was always enough food for an army.  Every kind of vegetable you can imagine, every kind of pie you can imagine.  There was pickles, olives and peanuts.  There was bread pudding, chocolate pudding, and tapioca pudding.  We had mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Squash, Corn, Peas, Green Bean Casserole, Carrots, Beets, Turnips, boiled onions and beet greens and turnip greens.  We had apple pie, blueberry pie, mincemeat pie, pumpkin pie, cherry pie, lemon merangne pie, and chocolate cream pie.  There was peach cobbler and apple crisp.  There was fresh real whipped cream.  It was heavenly.  In the end everyone left with huge bags of leftovers that would feed their families for a week.

I remember going to the local High School Football Turkey day game between Deering and Portland High School.  It was the annual grudge match and we always had fun cheering for Deering High as my mom and her brother and sisters all graduated from Deering.

I also remember the year I graduated to the “adult” table.  That was a right of passage for me.  And then there was the year of the food fight!  My mother’s sister and brother got into a little spat at the dinner table and stuff started flying.  Needless to say, Gramps put a stop to that pretty quickly as someone hit him with a carrot or something!  In our family when Gramps barked, everyone listened.  It was just the way it was.

We would all gather around the piano and sing Christmas Carols and it was just a joyous and  festive day.   It was a day to be Thankful.  A day spent with family and friends.  Good food and good times.  Great memories.

Times past, Gramps and Nana have left this world and the family has developed their own traditions and gatherings.  I now live far from my childhood home and family.  So I had to make my own traditions and adapt them to a small group of people instead of the army that was our family.  I still have a little bit of Nana with me every year.  She crochet me an apron which I wear every Thanksgiving in her honor.  Dad taught me how to make my own Tom Turkey as well as many other goodies.  I have adapted recipes to add my own touch or flair to them.  You can do the same.  It is quite easy once you get started.  I’ve listed some of my favorites in the Thanksgiving Feast.  Feel free to make them your own.  You can make a wonderful Thanksgiving whether it is just you and your other half or you do as we do and invite friends who don’t have family around.  Love is the most important ingredient in the recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving.  It is actually the main ingredient for a happy life, not only on Thanksgiving, but everyday.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and is able to be thankful for something in their life, even if it is only life itself.