Thanksgiving Menu, Tried and True

I do it every year.

When the November magazines start to arrive, and the covers showcase all versions of updated Thanksgiving classics, I think, “Maybe this is the year to tinker with my menu.” I start to daydream about change. That brown-sugar glaze looks amazing – and easy. Maybe I should add another vegetable dish, like that one with the Brussels sprouts and pancetta. Wow. Check out that pear and custard pie. Do you think it’s crazy to make four different desserts for my family of six?

And then, when it’s just days from The Big Meal and I’m forced to make a decision, I always end up sticking with my traditional line-up. I put it together a few years ago, and it works so well, I can’t bring myself to mess with it.

So I thought I’d share it with you, in case you’re still flirting with decisions. (And if you are, trust me. I understand. No one in my family eats stuffing, except me, but it seems wrong not to make stuffing, doesn’t it? How do I force myself to leave that dish out?)

There are three reasons why I am sold on this particular menu.

1. You can make almost everything the day before. Even for people like me who love to cook, this is a sanity saver. It allows me to enjoy the day of Thanksgiving and spend most of it playing games with my children or going on hikes through the woods outside my door instead of standing on my feet in front of the stove for eight hours. You might say, it enables me to have a slice of Sabbath with my pie – and Sabbath is fuel for a thankful heart.

It was also crucial the last few years because all of our recent homes have only had one oven, which can make Thanksgiving Day extra tricky. Having the side dishes already prepared and ready to reheat in the oven while the turkey rests took a lot of mental gymnastics out of the day.

2. It’s a symphonic menu - meaning, it is more than the sum of its parts. If I remove even one dish, the meal loses something. Put together, it’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet, crispy and creamy, fresh and rich. It touches on every Thanksgiving must-have, sometimes in unexpected ways, without overwhelming the table with any one food group.

3. It tastes phenomenal. 'Nuff said.

Without further ado, here's Thanksgiving Day chez Love Well:

Good Eats Roast Turkey Nothing trendy here. No figs in the stuffing or deep-frying the bird or roasting it upside down. Nope, it’s just turkey, Alton Brown-style. It’s brined – which is really the key to taking a turkey from OK to O WOW – and then cooked at high heat in your oven. The recipe videos are especially helpful to me. (And highly entertaining. "Stuffing, by and large, is evil.") I watch them every year – it’s my own Thanksgiving tradition – so I can be re-educated about the science behind cooking a 15-pound bird in my oven. Also? If you doubt me, believe the good people on the Food Network’s website. This recipe has five stars and almost 3500 reviews.

White Wine Gravy
Gravy is one of those dishes I feel free to play with, but this recipe is close to what I do. I really like the white wine undertones in this. I don't serve wine at Thanksgiving, so I don't offend my Baptist in-laws. But this gravy almost makes up for it.

Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Seriously. These are a revelation. And so easy. I especially love that I can make them on Wednesday and then pop them in the oven to warm on Thanksgiving and yet they lose nothing in the process. They are just as good the second day as the first.

Roasted Harvest Vegetables
From one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food. A medley of carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and garlic are roasted at high heat the day before Thanksgiving. (Note: If the aroma of this dish could be made into a perfume, I would wear it.) Just reheat before serving. Again, nothing is lost in translation.

Green Bean, Watercress and and Crispy Shallot Salad
Another Everyday Food contribution. This is a simple salad -- blanched fresh green beans tossed in a light lemon-Dijon vinaigrette and topped with pan-fried shallot circles. Best: It's best served room temperature. Nothing to reheat here. Just prepare the different parts on Wednesday and toss before serving on Thursday.

Dinner Rolls
Normally, I make homemade crescent rolls - and these I do make on Thanksgiving Day, because Corey begs for the bread to be fresh. But this year, I'm going to change it up a little, because the November 2011 Everyday Food had an updated Parker House rolls recipe in which the rolls are brushed twice with melted butter and finished with a sprinkling of salt. (Pardon me. I just drooled.) The recipe isn't on the web yet, nor is the picture, which alone can cause a diabetic coma. So the link up there is only similar, not identical. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Zesty Cranberry Sauce
I love cranberry sauce, and this homemade version is so good, I sometimes eat it for dessert. (True story.) I can't find the recipe online; I've had it so long, I'm not even sure where I got it. But it's easy and short, so I'll just give it to you here.
1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine everything in a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to pop, about 8-10 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pumpkin Pie
I've loved pumpkin pie for as long as I can remember -- only, it must be THIS pumpkin pie, the kind my mother made and her mother before her. (That's my pumpkin pie in the picture, accompanied by the pear-apple crostata I sometimes make.) It has the right blend of spice and sugar for me. According to family lore, my Nannie got the recipe off a Kroger's can of pumpkin in the 1940s -- which is not the recipe Kroger's shares today. So, for what it's worth, here's what I make.
16 oz canned pumpkin (I can only find 15 oz cans, usually; maybe they don't make 16 oz anymore)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients well. Bake in an unbaked pie crust at 450 for 10 minutes, and then 350 until set, about another 45 min.

Now I'm off for some final grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. Because avoiding a last-minute trip to the grocery store on the day before Thanksgiving is just as critical as the menu itself. Are you with me?


  1. Yum! I'm going to be using your cranberry sauce recipe! Actually I'm about to make it and wanted to get the measurements. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  2. It sounds phenomenal! I am sure everyone appreciates all your hard work :)