ThanksgivingTableSettingThe idea of cooking can be a very intimidating idea for some. The idea of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for other people, for the first time, by yourself, can be an absolutely nauseating thought. Take it from a girl whose only experience with cooking involved a freezer and microwave. Thanksgiving dinner was something I never thought I’d be responsible for.

Last Thanksgiving, my husband, myself and a few of our friends found ourselves for the first time living far away from family and unable to go home. I decided that instead of having everyone sit at home, to join together and have our own “Friendsgiving.” The hostess in me decided we would go all out.

I wanted to make every holiday dish I ever loved, decor to the nines and make it the greatest Thanksgiving we could possibly have. My experience with the whole process was both stressful and amazing, however, I learned a lot. I documented my experience and put together seven rules everyone can follow to hopefully use to avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

Rule 1: Take the advice of those who’ve come before you!

Call mom, call grandma, call whoever it is in your life that has had experience with Thanksgiving and write down every little piece of advice they give you! I called my mom and grandma. They gave me some amazing advice on preparing for the day. The best one they gave me was to prep or even cook certain foods the night before so that all you have to do is simply warm them up the next day. This way, you won’t be trying to cook a million things within a few hours. Yes mom, I wish I’d listened.

My 4:30 Thanksgiving feast turned into a 7:00 dinner because I decided I knew best. I prepped and cooked all of my food the day of and, while it came out amazing, I missed out on some great times with my friends because I was stuck in the kitchen all day.

Rule 2: Organize and keep it simple.

ThanksgivingDrinksI can’t stress this enough! Probably one of the biggest things I did right during this whole experience was simply organize the day out. First, and I highly suggest doing this, is write down every recipe that you want to serve, then make a list of every ingredient you will need and make sure to have at least double the amount needed (just in case).

Second, make a list of exactly how you want the day to go, what time everyone should come over, when everything should go in the oven, etc. Also, gather your cute decor, candles, specific dishes, even the outfit you want to wear and set them out so you aren’t searching for them the day of. I have to say I did a fairly good job of sticking to my lists when it came to decor and organizing my recipes, however, I totally blew it when it came to actually sticking to my schedule.

Lastly, keep it simple. Your recipes DO NOT have to be elaborate and over the top dishes. Pick Thanksgiving staple foods and put your own twist on it. This way, people will love them and if you mess them up a little bit, nobody will know! This also goes for your decor. You can use super easy decorations that will make a big impact with your guests! (Decor ideas and easy recipes shared below.)

Rule 3: Accept the help that is offered!

Simply put, if people offer to help with anything, let them! My “Martha Stewart ego” decided I wanted to do this all alone and turned down all cooking, prepping and even cleaning help from my husband and friends. I wanted this to be something I’d accomplished on my own. Looking back, I wish I’d let others help. I took on way more stress than I needed to and would have had a lot more free time to socialize during the day.

Rule 4: Don’t wait until the night before to do everything.

ThanksgivingBurlapI am the queen of waiting until the day before to do things. This included waiting until I got off from work the night before Thanksgiving to not only go grocery shopping, but also clean my house and decorate. Because of this poor decision, I was fighting insane crowds of people at the grocery store, driving around town to multiple stores to find everything needed and staying up until about 3 AM cleaning and setting everything up. My advice would be to use the weekend before Thanksgiving or slowly get things together during the week. Trust me, you will need all of your energy the day of and there is no time to be tired.

Rule 5: Thanksgiving Day: Give your guests distractions during the day while you’re figuring it all out.

Depending on when your guests are scheduled to come over and eat, I highly suggest some “distractions” to keep them busy until everything is ready. My guests were scheduled to come over at 11:30, but we weren’t scheduled to eat until 4:30 (which, as I said earlier, turned into 7:00). I knew that watching football on TV and socializing could only last so long. So, I set some things up for everyone to stay busy and have fun with while I prepared everything in the kitchen.

ThanksgivingDecorFirst off, I set up some corn hole and horseshoe games in our backyard. This kept everyone’s mind off eating and allowed for some really fun and great memories. I also prepared a super delicious Buffalo Chicken Dip that I’d set out as an “all day appetizer” for everyone to munch on throughout the day. Lastly I set out two drinks, which you can make alcoholic or not (mine were). These two drinks were total crowd pleasers and I highly suggest making these at your next event. One was Cranberry Sangria and the other was a Sparkling Punch. Side note, this is the greatest punch you will ever have! In fact, this punch is so good, it was the signature drink at my best friend’s wedding!

The great thing about these drinks is that not only are they easy to make and totally delicious, but you can put them in pretty drink dispensers or punch bowls and decorate them with fruit to instantly become part of your decor.

Rule 6: Take your time and have patience.

It’s no secret that you’re going to feel stressed, exhausted and maybe even frustrated at times while cooking all day. The biggest thing to remember is to just take your time and have patience. Pay attention to all ingredients, set timers up everywhere so everything cooks properly and just remember to breath.

I let myself get slightly rushed and a little scatterbrained trying to cook everything so fast, which actually led to me putting our dinner behind by a lot! Like I said earlier, plan out what takes the longest to cook (the turkey), what needs to be cooked first and just practice patience as you wait and figure things out throughout the day.

Rule 7: Once the cooking is done, take lots of pictures, RELAX and ENJOY!

10411232_10203147925716226_4856826174607440772_nYour table has been set, your food is finally done and now there are only two more things to do. First, take lots of pictures! Trust me, you will definitely want to document your first-time experience and maybe even use it as proof that, yes, you successfully made it through the day!

Second, RELAX and ENJOY. Yes! Sit down, relax with your marvelous food, your amazing guests and enjoy the masterpiece you’ve spent all day creating. Although I made many, many, many mistakes throughout the process, my end result was well worth it and, looking back, I loved every minute of it.

My food came out beautiful and delicious, and I had a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt before. Make sure to take in all of the compliments you’ll receive from your guests and remind yourself that you have 364 days until you have to go through this again!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Thanksgiving Recipes

Cranberry Sangria  

Ingredients:

For the non-alcoholic version, 1 bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider; for the Alcoholic version, 1 bottle sparkling wine (pick your favorite)

1 3-liter bottle of Sprite

2 cans of cranberry juice concentrate

Extras to make it fun and festive (I used real cranberries)

Mix all together and enjoy!

 

Sparkling Punch (My mom’s recipe, a.k.a. the best punch ever!)

Ingredients:

2 46-oz cans of pineapple juice

1 12-oz can of frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 10-oz can of strawberry daiquiri mix concentrate, thawed

1 2-liter bottle of ginger ale

Garnish with lemon slices

Alcoholic version: add your favorite champagne

Mix all together and enjoy!

 

Roasted Turkey

Ingredients:

1 whole turkey, 12 pounds

Butter or margarine, melted

Directions:

  1. Pick your perfect turkey.
  2. If the turkey is frozen, thaw it either slowly in the refrigerator, in cold water or quickly in the microwave, following the manufacturer’s directions. Different sized turkeys require different methods of thawing, so make sure to research how to best thaw yours.
  3. Remove the package of giblets (yuck), if present, from the neck cavity of the turkey and discard. Rinse the cavity or inside of the turkey with cool water; pat dry with paper towels. Rub the cavity lightly with salt if desired, but DO NOT salt the cavity if you will be stuffing the turkey.
  4. Stuff the turkey just before roasting, not ahead of time. Fill the wishbone area (the neck) with stuffing first. Fasten the neck skin to the back of the turkey with a skewer. Fold the wings across the back so the tips are touching. Fill the body cavity lightly with stuffing. Do not pack the stuffing because it will expand during roasting. Tuck the drumsticks under the band of skin at the tail, or tie or skewer the drumsticks to the tail.
  5. Place the turkey breast-side-up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush with melted butter or margarine. It is not necessary to add water or to cover the turkey. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over the turkey when it begins to turn golden. When it’s two-thirds done, cut the band or remove the skewer holding the drumsticks; this will allow the interior part of the thighs to cook through.
  6. Roast until temperature reads 165°F (for a whole turkey) and drumsticks move easily when lifted or twisted. When the turkey is done, remove it from the oven and let it stand for 15 minutes for easy carving. Keep it covered with aluminum foil so it stays warm.

 

Buffalo Chicken Dip (appetizer)

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup buffalo sauce

½ cup bleu cheese dressing

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, then scoop into a baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with fresh vegetables and crackers for dipping.

 

Mac & Cheese Casserole

Ingredients:

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

½ stick of butter

2½ cups of shredded cheddar cheese

2 eggs

½ cup of milk

A pinch of paprika

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a casserole dish (I used a little butter)

Cook macaroni and drain the hot water

Melt butter in the pot, add pasta and 2 cups of cheese

In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk and paprika together

Add egg mixture to the pasta, mix well and spread into the casserole dish

Spread the rest of the cheese on the pasta and bake uncovered for 30 minutes

 

Sautéed Mushroom & Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. butter

½ package of sliced fresh mushrooms (or sliced Portobello mushrooms)

1 can (10.5 oz.) can Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

½ cup milk

3 cans (14.5 oz. each) cut green beans, drained

1 can (6 oz.) prepared crispy fried onions

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-to-high heat. Cook mushrooms for 4 minutes or until tender. Stir in soup, milk, beans and 2/3 cup onions. Pour into a 2 qt. casserole.

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. Stir and sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake for 5 minutes longer or until onions are golden brown.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients:

Crust:

1 ¼ cup graham crackers and ginger snaps crumbs

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ cup melted butter

Pumpkin cheesecake filling

2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 egg

1 cup (8 oz.) canned or homemade pumpkin puree

1/3 cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Instructions:

Heat oven to 375°F.

  1. In a small bowl, mix the crumbs with the spices and melted butter. With your fingers, press evenly on the bottom and sides of a 9″ round pan with removable bottom.
  2. Refrigerate for 5-10 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of your stand-up mixer, add the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar and heavy cream. With the paddle attachment on, stir on low speed until fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and blend well.
  5. Reserve 2/3 cup of the cheese mixture.
  6. Add the pumpkin puree, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spices to the remaining cheese mixture. Blend well.
  7. Pour the pumpkin cheese mixture into the chilled crust. Spread evenly.
  8. With a spoon, drop dollops of the reserved cream cheese mixture and make some swirls with a fork or knife.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the center is set.
  10. Turn the oven off, leave the door open and let the cheesecake cool for at least 1 hour. Run a knife around the cheesecake for easy removal from the pan.
  11. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before slicing.

 

Other Dishes Served

Mimosas (orange juice and your favorite champagne)

Instant Potatoes and Gravy

Instant Stuffing

Dinner rolls

Chocolate Chip Cookies (made from premade cookie dough)

 

Décor

Harvest Candles

Pour popcorn kernels into vase around candle.

Put a plain white candle in a tall candle vase or candle holder (leave room around the sides) and pour the rest of your kernels in.

Tie burlap or straw material around vase (optional).

Extras for more color: Try using small red or green colored beans

Framed Printables 

Get creative on your computer or scroll Etsy for some adorable Thanksgiving Day printouts. You can find quotes or funny jokes and pictures, and then use some of your fanciest frames and stick the printouts in them for the day.

Burlap!

Go to any arts and crafts store for a roll of burlap. You can throw it on or over anything and it becomes a super cheap and easy way to add some fall decor around your home! I wrapped it around vases I’d already set out.