“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.” Erma Bombeck, American humor writer
A recent survey suggested that – because of various COVID restrictions — one in five Thanksgiving 2020 dinners will be prepared by a first-time holiday cook. Sobering news, indeed.
Should you be among those entering the fray, here are some tips and recipes for a scaled-down, yet tasty Thanksgiving meal.
- Consider this an opportunity to make some of your own traditions. You are capable. You are creative. You can do this.
- Don’t assume you have to make everything from scratch. This is especially true if you are cooking for four or fewer people — who will judge? (BTW, cook for at least four even if it really is just you and the dog. Leftovers rock!)
- Some things can be made ahead of time, and will taste better for it. That said, all of the recipes in this post can be made day-of if needed.
- Chill out. It’s one meal. If something isn’t quite right, life will go on.
- Don’t forget that you are blessed! That’s why we’re celebrating – even if it’s not with the normal holiday crowd.
This is the most difficult item to prepare well. Unless you are really into it, spend the money and buy one that is pre-cooked. Such turkeys – a turkey breast is plenty to serve four BTW – are offered to-go Thanksgiving week by many restaurants and groceries. Store and reheat as recommended.
Canned is OK, but fresh is so easy, why not? This is an easy one to prepare up to several days ahead.
To serve four, get one bag of frozen or fresh cranberries. Put them in a sauce pan with one cup of water and one cup of white sugar (don’t skimp). Heat until fruit skins begin to pop. Remove from heat and cool to room temp. Refrigerate in an airtight container until just before serving. Serve chilled.
Make a green salad of some sort. It’s a nice contrast to all the heavy stuff and it’s easy. Buy bagged greens to make it even easier.
Gussied-up Box Stuffing
To serve four, buy one box of stuffing mix. (Gluten-free versions exist if this is you.) Prepare according to box directions. Set aside.
In a wok or large skillet, sauté two large apples cut into chunks, one finely chopped onion, two chopped ribs celery and one cup of black or golden raisins in oil or butter. When fork tender, cool and gently mix into the stuffing.
This can be served immediately, but it will taste better if it is refrigerated for at least a few hours in an airtight container. Simply warm it up (covered with foil so it doesn’t dry out) when it’s time to serve. (This recipe can be easily doubled and makes excellent leftovers.)
Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts
For four people, buy a large can of sweet potatoes. (Like 32 ounces.) Drain, rinse and set aside.
In a small sauce pan, heat a half cup of brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a third cup of water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour the sugar mixture into the sweet potato chunks and gently toss until they are coated. Cool to room temp. For best taste, refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to re-warm for the meal.
When it’s time to serve, toast two cups of walnut pieces until lightly browned in a dry skillet. (This part can be done way ahead of time, just store the nuts in an airtight jar at room temp.) At dinner time, sprinkle the nuts on top of the potatoes and warm in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil at 200 degrees. (You want warm, not burned…)
For traditionalists, this is where you want to stick with mom’s or grandma’s recipe. Go for it – but cheat with a pre-made pie crust if pie is your family thing. Make this ahead of time so as not to make yourself crazy.
If you’re not enamored with one specific dessert, anything will do. We’ve served coconut cake and pineapple upside-down cake to a good reception. Who’s to say good quality vanilla ice cream sprinkled with a bit of cocoa isn’t OK, too? Do what feels right to you.