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Planning the perfect Thanksgiving menu

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If you’re like me, the last couple of months have run away from you. November is far from the exception. It’s hard to believe that we find ourselves a little more than a week from Thanksgiving 2022. Planning for a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas can be daunting, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a novice hosting for the first time. It’s all “a lot,” but certain things rob your focus more than others. Place settings and serving dishes will happen with varying degrees of effort and input.

But what about the menu?

The Meats. The cornerstone of any Thanksgiving meal is the entree. Many will consider what I’m about to say…controversial. Deep breaths. You ready?

You don’t have to serve turkey at Thanksgiving. It has history with the holiday. If made well, it is delicious and tender, and its hallmark flavor pairs well with all of your favorite side dishes. If turkey is what makes Thanksgiving for you and your family and guests, go for it. However, if you want engaging flavors and something that is going to leave your guests talking, this may be a chance to step into uncharted waters. Here are some other less-traditional options you can serve instead of turkey:

Ham

Duck

Prime rib

Pork tenderloin

Pork roast

Roast salmon

Beef brisket

Country Culture Editor Courtney’s family has even done venison for Thanksgiving.

If you are going to prepare a traditional turkey, it’s important that your bird is sufficiently thawed by the time the big day rolls around. The USDA’s website recommends several different ways to do so:

  • Refrigeration: Let thaw 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey; a cookie sheet or some type of drip pan is helpful to contain any mess.
  • Microwave: Use the defrost setting based on weight.
  • Cold Water: Submerge your turkey in ice water; be sure to refill your water every 30 minutes.

How are you going to cook it? There are a bunch of differing opinions on this. A quick internet search yields a large number of ranked choice articles and listicles: “The Top 10 Best Ways to Cook Your Turkey.” The average American family opts for the traditional oven roasting, but the sky’s the limit – from deep frying to smoking your turkey. Let your imagination (and inner mad scientist) be your guide! Check out this article from the University of Illinois for some ideas: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/turkey/cooking_techniques.cfm.

The Starches. First, dinner rolls. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a good dinner roll. There is no shame in a quick dash to the frozen aisle for some pre-made options. However, let’s go the extra mile – you’ll end up with better taste and the satisfaction of a creation made from scratch. This recipe at allrecipes.com is a quick go-to option: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/215378/classic-dinner-rolls.

Second, the potatoes. Now, there is no royal Thanksgiving edict against having two or more potatoes – the more spuds, the merrier. I personally prefer a good old fashioned russet mashed potato. We usually end up with mashed sweet potatoes as well at our house, because it’s a favorite for a few of our clan. Mashed potatoes are one of those dishes that are just as good simple or dressed up. I serve my white mashed potatoes with some butter and sour cream stirred in and a nice, healthy dash of salt and pepper. I typically just add some butter to my mashed sweet potatoes.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are many more complicated options:

Twice-baked potatoes

Potatoes au gratin

Potato casserole

Hasselbeck potatoes

Editor Courtney’s family experiments here too, one year adding a pop of color to their plates with roasted purple fingerling potatoes.

Go traditional – or don’t! Your Thanksgiving meal is whatever you want it to be.

The Cranberries. Everyone has a soft spot for that tried and true can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. If you want to make your own, here is a good recipe from the Food Network: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/perfect-cranberry-sauce-recipe-2104277.

If you have eaters with texture issues (like young children) this may not be a great option, but if you’re looking to change things up a little bit, cranberry relish might be a good substitute this year. Wanna give it a whirl? Check out this recipe: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/cranberry_relish.

The Green Stuff. Green bean casserole is another staple of the Thanksgiving holiday. There is a solid recipe on the back of the French’s Onions container you can find at your local grocery store. But feel free to put your own spin on it!

The Stuffing. There is nothing wrong with a box of Stovetop. However, you can’t go wrong with the crispy taste of homemade stuffing. This recipe over on delish.com is a great option! Check it out: https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a55387/classic-homemade-turkey-stuffing-recipe.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink. What other sides sound good to you this year? Here are some options to round out your menu:

A salad (either a tossed garden salad or any number of tasty cold salads)

Roasted cauliflower

Brussels sprouts

Broccoli casserole

Corn casserole

Cornbread

Macaroni and cheese

Soup (specifically, anything squash or pumpkin)

Deviled eggs

The Best for Last. Obviously, we have to end with dessert. Here is a great starter pumpkin pie recipe, courtesy of Allrecipes.com – https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/23439/perfect-pumpkin-pie. In the mood for a pumpkin roll? Here’s a recipe for that as well: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/pumpkin-roll-recipe-2102494.

No matter what the size and scope of your Thanksgiving holiday, there is no need to feel overwhelmed. You can go as simple or as complicated as you would like, and there are plenty of resources out there on the interwebs to guide you as you go. A little bit of preparation and some elbow grease and you’ll have a delicious Thanksgiving menu ready to go.

For some additional reading or resources, you can visit:

https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/meals-menus/g33251890/best-thanksgiving-sides/?slide=1

https://www.loveandlemons.com/thanksgiving-side-dishes/

https://www.delish.com/holiday-recipes/g248/easy-thanksgiving-side-dishes/?slide=6

https://themodernproper.com/40-best-thanksgiving-side-dishes

https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g637/thanksgiving-menus/

And be sure to tag us on Facebook and Instagram to share your bountiful spreads!

by Andrew Haman

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