I have written about Thanksgiving in a few of my other published articles and really do love the holiday. Truth be known, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because it is when all of my family and friends get together and spend the better part of a weekend catching up on one another’s lives.
I always host the gathering and prefer to do all the cooking myself. This way, everyone is able to come and visit and no one feels pressure to create a dish and then transport it to my house. Plus, I love to cook -plain and simple!
A couple of years ago, the huge job of cooking the meals for the weekend really got to me. I suffer from fibromyalgia and cooking for so many just wore me out to the point that I really didn’t get to enjoy myself while everyone was here. So, I decided that I had to change some things. First of all, I didn’t want to make the meal a potluck. I wanted to cook the entire meal so that my guests could just show up and feel relaxed. Second, I didn’t want to stray from a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. I will always serve a turkey and possibly a ham at my dinners. I realized that I could save energy when it came to the side dishes by using stovetop recipes and mixes instead of making everything from scratch.
To start, the turkey is a non-negotiable item. I buy a whole turkey and use a Reynolds Turkey Bag to cook it in the oven. I follow the instructions that are inside the turkey bag box and end up with a perfectly cooked turkey that everyone enjoys.
I have found a bit of s short-cut with the ham. I don’t cook a whole ham -instead, I will get a 2 to 3 pound ham and use my crock pot to cook it. I use a crock pot liner to make cleaning up easy. I place the ham in the crock pot and pour a 12 ounce can of Coke over it. I haven’t tried other similar soft drinks, so I don’t know about making a substitution here. Then, I add about ¼ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of honey mustard to the crock pot. I put the top on the crock pot, turn it on high and leave it for at least 4 hours. This gives the ham ample time to soak in the flavors being added to it.
I usually make dressing over the course of three days. I am a true southerner, so we have dressing -not stuffing. I make the cornbread a couple of days in advance and crumble it using my food processor. Then, I assemble all the ingredients together the next day, mix it up and place it in the pan that I will use to cook it. The pan gets covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator until an hour or so before the meal. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, I cook the dressing. This way, I save energy by spreading the cooking out over three days. I feel better and I get to enjoy my guests.
The meal gets rounded out with the following: corn, potatoes, English peas, macaroni and cheese, rolls, dessert, and an assortment of beverages. I use mixes and pre-made items for this part of the meal. First of all, I use canned corn. I mix one can of whole kernel corn with a can of cream style corn in a sauce pan until it is heated through. Then, I add a pat of butter or margarine and some salt and pepper to taste. I transfer the corn to serving bowl and it is ready. I do the same with the English peas -heat two cans until they are good and warm, add a dollop of margarine or butter, transfer to a serving bowl and they are ready too!
I used to make mashed potatoes from scratch, but have decided that it is too much work. I now make scalloped potatoes from a boxed mix. I just use two boxes of scalloped potatoes and follow the directions on the box. I usually go ahead and follow the directions for making them in the oven, but I do all of my mixing in the baking pan and use the pan I cook them in for serving too.
I prepare two boxes of macaroni-and-cheese. I prefer the simple kind where I boil and drain the noodles and then just add the pouch of premixed cheese sauce and stir. I transfer the food from the pan to a serving dish and it is ready.
For the rolls and dessert, I purchase a couple of pans of pre-made rolls that just need to be heated. And, I purchase an apple pie and a pecan pie from my local bakery or the bakery at my grocery store. It’s good and it’s a very easy, no stress kind of dessert. I usually make a big pitcher of tea and have a few different kinds of soft drinks available. I try to make sure that all the drinks get placed in the refrigerator the night before the meal so that our need for ice is minimal.
To make things really easy, I sometimes cook (at least in the oven) in the disposable foil pans. I always use crock pot liners and turkey bags for those items. I also make sure to have a good supple of paper or plastic dinner and dessert sized plates, plastic utensils, paper or plastic cups, a paper tablecloth or two and paper napkins. This makes the clean-up work a breeze and I don’t spend all of my time in the kitchen cleaning while my guests are visiting.
I tried this menu last year and it got rave reviews from my guests. They even mentioned how they actually got to see me after lunch. I liked the easier menu because the worst symptoms from my fibromyalgia didn’t flare up from working so hard on a meal. I will do this again this year and hopefully have a house full of friends and family who are happy and well-fed!