A Thanksgiving Survival Guide!

This entry is part 82 of 96 in the series Holiday Foods

Copyright 2011 Jane Evans Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Thanksgiving is a week away and some of you may be panicking about everything that has to get done. I know, I’ve been there. I am notorious for making too many dishes and driving myself crazy trying to figure out how to get them all done. Thank goodness The Artist usually takes care of the house cleaning so I can focus on the food!

Last year I shared some of my tips for a successful Thanksgiving including the lost art of how to set a holiday table. Here a few more ideas to help make your holidays as smooth as possible!

When you are planning your menu, I know you want to please everyone, but you do not have to make a dozen dishes when five will do. If you are craving certain family favorites, space them out over the holiday weekend. You will get to have them all, but you won’t kill yourself on Thanksgiving trying to make them all for the one meal.

These days there are a lot more people with dietary restrictions and it is likely you will have to accommodate some at your holiday dinner. Make sure you ask all of your guests ahead of time. If you are unable to fulfill their needs, ask them to bring something that they can eat. If you have vegetarians coming, make sure you offer them something other than just the side dishes. I like to stuff squash with a wild rice mix or something similar so that they feel just as special as everyone else at my table.

As you probably know, I was recently diagnosed with gluten-intolerance (a less severe form of celiac disease). I haven’t been able to update all 850 recipes on my blog with gluten-free options yet, so I am including a recipe below for my favorite substitute blend for all-purpose flour. There are more flour combinations and information under the “Gluten-Free” tab at the top of the page and of course you can always use your favorite commercial brands of gluten-free flour blends. King Arthur Flour, Authentic Foods, Gluten-Free Pantry and Bob’s Red Mill all make good products that can be swapped, cup for cup in any regular recipe.

Copyright 2011 Jane Evans Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

One of my favorite things to do is buy turkey parts (necks, backs, wings, thighs, tails, etc.) ahead of time and cook them into a rich stock. Then I use this to season the dressing mix, to make the gravy, and make soup using the turkey carcass afterwards. It will enhance everything you make with it and it couldn’t be easier to make. Place the parts in a very large stockpot, cover with cold water, add an onion and some celery and carrots, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and cook at a slow boil for an hour or two until well seasoned. Strain out the solids and refrigerate the stock. Use the fat that solidifies on top as the base for your gravy, and add the pan dripping if you are cooking the turkey in the oven – it will be amazing!

I am all for taking shortcuts when they make sense, and Thanksgiving is one time when they are really necessary. There are a few that I really love. Probably my favorite is the Turkey Broth Concentrate from Savory Choice. This is one flavor enhancer that really tastes like turkey! If you are making gravy and have used too much flour or added too much water and it tastes weak, just add one or two of these little pouches and suddenly you have the gravy you’ve dreamed of. You can use it to boost the flavor of soups and stews for meals your family will long remember.

If you have decided to host a potluck, do yourself a favor and give out assignments. Start by asking people what they would like to bring, make a note and if you see you have a blank, you can either make something yourself, or ask a good friend to bring two things. I always make the turkey, gravy and stuffing, but the rest can be up for grabs.

Thanksgiving is one of the few times when I will always prepare certain traditional foods exactly the same way year after year. People expect the comfort of having the same meal from their childhood. While we can’t recreate everything for everyone, we can certainly use sage as the primary seasoning for the turkey and stuffing, prepare a classic gravy and mashed potatoes, and make sure there is cranberry sauce on the menu. The side dishes are where you can get creative if you want, but be prepared that you may receive some pushback and grumbling from the traditionalists in your family.

When you are figuring out the seating arrangements, make sure you place quiet people next to those who are great conversationalists. If you have a couple of joke tellers in the crowd, place them at opposite ends of the table or room. If you have especially shy people coming, make sure you tell the people on either side of them some of their favorite topics or hobbies so they can keep the conversation going throughout dinner.

Copyright 2011 Jane Evans Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

If you are going to serve the meal family-style with dishes being passed at the table, keep your centerpiece and table decorations to a minimum. You don’t want your guests to have to peer around a towering flower arrangement, or juggle dishes to find room on the table. Go out into the yard and pick up some fallen leaves and acorns and scatter them around the table. Add a few votive candles (helps reduce the danger of fire), some beautiful plates, glasses and napkins, and you have the makings of a stunning holiday table.

Another fun idea for the table is to create fun place cards that double as take home gifts. Small potted plants with the names written on the side, a bag of homemade candies or baked goods, or even bags of caramel corn labeled are all fun, inexpensive, and thoughtful ways to say thank you to your guests for joining in the holiday celebration.

Here is a list of some of my favorite recipes that I love to serve during the holidays, and there are more on the blog if you are looking for something specific:

The Stars of the Show

The Best Holiday Turkey

Foolproof Turkey Gravy

Rich Turkey Stock

Side Dishes Good Enough for Center Stage

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin with Saffron Cream Sauce

Maple Roasted Carrots, Apples and Onions

Traditional Green Bean Casserole

New Green Bean Casserole

Green Beans Polonaise

Maple-Ginger Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Creamy Parmesan Polenta Gratin

Stuffing or Dressing, it’s All Good!

Homemade Dinner Rolls

Flaky, Buttery Biscuits

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Holiday Desserts to Die For

Gingery Pumpkin Mousse

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with a Walnut Crust

Southern Pecan Pie

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Silky Pumpkin Pie

Sweet Potato Pie with Red Wine Caramel Sauce

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Pumpkin Pie-Spiced Ice Cream

Gingerbread Biscotti

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

Apple Crisp

Desserts Just for the Chocoholics in Your Family

Double Chocolate-Bourbon Milkshakes

Chocolate Tiramisu Tart

Boston Cream Pie

Keller’s Chocolate Mousse

Have fun planning for your holiday feast and remember that I am here if you need any help, have questions, or just need moral support!

Gluten-Free Tips:

If you need to convert any of the above recipes to gluten-free, use the following recipes for all-purpose blends and substitute them 1:1 for wheat flour.

Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
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  1. 1-1/4 cup (170 gr) brown rice flour
  2. 1-1/4 cup (205 gr) white rice flour
  3. 1 cup (120 gr) tapioca flour
  4. 1 cup (165 gr) sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour or by brand name Mochiko)
  5. 2 scant tsp xanthan gum
  1. Mix together and store in a cool, dark place, or in fridge for long-term storage. One cup of this mix equals 140 grams. Use this mix cup-for-cup or gram-for-gram in all of your recipes.
Adapted from Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays by Jeanne Sauvage
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/
Jeanne’s GF Self-Rising Flour
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  1. 1 cup Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour Mix, above (or mix of your choice)
  2. 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  3. 1/4 tsp salt
  1. Mix together and use as needed. Can be doubled, tripled, etc.
  2. This mixture can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place or in the fridge. It will expire when the baking powder expires, so you might want to mark the expiration date found on the baking powder container onto your self-rising flour container.
Adapted from Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays by Jeanne Sauvage
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/
Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material on The Heritage Cook without prior approval is prohibited. If you have any questions or would like permission, I can be contacted via email: theheritagecook (at) comcast (dot) net. Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my website, www.theheritagecook.com.

The intention of the content on this site is for your inspiration and enjoyment. It is not a substitute for advice given by a licensed health-care professional. You are responsible for medically confirming any dietary restrictions and ingredient safety with product manufacturers before consuming or using any product. If you have dietary restrictions, always read the labels before including any ingredient in your cooking.

As an affiliate member, if you click on links in my posts and purchase a product, I may receive a small percentage of the sale. Any commissions received will be used to offset a portion of the costs of running The Heritage Cook. If I have received products for review or had travel expenses covered, I will disclose that in the content of each article where applicable. 

Thank You! 

All of your comments and questions are welcome!

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