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Thanksgiving Dinner Planned to a T

Thanksgiving Dinner Planned to a T

I’m a planner-always have been and always will be. A plan is all about preparation, but you can’t be prepared for unexpected things that throw your plan off course. That’s where I’ve learned to be willing to roll with the punches when faced with an obstacle. Life isn’t perfect, and just about every plan (even if it’s “planned to a T”) can be made into a comedy of errors if not adjusted accordingly.

This year, I followed this plan and prepped everything up to the day before Thanksgiving. Boy am I glad I did most of the prep work beforehand because my son woke up Wednesday morning with a fever that WOULD NOT go down. I didn’t want to chance this being a simple cold symptom or hay fever from his normal allergies. A trip to the ER on Thanksgiving was not looking appealing, so I took him to the clinic. He had tonsillitis. Just what I wanted to hear, right?

Meanwhile, my daughter was at my sister’s while I was taking care of my son. Turns out my daughter’s filling popped out of her back molar that day, too. GREAT! While I was taking my son to the clinic, my husband had to take my daughter to a different dentist because our normal dentist was closed that day. Come to find out, she has a whole mouthful of cavities and is recommended to visit a pediatric dentist who tells me at a different appointment that she may have to have surgery to complete all the obscene amount of dental work. UGH! By the way, we brush, floss and mouthwash her teeth religiously—every single stinking night.

Oh… and we had four houseguests throughout all of this nonsense. Two of which were my siblings. I don’t feel bad giving them certain duties (like driving my daughter to school while my son’s fever spikes, or taking the kids to a movie a couple days after Thanksgiving  to give me a break—actually that was their idea, a good one, too).

So here’s the point to my Thanksgiving plan. It could have gone far more astray or even been canceled if I didn’t have a well ironed out plan or basic guideline, for that matter—a can of Lysol was helpful, too (no one wants an outbreak of tonsillitis during their holiday break). I compartmentalized every detail so that it was manageable even with the most unexpected situations thrown at me.

Here is the gist of my Thanksgiving plan: It includes a clear menu (of what I will make as well as what I delegate others to bring for the holiday), along with tried and true recipes from my own test kitchen, and a schedule of preparation for the recipes so that everything comes out on time! A lot can be prepped on the days leading up to Thanksgiving so that you’re not stressed out while trying to pull it all off on one crazy day. I hope this schedule helps you complete the overwhelming to-do list of holiday preparation and allows you to actually enjoy the holiday- maybe even relax a little!

Our Thanksgiving crowd size alters from year to year, as do many other families, so depending on the size of our celebration crew, I will use either turkey breasts or a whole turkey, or double these recipes, for that matter.

The serve yourself style cocktail mix in a pitcher is the way to go! When I’m busy in the kitchen, I want something already made and ready to pour. A: I can make it quickly for myself! And B: I’m less likely to have people asking for cocktail ingredients or gadgets while I’m trying to stick to my Thanksgiving cooking schedule. Bottom line: It makes the holidays less stressful and exhausting.

Tip: Let others in your family help out with the appetizers, desserts and wine/liquor/mixers- they are easily transported and less maintenance with temperature control (usually).



  • Cranberry Sage Cocktail in Pitcher
  • Wine/liquor/mixers via my mom and sister
  • Cider
  • Coffee
  • Sherbet Punch for kids


All appetizers via my sister

  • Meat and cheese platter
  • Crudité platter


  • Smoked Turkey via Mom
  • Orange Tea Bourbon Turkey
  • Gravy (with make ahead gravy base)
  • Cheesy potatoes via Mom
  • Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Creamed Corn with Browned Sage Butter
  • Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Cornbread Stuffing
  • Sautéed Green Beans with Roasted Garlic Butter
  • Rosemary Bread (buy it at the bakery-no need to add another item to your to-do list) with Roasted Garlic Butter


All desserts via my mom

  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Cherry Pie
  • Apple Pie
  • Pecan Pie

Note: I may have used an obsessive amount of roasted garlic butter in the menu’s items, but hey, if you’ve got it available, why not?

Week of Thanksgiving Prep Schedule:


  • Cranberry Sage Simple Syrup (you could really make this way ahead of time because it’s shelf stable)


  • Honey mustard butter (refrigerate until ready to use)
  • Roasted garlic butter (refrigerate until ready to use)
  • Make sage browned butter (for creamed corn), refrigerate


  • Brine turkey
  • Gravy base (refrigerate until ready to use)


  • Bake cornbread (or if you really want to plan ahead, go ahead and make it way ahead, and pre-crumble it into a Ziploc bag and freeze it. Pull it out of the freezer a day before Thanksgiving to thaw).
  • Slice rosemary bread
  • Chop up onions, celery and garlic for stuffing, refrigerate
  • Prep creamed corn in a pot and refrigerate
  • At night, take turkey out of brine and prep with mustard butter- set uncovered in fridge to dry out skin (this process makes the skin crispy when baked).

Thanksgiving Day Schedule 

7:30 a.m.

  • Make coffee! Use a carafe (if available) to keep it warm. My coffee maker’s hot plate turns off after 1 ½ hours so carafes are great for holidays.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Rub mustard butter on 18-pound whole turkey and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting at 350 degrees F for approximately 4 ½ hours, or until thermometer reads 165 degrees F.

or . . .

10:00 a.m.

  • Tent foil over turkey breasts and put in oven at 325 degrees F for approximately 2 ½ hours or until thermometer reads 165 degrees F.
  • Make Cider in 42-cup coffee urn for a large crowd.

11:15 a.m.

  • Prep stuffing.

11:45 a.m.

  • Chop and prep sweet potatoes, put in Ziploc bag.


  • Check temperature on turkey’s thermometer to make sure it’s not going over 165 degrees.
  • Preheat second oven to 375 degrees.
  • Pour cranberry sage cocktail into pitcher (Ratio=3 cups infused syrup and 3 cups gin, with ginger beer on standby)
  • Make sherbet punch

12:10 p.m.

  • Put cornbread stuffing (covered in foil) in oven at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake additional 20 minutes.

12:15 p.m.

  • Chop and bring potatoes to a boil.
  • While potatoes simmer for about 20 minutes, prep gravy base with turkey drippings.

12:30 p.m.

  • Take foil off cornbread stuffing and bake additional 20 minutes.
  • Take turkey out of oven, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Preheat that oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Sauté green beans with roasted garlic butter.

12:35 p.m.

  • Put sweet potatoes in at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

12:50 p.m.

  • Mash the potatoes.
  • Take cornbread stuffing out of the oven

1:00 p.m.

  • Take sweet potatoes out of the oven
  • Carve turkey and eat!


Recipe List: 


(Recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine)


  • 1 fresh or frozen turkey (1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person)
  • Zest (in wide strips) and juice of 5 oranges
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 black tea bags
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6 cloves
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 1 cup bourbon




  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

Note: If you have a smaller crowd for Thanksgiving, just half the recipe for the brine and mustard butter, and use a 6-pound turkey breast instead. If you’re making a 6-pound turkey breast, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If you’re making a whole turkey, preheat to 350 degrees F.

Unwrap the turkey and remove the neck and giblets (reserve for gravy). Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry. Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water; add the orange zest, orange juice, 2 cups kosher salt, the sugar, black tea bags, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns and bourbon. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add 4 quarts cold water and let cool. Submerge the turkey in the brine, adding water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Remove the turkey from the brine; rinse and pat dry.

Note: I leave the turkey uncovered in the roasting pan in the refrigerator overnight so that the skin gets a chance to dry out better and make for a crispier texture when baked.

Mix the butter, honey, dijon mustard and spicy brown mustard until combined. Rub the butter under the turkey skin on the breasts and legs, as well as, on the skin. Let the turkey stand 30 minutes at room temperature before roasting.

For turkey breast: Put the oven rack in the lowest position Baking time for 6-pound turkey breast is approximately 2 ½ hours at 325 degrees F.

For whole turkey: preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a large roasting pan, tucking the wing tips under. Tie the drumsticks together with twine. Roast until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 15 minutes per pound.

Note: So for an average 18-pound turkey it takes 4 ½ hours. Don’t forget to set your alarm on Thanksgiving morning!!

Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 30 minutes before carving.


(Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten)


  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 large red onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
  • 10 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onion becomes browned and starts to caramelize. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, cognac, sage leaves, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock) and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour and strain, pressing the solids lightly and then discarding them. Refrigerate until ready to use.

After the turkey is cooked, remove it to a carving board to rest while you finish the gravy. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat and add the wine. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring and scraping up all the bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Slowly whisk the gravy base into the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the gravy is smooth and slightly thickened. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.



  • 5 heads of garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 sticks of salted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut off the very top of the heads of garlic. Place in either a terra cotta covered garlic baker dish or just use plain foil. Drizzle tops of garlic with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Cover terra cotta baking dish (or wrap and fold ends to seal garlic in foil and place on a small cookie sheet). Bake for 1 hour.

Let cool. Hold end of garlic head and squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves into a food processor. Add softened butter to food processor and pulse until combined.

This stores in the refrigerator for a quite a while. Just scoop out what you need to come to room temperature for serving.



  • Cornbread, recipe follows
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
  • 5 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, salt, pepper, sage and poultry seasoning, and cook until onions and celery are softened. Crumble the cornbread over the sautéed onions and celery. Add stock and mix well. Add beaten eggs slowly and mix well.

Place in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes; remove the foil and bake until golden brown, about 20 more minutes.



  • ½ cup of buttermilk (or ½ cup of regular milk with ½ teaspoon of distilled vinegar)
  • ½ cup of vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Mix buttermilk, oil, sour cream, sugar, corn meal and eggs. Add dry ingredients on top and blend slightly before incorporating into the wet ingredients.

Bake in 9×13” pan at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Or if you’d rather make cornbread muffins for another occasion, bake at 425 degrees F for 12 minutes.



  • Browned Butter with Sage, recipe follows
  • 3 quart bags or about 12 cups of frozen corn
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • Mix thawed corn with flour, sugar, salt and cream. Set in refrigerator overnight.

When ready to cook, heat stove to medium-low and stir corn mixture until it becomes creamy, about 30 minutes.

Add the browned sage butter right before serving.



  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 4 sage leaves

Melt butter with sage leaves in a saute pan and continue cooking until the melted butter appears golden brown with brown flecks and smells nutty. Keep an eye on it and continually stir to keep the butter solids from burning. Remove from the heat.



  •  20 red potatoes, washed, unpeeled and chopped
  • 1 cup Milk, more or less depending on how potatoes are absorbing liquid
  • 3 teaspoons salt, plus more for salting your boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup roasted garlic butter
  • 2 cups sour cream

Put chopped potatoes in a pot with water, so that one of inch of water is above potatoes. Add a couple swirls of salt from the salt canister (at least, 3 tablespoons or so).

Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain water. Add milk until absorbed but never soupy or wet looking. Mix and mash in the roasted garlic butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Keep on very low heat until ready to serve.

Note: I always eyeball the amount of ingredients added to the mashed potatoes, so use your best judgement. Taste testing is encouraged! 



  • 6 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size chunks
  • 8 tablespoons of honey
  • 8 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Put all ingredients into a gallon Ziploc bag and make sure to coat potatoes well with oil and honey combination. Set aside until ready to roast on a large cookie sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes. Stir and rotate potatoes halfway through cooking time to ensure crispness on each side.

Note: I like to heat my stone (which is the size of a large cookie sheet) when I preheat the oven to 400 degrees. The heated surface of the stone doesn’t allow anything to stick.



  • 2 16-ounce packages of frozen French beans
  • ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of roasted garlic butter

Sauté green beans and butter. Place lid on top to steam until tender but still hold form with getting too soft or mushy, about 10 minutes on medium heat.


Cranberry Sage Cocktail



  • 2 cups of cranberry sage simple syrup, recipe follows
  • 2 cups Gin
  • Ginger beer (two 6-packs)

A few sage leaves and cranberries (fresh or frozen) to garnish cocktail pitcher

I use a 1.59 liter pitcher for this premade serve-yourself cocktail.

Mix 3 cups of the infused simple syrup with the 3 cups of gin. Add a few fresh or frozen cranberries along with fresh sage leaves to the pitcher to garnish.

Tell your guests to serve over ice and top with ginger beer. I make this cocktail with a one to one ratio of ginger beer and pitcher mix, but to each his own.



  • 5 cups sugar
  • 5 cups drinking water
  • 1 bunch of fresh sage
  • 1 cup of either fresh or frozen cranberries

Note: Makes 8 cups of infused simple syrup.

Stir sugar, water, sage and cranberries, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool.




  • 2 gallons of cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • Orange peel (fresh or even dried-you can find dried orange peel in the spice section of the grocery store)
  • 2 tablespoons of red hots (optional)

One big word of advice–don’t use a disposable paper coffee filter in addition to the built in filter when using a 42-cup coffee urn! The thicker premium apple cider does not filter threw paper filters well. Your urn will spill over! It’s a hot and sticky mess! I learned this after my first experience of hosting Thanksgiving.



  • 46 fluid ounce can of pineapple juice
  • Sherbet of choice (I love cherry lime)
  • 2 liters of ginger ale

Pour all ingredients into a large punch bowl and let sherbet thaw and mix into liquid ingredients. Do this about one hour before guests arrive because it does take some time for the sherbet to completely melt down into the juice and ginger ale combination.



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