There was once a time when the mere word “Thanksgiving” sent me into a panic. My parents weren’t heavily into cooking – at least not the way that people are these days. Stir fries, delivery pizza, and President’s Choice mac ‘n cheese were the foods I remember from my youth.
But when I was in my early 20s and learning to live a healthier lifestyle (with a focus on a healthier diet), cooking became a big priority. The more I cooked, the more I loved it.
I hosted my first Thanksgiving not long after I’d started to cook. It was a bold move, but I’d married into a family where my husband’s parents, like my own, didn’t love to cook. So with just a few months of cooking experience under my belt, I was all of a sudden the de facto expert in our household for all things food-related. Thanksgiving included.
Taking on Thanksgiving dinner was a challenge of epic proportions. I’d never cooked any kind of roasted meat besides a chicken. Never mind dessert – a pie? The pie seemed even more intimidating than the turkey itself. Yes, in the year I’d taught myself to cook, I’d become pretty good at making great soups and healthy salads. But cooking 6+ dishes, all to be served at once? Forget about it.
To calm my nerves, I signed up for a class at a local cooking school, which taught me some recipes and basic strategies for putting together the big feast.
The lessons I learned in those 3 short days are still engrained today. Brine your bird for maximum flavor, prepare ahead of time, do only what you can handle (I tend to violate this rule, trying to impress with too many hors d’oeuvres, too many side dishes, and end up exhausted on Thanksgiving day).
But it’s hard to not go overboard. Over the years I’ve culled through books, blogs, and magazines to find the best dishes. I have a binder chock full of them, and now a Thanksgiving Pinterest board to match.
Some of the recipes are challenging to prepare and beautiful to look at, but for the meal that actually makes it to the table, it’s got to be easy. I’m a mom with three young kids after all. This lady ain’t got weeks to spend in the kitchen preparing one meal.
I’m always refining my menu, but this year, I think it’s just about perfect. Simple enough for novice chefs to tackle, and packed with a range of interesting flavors, textures and colors. We have an appetizer from Joy the Baker, and some side dishes from my Bon Appetit magazine. Plus a fabulous soup, which I’m making today: sweet potato with coconut and smoked paprika. It’s a great mix of familiar and unusual – in my mind, the ideal way to start our meal.
Feel free to check out more of our Thanksgiving essentials in this A to Z guide: The one and only guide to cooking Thanksgiving dinner
Putting this guide together has been a labor of love, a trip down memory lane. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading about these dishes as much as I’ve loved making them.
And if disaster strikes, don’t sweat it. I have a few other solutions that can help you in your darkest hour.
Make a major mistake? Resuscitate
Ugly dessert? Got that covered too!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone, safe travels, and dig into that glorious food. We’ve still got another month before we need to focus on healthy eating again, so enjoy it while you can.