Thanksgiving Dinner: Sweet Potatoes & Mashed Potatoes

Sweet Potato Casserole is a quintessential Thanksgiving dinner sidedish. There are a number of variations on the sweet potato theme and whatever variation you grew up with is probably what you consider the Right Way to prepare sweet potatoes! Some of us, on the other hand, find our dream sweet potato recipe later in life; that was me.

sweet potatoes for thanksgiving casseroles

First, this is the very traditional Candied Sweet Potato Casserole I grew up eating. I have especially fond memories of the little bitty marshmallows on the top and I remember trying to snag as many of them on my obligatory spoonful of sweet potatoes.

About twelve years ago, a good friend shared this recipe for Pecan Praline Sweet Potatoes. Oh. My. This is definitely my favorite dish on the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day.

We have, on occasion, made this lighter Lime Cilantro Sweet Potato dish. It’s definitely not the traditional flavors, but it’s very tasty.

Now, on to white potatoes. Over the years, we’ve narrowed our list of favorites down to two. I’m sure that there are other fabulous potato recipes, but to be honest, I’m so happy with our favorites that I can’t bring myself to keep looking for anything else.

The potato casserole to rule all potato casseroles is my own mother-in-law’s Cheesy Potato Casserole. Simply the best. Definitely not diet food.

Our second favorite is Garlic Mashed Potatoes. This is also a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

The best thing about all these recipes is that they can be made a few days ahead of time and refrigerated until Thanksgiving Day. When you’re organizing a major feast, this is important!


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Thanksgiving Dinner: How to Cook the Thanksgiving Turkey

For many of us, the Thanksgiving Turkey is the Main Event. If this is the first Thanksgiving dinner that you’re cooking, the turkey may well be the most intimidating item on your menu. I PROMISE, cooking a delicious turkey is not difficult. In fact, the most difficult issue may well be which method you use because you have options!

Remember that your main goal is to get from this:

to a scrumptious platter of succulent meat on your Thanksgiving table.

Yesterday, I wrote about slow-roasting a turkey for maximum juiciness, but there are several other methods for getting that delicious result as well.

My personal favorite is GRILLED Turkey. One significant advantage to grilling the turkey is that it frees up oven space for all the other side dishes that accompany a lavish Thanksgiving feast.

Most people roast their turkeys and that is, indeed, probably the simplest method. You can read about roasting your turkey here.

An extra component that you can add to cooking your turkey is BRINING it. A brined turkey can be roasted, grilled, or slow-cooked. I highly recommend brining a turkey because it really leaves the meat plump and juicy and totally delicious. Again, it’s not difficult or expensive.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stuffing/dressing when talking about cooking a turkey. Every regulatory or safety page that I’ve read strongly discourages cooking a turkey with stuffed inside. The stuffing may not reach the necessary temperature to kill all the bacteria. Experts recommend cooking stuffing/dressing separately OR baking the stuffing longer after you’ve removed it from the bird. Since I don’t want to mess around with potential food poisoning on the biggest food holiday of the year, I just forgo the stuffing IN the turkey.

Instead, I pack the cavity of the uncooked turkey with a variety of vegetables. Which vegetables you use influences the end result in terms of flavor. Your gravy will also be flavored somewhat by the vegetables you use. I always include the following:

  • whole garlic cloves
  • onions, quartered
  • carrots, chopped into large chunks

and sometimes I add:

  • apples, quartered
  • sweet potatoes, chunked
  • whole fennel, chunked
  • root veggies, chunked

No, it's not a turkey but a few of these will go IN the turkey

It’s important to note that you still don’t eat these vegetables that have been cooking inside the bird. You can safely use them to make your stock, but they shouldn’t be served at the table.

Last, but not least, we are still looking for any tips and information on deep-frying a turkey. Neither Laura nor I have ever deep-fried a turkey and we’re curious. I HAVE eaten some amazing deep-fried turkey and would love to experiment with it sometime.

So….now’s the time to start planning how to handle this central item on your Thanksgiving menu. Planning ahead means you have lots of options. We’d love to hear what your turkey plans are this year.


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A No-fail, Perfect-every-time Turkey Recipe

I’m always on the lookout for new Thanksgiving turkey ideas, so I was intrigued when a new friend, Char Collie, shared her tried and true method. Char is an expert on holiday traditions and frequently speaks to women’s groups about making holidays memorable. This is her favorite method for cooking turkey, so I just had to try it. It was delicious! Even better, it was easy!

Start with whatever size turkey you want. The amazing thing about this recipe is that it works easily well for a small-ish turkey and for a huge 25-pound bird. It does TAKE longer to cook the big bird, but that’s really the only difference.

Perfect Every Time Slow-Roasting a Turkey

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Unwrap the turkey and remove the neck and the giblets. (I actually stick these in a ziplock and put them into the freezer to throw into the stock pot with the carcass after the holiday dinner.)  Wash the turkey off and pat it dry with paper towels. Salt the cavity. Rub a thin coat of olive oil all over the outside. You’ll also be sticking a meat thermometer into the turkey to keep track of the temperature, but you’ll need to wait to do that until it’s in the pan.

This is one thing that makes this method a little different: place the turkey breast side DOWN in a roasting pan on a rack. The rack made things easier later, but if you don’t have a wire wrack, it’s not a problem. This will still work. Putting the breast down means that it bastes itself through the entire baking process and that means lovely, moist meat. Try to get the thermometer stuck into the meaty party of one of the thighs since the turkey is breast-down.

This turkey is ready for slow roasting in a low oven.

Don’t cover the turkey (and don’t worry….it WILL stay moist).

Roast the turkey at 350° for one hour. This will destroy the bacteria on the surfaces of the turkey. After an hour, turn the oven down to 200°. You’ll roast the turkey for 15-30 hours before eating it. The rule of thumb is to allow 1 HOUR per pound of meat. Yes, that means that a 24 pound turkey needs to roast for 24 hours!

So, for example, you can put your 22 pound Thanksgiving turkey in the oven at 5 PM on Wednesday night, Thanksgiving Eve. It will roast slowly through the night and the next day. It’ll be luscious and ready to eat between 1 and 3 PM on Thanksgiving Day.

The handy thing about this turkey method is that you can leave the turkey in the oven for an additional 3 – 6 hours if you’re not ready to eat it when you hit that DONE point. The turkey will NOT overcook. When I cooked my turkey, there were wonderful drippings that made delicious gravy. Amazingly, NOTHING dried out.

The turkey LOOKS different at the end of the roasting process because it’s been roasting for hours and hours and hours, breast down. This doesn’t produce the classic beautiful turkey that you want to carve at the table, but that didn’t bother me at all. The meat was just incredibly delicious.

slow-roasted turkeys just look different

This recipe is definitely a keeper. The turkey was moist, juicy, and fabulous. We’ll be discussing other methods of cooking that Thanksgiving bird tomorrow, so be sure to check back in!

I also want to make an important safety disclaimer. The internal temperature that you’re shooting for when you’re cooking a turkey, regardless of the method of cooking, is 185°. Slow roasting overnight at temperatures lower than 200° is NOT safe.  If you aren’t confident in the accuracy of your oven, make sure you test it with an oven thermometer.

And ANOTHER disclaimer: there are a lot of official looking sites out there that say that turkeys should never be roasted at temperatures lower than 325°. If you use the method in this post, I suppose there is some risk involved–nothing like sky-diving or ice-climbing, but still….some risk. Please, do this at your own risk. Ahem.


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Olie Koeken, #31

December 31:

I started our 31 Days of Christmas cookies with a favorite Dutch recipe from my Grandma’s files. I’m ending this 31 Days of Gluttony Christmas Cookies with another Dutch recipe: Olie Koeken. I remember having these delicious treats every New Year’s as I was growing up. I’m actually going to link you back to three recipes that Laura and I posted a couple of years ago. As with the banket recipe, we don’t want to lose the comments or the links to these recipes. Continue reading

Perfect chocolate chip cookies

Actually…that says it all. Here’s the recipe for perfect chocolate chip cookies:

Chocolate Chip cookies–perfect every time

  • 1 pound of butter (that’s 2 cups or 4 quarters)
  • 1 2/3 c. white sugar
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. soda
  • 6 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 pkg. chocolate chips

Cream sugar and shortening together. Beat in eggs. Add remaining ingredients in the order listed. Bake at 350 on greased cookie sheet **OR PARCHMENT** until golden brown. Remove from pan immediately and let cool. If you eat them too soon, the chocolate chips will burn your mouth.

Some fun variations that we do occasionally: We substitute 1 c. unsweetened cocoa powder for 1 c. flour and make chocolate chocolate chip cookies. We also substitute 1/2 c. malted milk powder for 1/2 c. flour for chocolate chip malt cookies.

The key to perfect cookies lies in not baking them too long (assuming you like chewy cookies) and in baking them on parchment on an insulated cookie sheet. The parchment, with the cookies, can slide right off the pan when they are just perfectly baked. You don’t mangle the cookies by trying to get them off the cookie sheet with a spatula.