Thanksgiving is always an exciting holiday for me.

And by exciting, I mean stressful.

It’s not the kind of stress that comes from a typical family gathering. I’m usually juggling work and the inability to do anything in a simple way.

When I lived in Arkansas, my boss invited a lot of us to his house. He offered to pay for the groceries if I cooked. We had fun, but I held the weight of roasting my first turkey and not poisoning all the guests.

Just a few years ago, I decided to do a turkey breast in the slow cooker. I had to work on the big day, and I figured it’d be so nice to come home to a fragrant feast that was ready-to-go. Well, the turkey was delicious. BUT… I put lemon quarters in with it for flavor. After 10 hours in a sauna they broke down and made for a gravy that would make a bag of Warheads send up the white flag. Lesson learned.

This year, my partner in cuisine crime’s mother got us a fried turkey, turned luscious life-saver because once again, I had to work.

I spent Wednesday night (and the hour before the time clock kicked in on Turkey Day) making all the sides.

Remember, I don’t do anything the easy way. Here’s the proof:
Banana pudding, cranberry relish, strawberry pretzel salad, buttery roasted potatoes, dressing, and corn casserole. No, I wasn’t feeding an army of Oopma-Loompas. There were 3 adults and two children. For one adult and the kids, this would be their second meal.

When it comes to food, I like a variety. And, I feel like the holidays amount to one big Get Out of Jail Free Card, if you can fit through the damn door afterward.

The banana pudding (Not Yo’ Mama’s), the strawberry pretzel salad, and the corn casserole (minus the cheese) are Paula Deen recipes – I just met her (again), so it was only appropriate that I pay my respects.

The salad was a request from my partner in cuisine crime. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of Jell-O dishes. I can’t stand that fact that they’re referred to as “congealed salads”. To quote my favore Golden Girl, Sophia, “I hate Jell-O. If God wanted peaches suspended in mid-air he would’ve filled them with helium!”

OK – I don’t hate Jell-O. I do feel like it’s best served by itself in a dish or cut into a jiggly star or a moon.

That said (or written), I LOVED the strawberry pretzel salad. The pretzel crust is crunchy and salty. The creamy 2nd layer is satifying and the pineapple/strawberry-laced Jell-O topping was refreshing. This dish screams Summer dessert, but in the midst of a calorie-laden artery-clogging spread it was a shining star. Make it.

My potato dish is inspired by my step-mom’s.

I used Yukon Gold potatoes. Peel them (which should be an Olympic Sport), then slice them thinly on a mandoline. Use paper towels to dry the slices as much as possible, then toss them in a bowl with 2 sticks of melted butter (I know, but it was a special occasion) and a whole bag of shredded Parmesan/Romano cheese (Sargento). I used a lot of salt (because my butter was unsalted) and freshly cracked pepper.

Admittedly, I didn’t add any garlic powder (I put myself in the corner that night), but it would be a stellar ingredient here. Use your hands to massage the butter and cheese into the slices.

Dump the mixture into a greased casserole dish, flatten out the slices, cover the dish – then bake it at 375 for 45 minutes. Uncover, then bake an additional 20 minutes. The top layer will be crispy, and the layers below will be so tender you could sleep on them.

I’ll be honest, the 2 sticks of butter was a lot – you could probably do 1 1/2 or even 1 stick. When you take the dish out of the oven it’ll look like a yellow-swimming pool. Don’t worry. As the dish sits, the potatoes absorb the butter. And if you continue to eat this as leftovers, the additional butter will ensure that the spuds don’t dry out.

My dressing was a combination of sliced white Italian bread (cubed and dried in the oven), 6 small cornbread muffins, 2 cups of onions (diced) and 2 cups of celery (diced), 3 tablespoons of fresh sage, 1 tsp of ground thyme, 1 tsp of garlic powder.

Cook down the onions and celery in 1 1/2 sticks of butter. Add the herbs and spices (plus lots of salt and pepper), eggs and chicken broth. It was moist and fragrant!

For the cranberry relish, I pulsed a bag of cranberries and a 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Dumped that in a bowl, then pulsed a green apple and the juice of a lemon in the food processor. Dumped that in with the cranberries, then pulsed a small can (drained) of mandarine oranges in the food processor. Mix it all together, then sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar across the top.

Because I did all of this before Thanksgiving, we warmed it all up in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes before serving. Everything was perfect. The dressing got better every day, which was nice considering the fact that we ate it through the weekend.

My partner in cuisine crime’s mother brought deviled eggs (or debil eggs as his daughter called them) and her famous potato salad to round out the meal.

See what I mean about variety??

The meal was a hit. And you know what, there is something to be said (or written) about making everything the day before. I spent Thanksgiving looking forward to the food, instead of stressing out about making it.

Tip: When you’re throwing a shin-dig or hosting a holiday party… make a list of everything you’ve cooked/prepared. Check it off as it hits the table. Remember that cranberry relish I described above? Well, I remembered it just as the button on my jeans catapulted across the room from the pressure of my growing gut. It was tasty the next day, though. Something new among a spread of left-overs.


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