Thanksgiving- the time of year where weight goes out the window with our own selfish worries. It’s the time when everyone has their “Grandma’s Famous Green Bean Casserole” or “Aunt So-and-So’s Sweet Potato Pie” and the competitions to see who can cook the juiciest turkey begin. 363 other days (we all know the same thing happens at Christmas) we all claim to be calamities in the kitchen. It’s nice to have that one day a year, where all the food seems to be excellent- and if not, it’s rude to say otherwise. I know none of this helps for Thanksgiving this year, but I’m a busy guy and you can use these for Christmas as well!
Last year was the first year I helped cook Thanksgiving Dinner, ever. Normally my mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins do all the work; but since I wasn’t home we made our own family thanksgiving in Georgia. You can check out our cheap holiday menu here. I understand the traditions of Thanksgiving meals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spruce things up a bit.
As a part of growing up (i.e. turning 21), I feel like each holiday or associated affair starts with a cocktail. Last year’s Apple Cider Smash was a hit, and this year the Schläger Cider Smash wasn’t too far behind. Keeping in tune with the seasons, cider is always a great base for a fall cocktail. What’s also nice about cocktails is that they can be kept simple and still be delicious. This one’s an awkward easy one.
Schläger Cider Smash
3 parts Woodchuck Cider
1 part Goldschläger
Brown Sugar and Cinnamon mix to garnish the rim
It’s a little spicy with the cinnamon hitting the back of the palate and a little sweet with the cider. I’ve always been a fan of sweet and spicy- just ask Erika Lipe. However, I couldn’t drink more than one or two because it’s still sweet.
Starting the feast off, we first recreated Aunt Sarah’s Thanksgiving Dip. It’s a simple combination of layered cream cheese, apple butter (or pumpkin butter), bacon, and scallions. Check out how to make it! It’s a simple starter and something everyone will easily love. It also makes a great leftover snack.
The hardest part of cooking a thanksgiving feast is the timeline. It’s planning when to prepare, cook, and reheat certain dishes so they’re all ready at the same time. My first prep started with cooking the Sausage and Cornbread Muffins. The first necessity is cooking the cornbread. For years I’ve made cornbread from scratch, but buying it is so much faster when you have a lot on your plate. I bought a brand that used real honey and it was just as good. Look at this awesome cornbread.
Sausage and Cornbread Muffin Recipe
1 box, 4 cups cooked cornbread cut in 1″ x 1″ pieces
1 lb sweet ausage (I used maple pork sausage)
3/4 small red bell pepper, small to medium dice
4 scallions, thinly sliced
5 celery stalks, small to medium dice
1 red onion, small to medium dice
1 cup chicken broth (watch for too much salt here! Go with less sodium)
1/4 cup of milk
1 Lg Egg, beaten
2 tsp sage, freshly chopped
2 tsp poultry seasoning
3 tbsp butter
You can thank @TheChew for the majority of this recipe- I only threw in a few of my own tweaks and touches. Sausage and Cornbread Muffins should be the new Thanksgiving dressing. After cooking the cornbread, let it cool and cut it into 1×1 inch cubes. It’s supposed to be 4 cups, but one box from the store will do.
While you’re cooking the cornbread, go ahead and sear off the sausage. The recipe calls for half a pound of sweet Italian ground sausage. I used a full pound of maple sausage instead (because I like hearty side dishes) and they came out great. While the sausage cooks and the cornbread cools, start prepping your veggies. Cut and combine the scallions, red bell pepper, and celery all to the same size. If you’re doing small muffins, cut your veggies small dice. I did larger muffins so I left them a little bigger. You don’t want to lose the added color in your cornbread. The veggies give the color. Once they’re cut, use 3 tbs of butter in a saute pan and put it on medium heat. Once the butter is hot, add your veggies and sauté for about 5 minutes until slightly tender. If you partially caramelize your veggies, it will still keep that slight crunch for texture.
Since cooking is all about multitasking, cut your cornbread and put it in a large mixing bowl with your sausage. While the veggies finish, add your chicken broth, milk, egg, sage, and poultry seasoning to the cornbread bowl. The liquids here will act as a good binder for all the other ingredients. Once the veggies are done, add everything together and mix. It’s ok if it turns a little mushy- expect it to. Once it’s all mixed, grease down your muffin pan (even if it’s Teflon, I still don’t trust it) and pack the mixture down in each tin. Once they’re all packed, add the remaining on top of each one and lightly pat it down so they stick to the bottom layer. Throw them in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes and then you’re done.
The next side dish to prepare was the Green Bean Casserole. The secret to a casserole is easy. Two cans of cream of mushroom soup, whatever veggie you want, a great cheese to accompany it, and something to give it texture.
1/2 cup mushrooms of your choice (I used baby button)
3 cups chicken broth
2 cans of French style green beans OR 4 cups fresh green beans
6 oz. French fried onion rings
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 red OR white onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp of butter
I used a white onion because I had it in the fridge, but using a red onion would add more color and a slightly sweeter flavor. I tend to use butter because I think the flavor is so much better, but you could save minimal calories by using oil.
First step- if you use fresh green beans, boil them in the chicken stock for ten minutes. This not only cooks the beans, but infuses them with that delicious chicken flavor. If you’re a vegetarian, use a vegetable stock. If the beans come from a can, soak them in the chicken stock for an hour and that will do the trick.
Slice the mushrooms and onion thin. Compared to dicing I think this adds texture and depth to the dish. Sautée them in the butter on medium heat for about 4 minutes. You don’t want to make the onions mushy! Don’t loose that texture by over cooking them. Next, in a large mixing bowl add the two cans of cream of mushroom soup, your sautéed veggies, 3 ounces of fried onion rings, and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. *Be careful with the salt because a lot of store bought broths tend to already have enough salt.
Grease a 9×13 baking dish and pour in the casserole mixture. Cook at 350 for 20 minutes then take out the casserole. Let it cool for about 10 minutes. Once cool, sprinkle the rest of the fried onions and grated cheese on top. Pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes and you’re set.
The biggest part of the meal was the ham. I haven’t gotten the confidence to do a turkey yet. I’m just not at the stage in life where I’ve accepted that it’s my responsibility to cook the turkey. But the ham was awesome! It was about 10 lbs and I cooked it on 325 for about 3 1/2 hours. You should cook a ham at 20 minutes per pound. The best part of the ham is what I brushed on top while It baked.
1 Lg ham
3 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 cup packed ground sugar
2 tsp ground mustard
10 whole garlic cloves
First, put the ham on a cooking rack (fat side up) that will catch all the juices underneath. Lightly cover in foil and bake for the appropriate amount of time. About 20 minutes before it’s ready, pull it out and score the back side of the ham. Push the cloves down in the cuts. In a small mixing bowl, mix together balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and ground mustard. Somehow, in the chemistry of cooking, the combination of vinegar and brown sugar become a liquid paste. Combine it with the drippings from the ham and pour over the scored ham. Return the ham to the oven, uncovered, for the remaining 20 minutes. When you take it out- you will smell the difference.
It’s difficult to cut a ham with a bunch of fat on it, but it’s worth it. We didn’t do dessert this year, but we also didn’t need it. After all the appetizers (thanks to Amanda Poriss), the sweet potato casserole (thanks to Callie Gregg), and the nonstop laughs from Heather Hobbs and Alex’s Segway tour pictures- it was nice to call it a night. Cheers!
Remember, any of these dishes can be prepared any time throughout the season. Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!