I know Thanksgiving is over and everyone is ready to move onto the next big holiday, but with the week of Thanksgiving being my favorite cooking week of the year I thought it was worthy of a couple more blog posts.  This one is simply a nice visual journey through all of the dishes I made this year with some descriptions.

Next week I'll highlight the recipe for Cranberry Pepper Jelly that I make every year. It is fantastic on sandwiches, baked brie, with cream cheese and crackers, etc...  So while most have already made their one turkey of the year there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spicy-sweet deliciousness all year long.

So let's start the photo journey with that one...Cranberry Pepper Jelly. This is almost always the first thing I make, the weekend before Thanksgiving, since it has a 3-6 week shelf life in the refrigerator. I've honestly never liked anything other than canned cranberry sauce (I know, blasphemous!) until I discovered this recipe. Now I'm totally hooked on it's spicy-sweet combination and for the first time ever didn't even touch my canned cranberry sauce this year!

The next thing I make the weekend before the holiday is homemade turkey stock as a base for my gravy. If you don't want to do this you can always use store-bought chicken or turkey stock, but I find that making your own makes a big difference in the gravy and it's honestly very easy. If you're like me, this also means you get a little extra Turkey meat for your leftover soup as well since I refuse to throw away all of the meat on the turkey wings after making the stock.  Just pick it all off and freeze it until your ready to make your soup or other Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving I start brining the turkey and prepping all of the veggies that will hold for a day or two.

I find that nothing makes for a juicy turkey like brining it for 2 days in advance...not frying it, not starting it cooking upside down, nothing. I also slather it in herb butter (both on top and under the skin), so that doesn't hurt! My favorite brine that I have found over the years is a beer brine...I use Newcastle which makes this turkey a bit of an expensive date, but trust me your guests will be singing your praises. And we all know that's hard praise to get with so many bad, dry turkey experiences from Thanksgivings past! Make sure the brine is completely covering your turkey...sometimes you have to get a bit crafty with pressure on the bag in certain spots to make this happen.

It's also important to have a great carver on hand day-of so that you can plate your turkey in a beautiful and appetizing way...my husband is a pro at this by now, so I'm lucky here as you can see below.

While I don't actually assemble the stuffing until day-of, all of the veggies are chopped and stored in bags in the refrigerator. The day before I cook up the vegetables (and in this case bacon and apples as well) so that all I have to do day of is mix the cooked mixture in with the torn up bread that has been drying for a couple of days, add the broth & eggs and pop it in the oven. This Bacon, Apple, Fennel Stuffing is a bit indulgent, but it is definitely a winner...just be careful that it doesn't get overly crisp on the bottom. I found that mine was done about 15 minutes earlier than the recipe called for. I always suggest making it pretty soggy before cooking as well if you like that old-school Stove Top stuffing texture like I do!

Now we're on the day before Turkey Day...time to get cranking! So today I make the Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Coffee Cake for breakfast, Rum Pumpkin Pie filling and do any last prep work and appetizer assembly that I possibly can. I also set up the Thanksgiving table and make sure the bar is stocked, set up and anything that needs to be cold is ready to be put in the refrigerator as soon as my brining turkey comes out in the morning.

This year I tried out a new Mashed Potato recipe...I'm always experimenting with this dish simply because Christian doesn't really like white potatoes (I know, very un-American of him!). This year I found a winner...honestly, I found him in the fridge the night before Thanksgiving eating cold spoonfuls! The winning dish is a Horseradish Mashed Potato with Scallions. It was totally delicious (I put in more horseradish than the original recipe called for) but I think it would work much better with roast beef than turkey.  So I might be making this one again around Christmas.

Onto SavoryGirl's Famous Sweet Potatoes.  This is the one dish that no one will let me experiment with since it is so well loved.  So I can practically make this one with my eyes closed by now. What makes these sweet potatoes so special is the addition of flaked coconut to the marshmallows...more like dessert than a vegetable, but hey, it's a holiday!

We always do something a little special for breakfast on Thanksgiving as well but this year I decided to move away from Christian's Pumpkin Pancakes and try something different.  A Brown Butter, Ginger, Sour Cream Coffee Cake to be exact.  To be honest, it's a bit labor intensive but it turned out really delicious. It makes a lot though and it's pretty rich so make sure you have a crowd to eat it or else you'll be too full for dinner!

The last thing I make the day before is the filling for the Rum Pumpkin Pie and the praline pecans for the topping. While no one else will let me change the sweet potatoes, this pie is the one thing on my menu that I refuse to change. It is better than any pumpkin pie I've ever had in my life...seriously, it's that good. The whip cream and praline pecans are essential so make sure not to skip those either. Super easy to make and oh-so delicious.  I look forward to this pie all year long!

Turkey Day is here! First thing I do when I get up is get the Rum Pumpkin Pie in the oven and then make the filling for the Toasted Pecan Pie to put in the oven as soon as the pumpkin pie comes out. I do toast and chop the pecans a few days earlier though so all I really have to do morning-of is mix everything together and pour it into the already rolled-out pie crust. Nice and gooey, but super sweet, Pecan Pie is a once a year treat...our dentist is thankful.

Then after watching the parade and enjoying some of the coffee cake it's time to put out the appetizer spread just before guests start arriving.  This year since it was only 3 of us I kept it simple with baked chips, guacamole and salsa, a veggie platter, a fruit platter, mixed nuts and one new appetizer recipe. Bresaola wrapped Persimmons with Arugula. These are a little time-consuming to make on Thanksgiving since you have to assemble each one individually, but they were quite delicious. If you have helpers in the kitchen this is a perfect assembly job to give out to someone else.

The rest of the day is simple timing.  Making sure you get everything assembled and warmed up and in the oven (for those that need it) at the appropriate times based on when the turkey is supposed to be done. The trickiest things with turkeys in my opinion is the timing...my recommendation is to never trust the minutes/pound too much and always start testing the temperature one hour before you think it should be done. For whatever reason some years my turkeys are done super early and other years they need more time than I expect. Your thermometer is your best friend...not your timer.

Once the turkey is done and taken out of the oven to rest, the stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes can go in the oven while you make your gravy and vegetable. Once those are close to done the turkey can get carved and plated and you're ready to eat!

The Thanksgiving Plate...moist beer-brined turkey, horseradish mashed potatoes, bacon apple fennel stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallow and coconut, winter greens with shiitakes and cranberry pepper jelly.  Yum.

After taking a 1-2 hour breather to let the dinner digest it's time for pie!

And then it's time to kick back and let the food coma settle in.  Lucky for me since I did all the cooking the boys are on clean-up duty. Wine in hand, cat on lap, full happy belly, Pat's game on TV and winding down a fun day with friends/family...there's a lot to be thankful for today!

Click here for more specifics on my Thanksgiving 2012 menu including all recipes, detailed timing/planning leading up to the big day and a printable shopping list for each recipe (or the entire menu). My 2011 menu and plan can be found here.

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