Homemade, happy and stuffed :: Our family recipe for a perfect slow, simple Thanksgiving dinner

I haven't hosted Thanksgiving in years. And the last time I did it was quite by accident. We were due to go away but one of my children fell ill so we had to cancel plans. I was so grateful to have my local supermarket open and I ran out, grabbed all the fixings, and spent the better part of the day busily working away in the kitchen. I loved it and was secretly thankful for a day in the kitchen and a quiet day home with my family. Usually we're busy driving to and fro, to one family or the other.  And then my family, so to say, fell apart when we divorced. Last year the children went with their father to his family and even though I had numerous offers to join friends and family elsewhere, I remained home. It was bittersweet but it was not a sad day.

This year was my year to have the children and they all decided that they wanted to have Thanksgiving at home, cozy and intimate and relaxed. Now, that's my kind of Thanksgiving. My parents did the driving and they came to us.

I spent most of yesterday prepping all the side dishes so that I wouldn't have to rush around today. I enlisted help with some peeling, but the rest was up to me. I didn't mind. I love to cook. I find it to be both relaxing and a creative outlet. With the holiday music on to keep me company I set about sauteeing mushrooms, roasting Brussels sprouts with shallots, garlic and onions, roasting carrots, making cornbread and sausage stuffing and brown butter mashed potatoes with shallots. By the end of the day all I had left was the pie... a cranberry apple pie that I saw on Pinterest, the recipe was from Cooks Illustrated.

In my quest to have a slow and simple Thanksgiving I decided not to make a fuss with the table. Here's where the children could help. Nothing says simple and family and togetherness like a child's touch. It was simple and festive and it was perfect!

I have a collection of painted pine cones. I've been collecting and painting them for years. They look lovely displayed in glass bowls and vases and a simple pine cone makes for a wonderful place card holder.
Below my son, Alexander, 8, is hard at work.

You will notice that no two pine cones were alike. I don't think we have two that are alike. The napkins were mix and match as well for a casual, layered look.

Another way to involve the children. Have them carefully place cranberries inside old assorted bottles. Such a simple trick will keep them busy, involved and looks so lovely and festive. Add candles, and voila, instant candle stick!

And then the feast!

Roasted Carrots

Enlist your kids to help peel!
These carrots shrink into nothingness... I bought 2 pounds for 6 people. There were leftovers. (Thank goodness!)
2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into carrot stick sized pieces
Olive oil, enough to lightly coat carrots
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350
Place oil covered carrots onto a cookie sheet, arrange so that none overlap.
Place the cookie sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until they start to turn lightly brown. It's possible for the ones on the edges to get dark, don't toss them, they're not burned... they're delicious!

If you're going to serve these the next day, simply pop them in the microwave for 2 minutes on high

Sauteed Mushrooms

2 lbs Baby Bella mushrooms, stems removed, washed
Approx 1 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs butter
Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet or pan heat butter and oil until mixture is well melted. Add the mushrooms flat side town, and keep on medium heat until liquid starts to pool in the centers. When this happens turn the mushrooms over, and repeat every 5 or so minutes until mushrooms get nice and dark, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt or truffle salt to taste.

These can be easily reheated a day later in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.

Roasted Shaved Brussels Sprouts with onions, shallots and garlic

2 packages of fresh Brussels sprouts, whole or shaved.
4 garlic cloves - minced
1 medium onion - diced
4 shallots   - diced
Olive oil, about 4 tbs
Salt and pepper to taste

This is a huge hit in our house. If you can buy shaved or sliced Brussels sprouts go ahead and get them, as this will save you a lot of prep time. Trader Joes sells them pre-packaged, nationally, and Stew Leonard's sells them locally. For this dish I also happened to pick up a container of pre-chopped shallots, garlic and onions. Do whatever you can to save yourself some time!

In a large sautee pan, add about 1 tbs of olive oil, heat, and toss in the onion mixture. I added these right into the pan I had used for the mushrooms to soak up those flavors. Cook over low to medium heat. You do not want to burn these. When the mixture starts to caramelize, remove from heat and toss into a large bowl with the uncooked shredded Brussels sprouts. Add about 2-3 tbs of olive oil to the mixture and mix well so that all the vegetables are well coated. Place the mixture on to a cookie sheet and spread evenly. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes, checking on the mixture after 10 minutes. If after 10 they start to brown, turn the heat down slightly and cook a few minutes longer. Once done add salt and pepper to taste.

This dish too can be reheated in the microwave or warmed in the oven.

Lots and lots of garlic in our Thanksgiving dinner!

Skin-on smashed potatoes with shallots and brown butter

10-12 red potatoes
2 cups of lowfat milk, warmed (I used 1%)
3/4 stick of butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. When water is boiling add the potatoes to the water and cook for about 20 minutes or so until potatoes are tender - you can poke them easily with a fork. While the potatoes are cooking take the butter and put it into a small saucepan, melting it carefully over low- med heat. When butter starts to melt, turn the heat down slightly. You do not want the butter to foam, but if it does, remove from heat for a moment. Keep the butter on the heat until it starts to brown. When it has reached an almost caramel like color, remove it from the heat entirely. This will take just a few minutes.

In a sautee pan add about 1 tbs of olive oil, heat, and add the shallots. Cook slowly over low- medium heat until they start to turn a very light brown. When they do, remove them from the heat. About 5 minutes or so.
When the potatoes are ready, drain the water and start mashing them with a potato masher then place them in the bowl of a large mixer, (or continue mashing) slowly add the browned butter, and keep mashing. 

I love the depth and nuttiness of brown butter and add use it instead of regular butter whenever I can. Slowly add the milk and the shallots and when all blended add salt and pepper to taste. Because we've not used a ton of butter and because we're using 1% milk, these aren't completely laden in calories!

If these are being made ahead and served the next day, you will notice the mixture harden slightly over night. Simply add another 1/4-1/2 cup of milk when reheating. You can reheat these in the microwave, but I actually prefer to reheat these in a saucepan on the stove. 

Sausage and Cornbread Stuffing

This recipe was adapted from Country Cleaver

1 pound ground sausage sausage (like Johnsonville Sausage)
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
3 stalk Celery, finely chopped
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups Cornbread, crumbled
1 tsp dried sage
½ cup Chicken Stock

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and cook the sausage until it begins to brown. Add in onion, celery and garlic and continue to cook. Stir occasionally until the vegetables have softened and browned. Add in crumbled cornbread and sage. I cheated and bought cornbread (shhh! - I was looking to save some time) I toasted the cornbread on both sides before breaking it up and adding it to the mixture in the pan. Add in chicken stock. Stir gently to combine completely.

To make cornbread from scratch:

(recipe via Epicurious)

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Heat oven to 400°F with rack in middle and butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
Whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together milk, egg, and butter in a small bowl and stir into dry ingredients. Pour batter into buttered baking pan.
Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool corn bread in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely.
Cut corn bread into 3/4-inch cubes and put in a large bowl.

In a large casserole dish, place the stuffing in an even an even layer. Bake until its heated through and brown on top - about 20 minutes.

That's not really a turkey... it's a large roaster... I forgot to take a picture of my bird!

I was quite pleased with my freehand carving apple and leaves!

Apple Cranberry pie

The above is the picture is from Cook's Illustrated... below is mine... We couldn't wait long enough until it cooled! It was fabulous none the less and we will be making this again!
For the recipe visit Cook's Illustrated 

Now certainly we cannot, (read I cannot!) have apple pie unless it is a la mode. And naturally, since we made the rest of the meal, we had to make our ice cream too... naturally, of course.... and since this was a family affair I had my daughter help with the ice cream. 

If you don't have one of these LL Bean ice cream balls you really ought to get one. They're under $30 and so much fun to use. You'll need to get yourself a package of rock salt as well.

We simply added a pint of half and half

1/3 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
to the inside of the ball. 
We also added, to the outer cavity, 1/2 cup of rock salt and filled the cavity with ice. 
My daughter was responsible for rolling and shaking the ball for 20 minutes. 
It's heavy and hard work, but fun!

After 15 or so minutes unscrew the top and scrape the ice cream away from the metal walls. If need be shake for another 5 minutes until all is cold, hard and firm!
Transfer ice cream to a freezer-safe dish and place in freezer until ready to serve. 
How easy is that?

Needless to say there's practically no ice cream or pie left. We must have some mice in the house!

Doesn't that look delicious?
I urge you to slow down, enjoy and encourage your kids to help out this holiday season!

Feel free to borrow any of these recipes.

I'm still stuffed and now If you'll excuse me I need to get ready for my spin class!