Your Easiest Thanksgiving Ever
Turkey breast instead of a whole bird. Semi-homemade appetizers, stuffing, and dessert. Get the idea? Our easy Thanksgiving menu for 8 to 10 is a cinch to pull off, but takes no short-cuts with flavor.
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Article, recipes, and photographs by Ashley Strickland Freeman
(Want more Thanksgiving recipes and tips? Check out our big Yummly Thanksgiving page!)
This Thanksgiving will be the first one spent in our new house, and we’re hosting a few family members from out of town for the special holiday. Because I’m technically a chef, you might think that holiday meals are always extravagant to-do’s at our house, but nothing could be further from the truth. You see, throughout the year, I’m pretty much cooking and creating new recipes every single day, so when the holidays roll around, I’d rather be spending time around the table instead of in the kitchen.
With that in mind, I’m sharing a Thanksgiving menu to make your own holiday extra-easy and stress-free. But don’t think I’m skimping in the flavor department, or that these recipes won’t impress.
I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to help you make the most of your meal no matter if you’ve made a hundred Thanksgiving dinners or you’re a first-timer. Smart short-cuts and tips are just the beginning, though. I’ve also put together a timeline, simple decorating ideas, even answers to your guests’ age-old question, “what can I bring to help?” This year, it really will be your easiest Thanksgiving ever.
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Essential tools for cooking Thanksgiving dinner
Before we dive into the cooking, I want to mention a few tools that will come in handy for making this meal.
Yummly Smart Thermometer
When cooking turkey (or any other protein that requires specific temperatures for best results), you need a good meat thermometer. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend adding the Yummly Smart Thermometer to your kitchen. I have a tendency to get distracted while cooking — the washing machine signals that a load of laundry is done, there’s a LEGO crash emergency, my football team fumbles the ball — whatever the reason, there have been several burned-up or overcooked meals in my past. Let’s all do ourselves a favor this year and not let that happen.
The great thing about the Yummly Thermometer is that it syncs up to the app on your phone and alerts you when the turkey is done. No more oops incidents! And, those who know me will tell you that I am not tech-savvy. If I can figure out this cool gadget, then you can, too.
All you do is insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the turkey breast and then let the thermometer do its thing. Thanks to a bluetooth connection, the Yummly app will alert you when it’s time to take the bird out of the oven.
Roasting pan and rack
While we’re talking turkey, you’ll also want to make sure you have a roasting pan and V-shaped rack to prevent the turkey breast from wobbling around in the pan.
It's not essential, but a gravy separator is handy for de-greasing the pan drippings you’ll need for the gravy.
Bundt cake pan
If you plan to bake the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Cake, you’re going to need a 10- to 12-cup Bundt cake pan.
Easiest Thanksgiving menu
On to the recipes! Each of these serves 8 to 10, so it's a perfect menu for a medium-size group.
I love a non-recipe recipe, and Build-Your-Own Crostini Bar is one of my favorite appetizers of all time. All you do is toast baguette slices, then let your guests dive in to add store-bought toppings like tapenade, sun-dried tomato pesto, goat cheese, and marinated artichoke hearts. It’s super flexible, so feel free to mix it up with other favorite toppings.
Now that we’ve got the appetizer settled, let’s get to the main attraction: the turkey. My Easy Herb-Rubbed Turkey Breast with Quick Pan Gravy is packed full of flavor and is sure to be the star of the show.
Since our group is smaller this year, I’m making a turkey breast instead of a whole bird. It thaws faster, the cooking time is essentially cut in half, and we’re not eating turkey-everything leftovers for a week. It’s a win-win!
Even better with this recipe, you still get a lovely pan gravy out of the deal. Carrots, onion, and celery all roast in the bottom of the pan with the turkey to flavor the pan drippings. You get all the benefits you would if those aromatics were stuffed inside a whole bird, but with less effort and mess.
Next on the menu is my Apple and Sage Stuffing. I have to mention (because my mother is probably reading this story) that this is technically dressing, not stuffing. Growing up, we never stuffed our turkeys — we always served “dressing” on the side. But whatever you call it, this essential side dish is the perfect accompaniment to turkey — and may I add, an excellent vehicle for getting gravy from the boat and into your belly.
I’ve gussied up store-bought stuffing mix with the addition of sweet Honeycrisp apples, fresh sage, and some celery and onion.
Another must-have side on the table is my Classic Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The mashed potatoes are truly so easy to put together — whole cloves of garlic simmer along with the potatoes and soften to infuse the mixture with garlicky goodness, blending in perfectly once mashed.
The trick to the creamiest potatoes? Make sure to add warmed milk and butter (instead of cold) — it’ll incorporate more easily. Also try to avoid over-whipping, which could make your potatoes gluey.
Now for the colorful dishes of the meal. First up is my 5-minute Almost-Homemade Cranberry Pear Sauce.
The recipe calls for canned whole berry cranberry sauce, but to kick it up a notch, I zap a diced pear in the microwave for about 30 seconds before stirring it into the sauce. Then I add a little zing with some fresh lemon zest, and voila! Delicious, semi-homemade cranberry sauce that’s a lot more special than the stuff straight from the can.
We’ve got to have something green on the table, so I like to opt for Green Beans with Crunchy Lemony Panko Breadcrumbs. I bedeck simple steamed green beans with a pan-toasted panko topping that comes together in less than 5 minutes. The breadcrumbs are seasoned with lemon zest and garlic and give the beans a nice crunch in addition to flavor.
Finally, no holiday meal is complete without a special dessert. It’s pumpkin season, so I like to serve my Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Cake. The tender spice cake celebrates that craveable seasonal flavor as a change-up from traditional pumpkin pie.
For the prep, this mom gets a little help from two of my best friends: boxed cake mix and canned pumpkin. I jazz things up with a delicious cream cheese swirl that makes the cake fancy enough for a holiday meal — with only 25 minutes or so of hands-on time. As a finishing touch, I skip the frosting and give the cake a dusting of powdered sugar for an oh-so-easy yet impressive dessert.
Thanksgiving menu timeline
Deciding on what recipes to make is only half of the story. You also need a plan for what to cook when. Follow this suggested timeline to avoid feeling frazzled before the feast.
2 to 3 days ahead
• Thaw the turkey breast in the refrigerator, if frozen.
1 day ahead (or Thanksgiving morning)
• Make Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Cake.
• Make toasts for Build-Your-Own Crostini Bar.
4 hours before serving:
• Make Apple and Sage Stuffing.
• Make breadcrumbs for Green Beans with Crunchy Lemony Panko Breadcrumbs.
3 hours before serving:
1 hour before serving:
• Set out components for the crostini bar (or ask a guest to).
• Make Classic Garlic Mashed Potatoes.
30 minutes before serving:
• Set out cranberry sauce.
• Make turkey gravy and carve the turkey breast.
• Reheat stuffing and mashed potatoes.
• Steam green beans, then add breadcrumbs.
At dessert time:
• Sprinkle cake with powdered sugar.
• Make sweetened whipped cream (or serve ice cream; optional).
Thanksgiving table decoration ideas
While the turkey is in the oven and I have some hands-free time, I like to decorate the table. If you have space, you could also set the table a day or two in advance. (Our table is often used for Transformers or Angry Birds battles, so I generally opt to wait until the day-of.)
Choose a color palette
For a cohesive look, I usually choose my color palette first. This year, I found a plaid table runner with grey, maroon, brown, and cream tones that was my starting point. I like to use neutral plates, platters, and serving bowls — they’re versatile for most every holiday so I get a put-together look without having to buy anything special.
Add seasonal touches
Next, I want to make the table festive so I like to buy miniature orange and white pumpkins from the grocery store. The cute little gourds would also look good here.
Hit the grocery store fresh flower stand
To tie everything together, I go with grocery store flowers and greenery as the final touch. I love seeded eucalyptus, magnolia leaves, burnt-orange mums, and red alstroemeria to give the table an effortless autumnal feel.
What can guests bring for Thanksgiving?
We’ve all been asked this before, and instead of saying “just yourselves” (totally an okay option), why not give guests a suggestion?
The Build-Your-Own Crostini Bar is the perfect recipe for guests to participate in. Have them pick up their favorite toppings and be in charge of setting everything out before dinner.
Or have them bring a simple spinach salad — maybe ask them to make Spinach Salad with Toasted Pecans and Cranberries, or bring some baby spinach, sliced pears, blue cheese, candied pecans, and a bottled balsamic dressing.
Wine is also a great option for guests to bring. For red wine drinkers, a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais is an excellent choice. They’re light enough not to overpower the turkey, but also have enough body to stand up to the rich gravy. For a white wine option, I like Chardonnay or a dry Riesling. The acidity and minerality of either will pair well with the turkey and sides.
Keep dreaming about your Thanksgiving feast
Looking for more tips, or ideas for customizing your menu? We've got big helpings of each in these next articles.