How to semi-successfully make your first Thanksgiving on your own

My Thanksgiving plate included: turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing, roasted Brussles sprouts, cranberries with walnuts, spoonbread and cresent rolls (you can't make everything from scratch).
My Thanksgiving plate included: turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing, roasted Brussles sprouts, cranberries with walnuts, spoonbread and cresent rolls (you can’t make everything from scratch).

When my mom decided to leave the horrible winters of Illinois for good and move to Mexico, I soon realized for the first time ever I wouldn’t have somewhere to go for Thanksgiving.

My dad still lives in the ‘burbs but is certainly no chef, I have no extended family, and while I’m sure I could’ve mooched off some friends’ families, I decided that in my 22nd year I would take up the task of making Thanksgiving.

My apartment’s small, but for the first time since living in Chicago I have a decent-sized kitchen, something that could pass as a dining room table and two willing men to share the day with: My father and my boyfriend.

With having very little extended family, I was used to having tiny holiday gatherings, so the size didn’t bother me much. I thought, “Sure, I’m a fully-functioning adult now, I can make Thanksgiving.”

Though there was much doubt before the actual day, I somehow made it out alive and with a damn good turkey. If you find yourself next year preparing your own Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving or whatever, here are some tips I’ve now learned in pulling off Thanksgiving.

1. You’ll make mistakes. Don’t freak out. I forgot to add the pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract to my mini pumpkin pies. When I realized this about nine minutes into baking, I took the mini muffin tin out of the oven and tried to throw all of the pies in a garbage bag while scream-crying, “I’M GOING TO RUIN THANKSGIVING.” I wasn’t even making these for actual Thanksgiving, I was bringing them to work.

2. Plan, plan, plan. The Saturday before the big day I took a few hours to research all of the recipes I would work from and then made a list, with quantities, of everything I would need. With iPhone list in hand I ventured to Jewel (so did everyone…beware) and got everything I needed. There were a few things I overbought and didn’t use, but for the most part I made use of everything I bought.

3. Keep planning. Shopping for ingredients was one thing, but how do you expect to cook a full holiday meal on four burners and one oven? You can’t. I cooked my cranberries Saturday night and didn’t touch them until Thanksgiving. I prepped my spoonbread Saturday as well, and I prepped the stuffing Wednesday night. On Thursday all I had to do was pop them in the oven. I also made a schedule based on cooking time of when I would put everything in the oven. Don’t underestimate planning.

4. Buy disposable aluminum pans. OK, it might not be the most eco-friendly approach, but when you reach fully functioning adult status and live in a real house, you can own enough roasting pans for every single side. For now, the disposable ones will do. They save you money (because what college student has 17 pans?) and often come with lids, so they double as storage containers when you’re done.

5. Dry brine the turkey. I normally don’t like white meat because it’s so dry, but because I was only making a turkey breast instead of a full turkey I had no option. The night before I combined 6 Tbsp salt with 2 Tbsp baking powder and coated the entire outside of the breast, then let sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. (note: I bought the turkey breast fresh and kept it in the fridge, it was never frozen) Before putting in the oven I brushed the skin with a mix of butter and Mrs. Dash’s garlic and herb seasoning, and periodically throughout cooking I basted with chicken broth. The turkey breast was alarmingly moist and so super flavorful when done, I want to make turkeys all the time now just so I can dry brine.

It’s OK if you’re not a natural Martha Stewart on your first try, if all else fails you can run to the grocery story and by a rotisserie chicken (my backup plan). Happy holidays!

If you’re interested in what I made, links to recipes below.

see No. 5 above.

Based on this Food Network recipe.
Instead of apples I added 3 apple Chardonnay chicken sausages (from Trader Joe’s) and used a bag of unseasoned Brownberry stuffing in place of my own stale bread.

Mashed potatoes
Based on this Food Network recipe.
I recommend adding butter and extra salt as well, the finished product is a bit bland

Based on this recipe.

Brussles sprouts
2 bags of Trader Joe’s Brussles Sprouts
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Slice the Brussles sprouts in half and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay flat on cooker sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, cook for another 10 minutes.

Glazed carrots
Based on this recipe.

Cranberry sauce
Based on this recipe.
I added walnuts to the top for an added crunch, but you don’t like nuts you can pass.