What’s Cookin’ – Thanksgiving Recipes and the Almost Empty Nest

As our nest gets emptier, our holidays continue to evolve. For the past several years, our daughter who lives in California has come to visit on Thanksgiving and our daughter and son-in-law who live in Arizona come at Christmas. Our middle daughter lived away from our home town for a few years, but moved back this past year. So, for the past few years, we’ve seen all of our kids at the holidays. Just not all on the same holiday!

This year all of us will be together. At the same time! In the same place! Six of us will travel to Arizona to spend Christmas with our oldest daughter and son-in-law. We will continue our themed Christmas which will be . . . Southwest. Can’t wait to see how creative everyone will be with this theme this year.

Our five girls and their food babies

Thanksgiving 2011 – the last time all of us were together at the same time in the same place!

But before Christmas comes Thanksgiving. My sister, who lives three blocks from us, will be hosting the holiday this year. It will be a quiet holiday with only 8 of us there. And that is all right with me. We will not be those parents who insist that their children spend every holiday with them. We love spending time, including the holidays, with our children, but we have known too many people for whom holidays were stressful because of overbearing and demanding relatives. So, we will be respectful of our adult children’s decisions regarding holidays (and other matters, too).

This has made our holidays so much more fun for everyone. They are casual. We have good food. We play cards and games. And our children feel free to come and go as they maneuver in-law’s and boyfriend’s holiday schedules.

My sister, niece and nephew, and I decided on our Thanksgiving menu last week. My sister ordered the fresh turkey and is in charge of roasting it this year. Hopefully, the sink won’t detach from the counter, fall into the cabinet, and create a massive water leak and mess at the crack of dawn like last year. Yes. That happened.

My niece and nephew are in charge of side dishes except for the regular rolls, cranberry sauce, and desserts. My niece and sister have Celiac Disease so they will also provide their own bread.

I am in charge of the pies (including homemade whipped cream), cranberry sauce, and yeast rolls.

Our three kids who will be with us at Thanksgiving are in charge of beverages. We used to provide sparkling grape juice, white and red, for the kids. I think it’s safe to say that the grape juice will be of the wine variety this year. At least until we start having young kids around again.

Yesterday, I bought the cranberries to make my homemade cranberry sauce.

Cranberries 3# size

Last year this 48 ounce bag cost me $4.97. This year the price was $4.98.

Making homemade cranberry sauce is frightfully easy. You can see my recipe and tutorial here. The beauty of this recipe is that you can (and should) make your cranberry sauce a few weeks in advance. You can make it and refrigerate it for up to two weeks, or you can process it and keep it on the shelf for up to 12 months. Making it a few weeks before you serve it allows the flavor to completely mellow.

Cranberry Sauce Ready to Eat 2012

Homemade cranberry sauce.

My kids LOVE cranberry sauce, and I used the canned stuff for many years, but the homemade version is so much better and so easy I guarantee you won’t go back. I make a plain and a spiced version (using orange, cloves, and cinnamon), and this is one of my most visited posts on my blog. This is so easy to prepare that I make extra to share with friends. Kind of an early Christmas gift.

Cream of Mushroom Soup ready to use

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup.

If you have friends or family who are gluten intolerant, many holiday recipes present challenges when it comes to using canned “cream of” soups. I started making my own Cream of Chicken and Cream of Mushroom soup. You can make these gluten free or not by using all-purpose flour rather than rice flour. There are three reasons to make your “cream of” soups homemade: #1 The homemade versions are so much better tasting, #2 they don’t require a lot of extra effort or time, and #3 gluten free canned soups are very expensive.

The standard size on canned soups is 10¾ ounces or slightly more than one cup so be sure to measure the homemade soup for your recipes. And eat the rest as regular soup. Seriously, would you ever eat the canned cream of whatever soups as regular soup? I know I wouldn’t, but the homemade cream soups are so, so yummy.

Green Bean Casserole ready to eat

My version of the iconic Green Bean Casserole.

If you like Green Bean Casserole, I have a homemade version that is also really, really good. I saw a version of this on Cook’s Country and re-created it in a gluten-free version as This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole.

Cranberry Salad ready to serve

Some other recipes that I love for Thanksgiving include Cranberry Salad. This recipe is from my friend, Cathy. It is very good, but if you want it for Thanksgiving dinner, you need to start to prepare it two days in advance. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe, and it is easily halved for smaller gatherings.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

My version of Nantucket Cranberry Pie.

The other cranberry recipe that I love is for Nantucket Cranberry Pie. There are a lot of versions of this recipe out there, but this one, from The Pioneer Woman, is the one I use. I admit that I use more than two cups of cranberries. I use an entire 12-ounce bag (about 3 cups of cranberries). The recipe calls for 2 heaping cups and that is just not enough.  Think cranberry cobbler – easy to make and so good to eat!

Turkey Cookie step ready to eat

Turkey Cookies.

Finally, here’s a fun Thanksgiving treat to make and share – Fudge Striped Shortbread Turkey Cookies. My kids loved these cookies when Grandma made them when they were younger. I made them a few years ago and plan on making them again this year because even older kids love them.

I hope that your Thanksgiving plans include time with friends and family who you care about and who care about you!

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