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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wrapping up the Thanksgiving weekend: what worked and what didn't (plus a recipe -- Super Easy Chocolate Mousse)

Here we are, the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, and I'm looking back over things that worked well for our holiday meal and things that just didn't.

Things that didn't work for us:

  • a big menu--we decided to scale back the menu quite a bit just two days before, and still it seemed like a lot of work, and an abundance of food to choose from. We went with the turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, an assortment of pickles from the summer and 1 kind of dessert, pumpkin pie. We left out a kale and broccoli dish and a salad, plus the other dessert, and rolls.
  • getting the turkey thawed--is it just me, my fridge and the turkeys I buy, or does everyone else think it takes longer to thaw frozen turkeys than it used to? My mom's old cookbooks all seem to think that a turkey should thaw in the fridge in just 3 days. I had the turkey in the fridge for 5 days and it still had some icy-ness to it. Perhaps modern fridges are set to a lower temp or do a better job keeping things cold. Or maybe modern turkeys are processed in a way that slows the thawing process (injected with flavors, water and fats?). I don't know. But this year I moved the turkey from the freezer to the fridge on Saturday. Next year I'll try Friday. 
  • timing the turkey roasting--sadly, in our house, Thanksgiving dinner is ALWAYS an hour late. I need to just start telling everyone that dinner will be an hour later.
Things that worked well for us this year:
  • having everyone in the house help with the cooking. My son made the cranberry sauce, (following a recipe in Joy of Cooking), a couple of days before. My two daughters were left completely in charge of the mashed potatoes. Each daughter helped with an individual side dish. All three kids cleaned up the dining room and set the table. I'm in the process of teaching my husband how to roast a turkey. He did about half the turkey work this time, up from last year. Next turkey, I'll teach him the glaze.
  • keeping the casseroles hot in a warm oven while I made gravy and sliced the turkey. Everything was hot and ready at the same time. Next year I'd like to try warming the dinner plates as well, so the meal stays hot longer on the plates.
  • saying grace before everyone hit the buffet, so all were free to take their plates to the table and begin eating when they pleased. In past years, we've waited on grace until everyone was seated at the table with their filled plates, which meant much of it was cold too soon.
  • having my two daughters in charge of serving dessert and my son doing the table clearing. This meant I could just sit and enjoy the evening.
I know I will probably think of other things I'm glad worked one way, or wish I'd done another way. But having written this down, I now have a resource for next year's Thanksgiving planning.

How about you? When planning a holiday meal, do you find some things work particularly well, and others, not so much? Any tips to share to help me with my plans for next year?

And the promised recipe?

With the Thanksgiving leftovers always come a challenge of how to use things up, without the telltale "leftoverness". Here's how I use up any remaining whipping cream (yes, believe it or not, we do have leftover whipping cream! LOL!) I created this recipe back when I was a newlywed, and later published it in a newsletter I wrote when my children were all small.

Super Easy Chocolate Mousse

I receive such amazing praise when I serve this mousse for dessert in our house. Yet I don't know if I make anything simpler or quicker. Believe it or not, this mousse only takes 5 minutes of hands-on time.

(yields 4-6 small, but rich, servings)

8 oz. whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
dash salt
1 tablespoon vanilla

Use an electric mixer in a medium bowl to begin whipping the cream. Just as the cream is beginning to look fluffy, whip in remaining ingredients, being careful not to overbeat.

If the mousse still needs mixing, but is beginning to look overbeaten, use a rubber spatula to finish combining. Spoon into small dishes and chill 10-15 minutes.

(I usually make this dish just before serving dinner and it chills while we eat.)

*tip* If your powdered sugar or cocoa is lumpy, spoon it through a sieve before adding to the cream. Mixing will be quicker if lumps are minimized.


  1. Lili, a good idea to reflect on what worked and what didn't and to get it in writing for future reference. This was the first year that Thanksgiving was just me and the kids, and one college kid decided not to join us, visiting her boyfriend instead. We are in transition. So, Thanksgiving for 4. We had a menu and too much was on hand. I need to scale back next year. Even though officially the youngest will be at Dad's for Thanksgiving next year, we'll still have ours, just a weekend before. I often cook turkey, so no big deal.

    1. Hi Carol,
      As you're planning your Thanksgiving dinner for a week earlier next year, perhaps it won't be as small a gathering. Your daughter and her BF may join you.
      I hear you on the too much food issue. Even with scaling back our menu at the last minute, we still had too much!

  2. Our turkey ended up half frozen-- the front half! That has never happened before. After the turkey roasted we found a bag of giblets in that part. Oops.

    1. Hi nicoleandmaggie!
      That's too funny!
      My husband cleaned the turkey for me, but I kept asking, "did you get the neck out? did you get that paper packet of stuff out? are you sure you got the neck and giblets out?"
      I hope the part of the turkey that did cook well was delicious!

  3. I was in charge of pies. I thought I had all the necessary ingredients in the house. It turns out I lacked evaporated milk. I improvised with regular 2% and added NF dry milk powder. It worked OK, it tasted fine but the texture was a bit differant. I'll make sure to have canned milk next time.

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      good save with the improvised evaporated milk! I'm sure no one else noticed the substitution. It's always the person who made it that's most sensitive to the changes made.
      But isn't that just the way things work out?! You think you have everything on hand, only to start the preparations and discover the recipe calls for that one item you don't normally stock, or just ran out of.

  4. It always helps when everyone pitches in with the preparation whether it's the cooking or bringing a dish. I don't have warming dishes, but have had good luck keeping things warm with the crock pot or doing last minute zapping in the microwave to warm something up before serving.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I think the whole mood is more festive when everyone is helping. And it's fun to try someone else's cooking.
      Good tips on keeping warm in the crock pot and using the microwave to quickly heat something. Getting it all hot and done at the same time is a juggling act.

  5. I think our biggest oops this year was that two of the guests were more than half an hour late. I ended up putting several things in the oven in an attempt to keep them warm. It was okay in the end.

    My turkey didn't thaw in 3 days either. The final day I had to put it in cold water in the sink and keep switching the water.

    1. Hi Shara,
      Now at our house, if the guests would be a half hour late, that might be a good thing, with my inability to get Thanksgiving dinner done on time! But I'm glad it all turned out fine at your place, despite the late-comers.

      So your turkey didn't thaw in 3 days either. Maybe it's these improved home freezers, keeping everything near zero. And that might take longer to thaw.

  6. It is a good idea to keep notes on your T day for next year. I scaled back this year too. We went with buffet style rather than putting all the food on the table. And I scaled back on the food, making less from scratch than I normally do, and with Mom here now, it did make it easier. Onward to Christmas now, right? lol

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I think you were smart to make things easier with your mom there. Scaling back in terms of menu and work seems to be something of a trend. I have heard that a lot this year. No one wants all the work of an oversized Thanksgiving dinner. I'm glad your Thanksgiving went well.

  7. Happy Thanksgiving Lili :) Obviously we didn't have a Thanksgiving dinner in my part of the world, but we have been scaling down our family Christmases over the years. Now, different family members bring different dishes (there are a lot of us), and sometimes we do salads instead of roast veggies (since it is summer over here). This year my sister is a vegan so she is planning on doing a bit of cooking so she will have something to eat. It will be interesting.

    1. Hi Economies,
      It's so much more pleasant when everyone contributes something to a big holiday meal (and more interesting to eat, too!). When we're freezing our backsides I'll be thinking of you on Christmas, enjoying a lovely summer day! That's funny to think that Christmas falls in summer where you are. All the accessories of Christmas that we're familiar with here (snow, sleigh rides, roasting chestnuts over a fire, ice skating) just don't make sense in the Southern Hemisphere's Christmas scenario. Do a blog post sometime about what Christmas is like in Australia.

  8. So, in trying to scale back at my house, there was huge disappointment about the lack of rolls! Everything else worked out well, though. We had enough for leftovers for 2 days which is about how long we can tolerate leftovers anyway.

    1. Hi Sharon,
      It sounds like you came very close to a perfect Thanksgiving meal plan. And now you know that rolls matter to your group.

  9. Yummy mousse! Cause the sieve was in the washing up sink I didn't use it - BIG lesson learnt. Waste not want not-thanks for the solution for left over cream.

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is always nice to find a way to use up leftovers!


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