The turkey is on the table. The guests have gathered to oooh and ahhh.But, in the kitchen, you’re mashing potatoes. The rolls have yet to rise. And where is your grandmother’s gravy bowl?

Cooking a holiday dinner doesn’t have to be a tumultuous experience. A little planning can make the difference between a holiday from hell and a memorable dinner that even you’ll enjoy.

“It’s not going to be perfect,” said Cyndi Martin, co-owner of the Copper Kettle gourmet kitchen in Laramie.

“It’s all about the day. Just remember it’s about friends and family, and they’ll still like you no matter how the food turns out.”

To help, she offers the following plan to cook and serve a mostly sweat-free holiday meal. And, if you’re really at a loss, she’s planned a menu for you that serves eight people. All you have to do is cook it.

A week or two before:

Plan your menu. For those new to holiday cooking, Martin provided recipes of four easy-to-make dishes.

Whatever you cook, find out how many guests you’ll have and count on 1 ½ servings of each of the traditional dishes. “If it’s unique, just make a small amount,” Martin said. Kids probably won’t eat much of the zucchini and carrot ribbons with brie, for example.

When buying a turkey, figure 1 ½ pounds for each person.

Turkey cooking time determines how much time you have to prepare side dishes. Martin recommends making no more than four side dishes, including the gravy, in three hours.

Double estimated preparation time when choosing recipes. It’ll probably take longer to make than it says.

Feel free to ask guests to bring a dish to help you out. If it’s still more than you can handle, use prepared or packaged food. (Just be sure to try it out before the big day.) Ready-made rolls, stuffing, salad or frozen vegetables will reduce preparation time and take a lot off your shoulders.

A few days before:

Go shopping. Once you have the menu, write out a list of ingredients for an all-encompassing shopping list. (For a shopping list for Martin's menu, see page 24.)

Here are some shopping-list suggestions to spruce up prepared food:

• Crumble roasted prosciutto, a thin Italian meat, and roasted pecans or walnuts over a packaged salad. Add sliced cherry tomatoes and serve it with an oil and vinegar dressing.

• Splurge on some great caramel sauce to spruce up the pie and pamper your guests. If you want to go further, sprinkle roasted pecans or shaved chocolate on top.

Plan for two or three different appetizers, but resist the urge to serve chips and dip. People tend to fill up on them, and it may upset their stomachs, Martin said. Crackers with easy-to-make or store-bought topping can be whipped out in a flash when your guests arrive. Try these appetizer gems:

• Crackers with Gorgonzola cheese and jam.

• Slices of roasted bell pepper with ricotta cheese and crackers.

• Grapes or other fresh fruit finger food.

Finally, don’t forget to buy the beverages. Try hot-mulled cider, ice water, wine or beer. Martin suggests a gourmet tea with dessert.

The day before:

Once the turkey’s in the oven there won’t be room for much else. Bake all other dishes before the bird goes in.

• Bake the pie the evening before. Frozen pies need to be baked, too. If you go with a premade crust, Martin recommends against the preformed variety. Better yet, just make your own.

• If using Martin’s suggested menu, bake the pumpkin for the pumpkin soup. You can also finish the soup and reheat it later.

• If you aren’t thawing the turkey in the fridge, which usually takes about three days, thaw it in cold water. It will take about 12 hours, but don’t leave it in the water overnight. Put it back in the fridge to prevent bacteria from growing.

• Make Martin’s Twice Baked Yams, leaving the second baking for the day of.

The day of:

Put your turkey in the oven so it will be done an hour after guests arrive. Start your appetizers early, so you’re not scrambling to whip them together as guests come.

You can also keep guests busy while they wait for the main event by serving treats they assemble themselves. Put all the ingredients on a nice tray, make a couple of samples, then let guests build their own cracker stackers.

They won’t fill up so fast, and it’ll give them something to do while you’re cooking.

Or, follow the timetable on page 28 and look for “Hold here.” That’s when you can pause to greet guests, baste the turkey, or just delay cooking so the food is hot and on the table at the same time. And if things don’t go as planned, don’t sweat it. There’s always next year.

 Easy Thanksgiving dinner timetable

This timetable is based around the baking time of a 12- to 14- pound turkey, which bakes three and a half to four hours. Follow the recipes on pages below and remember to be flexible.


- 0:30 Clean and dress turkey.

          Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


  0:00 Put the turkey in the oven.

          Start on the soup.


  0:30 Reduce oven temperature to 350, take the turkey out to baste it and return to it to the oven.

 1:10 Assemble the appetizers.

  1:30 Baste the turkey.

 1:45 Start on Zucchini and Carrot Ribbons with Brie

  2:30 Baste the turkey.

  2:40 Peel and boil the potatoes.


  3:00 Mix and prepare rolls.


  3:15 Mash, whip or rice the potatoes.


  3:30 Take out turkey, put rolls and yams in the oven and make the gravy

  3:40 Assemble Zucchini and Carrot Ribbons with Brie


  3:45 Carve the turkey and serve.

  Shopping list


1 12- to 14- pound turkey

5 slices of bacon



2 shallots

12 large potatoes

1 4-5 pound pie pumpkin

½ cups sliced leeks

1 Granny Smith apple

1 clove garlic

1 large green bell pepper

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 zucchini

6 full-size carrots

1 large bunch of fresh thyme, sage or rosemary

5 yams


2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, and more to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon dried sage

2 teaspoons dried chives

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon white pepper


4 cups chicken and or vegetable stock

dash of balsamic vinegar (optional)

⅓ cup white wine (optional)

1 package or 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast


⅓ cup milk or half-and-half

4 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 stick butter

8 ounces Brie

Gorgonzola cheese


Perfect Roast Turkey

• 1 12- to 14- pound turkey

• 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon black pepper

• 1 large bunch of fresh thyme, sage or rosemary

• ½ stick of butter


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


Preparing: Put the turkey in the kitchen sink and remove the wrapping. Using your hands, search inside the cavity for the neck, gizzards, heart and livers. Remove and set aside in the fridge for use in the gravy, if desired. Or, just cook the heart and liver for the dog. Rinse the turkey well inside and out with cold, running water. Pat dry inside and out and transfer the turkey to a roasting pan. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers. Slice a few pads of butter and, using your finger, separate the skin from the breast by sliding your finger between them. Stuff the pads of butter in the spaces and drop a couple of extra on top of the breast and legs. It’ll keep the bird moist.

   Season the inside of the bird with black pepper and salt to prevent bacteria from growing. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, sage or rosemary.

Baking: Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and carefully remove the turkey from the oven. If you wish, combine 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup apple cider. Use a turkey baster to baste the top of the turkey evenly with one-third of the liquid. Cook the turkey for another 1 ¾ to 2 hours, basting twice during this time with the remaining chicken stock/apple cider liquid.            If the turkey begins to look too browned, cover the top loosely with aluminum foil until it’s done.

When it’s done: The turkey should be a nice golden brown color and the juices should run clear when you insert the tip of a knife at the joint of the leg and thigh. Insert an instant read thermometer into the joint of the leg and thigh, without touching bone. The turkey is cooked through when it registers 165 degrees. Let the turkey sit for 15 minutes before carving.

   “If you chop into it right away it’s going to release all those juices and it’s going to be very, very dry,” Martin said.


   Take your turkey out of the pan and pour the liquids into a fat separator. Let it sit for about three minutes, then pour the broth back into the pan. Deglaze the pan by adding white wine or chicken stock and stirring constantly over low heat, incorporating any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer.

   To thicken: In a small bowl, mix ¼ cup of flour with ⅓ cup water until smooth. While stirring the gravy, add a few tablespoon of the flour-water mixture. Continue stirring until gravy is thickened. Remove from heat and strain, if desired. Salt and pepper to taste.

Twice Baked Yams

• 5 yams baked at 350 degrees for one hour or until completely tender

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• ½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

• ½ teaspoon dried sage

• 2 teaspoons dried chives

• 1 teaspoon salt

• ½ teaspoon white pepper

• 5 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled

• ⅓ cup milk or half-and-half

• 2 shallots, sliced thin and sauteed in 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease until soft and golden

• Paprika

   When the yams are cool enough to work with, slice in half and scoop the flesh out into a mixing bowl. Mash in all other ingredients, setting aside a small amount of the cheese and bacon for garnish. Scoop filling back into the skins. Garnish with leftover cheese and bacon and sprinkle with paprika. Hold here.

   Can be made several hours to one day ahead.

To reheat, bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Mashed potatoes

• 12 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

• 4 tablespoons butter

• Kosher salt to taste

   Figure for one and a half potatoes per person. Children may eat less, but some adults may eat more. Don’t use red potatoes, they’ll turn to glue. Place the peeled, cubed potatoes in a heavy sauce pot and add water just to cover. They can sit there until you’re ready to cook them. Simmer for about 25 minutes until they break when pierced with a fork.

   Drain and return to the stove for just a moment to dry them out. Turn off the heat and cover until you're ready to prepare it. Or, if it fits, stick the pot in the microwave while it’s off. The small space will keep the potatoes warm. Hold here.

   Shortly before the turkey is due to be done, mash the potatoes. You can add 2 tablespoons of butter and ⅓ cup of milk.     Use a hand masher, or for a smoother texture try a hand mixer. But be careful not to over-mix: The consistency of the potatoes can easily become glue-like. For a texture that’s light and airy, use a potato ricer like the one pictured above.

Awesome Roasted Pumpkin Soup

• 1 pie pumpkin weighing about 4 to 5 lbs.

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 tablespoon butter

• ½ cup leeks, sliced

• 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced

• 1 clove garlic, sliced

• 4 cups chicken and or vegetable stock

• 1 cup apple juice

• Dash of balsamic vinegar (optional)

• ⅓ cup white win (optional)

• Kosher salt to taste

• Garnish with Gorgonzola cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Place cut side down in an oiled roasting dish. Roast for one hour or until tender when pricked with a fork. Let cool to the touch then scoop out the pumpkin meat from the shell. This can be done 1 or 2 days prior to making the soup. Hold here.

   There are a lot of ingredients, but this recipe is all about building on flavors.

In a heavy bottomed stock pot, melt butter and add the olive oil. Add the leeks and apple, saute until tender. Add the garlic slices and continue to saute until fragrant. Add the pumpkin, stock and apple juice. Simmer about 20 minutes. Salt to taste.

   Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Or, puree small batches in a blender covered with a hand towel. Be careful to pulse one or two times to release steam before just letting it whirl. Blenders tend to pop their top when blending hot liquids.

    Once pureed, you may need to thin your soup. Use stock and a bit of apple juice. You can also use white wine in place of the apple juice, just remember that it may “cleanse” your soup of some flavor. A splash of balsamic vinegar gives the soup a bit of bite.

   Ladle into bowls and top with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.

Reheating: Put the cold soup in a heavy bottom sauce pan.  Measure liquid, (preferably chicken or vegetable stock) in the amount that equals half the volume of the soup. Add ⅔ of the liquid to the soup and heat on a low setting so it doesn’t burn. Add the remaining liquid if it’s still too thick.

Zucchini and Carrot Ribbons with Brie

• 1 large green bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded

• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

• 8 ounces Brie

• 2 tablespoons heavy cream

• Kosher salt to taste

• 4 zucchini, sliced thin with a potato peeler

• 6 carrots, sliced thin with a potato peeler

     Place the sliced zucchini and carrots in cold water so they don’t wilt.

   In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the zucchini and carrots. Hold here.

   Bring two pots of water to a boil. Add the zucchini to one and the carrots to the other for about three minutes, then drain. Add the sauce to one of the now empty pots and heat through. Add zucchini and carrots, toss and serve. (This last step takes about six minutes.)

Easy Pizza Dough Rolls

• 1 package or 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

• 1 ½ cups very warm water (110 degree)

 4 cups all-purpose flour, and a bit extra for dusting

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

     Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. Meanwhile, put the flour and salt into a food processor and process briefly. While the machine is running, add water-yeast mixture in a steady stream. Turn off the food processor and add the olive oil. Pulse it a few times to mix in the oil.

   Scrape the dough out of the food processor and onto a floured surface. Knead the dough into a mass, incorporating all the dough. Divide into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and slice “X’ es on the tops.

   “However you slice it, it’s going to bloom and just make it a little bit fancier,” Martin said.

   Hold here for up to an hour.

   Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.


 This article first ran in the fall 2007 issue of Live Well Wyoming. Recipes by Cyndi Martin, owner of The Copper Ketlle gourmet kitchen store in Laramie.


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