With Gratitude: My Ideal Thanksgiving Meal

Lunch, dinner, linner, a steak dinner — you name it; we’ve enjoyed it on Thanksgiving. Yes, one year when we hosted my in-laws we threw tradition out the window and swapped the turkey for grilled New York Strip steaks, and it was a huge hit with the Vitek clan.

I’m thankful for good food every day of the year, but I absolutely adore how the deadly sin of gluttony is not only allowed but actually encouraged on Thanksgiving. This year Kenny and I have decided to celebrate our 30th birthdays in Las Vegas during Thanksgiving week. We plan to indulge (read: overeat to the point of no return) at one of Sin City’s famous buffets for Thanksgiving dinner.

So while we might not be home to enjoy our families’ signature Turkey Day dishes, here I’ve shared my favorite recipes from years past for your noshing pleasure — from traditional turkey to homemade cranberry sauce to a twist on pecan pie and everything in between. Some are family recipes, others I pulled from cookbooks, but rest assured all of these delicious dishes I’ve eaten and made personally. Consider this your simple yet scrumptious guide to — what I consider to be — the ideal Thanksgiving meal.


Roasted Butter-Herb Turkey
This was the first turkey I ever made on my own, while Kenny and I hosted Thanksgiving 2010 in our first apartment together. It turned out beautifully and everyone raved about it! No doubt you’ll impress your guests with this one.
(adapted from Sandra Lee’s recipe)
Serves 12

¾ cup butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 tablespoons garlic herb sauce mix (recommended: Knorr)
1 ½ teaspoons crushed garlic
1 (32-ounce) bag celery and carrot party sticks (or cut them up yourself)
2 large onions, large dice
1 (32-ounce) container low-sodium chicken broth
12-pound turkey, thawed if necessary
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 (3/4-ounce) packets fresh herbs poultry herb blend (sage, thyme and rosemary)
1 lemon, thickly sliced

In a small bowl combine softened butter, poultry seasoning and garlic herb sauce mix and crushed garlic. Use a fork to mix together until well combined. Cover and put in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes, until firm but not hard.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange celery, carrots and half of the diced onions in the bottom of a roasting pan. Add chicken broth and set aside.

Rinse the thawed turkey and pat dry. Use your finger to carefully loosen the skin around the entire bird. Take the butter mixture and cut into large pieces. Place the butter pieces under the skin of the entire turkey. Rub the remaining butter pieces on the outside of the skin and season with salt and pepper. Stuff the inside of the turkey cavity with remaining onions, fresh herb poultry blend and lemon slices. (Truss if necessary.) Insert a pop-up thermometer at an angle about 3 inches down from the neck cavity and 2 inches from the breast bone, in the thickest part of the breast.

Place turkey on the bed of vegetables in roasting pan. Place in the oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Roast for 1 hour, then baste with pan juices every 20 minutes until thermometer pops up or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 180 degrees, about 3 hours.


Hash Brown Potato Casserole
I’ve been making this dish for holiday gatherings and pot luck dinners for several years now, as this recipe was passed on to me from a high school friend of mine’s mother. It’s now a favorite among my family, and we can’t get enough of its cheesy, carbalicious goodness.
Serves 6-8

32-ounce package shredded frozen potatoes
½ cup melted butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
12 ounces grated cheddar cheese
8 ounce sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ small onion chopped
2 cups corn flakes
½ cup melted butter

Put thawed potatoes in a 9-by-13 baking dish. Mix next six ingredients and pour over potatoes. Top with cornflakes and drizzle with other melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until browned and bubbly.



Mac ‘n Three Cheeses
This is another favorite of my family, as it has made an appearance at many holiday parties and even took part in a Mac ‘n Cheese cook-off last year. It wasn’t the winning dish, but nevertheless it’s a delectable version of traditional macaroni and cheese, emanating fresh herbaceous flavors.
(from Rachel Ray’s Classic 30-Minute Meals)
Serves 6-8

Salt, to taste
1 pound cavatappi (corkscrew-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded Asiago cheese
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup Italian bread crumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. When the pasta water boils, add salt then pasta. Cook until slightly undercooked – pasta will continue to cook when combined with cheese sauce. Drain.

Melt butter in a saucepan and stir in flour. Whisk in milk. Bring to a bubble. Cook to thicken milk, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cheddar, Asiago, Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper. Stir to melt cheeses. Add pasta and combine with cheese sauce; transfer to a baking dish or casserole. Place bread crumbs in a bowl, then add olive oil, thyme, rosemary and parsley. Stir to combine and top the pasta and cheese with breadcrumb mixture. Place under broiler for a few minutes to brown bread crumbs.



Cheesy Green Bean Casserole
I borrowed this recipe from a college friend back in November 2007 when I was hosting Thanksgiving at my house in Oviedo. Since then, my sister Cate always requests for me to make it at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The cheese really adds a unique element to the otherwise super traditional recipe.
(courtesy of my friend Kristy Kiebert)
Serves 4-6

3 cans French-style green beans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 (5-ounce) jar Old English cheese spread
1 (3.5-ounce) can French fried onions

Drain green beans. Combine soup and cheese in a pot and melt them together at medium heat. Add green beans and mix with soup-cheese mixture. Place in a casserole dish. Top with French fried onions. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.



Winter Carrot Casserole
My husband fell in love with this dish while we spent Thanksgiving with the Bloom side of our family in Maryland in November 2012. Our Aunt Mary Bloom served a fantastic spread at her home, and this dish was among our favorites. The creamy spicy sauce adds a nice kick to the melt-in-your-mouth carrots.
(courtesy of my Aunt Mary Bloom)
Serves 4-6 

4 ½ cups sliced carrots
½ cup water
4 tablespoons chopped onion
4 tablespoons horseradish
1 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons butter
crushed Ritz cracker crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Steam or boil carrots until tender and then drain. Put carrots in buttered casserole dish. Combine water, onion, mayo, horseradish, salt and pepper. Pour over carrots. Sprinkle with cracker crumbs and dot with butter. Bake uncovered until hot and bubbly, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Note: For a moister casserole, you might make a little more of the sauce mixture. Also, feel free to adjust horseradish to your taste.



Simple Cranberry Sauce
I dug up this recipe for Thanksgiving 2010, when we hosted both of our families in our small Winter Springs, Florida apartment. It tastes way better than the canned version, and it’s really pretty simple to make.
(adapted from a Chow.com recipe)
Serves 8

12 ounces (3 cups) cranberries, thawed if frozen
¾ cup granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 medium orange
Juice of half a medium orange

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries are soft and start to fall apart, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool – the sauce will thicken as it cools.



Honey Cornbread Muffins
This recipe came in handy back in November 2010 when I was looking for some sort of bread element to our Thanksgiving meal and didn’t feel like bothering with making fresh biscuits or rolls. I love these muffins’ sweet taste and that everyone can enjoy a few because of their small portion.
(adapted from Food Network’s The Neelys)
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
½ stick butter, melted
¼ cup honey
paper muffin cups
12-cup muffin tin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter and honey. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.


pecan use

Mystery Pecan Pie
Thanksgiving would never be complete without pie, and so I was pleasantly surprised that this rendition of the traditional pecan pie offers a rich twist with the addition of cream cheese. When our family ate this pie back in November 2010, they agreed the cream cheese help tone down some of the sweetness typical of pecan pie.
(adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe)
Serves 6-8

3 eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 unbaked deep-dish (9-inch) pie shell
1 ¼ cups chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all topping ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese, sugar, salt, vanilla and egg until combined. Pour into pie shell. Top with chopped pecans. Pour topping over pecans. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie
There’s no shame in using a recipe found on the pumpkin can, especially when it tastes so wonderful. I helped my mother-in-law Marylin bake this pie back in November 2009 when we spent Thanksgiving at her Beverly Hills, Florida home. Add a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve got pie heaven.
Serves 8

1 (9-inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) can Libby’s pumpkin
1 (12 fl. Ounce) can Nestle Carnation evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small bowl. Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell.

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees, bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. (Do not freeze as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.)


Caramel Apple Sangria
You didn’t think I’d leave out the Thanksgiving cocktails, did you? This festive beverage was a show stopper at last week’s book club, so much so that I’ll be making it again for our upcoming Friendsgiving event this weekend.
(courtesy of A Night Owl)
Serves 8-10

1 bottle white wine (Pinot Grigio for dryer sangria or Moscato if you like it sweet)
1 bottle sparkling apple cider
¼ cup caramel syrup
4 apples, chopped

Chill your wine and cider. Once cold, mix together wine and cider in a pitcher and add caramel syrup, stirring until dissolved. Chop approximately 4 apples into small cubes and add to sangria. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.


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