Cook guide

A No-Cook’s Guide to a Little Thanksgiving

I am not a cook. So it may seem odd for me to write a cooking / advice column about one of the biggest food events of the year, Thanksgiving.

But with a pandemic shrinking group gatherings, trying to make a full Thanksgiving spread is intimidating, so I thought I’d share my experience of cooking for two on Thanksgiving last year when I found myself in charge of the whole thing. food. Also, I redid the meal this year to see if I could repeat or in some cases improve my results.

Items from a shopping spree are laid out on the table before being prepared in a Thanksgiving meal workout. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

If you’re not a cook like me, or just aren’t used to making a small-scale Thanksgiving dinner, you might be wondering how you’re going to keep Thanksgiving meal traditions going, because it seems like a lot of Thanksgiving treats are being had. crowdsourcing the meal among an army of family and friends.

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First, identify the essentials for your Thanksgiving meal. Mine includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dessert (preferably something chocolate). You can have your own country foods like sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce. Remember, with two people, you don’t need that much food, so do you really need all the meals you usually have on Thanksgiving? Determine the best dishes that make the cut and plan your meal from there. And for your information, I refuse to even consider a casserole of green beans, even though it’s a traditional Minnesota staple. You can beat me on that.

Last year my first unforeseen challenge was rust / oxidation on the oven racks. It turns out that it has been a while since I last used the oven. It shows how few attempts I make in the culinary arts. My goal is to cook easily and stress-free with as little cleaning as possible. I’m pretty sure I haven’t even used the oven in the months between attempts, so I wondered if the rust would be back, but it wasn’t so dusty or rusty that it needed cleaning this time. Just in case, I made sure the fire extinguisher was on hand.

I decided to go for the meat thermometer after the contextual confusion of last year.  Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

I decided to go for the meat thermometer after the contextual confusion of last year. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

I had never cooked a turkey in my life, so this was by far the most crucial piece of the meal that I had to understand. I bought a Jennie-O oven-ready, home-style boneless turkey breast 2.75 pounds with a sachet of sauce. I had the last one in Cub’s freezer section last year. So if you are considering taking my advice, I wouldn’t wait until Thanksgiving eve to try and find one. There are plenty of them right now, I had this year on sale for $ 10.

It’s so easy that even an extreme novice like me can pull it off and it’s really good. There is no thawing. It goes from the bag to a roasting pan. Add a few slits in the inner plastic roasting bag, then in the oven for about three hours. I bought some little pop-up timers to make sure it was done, but they went off about 30 minutes earlier than the stated cook time, so I wished I had a meat thermometer. I split the difference and left it for another 15 minutes and it worked out fine. Really, Jennie-O is the real hero of this play.

But I’ll add that the sauce that came with the turkey was okay but not spectacular, so if this is a side dish for you then you might want to find an alternative. This year I tried canned Campbell’s sauce, to which I added a little turkey juice. I like this option better than the pack that came with the turkey.

For the mashed potatoes, I bought Hormel Homestyle mashed potatoes. It’s microwaveable, super easy, and in my humble opinion, a much better texture than the instant mashed potatoes that come out of a can. There are a variety of brands and flavor choices in the freezer section.

My turkey dinner is at the table, ready to eat.  Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

My turkey dinner is at the table, ready to eat. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

For the stuffing, I opted for the Kraft Stove Top Turkey Stuffing. My tip for adding extra spice to a canned stuffing was to add crumbled bacon to the mix. The bacon was the microwave type (I’m not about to try to cook bacon, so the microwave will do). Simply let the bacon slices sit for a few minutes to make them crisp, bite into them, then stir the pieces into the stuffing when you’re done. I think about half the bacon packet was right, but you might have your own opinion on the right amount of bacon. I also added turkey broth instead of using water as instructed, I had heard about this tip somewhere and thought I would give it a try. But I think it might make the dish too salty for some people.

Finally, I bought slices of Edward’s Chocolate Cream Pie; just two slices for two people. Even if in retrospect, two installments, it’s a bit tight. This time I’m going to have a whole pie just to have some leftovers. It’s Thanksgiving so my diet can take a long walk off a short pier. All kinds of pies can be found in the freezer section, so you should be able to find one that fits your needs.

It is by no means a fancy meal. In accordance with my policy of not doing extra work for myself, we ate from paper plates and picked up directly from pots and pans. I used a fancy serving dish to place the turkey for purely cosmetic purposes. But without it, the total dish was two jars, a measuring cup, serving spoons and various cutlery. Of course I had a dishwasher during the summer so maybe I’ll go crazy and use real plates this time.

Overall it was surprisingly tasty for so little work and we didn’t have food poisoning so I considered my stress-free little Thanksgiving dinner a success. Take what you want and have a safe Happy Thanksgiving.

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