Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for Dummies: Recipe Ideas for Beginners

November 23, 2011  |  
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So you want to smash some of your mother’s turkey that she slaved over, and get seconds and thirds of your uncle’s greens, but you know that if you don’t contribute, you shouldn’t be eating. You’re not a kid anymore who can’t tell the difference between measuring cups. There’s only one problem: you don’t know how to cook. But that’s cool, because we didn’t all come out of the womb with an expertise on making pasta and frying chicken, so it’s not too late for you to contribute something to the big day. Just don’t go for the most important things: stuffing, turkey (of course), ham, etc. We’ve got a few dishes and things you can bring to the table that will get you some props, and another plate of those greens. Besides, something is better than nothing, right?

Note: a lot of these recipes are expected to come from the can…

The Saditty Salad

Don’t just walk up in the place to be with a regular Caesar’s salad or some Romaine lettuce and act like you did something. Spice it up! Potato salads will not be your thing since you’re still a newbie, but I would recommend trying to put together something festive, but still simple, like a fun fruit salad for those who don’t just want to down meat. Try something fancy-smancy like an almond strawberry salad that looks good and tastes good, or a apple walnut salad with cranberry vinaigrette. The great thing about making salads is that it can never be too hard, because you don’t have to cook a green salad. You can’t go wrong with something you can’t burn.

Bring Them Beans

String beans! People don’t drool over string beans with their meal like they do other Thanksgiving mainstays, but a table would be empty without them. If you don’t want to bring them boring and straight out of the can ones, feel free to try a recipe like the savory string bean one from The Food Channel. These bad boys don’t take too long to prepare anyway, so feel like you made the most of your time and throw some cloves or bacon in there!

Candied Yams

While they sound complicated, candied yams are one of the more time-saving recipes a gal who struggles in the kitchen can put together, clocking in at under an hour (out the can of course). Sweet and savory, those 40 to 50 minutes you spend putting them together shouldn’t be goofed off. Before the shelves at your local grocery are all empty, run asap and grab yourself a can of sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and marshmallows and make the classic candied yam recipe. Or you can try and get a tiny bit more fancy by making a sweet potato casserole with cloves (or substitute that with what you have available…almonds?) and knock grandma’s socks off.

Pasta Salad

Cold pasta! Yummm… So it’s not the traditional Thanksgiving recipe, but you would be surprised how many people actually enjoy pasta salad! And if it is colorful enough, I’m sure most people in the house you’re dining at will at least dig into it a little as they pass around their plates. The Italian pasta salad is probably your easiest bet as you’ll only really be required to cut up a few vegetables, and possibly a few other things like mushroom and artichoke. However, whatever you choose to throw in there, whether it be some sort of meat or just vegetables, it’s really up to your imagination. In the end, your main task will be to make sure the pasta is cooked thoroughly, and as long as you have enough water, you shouldn’t run into too many other walls…

Know Your Role: Dinner Rolls

Butter and time…aside from actually buying the roles, that’s all you really need to make some good dinner roles. And I’m not talking about making them from scratch of course. Volunteer to pick up the rolls, separate them and put them in the oven, but keep an eye on them! Once they’re finished cooking, throw some butter on top of them and let them sit for a few minutes so the butter can seep deep into the roll and make them soft and mouth-watering. Keep it simple. You don’t really need to add any kind of fancy toppings like M&Ms or something crazy, people just love dinner rolls as they are to eat on the side.

Cranberry Sauce

OMG. Cranberry sauce out the can? Soooo simple. You can literally open a can, flip it over, have the jellied sauce come out and slice it for your guests and family. Making the original thing is a little too much for you, but you can never have too much cranberry sauce at a table. Especially with that big ‘ol turkey. Just take your time slicing the brand of sauce that you buy, because while it may be easy, stupid large slices and too thin ones doled out on people’s plates looks crazy. Try to be as even as you can, at least for aesthetic purposes.

Cupcake Party

Out of all the desserts that can be made, cupcakes should be no trouble. Why? Because unlike cakes and pies that require a lot of extra things and extra steps (greasing and flouring pans), all you need is some cupcake paper liners, cake mix (Duncan Hines brand mix is usually really good), and some icing. Because you’re new at the game, no one is expecting you to make your icing by hand the old school way or to make the mix from scratch. Your task is to NOT burn the cupcakes. If you’re feeling like doing more than the traditional cupcake, throw coconut on top of vanilla icing or something real saditty like pralines. NOBODY dislikes cupcakes! (especially not red velvet ones)

Eggnog Patrol

If you really don’t trust your abilities whatsoever, then get the party started! Literally. Buy the eggnog and jazz it up for the social drinkers and the folks that just like eggnog straight. Brown sugar in the drink not only gives it some color but a little bit of extra sweetness. The same can even be said of cinnamon. Or you can make it a warming post-smashing-that-feast drink by putting together a fancy Irish coffee eggnog with a little whisky, coffee and ice cream. Either way, you’ve got this! Just don’t get folks too tipsy…

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