Faster than we can blink, Thanksgiving will be upon us. Anyone who has hosted The Big Meal knows that going all in with homemade recipes in quantities that could comfortably feed the Klump family at Sunday Supper takes days of advance planning and prep, and only in a perfect world does everyone have that kind of time easily available to them. Maybe you've been busy with work or family commitments. Maybe you've been dealing with hardships or tragedy in your life that has taken up most of your time. Maybe you've been feeling a little anxious or depressed lately and find yourself without your usual energy. Whatever the reason, let me first say this: all of that is okay and you should not feel guilty about it. While holidays are meant to be a time of warmth, happiness, and love, they can also come with a heaping load of pressure and guilt over trying to create the "perfect" celebrations. So let's say that despite dealing with any or all of the reasons I listed above, you still want to have some holiday flavors on your table. I've compiled a full menu of ideas using shortcut recipes and store bought versions of some classic favorites. Whether you're cooking for yourself, just a couple of folks, or the whole brood, you can enjoy a speedy yet traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Spatchcock A Turkey
Recipe and step-by-step photos - it's got a funny name, but this relatively simple technique of cutting and splaying a whole turkey flat will slash the roasting time to a fraction of the usual ~4 hours. You can even ask your grocery's butcher to do the work for you before you bring the turkey home.
Need some gravy? Go ahead and grab a powdered mix from your grocery's baking aisle, which yields a better tasting gravy, in my opinion, than the canned or ready-to-serve stuff. My favorite is Knorr brand Roasted Turkey Gravy Mix (not sponsored!) If you want to go straight for the jar, though, this article recommends Heinz Homestyle Roasted Turkey Gravy.
Or Just Totally Skip Roasting A Turkey
If it's the absolute last minute and you have no time to thaw a turkey let alone roast it, look to your grocery store's deli counter. This may seem like blasphemy, but hear me out. Pick a nice brand of all-natural turkey breast (Boar's Head Simplicity is a good one) and have it sliced about ¼" thick. You can purchase only the number of slices that you need - a bonus if you're only cooking for yourself or a few folks. Heat some oil or butter in a large saute pan and add an onion that has been cut into very thin slices (you could add mushrooms too) Cook until the onion is softened and fragrant. Add the turkey slices and some turkey gravy, either from a jar or from a powdered mix (see notes about the best brands above). Let all of that simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes and then serve the turkey slices topped with the gravy and onion mixture.
Doctor A Boxed Stuffing Mix
There's nothing wrong with using a boxed stuffing mix as-is and calling it a day, but here are a few recipe ideas for jazzing up those mixes into something that could totally pass as homemade.
Bakinbaby's Elegant Stovetop Stuffing (contains apples and cranberries)
Upgraded Stovetop Stuffing (contains Italian sausage)
Bread Is A No-Brainer
There's a bajillion easy ways to get some form of bread or rolls on your Thanksgiving table and you likely don't need me to tell you many of these, but here are some ideas:
- purchase fresh bread loaves or rolls from your grocery store's bakery section - don't be afraid to try something interesting like croissants or sprouted grain breads.
- use canned dough like biscuits or crescent rolls
- pick up a bag of pre-made rolls like King's Hawaiian dinner rolls
But if you want to try our favorite, we love Sister Schubert's Parker House Yeast Rolls that can be found in the freezer section. They are already in an oven-safe pan and can go directly from your freezer to the oven. They are delicious and bake up with an absolutely perfect soft texture (not sponsored, I promise).
Want to jazz up your pre-made rolls? Try making some flavored butters to serve alongside the warm bread. It's as easy as taking some soft butter and mixing in, to taste, additions like honey ,cinnamon, garlic powder and parsley, rosemary, or maple syrup. Chances are you have one of those ingredients in your pantry or fridge and it's an effortless way to add some amazing flavor to a shortcut dish. You could also offer unexpected condiments such as apple butter or pepper jelly (from the jar works great).
Can Those Yams
(image credit - Easy Sweet Potato Casserole by The Country Cook)
Sweet potatoes or yams are a staple on any Thanksgiving table, whether it's in the form of a casserole or pie. Using canned potatoes will slash your prep time and any of these recipes would be a fantastic addition to your meal.
Tasty Veggies From Frozen
While delicious, washing and prepping fresh vegetables for a simple side dish can suck up a lot of your time in the kitchen. Frozen vegetables cook up with a better texture than their canned comrades and they go from freezer to side dish in no time flat. Because your oven will likely be occupied, cooking them up on the stove top will be faster and more convenient. Here's a simple method: Heat some oil or butter in a big skillet, add a bag of whatever frozen veggies you want,and season them with some salt, black pepper, and garlic powder (you could also try chili powder and a small drizzle of honey for a spicy-sweet kick). Cover the skillet and stir occasionally for 5-7 minutes. Done. If you want something a little more interesting, though, here are some recipes using frozen veggies:
Classic Green Bean Casserole (okay, so this uses canned veggies and your oven, but I had to include it because it's a classic and is a shortcut in and of itself.. and yep, it's the good ole Campbell's soup recipe your mom probably made growing up)
Which Cranberry Sauce?
If you love cranberry sauce, you probably know that making your own is (almost) effortless, the only labor being zesting/juicing an orange and lemon. Then you basically put everything on the stove and forget about it for a little while. This is my favorite recipe and I use it every single year.
But since this post is all about taking shortcuts and being lightning fast, Serious Eats did a taste test to find the best store bought jellied and whole cranberry sauces. Canned Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce and Trader Joe's whole cranberry sauce were the standout winners.
Too Beat For Sweets?
Dessert is probably the easiest course to whip together if you don't have time to bake something homemade. Again, you don't need me to tell you how to find some ready-made sweets, but for the sake of completing this blog post, let's just do this:
- Your grocery store's bakery section is likely to be churning out fresh holiday pies, cookies, and cakes by the boatload. You can dress up a store bought pie by serving it with toasted nuts, chocolate or caramel sauces, or flavored whipped creams (try this article for some ideas)
- Purchase pre-made refrigerated cookie dough and stuff with candies or chocolate to create a variety of flavors that'll feel homemade (see this article for lots of fun ideas)
- The freezer aisle is chock full of fully assembled pies and other desserts. In our opinion, the best brands of frozen desserts, especially holiday pies, are Edwards Desserts or Marie Callender's
One Sheet Pan = One Full Thanksgiving Dinner
If you're only cooking for yourself or a couple of people and you're not so big on taking shortcuts in the kitchen, try this One Pan Thanksgiving Dinner by Tasting Table that looks totally amazing with a total prep and cook time of an hour and a half.