The holidays are almost officially here. I mean, just yesterday I picked fresh herbs from the garden and finished up gathering seeds for next year’s garden. I’m always saying time has wings, and this year I have proof, as I am now making my shopping list for Thanksgiving and starting to gather my thoughts for Christmas.

Thanksgiving was originally planned as a no-one cooks, lets go out to eat celebration, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is no reason I can’t dig in, pull up my sleeves, and cook a Thanksgiving meal for my small group.The menu is very traditional; it includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries, and, of course, olives. You just have to have a plate of green and black olives to munch on while you cook.

Because I have been cooking Thanksgiving meals for many years, I have learned from my success and my mistakes over time as to what works best and how to keep cranking out the hot,well cooked food like a well-oiled machine.

The first step in this three-day process is to make sure the turkey you purchase is completely thawed out prior to putting it into the brining liquid.

A turkey is a naturally lean type of meat, which means it’s prone to drying out. When a turkey is placed in brine, it absorbs some of the brine, which helps to both keep it moist and also season it all the way through. When you’re working with a brined turkey, even if you overcook it a bit, it should still come out tender and juicy. turkey-brine-recipe-ingredients

Once Turkey is on the brine, you can relax, breathe, and take a few days off. Maybe a short vacation is in order or a shopping spree! I’m Kidding! This is the time you have given yourself to start gathering and preparing all the other delicious things to make.

I’m a big fan of planning ahead of time and making sure that all my ducks are in a row and that I haven’t missed anything. However, sometimes I find myself at the store at the last moment, trying to find the missing ingredient I planned on having; for some reason, it didn’t make the list I planned.

Another key to success is starting your stuffing in the crock pot two days before eating. The first day is the bread drying-out preparation; the second day it goes into the crock pot with all the other ingredients. This gives the stuffing a fantastic blend of flavors, and the best part is that it is ready to eat when you are.

One of the best-kept secrets is to lay your bread out on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven to dry out.  The oven is just a place to store the bread; you don’t even need to turn it on.

I like to purchase a variety of bread, and many times the clearance section of the bakery has just what I need. White rolls, Italian bread, wheat bread, and sourdough  As long as you have about 3 loaves of bread that you can tear into pieces and dry out days prior to making the stuffing, you are going to succeed!  Once the bread is a little dried out, get out a large bowl, put the bread pieces in the bowl, and sprinkle with poultry seasoning, sage, salt, and pepper. Finally, drizzle melted butter all over it, toss it to coat.  Do this as many times as you like until the seasoning is just right.  Chop up 5 stalks of celery and 1 1/2 large yellow onions , add them to the stuffing bowl.

Now this is the point in making stuffing where you can let your creativity really shine. You can add dried cranberries, Craisins, walnuts, rosemary, thyme, crumbled Italian sausage, mushrooms, carrots, or really anything you think you would like to enhance the flavor of this stuffing.

Add the stuffing to a crock pot, pour 1.5 cups of chicken stock over it, cover, and let simmer on low during the day prior to Thanksgiving.   You will want to check on it throughout the day, adding liquid as needed.

I like to set aside a medium bowl of dry stuffing and stuff the turkey with it right before the turkey goes into the oven.

Now that you have the turkey in the brine and the stuffing cooking in the crock pot, you can sit back and relax before you make the Cranberry Orange Zest Nut Bread  .

This is also a good time to make the Cranberry Relish a long-standing family tradition.  The sugar adds sweetness to the tart cranberries, and the Cranberry Relish adds a powerful flavor punch to the entire feast!

You have now survived some of the prep work as you prepare for the feast day.

The day before, I make the turkey, Dirty Mashed Potatoes, savory gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts, and the Green Bean Casserole.

I always have a tray of black and green olives, cheese, and crackers set out, so those of us that are cooking can nibble on the goodies while we are in the kitchen. Once the meal dishes are all cooked and in place, I start on the dessert. Although, to be honest, for the past few years, I have purchased a pre-made cheesecake or a deep-dish cherry pie, however pumpkin pie will always hold a special place in my holiday heart.

We have a saying in our household: “So much food!”

I hope you enjoy making the turkey and mashed potato leftovers casserole, the turkey and cranberry sandwich, and all the wonderful leftovers that will fill your refrigerator for the week.