Rethink Thanksgiving: Keep it simple, easy and delicious

Thanksgiving is a time to come together, share a meal and give thanks. The smell of rosemary, sage and thyme waft through the kitchen while the turkey roasts. The aroma of cinnamon, spice and freshly baked pumpkin pie can make one hanker to start with dessert first.

It can take a lot of time to feed a large group of family and friends. This leaves little time to socialize. Time is a precious thing. Considering dietary restrictions and preferences is also part of menu planning. Catering to everyone’s needs can be daunting, but with some pre-planning it’s not a difficult task. And my tips apply to any of your holiday meals and gatherings.

Plan & prep
It takes time to plan a menu, prep ingredients and cook the meal. Think about the items and ingredients that can be purchased at the store and what can be prepared at home. Shop for pre-prepped ingredients such as peeled garlic, cubed butternut squash and stock that will reduce time. Other timesavers to consider are purchasing store-bought appetizers and desserts.

Easy apps
Warm dips and small bites stave off hungry appetites. A shrimp cocktail appetizer, which can be purchased premade (Costco is lauded for its shrimp cocktail) is always a winner. It’s one of those perfect appetizers to buy in advance. Another great appetizer is baked brie. Purchase a large wheel of baked brie with fig jam, a berry compote and artisan crackers. The Raincoast Crisps fig and seed crackers make a baked brie delightful.

Sheet-pan turkey takes less time to cook. Buy the turkey already butchered and lay it out on a sheet pan with onions, garlic, veggies and herbs; it cooks in less than 45 minutes.

Pigs in a blanket are a favorite. They can be made for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Serve with hot mustard.

A cheese board with assorted cheeses, meats, nuts, olives and vegetables is a simple appetizer as well as a crowd pleaser.

Simple soups
Soup is a great way to start a holiday dinner. French Onion is my favorite. A delicious fall butternut soup is an excellent addition to a Thanksgiving menu. This soup is simple and can be made by putting all the ingredients in a large pot and simmering. It’s even easier with an Instant Pot and it’s done in no time. Use an immersion blender to puree and cream to finish it off.

I’ll share my recipes for both of these in the future column, but in the meantime you can find recipes for many of my soups at TheTahoeWeekly.comTomato, Cuban Black Bean, Escarole & White Bean, or Chicken Tortilla soups, Thai Fish and Vegetable Coconut Curry, and many more.

Find recipes for these and other Thanksgiving dishes at

Easy main course
Make the main course with ease. Sheet-pan turkey takes less time to cook than a whole bird. Buy the turkey already butchered and lay it out on a sheet pan with onions, garlic, veggies and herbs; it cooks in less than 45 minutes. Be mindful not to overcook using this method; the internal meat temperature should be165° F.

Did you know you can cook a whole turkey in an Instant Pot? This will cut down on time and oven space. Slow-cooked or pressure cook, a tender turkey can be enjoyed.

If turkey isn’t your thing consider a pre-cooked ham, roast Cornish hens or duck.

Turkey pot pie and vegetable pot pie are also other routes to take for dinner. Our family has sushi on the table every Thanksgiving.

Spectacular sides
Tempt the tastebuds with twice-baked potatoes, potatoes au gratin or roasted yams, simple sides that dazzle. Jazz up green beans with garlic and red pepper flakes. Roast garlic Brussels sprouts with maple syrup and pancetta, and top with parmesan cheese — delicious. Baked garlic asparagus with parmesan is easy and delicious. I always prepare a spinach artichoke casserole for Thanksgiving; it’s a big hit and easy to make.

Ask guests to bring dessert
Almost everyone is stuffed when dessert is ready to be enjoyed. Ask guests to prepare or bring dessert. They’ll be happy to participate. Our guests bring a marionberry pie and a triple berry pie from Ikeda’s in Auburn on their way up to Tahoe. Pumpkin pie is always on the table.

Keep it simple, enjoy the day and relax while cooking.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at The Tahoe Weekly.

Easy Potato Au Gratin
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

Serves 4-6

4 T butter
6 large potatoes, peeled & sliced thin
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
3 T fresh chives
1 t fresh thyme
1½ C gruyere cheese, grated
½ C sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
¼ C parmesan
2 C milk
1 C heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375° F. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper, thyme, 1 cup of gruyere and ¼ cup of cheddar. Heat on low, stirring constantly.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a glass baking dish in the oven. Remove from oven and layer potatoes and saucepan mixture. Top with remaining cheese, parmesan and half the chives. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown.

Garnish with remaining chives. Serve hot.