Thanksgiving Dinner Tips from an Expert

My good friend, Mary Ann, has cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her family since she was a young bride.  Mary Ann is a home economist and has been a professional food stylist for many years.  In addition to preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, she also creates a beautiful tablescape.  Who better to share tips from her years of experience?

Mary Ann’s most important tip for a stress-free day is to prepare as much of the meal as possible in advance. She makes and freezes her dressing and other casseroles ahead of time and then bakes on Thanksgiving.  Don’t forget to move them from the freezer to the refrigerator about 48 hours before cooking. Heat casseroles in microwave, add any toppings and finish in the oven. If using the microwave, Mary Ann suggests using oval or round baking dishes.

Mary Ann prefers a fresh turkey over a frozen one. She seasons the cavity and under the skin with seasoned salt and then puts onion quarters, lemon slices, carrot pieces, fresh thyme and rosemary in the cavity. Then she butters the outside of the turkey and covers it with a butter-soaked cheesecloth. Do not cover turkey with lid or foil.  She makes sure to put the turkey in early enough to have time to bake her casseroles.

Mary Ann makes a traditional pumpkin pie for dessert, but sprinkles the unbaked crust with a praline mixture of brown sugar, butter and pecans and then bakes for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees. When the crust is ready, she adds the pie filling and bakes as directed in the recipe.

Dressing or Stuffing?

When I was young, I remember my sister saying that cornbread dressing was her favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. Back then, I thought it was an unusual dish to pick as a favorite, but now I have a much greater appreciation for this beloved side dish and tend to agree that it is one of the best parts of the meal. Like many traditional recipes, cornbread dressing is a tribute to resourceful Southern cooks who created wonderful recipes with only the ingredients they had on hand. We love cornbread down here, so I guess it’s not surprising that we would add it to our dressing.

What does your family call this traditional dish – dressing or stuffing? They are basically the same thing, but in the South we usually bake it in a separate dish rather than stuffing the bread mixture in the bird – and call it dressing. I do not know exactly why we bake it in a pan, but my theory is that the bird just doesn’t hold enough to go around and we love that crisp buttery crust.

Dressing is a pretty simple dish. It is basically a seasoned mixture of crumbled cornbread and biscuits or white bread moistened with broth and baked. As easy as that seems, there are countless variations for such a simple dish.

Do you use white bread or biscuits with the cornbread? What about texture, seasonings and extra ingredients? Are onions, celery and sage your seasonings of choice? Do you ever add meat, fruit or nuts? If you want to add a special twist to your Thanksgiving dressing, try this recipe that I love.

Cornbread Sausage Dressing with Apples and Pecans


Southern Cornbread
Martha White “Hot Rize” Biscuits
Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped unpeeled Granny Smith apples
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken broth

Preparation Directions

1. PREPARED cornbread and biscuits as directed. Cool 15 minutes. Crumble enough cornbread to make 5 cups; crumble enough biscuits to make 5 cups. Set aside.
2. HEAT oven to 375°F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish or pan with no-stick cooking spray. Cook sausage, onions and celery in large skillet over medium-high heat until sausage is browned and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
3. COMBINE sausage and vegetable mixture with crumbled cornbread and biscuits in large bowl; add all remaining ingredients; mix well. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
4. BAKE 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown.