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Fake or Make? What to Buy and What to Make Yourself for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, use our tips to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family. See more pictures of the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

There's something sentimental about the holiday season, and for many of us, our Norman Rockwell-esque yearning kicks off with Thanksgiving. With visions of golden roast turkey, pumpkin pies and marshmallow-drenched yams, even the most wayward kitchenista may be tempted to pull perfectly starched apron strings into a bow and start dishing.

Unfortunately, we've discovered that reality is often far different than our painting-like expectations. After all, daily life doesn't come to a standstill just because there's a five-course meal to make, so we're betting the demands you're up against probably don't either. Even so, we're unwilling to give up the dream, so we've devised a few ways to take off the holiday pressure. We'll let you in our secrets, next.

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We know from experience that holiday-induced pressure can be a real pain. But what if you could choose to make your favorite Thanksgiving dishes and fake the rest? Taking a few shortcuts doesn't mean you have to blow your budget on a buffet of pre-cooked foods. It does mean you can skip the tedious peeling and mixing, though. How? Buy a prepared dish and give it your own twist with a few fresh ingredients. If there's something you really enjoy making (maybe you have a reputation to uphold as the queen of pumpkin tortes), then by all means, make it! Otherwise, ask your guests to bring the dishes you dread putting together (like complicated, made-from-grandma's-recipe turkey stuffing). By taking stock of your culinary skills, adding a good measure of delegation and whipping up a few not-quite homemade favorites, you'll be faking your own fabulous Thanksgiving meal in no time.

You could spend hours basting your bird -- or just bundle it in a bag.
You could spend hours basting your bird -- or just bundle it in a bag.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

If part of your Thanksgiving vision includes pulling a DIY turkey from the oven, take heart: It's not as difficult as you think. In fact, you can fake all the hours spent basting a bird by simply slipping the fowl into a clear plastic roasting bag. Now, here's where the real genius comes into play: For a perfectly home-cooked turkey that looks (and tastes) like it required hours of attention, pour a stick of melted butter seasoned with a tablespoon of minced garlic (you can buy this in a jar) over the bird. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stick half a lemon and fresh rosemary in the turkey's cavity. Seal the bag, and voila! In a few hours' time, you'll have a beautifully basted bird.

By the time you'd lug a pre-cooked one home from the deli (just think of those turkey juices rolling around on your car's floorboards), it seems like less work to bake one yourself. Plus, you can pull out that big platter you never use, put the turkey on it, and garnish it with a bit of flat-leaf parsley for a centerpiece your guests are sure to love (to eat!). On the next page, we've got a shortcut for gravy so good you'll want to drink it through a straw.

It takes just 15 minutes to make cranberry sauce from scratch.
It takes just 15 minutes to make cranberry sauce from scratch.
Creatas/Thinkstock

Sure, you can buy turkey gravy, but there's just something about gravy in a jar that makes our taste buds do a double take. Instead, use a cup of liquid from the oven bag in which you cooked your turkey. Turkey juice, as we affectionately call it, can be poured in a saucepan, along with a couple tablespoons of flour and whisked to create a roux (which sounds impressive, but is really just the basis of all gravy-like sauces). Once the mixture's smooth, slowly add store-bought chicken broth and cook until thickened.

Here are some quick fixes for sides: You can open a bag of cranberries, pour them in a separate saucepan with some water and sugar, and simmer them into gelatinous submission. As for stuffing, we think the kind you get from a box and reconstitute with water works just fine; you can also add a handful of raisins to give it a "just-made" twist. And, if you're opting for sweet potatoes as a side dish, it pays to buy them whole and peel them (they just taste better than the canned version). They cook quickly and with minimum attention. But, if that's not in your repertoire, buy a sweet potato casserole from the local deli. Once you've returned home, top the dish with mini-marshmallows and candied pecans, drizzle it with maple syrup and pop the concoction into your own pan to warm in the oven. The end result will be almost as sweet as the desserts we're going to help you create without lifting a proverbial finger; it's all on the next page.

In five minutes, you can have homemade whipped cream for your pumpkin pie -- with an added dash of cinnamon or nutmeg.
In five minutes, you can have homemade whipped cream for your pumpkin pie -- with an added dash of cinnamon or nutmeg.
Tom Grill/Iconica/Getty Images

Here's the best part about serving a Thanksgiving dessert: It's dessert. And, thanks to the delicious variety of store- and bakery-bought options, you won't have to do a thing. Desserts are not only easy to buy pre-made, they're also easy to fake. Pick up a New York cheesecake, for example, and top it with fresh or frozen blueberries or strawberries. By the time you dish up individual pieces, it will look like you fussed over it for hours. If you'd really like to bridge the great homemade divide, buy a pound cake and tear it into bite-size pieces. Layer the pieces with fresh fruits and whipped cream or pudding in a clear glass dish. It's a beautiful, easy and (almost) homemade dessert.

For a more traditional twist, purchase pre-made pumpkin pies and top them with a special treat: heavy cream, sweetened with sugar to taste and whipped until thick enough to serve. Sprinkle a bit of spice, such as nutmeg or cinnamon, over the top of your pie for a gorgeous finish. Of course, if you've left store-bought cartons in plain view (you know, the ones your desserts were wearing before they came home with you), then you aren't fooling anyone. If you'd really like to fake it, see how to cover your culinary tracks, next.

All this faking won't do you much good if you've left your shopping list lying around -- or a few telltale signs of store-bought helpers. Unfortunately, covering your tracks isn't as simple as throwing away a few cartons. Anyone who aids you in the kitchen is likely to discard something new into the trash, where your secrets will promptly be discovered. Bagging the trash and taking it out of the kitchen will solve this problem, but don't forget about the deli containers used to transport your faux fixings. Perhaps the most difficult detail you'll need to manage is whether to take credit for the delicious concoctions adorning your Thanksgiving dinner table. While it was certainly a relief to fake a few dishes, it might be even more fun to come clean: After all, you could impress everyone with your creativity as much as with your baking skills.

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Sources

  • All Recipes. "Whipped Cream" AllRecipes.com. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/whipped-cream/Detail.aspx
  • Hoyt, Alia. "5 Weeknight Meal Shortcuts." TLC.com. (Sept. 15, 2010) https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/easy-weeknight-meals.htm
  • Mollenkamp, Aida. "Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Spiced Maple Sauce." FoodNetwork.com. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ask-aida/roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-pecans-and-spiced-maple-sauce-recipe/index.html
  • MSNBC. "Serve up Some Semi-Homemade Sweet Treats." MSN.com. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/9685108
  • Reynolds Oven Bags. "Turkey Recipes from Reynolds Oven Bags." ReynoldsOvenBags.com. (Sept. 15, 2010) http://www.reynoldsovenbags.com/turkey.aspx

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