Planning A Holiday Feast

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By Diane Ruyack

In our family, our favorite holiday feast is Thanksgiving!  If this is your first holiday feast or your 10th, the following list will help you have an enjoyable and successful party. Plan the meal, keeping in mind your guests’ tastes, ethnic backgrounds, allergies and any other factors.

Plan to balance Thanksgiving classics such as dressing, potatoes, rolls with lighter dishes, emphasizing fresh vegetables and using lower calorie ingredients as I did in the Sweet Potato Bake recipe.

Decide whether you want to ask people to help you, either by bringing parts of the meal (wine, dessert and/or appetizers), or by coming early to help out.

Be realistic about what to make from scratch or what you’ll try that you never have before.  A trial run through the recipe might be a good idea if you are not confident. You may want to put your efforts into a special side dish or an unusual stuffing, with everything else on the menu an old standby.

Remember the classic Thanksgiving challenge: The turkey will occupy the oven most of the day—a crucial factor if you have just one oven and plan to bake pies. Also, you should only buy a turkey if it’s fresh one to two days before you cook it. If it’s a frozen turkey, immediately put it in your freezer when you get home and leave enough time to thaw it properly.

It takes 24-hours of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey, but if you forget to leave enough time for that, you can get it done more quickly by placing the turkey in cold water. The rule is that for every pound it’s going to take about 30-minutes, so every 30-minutes you change the water out of the sink and put new water in.

Write out the timing and preparation of each dish—yes, a list–so you’ll know that you really can manage them all in your kitchen.  This is also the time to make your grocery list, clean out refrigerator and consolidate freezer items to make room for holiday dishes.

On Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, cook as many things as you can. Good candidates: pie dough, bread, and turkey stock. All of these can be frozen and defrosted just before Thanksgiving.

Keep your eye on the reason you’re doing this: To have a special time of togetherness with your family and friends.

Two of our favorite recipes are Cheddar Ranch Cheese Ball and Sweet Potato Bake.

Cheddar Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 (1 ounce) package Ranch-style dressing mix (Hidden Valley brand)
1 cup sliced almonds
crackers & crudités for serving

In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese, Cheddar cheese, and dressing mix. Form into one large ball or two smaller balls. Roll in almond slices to coat surface. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Serve with crackers and/or crudités

Sweet Potato Bake

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon Spice Islands® pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cans (40 ounces each) sweet potatoes, drained and coarsely chopped


  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat butter, melted


In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, pineapple juice, butter and vanilla. Gently stir in sweet potatoes. Transfer to a 3-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine the topping ingredients; spoon over sweet potato mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-50 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Yield: 12 servings.

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