Fifteen Hours of Feasting: Leave behind the usual pressure of hosting the perfect banquet. Go buffet

As candy buckets are traded for Christmas lists and Thanksgiving approaches, the pressure builds. In the decades that Sarah Hale lobbied to create this national holiday, she couldn’t possibly have imagined a national day of thanks would create such pressure to perform.

Sometimes the weight of this responsibility can be too much. The first year I played host for Thanksgiving dinner, I made what my brother and husband now lovingly refer to as “salt pie.” I was 24, and overconfidence in the kitchen led to too much salt in the pumpkin pie. Unforgettable.

The excitement in the air (charged by the aromas of the day) can also be overwhelming for veterans. There was the year my grandmother, who for decades annually hosted at least 25 for dinner, was just so thrilled to have us all she collapsed in the kitchen. Once we got over the scare and settled her on the sofa (with her sons in charge of keeping her there), “the kids,” as she called my mom and my aunts, took over. It was good training. Grandma’s 96 now and still has everyone for dinner. She doesn’t cook a thing.

In order to help simplify your Thanksgiving holiday, here is everything you’ll need for a feast your guests won’t soon forget. The best part is you’ll be able to visit with them, watch the games and relax most of the day as the bulk of these recipes can be prepped in advance. Happy Thanksgiving.

7 a.m.
Pumpkin Muffins

These easy muffins can be made well in advance, as they hold up in the freezer. At least do them the day before, so you can sleep in a bit too. Just make the glaze in the morning.

Yield: 2 dozen

3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup shortening
1 16-oz. can pumpkin
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. vanilla

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Cream the sugar and shortening. Add the eggs and pumpkin and combine thoroughly.
• Stir in the dry ingredients. Add vanilla and stir.
• Pour the batter into lined muffin tins. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

For the glaze:

1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. melted butter, cooled
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. milk

• Cream the sugar and butter. Add the powdered sugar and milk and beat until smooth. Spread on warm muffins.

8 a.m.
Fog Lifter

Typically coffee lovers can’t wait an entire hour for that first cup. But this day we’ll break from ritual and brew something special? “In the morning it’s about flavor – but not so much flavor that you lose your taste for breakfast,” said Geoff Truskowski, partner of Cyrano’s (603 E. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves). Truskowski said the best coffees right now are coming out of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. He said he prefers beans from Intelligentsia Coffee, available at Whole Foods Market.

Outside of quality beans, some tricks for getting that restaurant-style cup include rinsing your paper filter with hot water before using it, making your coffee with filtered water and grinding the beans no more than one hour before brewing. The quality of your pot also helps, Truskowski said, as water temperature aids the movement of minerals and oils from the beans to the beverage.

9 a.m.
Turkey Croissants

Simple but elegant, this burst of protein will get everyone primed for the day ahead.

Yield: 8 servings

8 mini-croissants, sliced crosswise
1 1/2 lbs. thin-sliced deli turkey
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

• Lightly toast the sliced croissants and lightly butter each half.
• Lay flat on a broiler pan. Top half of them with turkey and half of them with cheese.
• Broil about 5 minutes so cheese melts. Fold into sandwiches.

10 a.m.
Cornbread-Sausage Stuffing

Former Channel 4 anchor Julius Hunter carries out family tradition each Thanksgiving with this recipe from his grandmother. “Nothing, absolutely nothing under the sun is better than this stuff with eggs,” Hunter said, recommending two over easy, a traditional use of leftovers at his house.

2 cups onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups celery, coarsely chopped
2 cups bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb. pork sausage
3 Tbsp. sage (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano
2 cups herbed, seasoned stuffing (white and wheat breadcrumbs)
2 cups cornbread stuffing
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups turkey broth

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Sauté the vegetables and garlic in olive oil until the onions are transparent. At the same time, crumble the sausage into a separate pan and brown.
• Combine the vegetables and sausage. Add sage, pepper and oregano. Mix well. Cover and turn off the heat. Let steam 7 to 10 minutes.
• While the vegetables steam, combine breadcrumbs, egg and baking powder until egg is absorbed.
• Add the sausage-vegetable mixture to the breadcrumb mixture and mix well.
• Slowly stir in the broth until the bread is just moistened. Let stand about 15 minutes so broth can be absorbed.
• Coat a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
• Place the stuffing in the pan, but do not pack it tightly.
• Bake about 1 hour or until the sides and bottom are brown and bubbling. The stuffing should rebound when poked with a finger.

• For a more festive stuffing, use 1 cup red bell pepper and 1 cup green bell pepper.
• For a more cake-like texture, add an additional egg.
• Temper the stuffing by choosing your favorite sausage. “It shouldn’t overwhelm the turkey, but it should be flavorful,” said Hunter.

11 a.m.
Cheese Course

Football is an undeniable part of Thanksgiving day. Embrace it. A trip across Michigan yields many surprises, one them being the cheese houses. But when the Detroit Lions kick off their annual Thanksgiving Day game this year, put a local spin on it and greet your guests with a cheese course that includes products from right here in Missouri. Ken and Jennifer Muno of Goatsbeard Farm in Harrisburg, Mo., offer this recipe from Dorothy Van Ark as the centerpiece.

Cheese-Stuffed Figs

Yield: 1 dozen figs

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
4 to 6 oz. fresh goat cheese, chilled
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme or rosemary, finely chopped

For the sauce:
12 dried figs
Red wine to cover
1 Tbsp. honey
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. whole peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 tsp. whole allspice

• Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a saucepan and simmer until figs are soft but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the liquid.
• Preheat oven to 320 degrees.
• Cut the tip off of each fig and make a cavity in the body with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Fill the cavity with goat cheese and pinch the opening shut with your fingertips. (Skewer with a toothpick if necessary to keep the opening closed.)
• Place the figs in an oven-safe pan. Adjust the oven rack to the top one-third of the oven.
• Roast the figs until they begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
• Meanwhile, return reserved liquid to saucepan and add balsamic vinegar. Simmer until thickened.
• Serve the figs drizzled with the reduced sauce and sprinkled with fresh herbs.

Roast Turkey, Date and Apple Crostini

Chef Mike Holmes of Truffles (9202 Clayton Road, Ladue) shares this savory recipe, which requires nothing but chopping. (The finer the better.) We used smoked turkey meat, which we found at the grocer and, of course, took his suggestion to accompany the crostini with Pinot Noir. Simple and elegant, this would be a great way to use leftovers from a traditional Turkey Day banquet.

Yield: More than 2 dozen crostini

12 oz. turkey thigh meat, shredded
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely diced
4 pitted dates, finely chopped
1/2 rib celery, peeled and finely diced
1/2 yellow onion, julienned and carmelized
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Chives to garnish
French bread
• Combine the above ingredients, except the bread, and toss gently to incorporate. Serve with toasted French bread rounds and a Pinot Noir.

1 p.m.
Corn, Pea and Red Onion Salad

A visit to Tanner B’s (2855 Shenandoah Ave.) introduced this delightful blend of traditional Thanksgiving sides, folded into one. Make it Wednesday and give it a stir before serving.

Yield: 12 servings

2 cups peas
2 cups whole kernel corn
1 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper

• Gently combine all ingredients so as not to smash peas or corn. Chill at least 1 hour.

2 p.m.
Stuffed Portabella Mushroom Caps

Surprise your guests with another twist on the stuffing. Chef Rob Hertel of Forest Park Community College revamped his stuffing recipe for individual servings … stuffing mushroom caps and putting them under the broiler. Finely chopped ingredients coaxed the mixture into baby ‘bellas. We used a Zinfandel and an assortment (1 each) of oyster, button and shiitake mushrooms when testing the recipe. Delicious.

Yield: 4 or 5 mushroom caps

4 or 5 portabella mushrooms, stems removed and reserved
4 oz. assorted mushrooms
1 large onion
3 ribs celery
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
Salt and pepper
2 cups Brownberry Herb Seasoned Stuffing or cubed Italian bread

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray. Place the mushroom caps gill side up in the pan and spray with cooking spray. Lightly season with salt and pepper to taste.
• Spray sauté pan with cooking spray. Medium dice the celery, onion and remaining mushrooms and add to hot sauté pan. Add garlic, sage, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
• When the vegetables begin to caramelize, add 1/4 cup red wine and reduce. Add another 1/4 cup red wine and reduce. Add remaining 1/2 cup red wine and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup water and return to a boil.
• Add stuffing mix or cubed bread. Stir to absorb liquid.
• Adjust seasoning as needed.
• Spoon mixture evenly onto portabella mushroom caps. Bake 20 minutes.

3 p.m.
Turkey Fajita Bar

Yield: 8 fajitas

It’s time for game two, which annually pulls viewers from chilly Detroit down to Dallas. Spice things up as the Cowboys take the field, yet another Thanksgiving tradition. Fresh salsa and guacamole from a favorite Mexican restaurant should hold up in the refrigerator if purchased Wednesday and would make easy accompaniments to these zesty fajitas. Make the meat Wednesday and reheat it with the vegetables.

1 1/2 lbs. turkey breast cutlets
12 oz. Goya Mojo Criollo Marinade
1 large Vidalia onion
1 large green bell pepper
1 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp. onion powder
8 tortillas
8 oz. grated Cheddar or Cheddar-Jack cheese
Salsa, guacamole and sour cream

• Place the turkey in a glass bowl and cover with Mojo. Marinate 1 hour.
• Cut the pepper and onion into strips and place in a large Ziploc bag with oil, chili powder, garlic powder and onion powder. Close the bag and toss until vegetables are coated.
• Grill cutlets 10 to 20 minutes, until centers are done and juices run clear. Slice cutlets into strips.
• Place seasoned vegetables in a sauté pan and cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft but not limp.
• Serve with tortillas and garnishes.

4 p.m.
Cran-Orange Bibb Lettuce Salad

Crisp and refreshing, this salad from Dierbergs School of Cooking is easy and beautiful. Make the dressing a day ahead and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Give it a good shake before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

1/2 pound bibb or Boston lettuce
2 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Cran-Orange Dressing

• Rinse the lettuce and separate leaves. Wrap in paper towels and place in a plastic bag. Chill until serving time.
• Arrange lettuce leaves on individual serving plates. Top with orange segments. Sprinkle dried cranberries and almonds over the top. Drizzle Cran-Orange Dressing over.

Cran-Orange Dressing

Yield: 2/3 cup

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. grated orange peel
1/8 tsp. salt

• Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel knife or in a blender. Process until dressing is thick and creamy and cranberries are finely chopped.
• Chill until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before serving.

5 p.m.
Turkey Spring Rolls

Sticking with our ethnic surprises, these spring rolls come from chef Ellen Piazza of St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. “This is a great basic recipe that can be jazzed up with a little extra marinade,” Piazza said. “The ingredients can be easily switched, to make another dish using cooked turkey and rice paper for the wraps, sort of a Vietnamese style, instead of a Chinese version.” Roll the spring rolls and make the sauce earlier in the day so all you have to do is cook them after you finish your salad.

Yield: 8 to 10 spring rolls

1 lb. ground fresh turkey
1 clove minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion (about 4 stalks)
1 cup shredded bok choy
1 cup bean sprouts
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
2 Tbsp. marinade (recipe follows)
8 to 10 egg roll wrappers

• Combine all the ingredients, except the egg roll wrappers, in a small bowl.
• Place approximately one-eighth of the mixture into the wrapper. Be careful not to overstuff. Fold in the left and right sides of the wrap and roll from the bottom into a tight roll, using a damp finger to seal the bottom edge.
• Heat a small amount of shortening or oil in a pan over medium heat. Place egg rolls into the pan and cook on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
• Serve with remaining marinade as a dipping sauce.


1/2 cup scallion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup ponzu sauce
1/2 cup mirin
3 Tbsp. dry sherry
2 cloves finely minced garlic
2 Tbsp. crushed toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or Chinese pepper paste)
1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

• Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

6 p.m.
Champagne Cocktail Sorbet

Clear your palate and prepare for some sweet treats with this sorbet from Viking Culinary Arts Center (1811 S. Brentwood Blvd.). Another great make-it-early recipe.

1 (750 ml) bottle brut Champagne or sparkling wine
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (the juice of about 3 lemons)
1 Tbsp. Angostura bitters
1/2 cup orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau)

• Simmer the Champagne and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepot over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool completely. Skim any foam that forms on the surface.
• Stir in the lemon juice, Angostura bitters and orange liqueur and chill for one hour. Place the chilled mixture in the bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Spoon the sorbet into frosted champagne flutes and serve immediately, or store tightly covered in the freezer.
Note: The sorbet will take a bit longer to freeze due to the alcohol content of the recipe.

7 p.m.
Easy Pumpkin Trifle

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

There’s been a surprise at nearly every turn today. Why not turn the pie inside out? This dessert from Dierbergs School of Cooking is elegant, easy and delicious. And it holds up nicely in the fridge, topping and all.

2 3-oz. packages instant vanilla pudding and pie filling
4 cups cold milk
1 cup solid pack pumpkin
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 10 1/2-oz. frozen pound cake, thawed

For the topping:
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup English toffee bits or toasted pecan halves

• In a large bowl mix pudding, milk, pumpkin and the 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice with a wire whisk until thickened; set aside.
• Cut the cake crosswise into 16 slices. Line the bottom of a decorative trifle or soufflé dish with half of the cake slices, cutting to fit. Spoon half of the pumpkin mixture over the cake. Arrange remaining cake slices on top of pumpkin mixture, cutting to fit. Coarsely crumble any remaining cake and sprinkle on top of slices. Spoon remaining pumpkin mixture over cake.
• Cover and chill 4 hours or overnight.
• To serve, beat the cream with powdered sugar, vanilla and the 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice until stiff peaks form. Spoon over the top of the trifle, spreading to edges. Sprinkle toffee over the top. To serve, spoon into dessert dishes.

8 p.m.
Fresh Cranberries with Walnuts-Stilton

Holmes helps us wind the evening down with this beautiful dessert. “A great, contemporary way to enjoy cranberries,” he said. “Not out of the can!”

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

1 bag cranberries
1 12-oz. can ginger ale
Juice of four oranges
3 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 cups Stilton bleu cheese, crumbled

• Combine berries, ginger ale, juice, sugar, honey and cinnamon stick in a nonreactive pan and simmer over low heat to create a semithickened syrup, about 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to chill fully.
• Garnish with walnuts and Stilton before serving.

9 p.m.
Cyrano’s Hot Buttered Cherry Cider

Truskowski, Cyrano’s master mixologist, offers this nightcap, which he said should be on their menu sometime this winter. “The beauty of this one is it can go either way – alcoholic with a little Captain Morgan or Bacardi or nonalcoholic for the kids. The rum-flavored syrup can usually be found at Straub’s,” Truskowski said. “And I typically suggest Martinelli’s unfiltered apple cider.”

Yield: 1 drink

3 oz. cherry juice
2 oz. unfiltered apple cider
1 tsp. butter
A few drops of rum-flavored syrup or rum extract
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
A little bit of lemon
A pinch of nutmeg
Whipped cream

• Warm the cherry juice and apple cider.
• Combine the butter, rum flavor, nutmeg and brown sugar in a mug. Add a little bit of lemon juice and blend.
• Pour the warm/hot juice and cider into the mug. Garnish with whipped cream and cinnamon stick.