The concept of cooking a Thanksgiving meal can be very intimidating. During the past few years, I’ve been attempting to teach myself to cook through trial and error, and I promised myself that this would be the year that I finally made my favorite component of the Thanksgiving meal myself: a pumpkin roll. I’ve also been craving a REAL turkey sandwich (blog with recipe to follow), so I figured I would conquer another fear: roasting a whole fresh turkey. And I had to make mashed potatoes to go along with it! Gravy would’ve been pushing it – that will be next year. So here we go …

Whenever I have a question about the proper way to do something, I usually ask my family, do some Google research and I turn to two cooking bibles that have really helped me through a lot. The first is Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, a book which details through instructions and step by step photographs how to do everything from roasting a turkey, making a pie crust, preparing a souffle, etc. The second is a book which was a gift from my grandfather, called James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking. He is a chef and swears by this book, so I don’t take his advice lightly. And you can’t go wrong with James Beard.

For Thanksgiving disasters, the New York Times also has a wonderful column called the Help Line where you can submit your own questions. So basically, this meal is a pretty big deal. And I wanted to prove I could do it.

So after I did some research, I began the process of roasting my first turkey. Right from the start, it was almost a near disaster. Holding a fresh fifteen pound turkey in my hands made me so uncomfortable, and I almost quit before I even got started. I genuinely felt sad for the turkey and I briefly contemplated becoming a vegetarian. (Removing the frozen neck from the “cavity” really put me over the edge. Why include the neck of the animal? I know they include the giblets, etc to make turkey stock and gravy but the NECK? I nearly gagged.)

The good news is that if you can get through the cleaning step, and maneuvering the little turkey legs so that it is in the proper position for roasting, the rest of the process is pretty simple. My advice is to just suck it up, do it, and move on. The way the house smelled while the turkey was roasting was amazing and how I imagine Donna Reed’s home smelled everyday. Plus, the leftover turkey I had to make sandwiches made it all so worth it. I was so happy I did it!

One slight problem: while the flavor was delicious, it was slightly dry because I left it in too long. Why? Because I followed the package instructions instead of trusting my gut!The package instructions on my turkey said to take it out at 170 degrees and other recipes I consulted said 180, so I went with 170. It was still too long. I should have taken the turkey out at 160!  So remember to keep checking your turkey, use a thermometer and KNOW your oven.


13-15 lb fresh turkey
2 tbl poultry seasoning
1 tbl salt
1 tbl pepper
2-3 large lemons, halved (plus more for garnish)
A few springs of fresh rosemary (plus more for garnish)
1 stick of melted butter
2-3 cups of chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the giblet package (and neck) from the turkey. Rinse the turkey with cold water. Pat dry. Tuck in the turkey legs under the turkey so they don’t stick up. (There’s a great illustration on how to do this in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.) Combine the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the turkey. Put the lemons and sprigs of rosemary in the cavity of the turkey. Pour the melted butter over the whole turkey. Add the chicken broth to the pan.

Cook the turkey, uncovered for an hour at 400 degrees until it is browned. Then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cover with a sheet of tin foil for the remainder of the cooking time. Roast for about three more hours, or until the temperature reaches between 160-170 degrees. (You can baste with the chicken broth every hour, but experts from the NYT swear that the best way to roast a turkey does NOT include basting. So, baste at your own risk!)

Let the turkey sit in it’s juices for at least 30 minutes before carving. Serve!

I am not a fan of making mashed potatoes, but I am a fan of eating them. They are so simple to make yet so easy to mess up. No one wants lumpy or goey or cold mashed potatoes, but it happens. I’m not going to pretend I am the guru of mashed potatoes, I’m not, or that I know how to solve these problems (yet). Still, I fumbled my way through making them a handful of times and this recipe seems to work for me. I like to add Parmesan cheese instead of salt to give the potatoes a kick. The leftovers are also great for making potato pancakes. (Dredge lightly in flour and fry in oil and voila, potato pancakes!)

2 lbs of Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup of light sour cream
1 stick of light butter
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of reserved liquid
1 tbl of chopped fresh dill
1 tbl of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (plus more for garnish)

Peel the potatoes and boil them until you can stick a fork through them easily. Drain the potatoes, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Let cool slightly. Return the potatoes to the pot and add the butter, sour cream, and cheese. Mix well. Add the reserved cooking liquid as needed to bring the potatoes to your desired consistency. Mash by hand or use an electric mixer to puree the potato mixture. Lastly, stir in the dill and parsley. Garnish with more flat leaf parsley. Serve.


The Pumpkin Roll is the Pippa of Thanksgiving, stealing the spotlight from the traditional, beloved pumpkin pie. The Pumpkin Roll is superb in every way and perfection. Yes, you can buy a pumpkin roll in the supermarket – but they’re EXPENSIVE! And the store bought ones will never compare to the fresh, homemade roll. My Aunt Phyllis made me my first pumpkin roll and it was love at first bite. For years, I was too afraid to make one myself and instead enlisted a friend to graciously give me one of hers! I always envisioned a disaster at the point where you roll the cake up. But surprisingly, it’s easy if you just follow the instructions and the cake doesn’t crumble, if you’re careful. I promise! Follow this traditional Libby’s recipe, and you will have a hit dessert at your Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of Libby’s Pure Pumpkin!
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)*
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (optional)

*I substitued chopped pecans for the walnuts because they’re my favorite and I think they are perfect for this recipe.


  1. PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle towel with powdered sugar.
  2. COMBINE flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts.
  3. BAKE for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.
  4. BEAT cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake; remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

Enjoy! But be warned – this pumpkin roll is addictive.
Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂