I adore Sandra Lee, the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee and Sandra's Money Saving Meals on the Food Network. Her recipes and decorating ideas are so creative—seriously, how does she come up with this stuff?—but still accessible for families on a budget. I was really excited about getting the opportunity to speak with her last week and ask her if she had any last-minute Thanksgiving tips. Here's what Sandra had to say:
1. How do you keep yourself from being too stressed out on Thanksgiving?
I always buy smaller turkeys...10-12 pounds, and then you are done in a couple of hours, as opposed to the big 24-pounder. There's no way you can not NOT get stressed out doing a 24-pounder, I don't care who you are. A 24-pounder is a pain in the butt of a turkey...It takes a long time, you're getting up at 4 a.m., and you're lucky you're eating by 4 p.m. And, you don't want people sitting around saying, "Hello Mama, I'm hungry." [For large families, Sandra recommends cooking two small turkeys instead of one large one.]
2. What are some ideas for a festive, inexpensive decorations?
I like to decorate with food. When you are making your table decor and doing your presentation, it's beautiful to have your turkey [or two turkeys] bookending a gorgeous desserts. You could take three pre-made cheesecakes and put them on top of each other. Then, do a gorgeous cranberry chutney on top of the cheesecakes with some sugared mint, and have the turkeys flanking that... You will have an edible, gorgeous, thoughtful, money-saving tablescape, and nothing goes to waste.
Another idea: I bought one of those pretty metal castle cake pans. [My kids and I] filled it with water and food coloring, and froze it. It was the most beautiful ice sculpture you have ever seen. You turn the thing upside down, you run it under hot water, and it pops out. You put it on a cake pedestal with a large lip, and it is gorgeous.
You have to look at what you have in your kitchen and figure out ways to use it differently. A cake pedestal doesn't have to be for a cake; it can be for a ham. You're just looking to lift it off the table to make something more prominent and dominant and to be your focal point and the center of attention. And then always do something to make people feel included: trivia during dinner, fortune cookies, personalized favors at each place setting, etc.
3. Any ideas for an easy Thanksgiving dessert?
This year I'm doing a new pumpkin pie recipe. I am buying my pumpkin pie from the folks who own the breakfast restaurant I go to occasionally, and I'm going to doll it up with coconut frosting, pecans, a little bit of vanilla, and extra toasted coconut. I am frosting my pumpkin pie with those ingredients and then putting caramel sauce on top. That's what the kids want this year.
4. Do you have any ideas for last-minute finger-foods?
Brie cheese in the microwave with cranberry-apple chutney on top and good crackers. Heat the brie. Combine cranberry jelly (with whole cranberries) with apple pie filling to make a beautiful chutney. So you have oozing, gorgeous brie cheese...and chutney flowing down the sides with crackers all around. There is no one who doesn't like that.
5. What do you serve to drink on Thanksgiving?
I always do two cocktails for two reasons. First, at any holiday celebration you want to make sure that whoever is the driver is responsible and has an option. Second, everything is about family, so the little ones are going to have a mocktail. On Money Saving Meals, I always to try to make a mocktail because it costs less money and is family-friendly. And then I'll tell you how to add alcohol and how much it is if you want to do that.
Sandra Lee's Recipe for Toasted Cider
1 gallon apple cider
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
24 ounces spiced rum, if desired
Heat the cider in a large pot over medium heat until it starts to simmer. Add 3 strips of orange zest, the orange juice, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice and stir. Bring to a simmer then turn the heat down to low to keep it hot, but not simmering. Heat for 5 minutes to allow all of the flavors to meld together before serving. Serve hot in heatproof mugs with a jigger of spiced rum, if desired.
For even more holiday tips, check out Sandra's Money Saving Meals, Sundays at 12 pm ET on the Food Network.
Any last minute tips for Thanskgiving? What do you think of Sandra's idea of cooking two little turkeys instead of a big one?