Welcoming your nearest and dearest to a wonderfully memorable holiday feast this year will be a cinch, thanks to Paula Deen’s no-fuss Thanksgiving ideas. Here, the queen of Southern cuisine shares her simple, stress-free tricks that ensure less time in the kitchen and more time with loved ones
Thanksgiving has always been one of Paula Deen’s most cherished holidays. “It’s all about gathering with your family, eating good food and having fun,” she tells Woman’s World. And this year is sure to be even more special for the beloved chef and her family as they plan to celebrate together in their old home in Savannah, Georgia. “My husband, Michael, and I finally moved back to our original home that we built 17 years ago. It’s just the most wonderful place, and our kids are so happy we’re back.”
Paula’s family — especially all 11 of her sweet grandchildren — are truly the heart of the holiday, and they are now even pitching in with the feast. “We started a new tradition where I supply the turkey, dressing and a few extras, then each person brings a dish of their own. This gives everyone a chance to take a bow during the holiday, and gives the hostess a break in the kitchen!” she laughs.
Design a blooming pumpkin posy.
To bring even more joy to your holiday, Paula suggests gathering around a cozy table without all the fuss. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on your tabletop decor, she assures. Her advice? “Take a ride to the grocery store or vegetable market and pick up a pumpkin to create a beautiful centerpiece.”
Extra in-a-pinch accents: Gather pine cones from the yard and tuck in paper name tags as place cards, or wrap napkin rolls in raffia and top with a cute personalized gourd, as shown below. Adds Paula: “I also really like when we go around the table and ask everyone what they’re thankful for this year. It’s a lovely way to share and connect with your family.”
To do: Creating a simply stunning centerpiece is as easy as styling fresh snippets into a pumpkin “vase.” Carefully slice the top third off of a pumpkin, scoop out the insides and pop in a water-filled glass. Add in seasonal blooms and berries.
Create personalized plate toppers.
Place settings go from plain to pretty when kissed with a darling gourd ID! Your guests will feel welcomed and delighted by the extra-special touch.
To do: Jot a guest’s initial onto a gourd using a white paint pen. Add the decoration to a plate with a raffia-tied napkin.
Work ahead to stave off stress with Paula’s holiday shortcuts!
Prep and make a few dishes — like pies and rolls — ahead of time. “There’s very few things that can’t be made early,” Paula says. “it’s all about doing as much as you can before the big day so you can relax with the people you love most.” Check out her top time-saving Thanksgiving ideas below.
Guarantee a juicy turkey with a quick and easy brine.
The almost-hands-off trick to a succulent bird infused with tons of flavor? Paula likes to prep hers in a simple cider brine the day before — then on Thanksgiving, just drain, pat dry, and stick it in the oven for roasting!
To do: In a large pot, combine 2 gallons of water, 3 cups of apple cider, 1 cup of packed light brown sugar, 3 ⁄4 cup of kosher salt, 3 navel oranges (halved), 8 sprigs each of fresh rosemary and thyme, 8 cloves of garlic (crushed), 4 bay leaves and 2 teaspoons of black pepper. Bring to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Combine a 12 pound turkey and brine in resealable container. Seal and refrigerate for eight to 10 hours, turning the turkey occasionally.
Fast-Prep Cranberry Sauce
Paula’s cranberry sauce can be made two days in advance. To speed things day-of, store in its serving dish. Since it gels up as it chills, this guarantees an effortlessly elegant presentation.
Pre-bake fresh dinner rolls.
What’s Paula’s secret to fresh bread? Her freezer! “I under-bake my Butter Horns [flaky crescents] until tops are just browned,” Paula says. Let cool and freeze. On Thanksgiving Day, thaw for 30 minutes at room temperature, then heat for three minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more of Paula’s quick tips and recipes, visit her site, Paula Deen.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.