Friday Favorites – 03232018

When I made my last ‘Friday Favorites’ post, I hope I didn’t give the impression it would be a weekly feature here on the blog. Because it clearly hasn’t been. Because I am the world’s laziest blogger :/.

I’ve tried to figure out why this is (the blog-related laziness, I mean), but I still don’t know what my problem is. I guess most of the time I just prefer to spend my writing time on whatever piece of fiction I’m working on at the moment. What can I say? It’s more fun to spend time in fantasy-land than to re-cap reality :).

Nevertheless, here’s a short list for this week (as before, in no particular order):

1) Skillet Lasagna

I found this recipe on Pinterest years ago, and have since made it, oh, about a hundred times, give or take.

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I like lasagna, but it can be kind of time-consuming to make, what with all the layering and then waiting for it to bake all the way through and what-have-you. With this recipe, you basically just cook the lasagna in a big skillet on the stove, which is much faster. Including prep, it only takes about half an hour. Very easy — and very delicious!

Because I don’t have an oven-proof skillet, I cook my lasagna on the stove-top and then transfer it to an oven-proof dish before completing the last step, which is to stick it under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese. If you have an oven-proof skillet, this recipe will be even easier for you, because you will be able to just pop the whole thing under the broiler and then serve it straight out of the skillet!

Regardless of the extra step I have to take, though, this is still an incredibly easy dish for me to put together, and it turns out great every time. It tastes so good and looks so pretty, it’s perfect for when you have guests over, or for a special occasion. Just serve it with a salad and some bread and maybe wine, if you’re into that. In fact, this is what Steve and I ate on Valentine’s Day this year!

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Roses someone sweet sent me for Valentine’s Day ;).

Btw, since I’m vegetarian, I obviously don’t use the ground beef called for in the recipe :). I usually use soy crumbles (like Boca or Morningstar Farms), but I have also omitted them altogether before, and just made cheese lasagna. You could probably add some spinach and other finely chopped vegetables to this, to make it a veggie version, but I’ve never tried that.

2) Lightly dried basil

This one sort of ties into the last one, since that recipe calls for fresh basil.

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I don’t use fresh basil all that much, so when I need it, I usually just buy one of those little pre-portioned cellophane packages from the produce section at the grocery store. Yes, they’re expensive, but if I only need fresh basil every once in a while, and we eat all of it when I buy it, I don’t think it’s too big a deal to purchase it this way.

However, I recently saw this at my grocery store, and gave it a try: Gourmet Garden “lightly dried” basil.

The 0.42 oz package contains “a large bunch of roughly chopped organic basil, lightly dried (just enough) to last for 4 weeks once open.” One TBSP of lightly dried basil equals one TBSP of fresh. When added to foods, it “refreshes during cooking,” and tastes more like fresh basil than dried.

This is cool for a couple of reasons, namely that it costs a lot less than those pre-portioned packages, and it lasts a lot longer. Once you open the container, you’ve got a month to figure out how to use up the rest of it. I like to add it to pasta sauces and sprinkle it on pizza, in addition to finding other recipes that call for fresh basil (here’s another one I like — Chicken Parmesan Bake).

Someday maybe I’ll get around to cultivating a fresh herb garden, but until that happens, this is a useful alternative for me :).

3) Meal Planning

Okay, so I don’t actually enjoy planning meals all that much. But I do enjoy the results, which are: a quicker trip to the grocery store, a lower bill when I check out, and of course a week’s worth of meals, which keeps me from having to scratch my head over what we’re going to have for dinner every day.

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I know there are a lot of posts about how to meal plan out there, but FWIW, here’s how I do it:

  • First I look in my kitchen cabinets and fridge, to see what I’ve already got on hand. I’m looking for things we need to use up soon, and/or that might help spur some recipe ideas.
  • I also look through the weekly HEB ad that comes in the mail. I don’t shop at multiple grocery stores. It’s possible I would save some money if I did, but honestly, HEB has pretty low prices all the time, and they always offer in-store coupons for free and discounted items. Plus, the store is VERY close to where I live, so I save a lot of time by just running over there and coming right back once a week, rather than going all over town to try and find deals. Saving money is definitely important to me, but so is saving time! (And BTW, no, I don’t work for HEB. I’m just a big fan :)).
  • Lastly, I look at recipes I’ve saved on Pinterest, or my meal planning database, to see what meals I might be able to make combining what I’ve got on hand and what’s on sale at HEB. What’s a meal planning database, you might ask? Well, it’s a handy-dandy spreadsheet Steve made for me, that lists all the dishes I like to make on a regular basis. They’re organized by protein (fake chicken, fake beef, tofu, beans, etc.) and by style (Italian, Mexican, etc.), and there’s a pivot table that allows me to filter the information accordingly. Yeah, I know, it’s the nerdiest thing ever, but it’s really helpful, particularly when I go to make the grocery list, my mind goes blank, and I can’t seem to think of anything to cook that week.

I try to keep our meals varied throughout the week, so that we don’t end up eating all pasta dishes or whatever. Usually, I make one Italian-inspired dish, one Mexican-inspired, and so on, and I usually try for at least one vegan meal, as well. Fridays are almost always pizza nights. We used to order out but then I learned how to make my own. Steve and I both like mine just fine, so this is what we eat now. It took me a few tries to get the hang of working with the dough, but I’ve now made so many pizzas, I could probably do it in my sleep ;).

4) Star Wars comics

Okay, switching gears a little bit…I recently caught up on a bunch of digital issues of Marvel’s currently ongoing Star Wars comic that Steve and I had amassed, and I have to say, this title is so good!

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I’ve read up through issue #44, I think, and pretty much every story has been great, or at least entertaining. I think the writers have done an awesome job capturing the personalities of the original characters, and so much of the art work is great, too!

We’re no longer subscribed to the title (because we’d fallen so far behind on reading them, we decided to just quit for a while and give ourselves a chance to catch up) so it’ll be a while before I read any more of them. But assuming they remain this fun to read, I’m sure I’ll continue buying and reading the collections as they come out!

5) X-Files Season 11

Is it just me, or has this current season been really great? Like, way better than the last one?

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Like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really watch much TV anymore, but The X-Files is my all-time favorite show, so of course I’ve been watching the newest episodes! I think they’ve been pretty wonderful so far, and it’s kind of sad to me that the latest one to air might be the last one ever.

I love Mulder and Scully’s dynamic this time around. They are behaving a lot closer to the way I imagine they would at this point, after so many years of working together and being best friends (and sometimes more). Scully’s a lot more relaxed and confident, no longer badgering Mulder over every little thing, but instead just trusting his instincts and accepting his quirks. For his part, Mulder seems a lot more…tired. Lol. But after everything he’s been through, it totally makes sense. He seems more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, too, not as obsessed and intense as he used to be. In short, they both seem grown up and wise, but still pretty bad-ass when it comes to stopping bad guys.

Also, since I have shipped Mulder and Scully f-o-r-e-v-e-r (are they my OTP? Quite possibly), I’m super pleased with where that aspect of their relationship has sometimes gone this time around.

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Episode 3, I’m referring to you.*

So sad to see this end! But then again, for ages I didn’t think there would ever be any more episodes at all, so I’ve already gotten way more than I bargained for. Thanks, Chris Carter and company, for making more for us die-hard X-philes!

Okay y’all, that’s all I’ve got to ramble about this time. Hope you have a magnificent weekend!

Love,

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*GIF found on youreadarkwizard.tumblr.com

Mini Meatless Loaves

DSCF3571My tip for today: when you make meatloaf (or, as in my case, vegetarian meatless loaf), try cooking it in a muffin tin.This makes it easier to serve, as you don’t have to slice anything. Use a little cooking spray (or a nonstick pan) and the finished individual servings just slide right out of the muffin cups! Also, cooking the loaf this way ensures every serving is essentially an “end-piece” with that yummy crusty edge around it :).

This Morningstar Farms recipe is my go-to meatless loaf recipe. It makes 10 regular-sized muffin cups’ worth of loaf. I substitute green bell pepper for the celery because I don’t like celery, and I spread ketchup (HEB Organic is my favorite) mixed with a little seasoning salt, dry mustard, black pepper and brown sugar over the top.

Mini Meatless LoavesIt was hard for me to get a particularly appetizing picture of these little guys (I think perhaps meatloaf is just not a very photogenic food), but there are lots of other examples of various implementations of this same idea online. Like this one. Cute, right?

Happy homemaking,

Elizabeth

Two birds with one (Silver)stone.

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My quest to read through my TBR pile continues!

I’ve had The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone since 2010 and while I had skimmed it before, I had never read it all the way through. I think I was intimidated by it. At first glance the recipes just seemed a little too hardcore for me. So I stuck the book on a shelf and just sort of ignored it for…oh, five years.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year, however, was to read a book about veganism and since I already had this one, I decided to give it a fair shot. I’m glad I did! It was a good read, very informative and inspiring. While I am still not ready to commit to becoming a full-on vegan, I feel like I can at least try to eat that way a lot more of the time.

So far I have tried two of Alicia’s recipes: Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew (page 166) and Sicilian Collard Greens with Raisins and Pine Nuts (page 176). I liked them both, although the stew recipe made a TON. I ate left-overs for days and still wasn’t able to finish it all :(. So yeah, I will make it again some time but probably only half the recipe. The photo above shows some of the leftovers served over brown rice. This was my first time cooking collards and I have to say they were pretty tasty!

Now I can cross a resolution off my list AND knock another title off my TBR pile. Win-win!

Speaking of the TBR pile…I’ve made some decent progress since first posting about my (crazy) dream of getting down to five TBR*:

  • May was not such a great month — I bought 10 books. BUT — I read 5 of them right away (as well as 3 others that I already had).
  • In June I bought 2 books and read one right away (as well as 4 older ones and one of the 5 new purchases I’d had left over from the end of May).
  • In July I’ve bought 6 books (2 of which I’m not counting as TBRs because I have already read them before and only bought them because the e-book editions were super cheap and I wanted to have them). Of the remaining, I read 1 and just started another. So that leaves 2 additions to the TBR pile this month. BUT I also read 6 more titles from my TBR pile!

*Bottom line:  I’ve bought approximately 38 books this year and read 52. Not great, but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction :). And yes, I realize that this (having too many books to read) is a pretty cushy “problem” to have. I’m not really complaining, just trying to remind myself to use and appreciate what I already have, and to be intentional about how and what I buy in the future!

Easy Eggplant Parmesan

I’ve learned that eggplant is officially “in season” July through October. Well, in season or not, I managed to find a couple of nice ones at my grocery store the other week.

EggplantsI made Eggplant Parmesan, which my husband reminded me was one of the very first meals I ever cooked for him back when we were dating. So I guess you could say it is one of the dishes I used to win him over ;). Ha.

I originally got this recipe from a television program where a camera crew would show up at a regular person’s house and film them making their “signature dish.” It was on Food Network and I don’t remember the name of the show! But I’ve tweaked this recipe so much over the past 15 years or so, I feel safe calling it my own at this point, anyway.

After washing and slicing the eggplant (I used about 1.75 lb.s here), dredge it in an egg/milk mixture and some bread crumbs. The easiest way I have found to do this is to put the egg mixture in one pie plate and the breadcrumbs in another right beside it. Dip each slice of eggplant in one dish and then the next, and then lay it on the baking sheet. Sometimes I use preseasoned Italian breadcrumbs such as those pictured here, other times I mix plain whole wheat crumbs with Italian seasoning. Either one works.

Eggplant Parmesan 1Arrange the coated eggplant slices on a baking sheet (here, I put parchment paper over mine — also, I needed two baking sheets to accommodate all the eggplant!) and drizzle each slice with a little olive oil. This step makes the crumb coating crisp up nicely in the oven, so I don’t recommend skipping it! Just dip a spoon in some oil and sprinkle it on.

Bake the eggplant in a 400 F degree oven for 15 minutes, then use tongs to flip all the slices, drizzle with olive oil and bake for another 15 minutes. They should be browned and crispy on both sides. In the meantime, heat 6 oz. tomato paste, 6 oz. water, and 8 oz. tomato sauce in a saucepan. Add whatever Italian seasonings you prefer (I’ll list my favorites at the bottom of this post) and simmer for about 30 minutes, while the eggplant is cooking.

When the eggplant is done, arrange the browned slices in a baking dish. Spoon the sauce over each slice and cover with Mozzarella and a bit of Parmesan cheese. Here, I used a mixture of thinly sliced and shredded Mozzarella, because that is what I had in the fridge!

Bake the completed casserole at 400 F for 10 – 12 minutes, just until the cheese starts to brown. Don’t leave it in too long; you don’t want your eggplant to get soggy!

Eggplant Parmesan 2I served this with a salad, tossed with a homemade Italian salad dressing that has become a favorite of mine.

Eggplant Parmesan 3So easy and delicious!

RECIPE:

1 1/2 – 2 pounds eggplant, washed and sliced 1/2″ thick

1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp. milk

Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

olive oil

6 oz. tomato paste

6 oz. water

8 oz. tomato sauce

1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp. oregano

1 minced garlic clove

dash of onion powder

salt & pepper to taste

1 cup (or more, depending on your taste) shredded or sliced Mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup (or more) shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Dip eggplant slices into the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumbs, coating both sides well. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment. Arrange each slice of coated eggplant in one layer on baking sheet and drizzle each piece with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Check that slices are golden brown. Turn and bake for another 15 minutes.

In the meantime, dilute tomato paste and sauce with water in a medium saucepan. Add seasonings, cover and simmer on low for about 30 minutes, while eggplant is browning.

When the eggplant is browned, arrange the slices in a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Spread sauce over each slice. Top with Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake assembled casserole for 10 – 12 minutes, just until the cheese starts to brown. Serve hot!

Bon appetit!

Elizabeth

Make your own hamburger buns.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share simple cooking/cleaning/general homemaking tips  and ideas that I have put into practice over the years — and to give a shout-out to the blogs I have learned them from. Because when I first got married I knew next to nothing about being a wife or homemaker, and I have learned so much from reading other people’s blogs! I haven’t been doing much of that thus far, but I hope to rectify that in the future…even if the tips wind up being published only sporadically ;).

My tips and recipes and stuff won’t be anything fancy. Nevertheless, I hope they will be helpful to a novice such as I was (and in many ways still am) :). At the very least, I hope they will be encouraging. I’ve noticed that when I read homemaking blogs, even if the posts are about things I already do, know how to do (or, hey, will never do), it still usually inspires me in some way. Sometimes it’s just nice to read about other women’s routines and ideas! Makes me want to try my hand at something new.

So…my tip this week is to make your own hamburger buns. They are inexpensive and taste so much better than store-bought ones.

DSCF2670I used to be afraid of yeast baking, honestly, because it seemed rather complicated to me. I think I was mostly worried about not doing the kneading right. But a couple of years ago I got a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook for Christmas and it sort of changed my life. Now I bake all sorts of bread!

For the hamburger buns, I use this recipe and tutorial from The Frugal Girl. I follow it pretty closely, except I use my dough hook for the kneading and I often mix in at least a third white whole wheat flour. And I usually halve the recipe overall because my freezer is not very big and I don’t want to fill it up with nothing but hamburger buns :).

I have also made this recipe in my bread machine a couple of times. I use the dough cycle and then take the dough out, shape it, put it on the cookie sheets and into the oven (with a bowl of hot water) for the second rise.

It is a somewhat time-consuming process, but not really difficult. You can, after all, work on other stuff while the dough sits and does its thing :). And then, when you are done, you get to eat the results with the delicious toppings of your choice. I often serve mine with homemade bean patties of some sort (a recipe for another day), but the leftovers are great to pack in my husband’s lunches, topped with Tofurky veggie “cold cut” slices or a breaded Morningstar Farms “chikn” patty like this one:

DSCF3480 Happy baking (and eating!),

Elizabeth

PS – The top photo is from my first attempt at making these buns, while the bottom photo is from my most recent one. The tops of the buns turn out a lot smoother and prettier these days! But they have always tasted good :).

Mediterranean Nachos

We eat nachos pretty often in this household.

Recently, I was putting corn chips away in a cabinet and noticed the pita chips sitting there, and got to thinking…what if I made “Mediterranean Nachos” by subbing pitas for corn chips? What if I used hummus instead of refried beans? Kalamata olives instead of black olives, spinach instead of lettuce, etc., etc…you get what I’m saying :).

When I mentioned this idea to S, he suggested using crumbled falafel instead of the veggie “ground beef” crumbles we usually use, and tzatziki instead of sour cream. I almost couldn’t wait for the weekend to come so I could try it.

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For the falafel, I used a mix. I just dropped spoonfuls of it onto parchment paper and baked it for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

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Then I crumbled it onto the nachos and topped them with everything else.

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Obviously this is not a unique idea (google “Greek Nachos” and you’ll see what I mean) but it was new to me! And it was quick, easy and delicious. I’ll definitely make it again.

Creamy Sausage and Spinach Pasta Skillet

I hadn’t planned to post about this meal but when I opened up the container to eat the left-overs (last week), I thought it looked kind of pretty, even the next day. So I took some pictures. And here they are :).

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This is an adapted version of a recipe found on The Comfort of Cooking.

To make it veggie, instead of sausage I used Tofurky Kielbasa (I like to fry this up in a separate pan and then add it to the rest of the dish at the last minute, otherwise it gets a bit soggy), and I substituted vegetable broth for the chicken broth. The only diced tomatoes I had on hand were Italian seasoned, so I used those (and I think I liked it better than when I’ve used plain ones in the recipe before, actually!). Instead of the jalapenos, I added a dash of crushed red pepper flakes. I originally served this with more steamed vegetables on the side. The bread was from a Central Market Organic Multigrain loaf I picked up at HEB.

Asian “Beef” With Mushrooms and Snow Peas

Here’s a super-quick, super-easy, delicious meal  I like to make on busy days. Or when I’m feeling lazy :).

Note:  You can speed this up even more by preparing your sauce and veggies ahead of time and by using one of the greatest inventions ever, instant rice. I usually serve mine with egg rolls. And of course I also made this vegetarian by using Gardein Beefless Tips.

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ASIAN BEEF WITH MUSHROOMS AND SNOW PEAS*

Ingredients:

3 Tbs. soy sauce

2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar

1 Tbs. brown sugar

1 tsp. corn starch

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 Tbsp. chopped ginger from a jar

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 pkg. Gardein Beefless Tips

8 oz. snow peas (I cut mine in half to make them easier to eat)

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar and corn starch. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir-fry ginger and garlic for 30 seconds. Add the Beefless Tips and brown for 2-3  minutes on each side. Add the vegetables and stir-fry for an additional 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture; bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Serve over rice or noodles.

*Adapted from allrecipes.com

Preliminary results of my diet “experiment”

So last week I decided not to eat any dairy for 4 1/2 days, while S was away on a business trip. I ate a lot of the same things over and over (nothing new for me — I tend to get hooked on things and end up repeating them pretty often :)).

I had oatmeal with almond milk and fruit for breakfast almost every day, and a hummus sandwich for lunch. Snacks were fruit and/or nuts. Dinner was leftovers or a big salad, plus one night I made half a batch of one of my favorite vegan dishes, Pineapple Not-so-Fried Rice.

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Look at all that raisin, cashew, tofu and pineapple deliciousness (also, I used brown rice instead of white). I could eat this for days. Which is good, because even half a batch of this stuff makes quite a bit! S and I had the leftovers over the weekend and I finished them up at lunch today.

When S returned from his trip, we had homemade Margherita pizza (with mozzarella cheese) for dinner :). But over the weekend, I continued to limit the dairy and now, 8 days later I have to say I feel pretty good! I don’t know how to describe it other than to say I feel “lighter.” Not as…puffy, I guess? I wasn’t so much trying to lose weight, though, as I was just trying to gauge how differently, if at all, I felt by not eating dairy. Because it seems as though people who cut dairy out of their diets always say they feel “great” afterward. And darn it, I want to feel great, too :)!

I have vegan dinners planned for the next 3 nights as well, so I’m going to continue on this track for now and see what happens…just in time to ruin it all by eating Christmas cookies next week, I’m sure. But, hey I think this might still be a good habit for me to carry into the new year!

My Thanksgiving re-cap and plan

Place settingI hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving :).

Ours was nice. My father-in-law came to visit us for a few days. On the morning of the holiday, S and I participated in a 5-mile Turkey Trot and then afterward, I finished preparing dinner. Here’s what we ate:

Ultimate Dinner Rolls

This year, I only made one pie instead of two and I started making preparations two days ahead of time instead of only one. I suppose these changes made a difference, because this was probably the “easiest” time I’ve ever had cooking the T-Day meal! I felt far less rushed than usual and I loved that. So I’m going to record the “plan” I used here, so I won’t forget it and can hopefully recreate it in the future :).

Tuesday, I —

  • baked a pan of cornbread for the dressing
  • made pie crust dough and refrigerated it
  • got out all my serving dishes, utensils, etc. and made sure everything was clean and ready to go

Serving dishes and utensils

Wednesday, I —

  • transferred the Tofurky Roasts (I make two because they’re so small and I like leftovers) from the freezer to the fridge to thaw
  • made the pumpkin pie filling, rolled out my pie crust, and baked the pie (and for the first time ever, instead of using pieces of foil, I used this doohickey* I recently bought to prevent the crust from burning; it worked perfectly and I was very pleased with the results)
  • made the dough for my rolls, shaped them, covered them with plastic, and put them into the fridge
  • opened a can of cranberry sauce and put it in its serving dish in the fridge
  • crumbled the cornbread and mixed it with the rest of my dry dressing ingredients. I stored this in my largest Pyrex mixing bowl and covered it with its matching lid so it was all ready to go the next day.

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

Thursday, I —

  • peeled and cut potatoes, put them in water and stored them in the fridge in another covered Pyrex mixing bowl (side note:  I’m not a Pyrex rep or anything. It’s just that I got these bowls as a birthday gift last year and I love them. I use them for everything, ALL the time!)
  • washed and cut broccoli, put it in casserole dishes, and topped it with the olive oil and seasonings; stored it in the fridge
  • put the Tofurky Roasts in a roasting pan, basted them, and put them into the oven to cook
  • took the rolls out of the fridge and let them rise on the counter; brushed them with butter
  • cooked onion and celery and mixed them with the other wet ingredients for the dressing, added them to the dry ingredients and put the dressing into baking dishes
  • put the dressing into the oven when the Tofurky was partway done
  • put the broccoli into the oven
  • boiled and mashed the potatoes
  • heated the gravy on the stove
  • cooked the carrots and baked the rolls (since these both only took 15 minutes)

And voila! That was it. Probably the only thing I would do differently is cut the broccoli, and possibly the potatoes, on Wednesday instead of Thursday.

Like I said, though, this was overall the easiest Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever made and I feel like the pre-planning I did helped. I literally wrote out all the steps I needed to take ahead of time and then checked them off as I went. So even though on Thanksgiving Day, my garbage disposal decided to back up and spray gunk several feet into the air (and my husband very kindly came in and fixed it for me), it didn’t throw a huge wrench into my day or anything ;).

However, what I apparently didn’t remember to do, was take photos of most of the food! We didn’t get any of the Tofurky or the pie before it was cut :(. S did manage a shot of one slice with his phone before it disappeared, though…

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Now I suppose the Christmas planning can begin…? 🙂

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.