Thanksgiving Dinner: A Comprehensive Guide

Last Saturday we invited some friends over to our apartment for an early Thanksgiving dinner. It felt strange to celebrate the holiday on a Saturday, but for obvious reasons Holland doesn't give people the day off on Thursday, so Saturday it was! This Thanksgiving was not only my first attempt at cooking the entire meal myself (ok, maybe the husband helped a bit), but it was many of our friends' first Thanksgiving meal as well. I felt very lucky to cook for so many first-timers as I was guaranteed not to have to compete with Grandma's Famous Stuffing or hear about how someone's mom's sweet potatoes are the best ever. No, all I had to compete with was the oh-so-famous Norman Rockwell painting, so I made sure to have the turkey proudly displayed on the table when everyone arrived.

Feeling oh-so-happy that my attempt was a success.
Everyone was quite impressed (and probably feeling a bit hungry) at the sight of that large, lovely bird on the table.

Everyone, that is, including myself. I knew cooking Thanksgiving was going to be a huge undertaking (and it was!) but it went much more smoothly than I could have imagined (after I spent about an hour converting all my recipes from US measurements to metric units). The only thing I would change for next year is to try a more impressive pumpkin pie recipe, to set the table earlier (a difficult task in our apartment as the lack of counter space dictates that the table is also used for meal preparation), and also to start the day-of preparation a bit earlier.

That said, I will provide a little guide for putting together a nice Thanksgiving for anyone who may be interested!

Thanksgiving Menu
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Corn Casserole
Pumpkin Pie
Rice Pudding

Day 1: Grocery Day

Shopping List for eight guests:
a turkey*
white bread (to yield 4 cups cubed)
baguette (or two) for serving
baking potatoes (2 kg or 9 medium-sized potatoes)
sweet potatoes (1 kg to yield 4 cups cubed)
garlic (4 cloves)
1 apple (I used Granny Smith)
2 onions
carrot (just one or two large carrots is all you need)
1 bunch celery
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
fresh parsley
dried sage
black pepper
ground cinnamon
ground ginger
ground nutmeg
vanilla extract (1.5 teaspoons)
chopped pecans (50g or 1/2 cup)
frozen cut green beans (500g or 2- 9 oz. packages)
French fried onions (1- 6oz can or 2- 100g cans )
chicken broth (400 ml or 14.5 oz can)
1 (10 3/4 oz. or about 320g) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (15 1/4 oz. or about 425g) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4 oz. 
or about 425g) can cream-style corn
1 (8-ounce) package corn muffin mix (recommended: Jiffy)
1 (15 ounce or about 425g) can pumpkin
1 (14 ounce or about 400g) can sweetened condensed milk
golden raisins (1 cup optional for rice pudding)
shredded cheddar cheese (1 cup)
eggs (6)
butter (500g or five sticks -- will yield extra for the table)
milk (1 liter or 4 cups -- plus a few tablespoons more for mashed potatoes)
whipped cream
sour cream (300g or about 12 oz.) 
all-purpose flour (40g or 1/3 cup -- plus a little more to thicken the gravy)
brown sugar (110g  or 1/2 cup)
white sugar (240g or about 1.5 cups) 
white rice (to yield 3 cups cooked)
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust (I made my own as unbaked pie crusts are very difficult to find in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I was not happy with my crust so I will not post the recipe here).

*Turkey tips:

  • I read that you need anywhere from 1-2 pounds per person, so I bought a 15 pound turkey. This turkey was big enough to feed everyone and yield some yummy leftovers.
  • Keep in mind that a frozen turkey can take at least three days to thaw and plan accordingly.
  • For all you Americans in Amsterdam, I bought my turkey at Kema Vlees on the Kinkerstraat. I ordered it on Monday and picked it up fresh, not frozen, on Friday. Other American-specific ingredients (cream-style corn, corn muffin mix, can of pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, and cream of mushroom soup, etc.) were purchased at Eichholtz on the Leidsestraat.

Day 2: Initial Preparation

On the second day of Thanksgiving preparation I made the pumpkin pie, rice pudding, and herb butter for the turkey, started the sweet potato casserole and began to prep the stuffing. While cooking, I couldn't help think of my aunt Marcy who used to make Thanksgiving dinner for us every year in her tiny kitchen. She would make the desserts the day before and then line them up on the stairs to her attic which was unheated and as cold as a refrigerator. Though she would make anywhere from two to three pies and two kinds of pudding, I scaled back a bit and picked my favorite two.

I started by making the rice for the pudding and, while waiting for it to finish, made the pie. I set aside the rice when it was done, and continued the pudding when the pie was in the oven. Also important to note is that listening to Christmas music makes this process much more fun.

Pumpkin Pie

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C / 425 degrees F. 
Whisk pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices and salt in medium bowl until smooth. 
Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F and continue baking 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from crust comes out clean.

Creamy Rice Pudding

Cooked white rice to yield 3 cups cooked rice
700 ml  or 3 cups milk
134g or 2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup golden raisins (optional)
30g or 2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla


In a clean saucepan, combine cooked rice, milk, sugar, and salt. 
Cook over medium heat until thick and creamy, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly. 
Stir in eggs and keep over heat until the mixture thickens. 
Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. 
Serve immediately or pour into casserole and place plastic wrap directly over warm pudding to keep a skin from forming. 
Place in warm oven to warm up prior to serving, or serve at room temperature.

Once the rice pudding was finished, I chopped the bread, celery and onions for the stuffing. I set aside the bread in an open bowl (it's not a problem if the bread is stale) and put the celery and onions together in a tupperware container.

I then chopped some of the fresh rosemary and thyme for the herb butter. Next, I mixed the herbs with approximately 40 grams or 3 tablespoons of softened butter, dried sage, and a little salt, and refrigerated it for turkey prep the next morning.

Lastly, I prepped the sweet potato casserole, following all directions but stopping short of making the topping (though I did chop the pecans) and baking it. Instead, I covered it and put it in the refrigerator for the next day.

Sweet Potato Casserole (prep-only portion of recipe)

1 kg or 4 cups sweet potato, cubed
100g or 1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon (pinch) salt
60g or 4 tablespoons butter, softened
120ml or 1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with water to cover. 
Cook over medium high heat until tender; drain and mash.
In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla extract. 
Mix until smooth. Transfer to a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Day 3: Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving meal started at 6pm which is very late by some families' standards. That said, the times I include in this portion may have to be adjusted.

The husband and I started prepping the turkey at noon, following this plan outlined by my dear mother (thanks Mom!):

1.) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F.
2.) Wash the turkey and remove the giblets from the cavity.
3.) Liberally season the cavity salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
4.) Stuff the cavity with quartered onion, sliced carrot, sliced celery and fresh rosemary.
5.) Tie legs together with kitchen string and tuck wings under the bird.
6.) Loosen skin on top of turkey breast (I used my hand) and insert herb butter (prepared yesterday). Pat the top of the breast to distribute butter under the skin.
7.) Rub the entire exterior of the turkey with salt and pepper.
8.) Liberally rub the turkey breast with butter (about 80g or one stick minus what you used for the herb butter).
9.) Place turkey in roasting pan and add 220 ml or 1 cup of water to bottom of pan. Cover with foil.
10.) Put turkey in the oven and immediately turn down the oven temperature to 160 degrees C / 325 degrees F.
11.) Bake 15 minutes per pound, basting occasionally.
12.) Uncover turkey after the first two hours to let it brown.
13.) Let turkey rest at least 30 minutes, tented with foil.
14.) Carve and enjoy!

Once we had the turkey in the oven, we took the next few hours to play a game, clean the house and get it ready for our guests. At this point we also took the desserts our of the refrigerator to ensure that they were at room temperature by the time we served them. We cooked our turkey for 4 hours, but next time I wouldn't cook it as long as it seemed a little dry to me. Our turkey did not have that fancy little button that tells you when it's done, nor do we have a meat thermometer, but the latter will definitely be fixed before next Thanksgiving.

At 4:00pm, an hour before the turkey was finished and two hours before dinner was served, we started the rest of the cooking. Though, as I mentioned earlier, next year I will start this process a bit earlier. My plan was to prep the final dishes so that they were all ready by the time I took the turkey out of the oven at 5:00pm. At that point I would raise the oven temperature (all dishes required the same 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F oven temperature, thank goodness!) and start putting the rest of the dishes in the order they needed to go (first the stuffing, then the corn casserole, and finally the sweet potato casserole and the green bean casserole). While I took charge on these dishes, Philippe went to work on the mashed potatoes and hand-washing the dishes as I finished using them.   

I started with the corn casserole, completing all the preparation up until putting it in the oven. Then, I prepped the green bean casserole. Next, I made the topping for the sweet potato casserole and sprinkled it on top. I saved the stuffing preparation for last because I didn't want the bread to sit in the broth for too long. And after all that, it was oven time!

Side note: I am including all the recipes now even though I did not complete all steps of the recipes at this point in my execution of the meal.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

3 medium baking potatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
120g or 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
60g or 1/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon (or more) whole milk, at room temperature or warmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, cook the potatoes in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. 
Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan.
Add the butter, sour cream and garlic. 
Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or the back of a fork until the ingredients are blended. 
Add the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the potatoes are the desired consistency. 
Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. 

Corn Pudding

INGREDIENTS:1 (15 1/4 oz. or about 425g) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4 oz. 
or about 425g) can cream-style corn
1 (8-ounce) package corn muffin mix (recommended: Jiffy)
230g (1 cup or 8 oz.) sour cream
60g (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar

In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, and melted butter. 

Pour into a greased 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. 
Bake for 45 minutes at 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F, or until golden brown. 
Remove from oven and top with shredded cheddar. 
Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. 
Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.

Green Bean Hot Dish

1 (10 3/4 oz. or about 320g) can cream of mushroom soup
180 ml or 3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp. black pepper
500g or 2 (9 oz. each) pkgs. frozen cut green beans, thawed
1- 6oz can or 2- 100g cans (1 1/3 cups) fried onions

Mix soup, milk and pepper in a baking dish.
Stir in beans and 2/3 cup fried onions.
Bake at 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until hot. Stir.
Top with remaining 2/3 cup onions.
Bake 5 minutes until onions are golden.

Sweet Potato Casserole 

4 cups sweet potato, cubed
100g (1/2 cup) white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
60g (4 tablespoons) butter, softened
120ml (1/2 cup) milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

110g (1/2 cup) packed brown sugar
43g (1/3 cup) all-purpose flour
40g (3 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). 
Put sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with water to cover. 
Cook over medium high heat until tender; drain and mash.
In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla extract. 
Mix until smooth. Transfer to a 9x13 inch baking dish.
In medium bowl, mix the brown sugar and flour. 
Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse. Stir in the pecans. 
Sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potato mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until the topping is lightly brown.


4 cups cubed white bread
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 apple, cored and chopped
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
400 ml chicken broth
60 g butter (1/2 stick)

Spread the cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. 
Bake for 5 to 7 minutes in the preheated oven, or until evenly toasted. 
Transfer toasted bread cubes to a large bowl.
In a large skillet, cook the butter, onions, celery and apple over medium heat. 
Add the sage, rosemary, and thyme; cook, stirring, to blend flavors. 
Add the chicken broth and simmer.
Pour skillet mixture over bread in bowl. Mix.
Cook covered for 30 minutes at 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F
Cook uncovered for 30 more minutes.

The four side dishes required an hour of oven time total. 
00:00 - Turkey comes out of the oven and stuffing goes in the oven (covered)
00:10 - Corn casserole goes in the oven
00:25 - Green bean casserole goes in
00:30 - Sweet potato casserole goes in the oven and the cover comes off the stuffing
00:50 - Add cheddar cheese to the top of the corn casserole
00:55 - Add the remaining friend onions to the top of the green bean casserole
1:00 - Take everything out of the oven

I was incredibly lucky to have the husband simultaneously helping me clean up as I went and making the mashed potatoes. Once my dishes were in the oven, I was then able to do some final clean up, set the table and attempt to make myself look presentable for guests. Without him, I probably would've made the mashed potatoes during this last hour of cooking and ultimately been much, much more stressed. I think it's doable, but I would highly recommend making Thanksgiving with a partner or asking a guest to come an hour early to help you with the final preparations.

Our guests started to arrive just as the food was ready.

Stuffing, Corn Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole.
While the husband started carving the turkey, I made gravy by bringing the turkey juices to a boil and then thickening it with a bit of flour mixed in cold water. Neither of us had carved a turkey before, so we watched a video on YouTube and then tried to remember what we had seen. It went pretty well, and our friends were eager to help. Or maybe they were just ready to eat...

Carving the turkey...
It's a two person job. 
Ok, maybe a three person job.
Plates filled and ready to eat.
In honor of my aunt Marcy, I had everyone at the table share something they were thankful for before we began our meal. Marcy used to always tell us how thankful she was for us, and I wanted to be sure my guests knew how thankful I am that they have made me feel at home in this new city. It was a very meaningful day for me as Marcy was constantly in my thoughts as I made this meal. She was also in my thoughts after the meal as we washed all of the dishes by hand. You see, like her, we do not own a dishwasher.

After dinner we let our stomachs rest while we played a game and started a movie. Partway during the film I served both the pumpkin pie and rice pudding with a dollop of whipped cream, creating a sweet ending to this lovely, cozy holiday.

Photos by Tiago Rosado


  1. Marcy would be so proud of you, as I am! By the way, I have a recipe for mashed potatoes that you can do ahead and keep in a crockpot to keep warm. Maybe a crockpot should be among your next kitchen purchases. Happy Thanksgiving Britt and Philippe! You will be truly missed here in Minnesota. xoxo

  2. Fabulous post! Very funny to read all the measurements in weird stuff like pounds and fahrenheit degrees :D Thanks Brittany, it was a wonderful evening.