Thursday, November 22, 2007


Hey, it worked!

We are a family of good cooks and eager eaters. In-laws don't complain about the quality or quantity of food prepared at a Brown family gathering - homemade, fresh, and a good ratio of traditional (high calorie and cholesterol) to healthy... maybe leaning a little more towards healthy with vegetarians in the family.

Past holiday dinners have involved a lot of (worthwhile) effort: planning and coordinating the dishes, purchasing, prepping, preparing, getting the timing right. For me and the other cooks in the family, it meant a LOT of time in the kitchen the day before and the day of a holiday.

This year, two inexorable trends resulted in a change: we are all getting older (for me, it means I don't have the stamina/desire to spend so much time standing in the kitchen), and the prepared food available is of much higher quality than in the past. A major grocery store chain in Sacramento advertised a "Gourmet Turkey Dinner" in a box, and we decided to give it a try.

This dinner was a step above others we had seen advertised, with a fully cooked, organic, Diestel Family Turkey Ranch turkey as the centerpiece. The "premium sides" were sweet potatoes with glaze, dried cranberries and pecans; green beans with garlic and almonds; ciabatta bread stuffing; mashed potatoes (the only food besides the turkey that was already cooked); cranberry sauce (we used Aunt Dorothy's homemade instead); gravy; dinner rolls and pumpkin pie.

My Thanksgiving preparation this year went like this:
1. Order the "Premium Organic Turkey Dinner".
2. Wednesday morning, drive to Raley's and pick up dinner.
3. Unpack the carton (photographing each step, so we could fit it all back in) and examine each item before finding a spot to store it overnight somewhere in our tiny kitchen.
4. Call Mommy to report that we had the dinner, and it looked good!
5. Thanksgiving morning, reload the carton, put it in the back of the car with a couple bottles of wine, and head to the designated host house.

This series of photos shows the carton as we unpacked the three layers, and most of the food set out on the counter in readiness for cooking. The carton included a glossy brochure of step-by-step, minute-by-minute instructions that (at least in theory) would have dinner ready to dish up in two hours. And that was almost the case!

We learned that enough cubed sweet potatoes for a dozen people take 15 minutes in a small microwave, not 9 minutes - and that a 13.75 pound turkey really needs about 2 hours to reheat, not a hour and a half. Experienced cooks can cope with deviations, though - we tossed the green beans into the steamer, heated the gravy on the stove, adjusted cooking times accordingly. Nancy added a winter fruit salad, we started in on the wine...

...and it wasn't long before plates were dished up and the diners were all smiles.

The consensus: let's do this again next year!

We'll ditch the mashed potatoes that came precooked and mashed - Doug's are so much better. The fruit salad was a great addition, and Aunt Dorothy's cranberry sauce is a "must have". We also added a no-sugar-added apple pie from Apple Hill; otherwise, it was GREAT.

To the anonymous Raley's employees who spent THEIR time peeling and cubing the sweet potatoes, washing and trimming the green beans, preparing the sauces, chopping the nuts, stirring the gravy and basting the turkey while we took a walk, read, and relaxed at home - THANK YOU.


  1. Dinner looks good. Were the turkeys available separately? We got a Diestel once when we lived in California, and I've been on the lookout for another ever since. Haven't ever seen one in Arizona, though.

    Virtual hugs,


  2. Nice to get such a complete report - with photos - on how the dinner went!And how nice to get an organic turkey.


  3. Thanksgiving in a box, never thought of that one. Still have all that "clean up". Our family finds a nice upscale hotel and we have a wonderful Thanksgiving buffet and leave the dishes behind after a wonderful visit. However,one drawback- we don't have turkey sandwiches at midnight. :( Glad to hear you had a wonderful Thanksgiving tho!! Happy Holiday to you both.