Start your stoves now for stress-free Thanksgiving

Turkey and dressing is a top comfort food.
Turkey and dressing is a top comfort food. Biloxi

Fifteen days and counting. Thanksgiving with all its smells and tastes is on the way.

Are stress levels rising?

Chill. Take the easy way out by some advance preparations and simple but tasty dishes. Prepping side dishes now can ward off stress. Holiday dinners and parties should be fun, not whip the host or hostess into a frenzy.

These make-ahead dishes can be stored in the freezer and heated in time for the Turkey Day feast. Think about it: Gravy, casseroles, fruit or pecan pies and more can be prepared and placed in the freezer.

All the home cooks will worry about is the main meat, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Stress-free pumpkin cobbler

Even the work can be taken out of pumpkin pie by making a slow-cooker pumpkin cobbler.

I made this several times last year, and it was a hit. It cuts the fuss of a pie crust, which is a pain to me. If that’s too difficult, try a no-bake pumpkin spice layered dessert that takes 20 minutes of prep time and 4 hours to chill. Easy does it.

Slow cookers are a must-have for Thanksgiving. Home cooks can prepare everything from meats to vegetables to desserts.

“Many classic Thanksgiving dishes are even better when prepared in a slow cooker. It gives desserts an ooey-gooey texture and allows flavors to fully develop in sides and sauces,” said McCormick & Company executive chef Kevan Vetter, who even makes fresh cranberry sauce in a slow cooker.

Recipe page

Friend and former Coast resident Jan Watts, now of Kansas, started a private Facebook page soliciting help from family and friends for their healthy and easy traditional or not-so-traditional favorites.

Watts tries to keep meals healthy 365 days a year. She is conscious of using fresh vegetables, sometimes gluten-free recipes, and anything that keeps her family additive- and preservative-free.

Her newest dressing creation uses turkey sausage and cooks in about 30 to 40 minutes. She adds walnuts for extra fiber and protein.


Watts also likes QVC host David Venable’s Southern yam and pineapple bake. It is low on sugar and yams and sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index. This casserole can be made ahead of time.

If family and friends are coming for the feast, make a menu this week, assigning guests a dish to bring. This takes more stress off the cook, and guests are usually eager to help.

Remember, two weeks out: Make a Thanksgiving menu and gather recipes for that menu. Those casseroles, flavored butters and gravies can be done up to a month in advance, so start those stoves now.

If all else fails and nerves are still frayed, check out the Thanksgiving menu genie at

After answering a few questions, the “genie” selects the perfect menu and recipes.


1 turkey sausage

1 stalk celery

1/2 onion diced

1 bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing Mix

1 to 2 cups chicken broth

Walnuts (about 1/2 cup)

Cut up sausage and sauté in frying pan. Add celery and onion. Place package of stuffing mix in a bowl. Add sausage-vegetable mixture and chicken broth. Amount of chicken broth depends on the desired consistency. Place in casserole dish and bake 30 to 40 minutes.

Submitted by Jan Watts


6 large yams or sweet potatoes, peeled

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple; do not drain

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon margarine

1 cup miniature marshmallows, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a casserole dish or oven-safe sauté pan with cooking spray.

Cook yams or sweet potatoes in a large pot of salted water for 30 minutes. Drain and let cool. Dice into 1-inch cubes.

Combine pineapple (and its juice) with raisins, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl. Toss in the cubed yams. Mix and spoon the mixture in the prepared dish. Dot the top with margarine.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Top with miniature marshmallows, if desired, and serve immediately.

Recipe by QVC’s David Venable

NOTE: To freeze this recipe, follow the recipe until it is spooned into dish. Cover casserole tightly and put in the freezer. Thaw. Dot with margarine and bake according to directions, topping with marshmallows if desired.


3 eggs

Large can of pumpkin puree

12 ounces evaporated milk

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter Pecan Cake Mix

4 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 cup melted butter

Beat the eggs slightly.

Add the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla.

Pour the mixture into a greased slow cooker.

Top with the powdered cake mix and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Drizzle melted butter evenly over the top.

Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

Recipe by


(Serves 16)

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

2 packages (3.4 ounces each) vanilla flavor instant pudding, divided

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 (8-ounce) non-dairy whipped topping, thawed, divided

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon cold milk, divided

8 caramels

Mix graham cracker crumbs and butter; press onto bottom of 13-by-9-inch dish.

Whisk pumpkin, 1 package pudding mix and spice in large bowl until blended. Stir in 2 cups Cool Whip; spread over crust.

Beat remaining pudding mix and 1 1/2 cups milk in medium bowl with whisk 2 minutes; spread over pudding layer in dish. Cover with remaining Cool Whip. Refrigerate 4 hours.

Microwave caramels and remaining milk in microwaveable bowl on High 30 seconds; stir until caramels are completely melted and mixture is well blended. Drizzle over dessert just before serving.

Recipe Kraft Foods


(Serves 8)

1 (12-ounce) package fresh or frozen cranberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 seedless orange, peeled and sectioned

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in 4-quart slow cooker. Cover. Cook 3 hours on High, stirring every hour. Uncover. Stir well. Cook, uncovered 30 to 45 minutes longer on High or until slightly thickened.

Recipe by McCormick & Company Executive Chef Kevan Vetter