Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of homemade stuffing or mashed potatoes or green bean casseroles on Thanksgiving because no one in my family really knew their way around a kitchen. So they often faked the holiday. Translation: they would plate the turkey and sides on fancy serving pieces after a trip to Boston Market, KFC, or a local supermarket, where they would buy ready-made items suitable for Thanksgiving (yes, one year my aunt served Marie Callender’s turkey pot pie!).
As an adult, like my relatives before me, I found the option of catering a holiday meal a lot easier and less stressful than cooking, which didn’t always go over well with my husband’s Italian family. After one Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law announced, “My family will host next year because we actually make the food!” True story.
So when my daughter begged to have a “normal” Thanksgiving this year, one where I actually cooked a turkey (something I haven’t done in my life), and whip up delicious side dishes and desserts, I thought, why not? I grabbed a few cookbooks, went online to research recipes, and then quickly appreciated why my relatives resorted to holiday takeout. Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is a lot of work! The unending list of ingredients, the extensive instructions, the trips to various shops to locate the moving parts—is all very intimidating for someone who doesn’t like to cook.
As I was considering ringing up a new caterer in town, a friend shared what would turn out to be the best news this culinary challenged wannabe chef could hope for: Martha Stewart was selling a Thanksgiving dinner on the Williams Sonoma website. “We do all the hard work for you—you serve a delicious holiday meal without all the muss and fuss,” said Martha describing her new venture. No muss and no fuss? Sign me up!
Yes, I know what you’re thinking—ordering a holiday meal is still faking Thanksgiving. But if Martha Stewart was giving me her blessing to do so, then who was my extended family to judge? The truth is, even with this mail order meal there’s work to be done, including cooking a turkey.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking—ordering a holiday meal is still faking Thanksgiving. But if Martha Stewart was giving me her blessing to do so, then who was my extended family to judge?
Called the Martha Stewart Complete Thanksgiving Dinner, the meal comes with some of Martha’s favorite foods and recipes, including a 12-14-pound turkey, mushroom stuffing, celery root and potato puree, cauliflower custard, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and an apple cranberry crisp.
I decided to try out this service before Thanksgiving, and organized a dinner party on a recent Sunday night. My Friendsgiving group included my husband, son, daughter and her boyfriend, mother-in-law, and best friend. The dinner serves eight, but I limited our table to seven just in case we ran short on food.
The verdict? The meal was incredibly appetizing and we all agreed—even my foodie mother-in-law—we would order it again. Why? Because once plated, you’d never know it was not made from scratch, either in taste or appearance. Everything I made (um, heated up) scored positive reviews from my guests. And because it takes a lot to screw up reheating, this is the perfect option for someone who simply wants to focus on their turkey and not worry about making all the sides. Speaking of the turkey, cooking one wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined, but I won’t lie—I overcooked the bird. The temperature went from 150° to 170° pretty quickly and I didn’t pull it from the oven fast enough. But I was proud to say I had cooked my first turkey, albeit a dry one.
The verdict? The meal was incredibly appetizing and we all agreed—even my foodie mother-in-law—we would order it again.
To help you decide if going the pre-made meal route is for you, I broke the experience down by pros and cons.
Pro: The turkey ships right to your door, frozen and vacuum sealed from Willie Bird’s Turkey in Sonoma County, California, a premier poultry farm that has been raising and selling turkeys for over 50 years. The bird arrived separately from the side dishes and dessert, but on the same day—good coordination on the part of Williams Sonoma.
Con: A much-needed piece of information was left blank on the turkey wrapping—the weight of the bird. Luckily, the box the turkey arrived in was still in my outdoor recycling bin, and the weight was stamped on the label. As it was my first time ever cooking a turkey, I went on the Willie Bird website hoping to discover a how-to video—when I didn’t, I simply followed a chef’s instructions on a “how to roast a turkey” video I found on YouTube.
Pro: The sides! The sweet potato puree, made with browned butter maple syrup, was creamy and super colorful. The softly baked cauliflower was covered in a gooey Parmigiano Reggiano and Gruyere cheese. The stuffing consisted of three types of mushrooms—shitake, oyster, and cremini—with added leeks and herbs. (I knew I hit the jackpot when my mother-in-law asked for the recipe.) The cobbler, which baked while we ate our main course, was a flavorful mix of apples, cranberries, peaches, and blueberries, all topped with crumble. Even those who were not fans of cranberry sauce loved the cranberry relish, with its detectable pieces of orange peel and ground cinnamon.
Con: This meal is missing a true green vegetable. A creamed spinach or green bean casserole or some type of roasted brussels sprout dish would have been nice on the menu. Also, if your group likes traditional, fluffy mashed potatoes (raising my hand here), then the mush-like celery root and Yukon gold potato puree might not check the box. Finally, because people sometimes forget the gravy, I would have included a jar of gravy starter in this package.
Pros: All the sides are cooked at the same temperature (375°), so everything can heat up together. The sides bake at different times (e.g. the stuffing is in the oven for 75 minutes, the cauliflower for 45 minutes), so you just have to schedule cooking times carefully. I made a checklist of when things went in and out of the oven, and relied on Alexa to keep me on time.
Con: All of this reheating could be difficult to pull off if you don’t have a double oven. (Microwaving the sides is not suggested, but if you must, wait to microwave until everything has thawed.) One way around this: Belle English, who works in the Williams Sonoma test kitchen, recommends heating the sides 80% of the way, covering them with foil, and letting them rest while the turkey cooks. When the turkey is done, Belle suggests throwing the sides back into the oven to finish. No matter how you heat things up, be sure to stir the contents of the sides a few times during the process.
Pro: Your family won’t go hungry as the portions are more than generous. I’m guessing we had enough food for nine or ten people.
Con: You might need to bulk up on the dessert with a supplemental pie or some other treat.
Pro or Con: The full meal comes out to about $44 per person (not including tax or shipping charges). More expensive than if you went shopping for ingredients at your local grocery store, but competitive if you were thinking about going out to a nice restaurant on an expensive holiday.
How to order: The turkey, dessert, along with five side dishes sells for $350 on the Williams Sonoma website, not including tax and shipping. You can also order the side dishes and dessert for $250. Orders must be placed by midnight on Friday, November 22th for delivery in time for Thanksgiving.