This feast can come out of your kitchen

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A lot of people are convinced they cannot cook. Bad experiences, low motivation, little time, no understanding of cooking terms – these are just a few of their reasons. Each has a remedy.

FayRuth Fisher, 25, a graduate of Hampshire College now working as a legislative and political coordinator for Massachusetts AFL-CIO, is a smart young woman who says she has a hard time following recipes. ”I get all motivated by looking at the pictures and the finished product, then somewhere halfway into the recipe I decide something is taking too long,” she says. ”I get resentful and eliminate a step or two.”This clearly was the source of her problem when she made a cake that called for stiff egg whites. Not knowing what stiff egg whites looked like or why they had to be stiff (makes the cake rise), she got frustrated and beat them only a little and added them to the cake batter. The result was a very flat cake and gales of laughter from her mom and friend who then took a picture of the cake for posterity. Fisher was convinced that ”cooking was not my thing.”

Debbie Louis, 49, a mother of two and vice president of e-business operations at Centra Software, likes to cook but has very little time during the week. Still, she feels it’s important for the family to sit together and have a ”nice nutritious meal.” She knew others at her company felt the same, so she asked caterer Bob Yacavonis of Sensational Foods of Watertown (617-924-6703) if employees could order full-course meals that he would deliver to the office each week. Her company provided refrigerator space.”I’m a two-bag-per-week customer,” says Louis. ”That’s five meals for a family of four.” She says it costs about $100 a week, and is worth it.

Louis found her solution, but most people who think they can’t cook just need a bit of confidence, a few simple, no-fail recipes, a little motivation, and maybe even cooking classes. Wendy Greenberg, mother of two, avowed non-cook, and object of derision from her family for most of her culinary efforts, found salvation through cooking lessons, a gift from a friend. With glee and pride in her voice, she recently announced she had made pizza, dough and all, from scratch: ”My husband came home to the smells of food cooking and thought he was in the wrong house.”

With Thanksgiving – and all its expectations for a glorious multi-course meal – imminent, there is alarm among those who find this too daunting a task. No meal could be simpler, however, precisely because the menu is mostly set. Herewith, a complete Thanksgiving dinner in which no dish has more than two main ingredients (simple spices, water, and butter do not count as extra ingredients).

After setting some rules (no prepared food allowed in the main meal), we set about creating a great dinner with all the trimmings and no stress. Instead of a whole turkey, we chose a fresh turkey breast. (Sorry, dark-meat lovers.) A vegetable duo of baby carrots and sugar snap peas is, indeed, a snap, and stuffing with cranberry sauce even made the cut. As for garnishes, a sprig of fresh parsley does wonders.

With the main meal complete, we stretched the rule for dessert and made it an assembly project: four things combined and very do-able. There is no weeklong preparation timetable. The only thing you need to do in advance is go shopping. This meal can be done in just a few hours on Thanksgiving Day. The smell of food cooking and the accompanying kudos will be very satisfying.

Basic cooking and baking courses are offered at many adult education programs through local high schools. The Boston Center for Adult Education (617-267-4430) offers Basic Cooking Principles in three sessions and also has single-session workshops on topics such as vegetarian Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving side dishes, Thanksgiving leftovers, and holiday baking.

Roast Turkey Breast with V-8 Gravy

One 5-pound turkey breast
2-3 cups V-8 juice salt, pepper, and paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Rinse turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
3. Place turkey breast in a roasting pan, breast side up. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika, and rub into skin.
4. Mix 2 cups V-8 juice with 1 cup water, and pour over and around the turkey breast. 5. Follow cooking directions on turkey package. Spoon the pan juices over the turkey every 15 minutes. Add more V-8 and water as needed to maintain at least an inch of juice in the pan.

A 5-pound breast takes about 2 hours. A meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast and not touching the bone should reach 185 degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, pierce the breast with a knife. If the juice runs clear, the turkey is ready. Slice and serve.

Pepperidge Farm Stuffing with Whole Cranberry Sauce

This stuffing is prepared outside the turkey. Just before serving, pour pan juices from turkey over the stuffing.

1 pound package herbed seasoned stuffing
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce, thinned with 1/4 cup warm water.

1. Prepare stuffing according to package.
2. Add the cranberry sauce and toss together. If the stuffing seems dry, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup

4 whole sweet potatoes
maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Wash and dry sweet potatoes. Rub the skin with a little vegetable oil. Pierce with knife in several places.
2.Place potatoes in a pan, and bake for approximately 1 hour. They are done when a knife slips easily into the center. (Put the potatoes into the oven while cooking the turkey in its last hour.)
3. Split the potatoes lengthwise and drizzle on maple syrup. Mash with fork to incorporate the syrup. Finish with a little more syrup.

Sugar Snap Peas and Baby Carrots

1 small bag peeled baby carrots
1 pound sugar snap peas (frozen are fine)
salt and pepper 1 tablespoon butter

1. Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil in a large pot.
2. Add peas and cook them for one minute. (No need to defrost if frozen.) Remove peas with a slotted spoon.
3. Bring water back to boil and add carrots. Cook until just soft, about 4 minutes. Drain.
4. Combine peas and carrots in a dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve

Pumpkin Ice Cream Parfait

Pumpkin Ice cream is sold at Toscanini’s in Cambridge (617-354-9350), Lizzies Ice Cream Parlor in Waltham (781-893-6677), and Shaws Farm (a working farm), 195 New Boston Road, Dracut (978-957-0031). Wilson Farms in Lexington (781-862-3900) also carries the Shaws Farm pumpkin ice cream.

Pumpkin ice cream
Soft lady fingers (3 per person) found in supermarket bakery sections
Marshmallow Fluff
Granola or chopped pecans

1. Split all lady fingers. Line individual cups, small bowls, or wine glasses with six lady finger halves placed vertically around the cup and overlapping on the bottom.
2. Spread 1 tablespoon of Fluff on top of the lady fingers at the bottom of the cup.
3. Place a large scoop of pumpkin ice cream on top of the Fluff.

Sprinkle granola or chopped pecans on top.

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