Making Thanksgiving dreams come true
Many of us dream of hosting a Rockwell-esque Thanksgiving. Happy children playing board games as they patiently await dinner, contented guests allowing the host to calmly finish up the meal, glass of wine in hand. In reality though, putting on the Thanksgiving meal can be an incredibly stressful experience. Having multiple dishes ready at the same time can test even an experienced cook’s patience. This week I’m laying out some of my favorite make-ahead strategies and tips to help you host your most delicious and relaxed holiday ever.
Plan your menu out a least a week ahead of time, and identify any dishes that can be made partially or entirely ahead. Dishes that can be made up to five days ahead and either refrigerated or frozen include cranberry chutney, dressing/stuffing, pumpkin pie filling, pie dough, maple walnut pie (recipes below) and cheesecakes. Cut up root vegetables can be prepped two days ahead, ready to roast on the day, as can most salad ingredients. Mashed potatoes can be made one day ahead and put in a buttered dish, ready to reheat in the oven or microwave. Dinner rolls can be made and shaped the day before, and allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight.
Making the gravy base ahead of time will relieve considerable pressure on the big day. Purchase some extra turkey wings or necks and roast them for stock. Save the pan drippings. Transfer the roasted turkey parts into a large stockpot with water, onions, celery, carrots and bay leaves. Simmer for 12 hours (this can also be done in a crock pot), then strain out the solids, reserving the stock. Heat the reserved pan drippings in a heavy-bottomed pot, and add flour to make a thin paste. Add two quarts reserved turkey broth (save the rest to make the dressing), whacking entirely until no flour lumps remain. Cook over medium heat until thickened. The cooled gravy can then be frozen for up to three months. On Thanksgiving Day, warm the prepared gravy base in a saucepan. Before serving, whisk in the pan drippings from the roast turkey and serve.
Be sure to allow enough time to thaw out any ingredients or dishes you have prepped ahead of time. A 15-18 pound turkey needs at least a week in the fridge to thaw out safely. If you don’t have enough time to thaw in the fridge, allow it to thaw under cold (never warm!) running water. This will take several hours.
Look over your menu and decide what serving platters and utensils you plan to use. Set them out and attach sticky notes indicating which dish is for what. This will help you delegate tasks to helpful guests on the big day.
Load up the coffee maker ahead of time and get together cups, sugars and cream.
Organize a bin ahead of time with containers to store leftovers and package them up to send home with guests.
Cranberry Black Pepper Chutney
(This freezes well and is excellent on turkey sandwiches or with roasted pork.)
- • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
- • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- • 12 oz fresh or frozen cranberries (not thawed)
- • ¾ cup sugar
- • 1/3 cup orange juice
- • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- • 3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper, or more to taste
- • ½ teaspoon salt
Sauté the shallot in butter in a medium saucepan until softened and translucent, about 3-4 min. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries have burst and the mixture has thickened. Chill until ready to use. This mixture will keep for 10 days in the fridge and freezes well.
- 1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes and frozen
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold water
Combine flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor or mixing bowl. Blend briefly to combine. Add butter to the bowl. If using a food processor, turn on the machine and immediately add the cold water. Process until the mixture forms a cohesive ball. If you don’t have a food processor, cut in the butter by hand using a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the cold water and mix with a fork until the mixture just holds together. Turn the dough out and divide in two. Working quickly, shape the halves into circles about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out. Makes enough for one double crust or two single crust pies. Dough circles can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Maple Walnut Tart
- 1/2 recipe Pie Crust
- 2 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon regular salt)
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 8 oz (2 cups) toasted chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pie crust and turn it out into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the crust to leave a 1-inch overhang, then crimp the edge. Line the prepared pie shell with a piece of foil or parchment that has been lightly coated with cooking spray, then fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 18 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. The blind baked pie shell can be made up to two weeks ahead of time and frozen. Be sure to wrap well before freezing.
To make the filling, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. In a 2 qt saucepan, combine the syrup and sugar and cook over medium high heat, stirring continuously, until it just begins to boil, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot syrup mixture into the egg mixture to temper, then slowly whisk in the remaining syrup. This syrup-egg mixture can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. Stir well before proceeding with recipe.
To bake the pie, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill the blind baked pie shell with the toasted walnuts and pour the filling over the walnuts. You may have a little filling left over, do not overfill. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set in the middle. Let the pie cool completely before cutting, about 2 hours.
The cooled pie can be stored, well-wrapped, for two days at room temperature, or for up to two weeks in the freezer. Thaw the pie at room temperature, then refresh it in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes.
Nana’s Sausage, Sage and Onion Dressing
(My favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast!)
For the dressing:
- 2 1/2 pounds good quality white bread, cut into one inch cubes (about 5 quarts)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 1/4 cup minced fresh sage
- 1 qt homemade or low-sodium turkey broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the sausage:
- 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 1 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Spread the bread cubes on a sheet tray and leave overnight in an unlit oven to allow them to thoroughly dry out.
Combine the sausage ingredients and mix gently to combine. Chill for one hour before cooking to allow flavors to meld.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until well browned. Add onions and celery and cook until vegetables are softened and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.
Transfer the dry bread cubes to a large mixing bowl. Add sausage-onion mixture, along with the sage and turkey stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour prior to baking to allow bread to absorb the turkey stock. The dressing can be assembled and refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to one month. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator.
Use part of the dressing to loosely stuff the turkey (do not overstuff!), then place the remainder in a buttered 9x13 baking dish. Cover lightly with foil, then bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 150 degrees. The stuffing inside the turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Contact Ashley Meyer at email@example.com.