As I sit here in my home office, with my feet up on the window sill, drinking coffee and watching the birds come to the feeders I put out, I am reminded of how much I love making the whole Thanksgiving dinner, from soup to nuts and back again! I am also reminded that, for this year, I am enjoying the respite from the hustle bustle that is preparing the dinner for 15 – 20 people! Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do it again and again, with full joy, but this year, we are taking a break from hosting. So, I am thinking of sharing with you a few tips that I have used to help you prep with minimal fuss and hopefully minimal stress, after all, it’s is a day you should be able to enjoy with family and friends!
I usually start working a week or even two before the big event, so all the little prep ahead stuff gets done. Any baked breads get done at least a week before and frozen. This way, Hubby’s family have their Pilgrim’s bread on the table! I also try to purchase anything that’s non-perishable well in advance. In my mind, the prices go up the closer the rush comes, so my mantra of a well stocked pantry really does apply here. If you’re using stuffing cubes, canned vegetables, butter (which I freeze) and eggs, buy them in advance. Eggs will stay fresh and usable for about three weeks when properly sealed in the fridge! A huge tip here, I never buy white potatoes ahead of time, I never have luck keeping them from sprouting before I use them. However, sweet potatoes, I buy weeks in advance and put in the fridge.
This brings us to the week of the big event. I usually start the actual prep the Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. In those days, I use the food processor to chop onions, garlic, vegetables for stuffing, and prep pie dough and freeze it. This way, on the day all you have to do is grab a Ziplock™ and start cooking. Vegetables prepped ahead, in particular onions, should always be kept in containers/bags separate from everything else.
Honestly, if you’re inclined, you can cook pies in advance, or prep them to the point of putting in the oven and wrap well and freeze them. Just remember when you’re cooking them that you would have to loosely cover with foil and add about 10 – 12 minutes to the cooking time, to allow for thawing and prevent the crust from burning. I would discourage thawing them at room temperature, just let the oven do that for you, and keep your counters free of clutter. I have even been known to make pies a month or more in advance, when apples are at their peak, or I see them on sale at the market. I also am a huge advocate of making your own pumpkin puree. Especially after all the Halloween carving. Buy a few extra pie pumpkins, they’re the small to medium size ones you see everywhere. Don’t carve them, just put them out for decoration. Then, once Halloween is over, remove the stem, cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, lay cut side down on a roasting or baking sheet covered in foil and roast them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Putting them cut side down helps to generate steam which will cook them a little faster. Once a knife easily pierces the skin, take them out, let them cool completely and once cool, scrape the innards out of the shell with a spoon. Give it a few pulses in the food processor and voila! Instant pumpkin puree. You can freeze this for months in a bag or container, or keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Then just measure as you would for a pie and forgo the canned stuff! That’s truly homemade!
Speaking again of in advance, I have made the cranberry sauce as far in advance as possible many times. The minute I see the bags of berries in the market, it gets made. And it’s as easy as possible!
1 bag cranberries, pikced through for rocks and white, unripe berries
1 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar (you can not replace this with anything but sugar, no stevia!)
Cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon powdered
In a heavy bottom pan that has a lid, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the cranberries and cinnamon, lower theat to a simmer and cover. Check the mixture and be ready for overflow, it just happens. Once all the berries are starting to pop (you’ll hear it) take the lid off, stir and begin to crush the berries under the liquid, with a slotted spoon. Once they’re all popped, cook for another 5 – 7 minutes, and allow everything to gel. Take it off the heat and let it cool completely, removing the cinnamon stick once it is cool. Isn’t that easy??
You can store them, in a bag or covered container int he fridge, but I usually freeze well ahead of time.
We do all the usual things, stuffing, turkey (see my fool proof one and a half hour 23 lb turkey here) , mashed potatoes, pies. I do do a few different things though, purely because Hubby loves them, and let’s face it, that’s really who I cook for most of the time, so why not make things he enjoys! Item one is roasted cauliflower, and the other is roasted Brussels sprouts. Now, I have to say, these styles of vegetable cooking seem to be very popular these days, but I have been doing them for years, at least 10, so I like to think I started the trend. It’s also super easy. Hot oven, lots of olive oil, tin foil covered baking sheet, salt, garlic (fresh minced, or powdered), cumin. You can omit the cumin for the BS’s but it adds something amazing to the cauliflower, so don’t skimp there! Tip for the Brussels, when you’re paring the base of them, cut a cross into it and roast them whole. Any stray leaves that fall off them just toss them onto the sheet. They’re what I like to call the cooks treat, they roast up super crispy and are delish! When you’re prepping the cauliflower, just cut it into bite sizes, not too big or too small, then for both, douse with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, sprinkle well with salt, cumin and toss or stir everything together so it’s all well covered. Put into a hot oven, 425 or so, and roast for 20 – 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as they cook, make sure they don’t burn outright. You do want to get brown and toasty. Easy as anything and you can serve a room temperature or hot, your choice. Just don’t reheat them, that makes them soggy and yuck.
Mashed potatoes, I do the day of, as close to dinner time as possible, and I don’t ever skimp on the butter and cream. Heat the cream and butter together, if you have time, it’s so worth it!
What have I missed? Oh, the rule at our house is the cook never has to wash the dishes, so be sure all the guests know they will be expected to clear the table and wash up!
Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner my dear American friends, and for those of you not celebrating, try some of theses and come back and let me know how they work for you! As the Hubby’s Aunt Maxine used to say, “Add wine, and it’s a party!”