Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner can be hassle-free if you plan ahead. Many Thanksgiving side dishes, for example, such as cranberry sauce, turkey stuffing, and corn bread can be prepared up to three or four weeks in advance and frozen.
Other tasks you can do in advance include drawing up a guest list, preparing a shopping list, cleaning and tidying, polishing the cutlery, cleaning the oven, checking your cooking equipment and utensils, as well as deciding on your table settings and decorations.
Careful planning frees up your time to concentrate on actually cooking the turkey (or alternative) the day of Thanksgiving. Attention to detail beforehand means that you’re ready to roll on Thanksgiving Day and can spend time relaxing with your family and friends!
Preparing a Thanksgiving Dinner: Step-by-Step Guide
|3-4 weeks ahead||Plan Thanksgiving food and wine menu.|
|Make side dishes for freezing.|
|Check out tableware, flatware, table settings and decorations.|
|Start shopping list|
|2 weeks ahead||Order turkey or purchase frozen turkey.|
|Check that you have matching glassware, place settings, etc.|
|1 week ahead||Finalize last minute shopping list.|
|Check cooking and serving utensils.|
|Sharpen knives, polish cutlery, etc.|
|4 days to go||Start defrosting the turkey.|
|Clear fridge space.|
|1 day before||Defrost prepared side dishes, desserts, etc.|
|Purchase fresh floral decorations.|
|Purchase perishable fresh foods, e.g. bread, vegetables, salad items, seafood, fresh cream.|
|Prepare cold appetizers, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.|
|Set table (allow ample elbow room between place settings!).|
|Clean and arrange glassware.|
|Arrange decorations and prepare floral arrangements.|
|Remove turkey giblets and make stock.|
|If preparing brined turkey, make brine and soak bird in brine solution.|
|Thanksgiving Day||Prepare and stuff turkey (do not risk food poisoning by stuffing the turkey in advance!).|
|Calculate cooking time. Place turkey in a preheated oven.|
|Prepare frozen side dishes for cooking, reheating or cold presentation.|
|Remove cooked turkey. Make gravy in the roasting pan using turkey stock for deglazing.|
|Serve, relax, enjoy!|
|After Thanksgiving Dinner||Cover leftover side dishes with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate.|
|Remove remaining turkey from carcass. Use carcass to make stock for soups or sauces.|
|Freeze stock and turkey leftovers in recipe-sized portions.|
Time-saving Side Dishes to Prepare in Advance
For perfect results on the day, the following delicious Thanksgiving recipes can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the freezer:
Baked Potato Purée
Notes: This smooth, light and fluffy potato purée makes a delightful alternative to plain mashed potatoes. Prepare beforehand and freeze.
- 4 lbs large potatoes
- ¼ pint milk (warmed)
- 2 oz butter
- 1 large egg
- Salt and pepper
- Parsley sprigs and lemon slices, for garnish
- Peel potatoes, cut into large chunks, boil in salted water until tender. Drain and mash until smooth.
- Beat in the warm milk, most of the butter and the egg yolk. Season to taste.
- Lightly whisk the egg white until it just holds its shape. Fold into the potato mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into a greased 5-pint shallow ovenproof dish. Dot the top with the remaining butter and sprinkle with ground black pepper.
- Place on lower shelf of oven and bake at 400ºF (200ºC) for about 45 minutes or until browned. Garnish.
Cranberry and Orange Sauce
Notes: A tangy alternative to traditional cranberry sauce, this low-sugar version benefits from the natural sweetness of fresh oranges.
- 1 lb fresh cranberries
- Flesh of 1 large orange, diced
- Zest of 1 large orange, grated
- 5 fluid oz fresh orange juice (or sufficient for simmering)
- 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 1 to 2 tbsp Cointreau or preferred orange liqueur
- Wash cranberries and place in heavy-based saucepan. Wash orange and pat dry. Grate zest and add to pan.
- Remove orange pith (the white, spongy layer of the peel), cut flesh into small pieces, and add to pan.
- Add sugar and orange juice to ingredients in pan.
- Bring just to boiling point, then reduce temperature immediately. Simmer over gentle heat until sauce thickens to a fairly smooth consistency. Add liqueur mid-way through simmering.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. Freeze in a rigid freezer container.
How to Cheat at Preparing Thanksgiving Desserts!
While making traditional homemade pumpkin pie is certainly worth the effort if you have the time, it is not an ideal dessert for preparing in advance because it doesn’t freeze well. Opt instead for a dessert that is suitable for freezing, such as seasonal fruit tart, pie or cheesecake.
On Thanksgiving Day, all you will have to do is defrost before serving. Better still why not cheat with a ready-made gourmet blueberry cheesecake or other freezable dessert? After all, if you’ve gone to the trouble of making all the accompanying Thanksgiving side dishes from scratch, you can surely get away with cheating on desserts!
Add your own decorations to personalize the dish: try fresh fruit or berries, whipped cream, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or a fruit puree drizzle. Your guests will be none the wiser!