Two Sisters Cook: Make ahead Thanksgiving

Published 11:46 am Monday, November 6, 2017

A few years go my sister and I planned to have Thanksgiving together. It quickly mushroomed into dinner for 12. When the November issue of Southern Living arrived, we felt it had been written for us, as the cover photograph of a brown, crisp turkey carried the headline, “A Make Ahead Thanksgiving Feast.” We thought, “This is perfect. We won’t be spending all our time in the kitchen trying to be sure everything comes out at the right time. We can actually enjoy the holiday with our guests.” As the holiday approached we used the recommended schedule for several of the traditional dishes.

One Month Ahead:

Make Ahead Gravy

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Lucy: The recipe calls for chicken stock. I always make my own stock. When I buy a deli roasted chicken from Ingles, I save the bones to make my stock and throw in some carrots, onions, and celery for extra flavor.

Linda: Well, I think about doing that but time gets away from me. If the recipe calls for stock, I buy Swanson’s. But this recipe for gravy seems really simple and I love that we make it ahead and freeze it until a few days before we need it.

Southern Living’s Make Ahead Gravy Recipe:

½ cup butter

½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup chopped yellow onion

4 to 5 cups chicken stock (home made or store bought)

1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. While stirring, sprinkle flour over onions. Cook stirring constantly, two minutes or until flour is golden brown.

2. Gradually whisk in four cups stock. Cook, stirring often, five minutes or just until mixture comes to a boil and is smooth and thick. If too thick add up to one more cup of stock.

3. Season with salt and pepper. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Pour cooled gravy into quart size ziptop freezer bags. Seal and lay bags flat on a baking sheet. Place in freezer. Once frozen, bags can be stacked. Thaw in the refrigerator three to four days before the dinner. Reheat on stovetop.

Three Weeks Ahead:

Your Favorite Dressing Recipe

Linda: Usually I like a cubed stuffing mix. I especially like the one at Fresh Market.

Lucy: I prefer Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned stuffing. It’s more crumbly, and I only add onions and celery.

Linda: I learned from my mother-in-law to add raisins. I know that sounds weird but it seems bland without them. You soak them for about 15 minutes in very hot water to plump them up. Or sometimes I do Craisins instead. I like to cook Jimmy Dean sausage to spice up the mix, and sometimes add apples and pecans. My mother-in-law also added a hard-boiled egg, but I draw the line there. I don’t want eggs in my stuffing.

Lucy: But some old recipes did call for raw eggs to be mixed in to hold it together.

Directions to freeze ahead:

Make your favorite dressing. Freeze the unbaked mixture in ziptop bags, making sure to press out all the excess air. Thaw in refrigerator four days before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving day, place in greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes or until done and top is light brown.

Two to Three Days Ahead:

Make your favorite mashed potato recipe. Place in greased casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Thanksgiving day, remove casserole from fridge, uncover, and bake in oven along with the dressing.

Lucy: My friend Pat in Tampa likes to make her mashed potatoes adding about eight ounces of creamed cheese for 12 servings. (Let the cream cheese come to room temperature before putting it into the mashed potatoes)

Linda: Mmmm. That sounds good. Maybe even herbed cream cheese would add a little different flavor.

Everyone has a special dish that they must have if Thanksgiving dinner is going to be complete. Green Bean Casserole is always a favorite, or a sweet potato dish could make the meal.

Linda: Some people go to great lengths to make cranberry relish, but for me, just put a can of Ocean Spray in the fridge and serve it chilled.

Lucy: My must have dish is Strawberry Nut Jello Salad. It was our mother’s favorite and I made it every Thanksgiving. It has strawberries, bananas, nuts and sour cream.

Linda: Yes, I remember that you made it for our dinner for 12. I really don’t like bananas so avoided it. But when we asked everyone for their favorite dish, the Jello salad won.

Lucy: And it goes along with the make ahead theme since it can be made the day before you serve it.

Strawberry Nut Salad

1 12-ounce package strawberry Jello

2 cups boiling water

2 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries in juice

1 1 pound 4 ounce can crushed pineapple

3 mashed ripe bananas

1 cup chopped nuts

1 pint sour cream

In large bowl mix Jello with the boiling water and stir until dissolved. Add the strawberries and juice. Drain the pineapple and add to the Jello with bananas and nuts. Stir to combine.

Put half of mixture in a 13” x 9” pan or a Jello mold. Put into the refrigerator and let set for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Then spread sour cream over the Jello and gently spoon the remainder of the Jello over the sour cream. Chill until set, about an hour and a half. This can be made a day in advance of serving. 

I hope we’ve given some helpful tips for preparing your Thanksgiving feast. Once guests arrive, it’s always fun to add a conversation starter to the holiday. Decorate a glass jar or vase with fall leaves or ribbon. Using orange and yellow construction paper, cut some shapes to look like maple and oak leaves. Provide everyone with a pen and have them write down what they are thankful for this year. Place all the notes in the jar. When everyone is seated at the table, pass the jar around and have each person draw out a leaf and read the note.