Food & Drink

Much of the Thanksgiving feast can be prepared beforehand

Stuffing starts with bread: It can take a number of forms, clockwise starting from upper left: herb cubes, herb crumb, country-style cubes and cornbread-style.
Stuffing starts with bread: It can take a number of forms, clockwise starting from upper left: herb cubes, herb crumb, country-style cubes and cornbread-style. The Associated Press

Let’s face it, our national day of feasting features multiple dishes, all of which require different cooking times, temperatures and techniques. But there are people who cook this way all the time: professional chefs.

The pros say that all but a few critical items can be made in advance:

▪  Green vegetables

Parboil your vegetables the night before, shock (cool) them in ice water, then store them in the refrigerator. On Thanksgiving, reheat them just before serving in a sauté pan with olive oil or her butter, says Rick Rodgers, author of “The Big Book of Sides.”

▪  Gravy

Roast turkey wings, legs and necks a few days in advance and simmer them into a rich stock. You can stop here – or scrape the browned bits from the bottom of your roasting pan to complete it.

▪  Sweet potatoes

Mashed sweet potatoes with a meringue topping can be made almost wholly in advance, Rodgers says. But even roasted sweet potatoes can be cooked in advance, says Patti Jackson, of New York’s Delaware and Hudson restaurant, and rewarmed in a glaze of bourbon, brown sugar and orange juice.

▪  Stuffing

So here’s your big revelation:. While many chefs agree that the celery, onions and meat can all be cooked ahead and tossed with your bread chunks on Thanksgiving morning, Suzette Gresham of San Francisco’s Acquerello says you can make the entire stuffing ahead of time. And freeze it.

“Nobody seems to realize you can freeze your stuffing beautifully,” she says. “I do the full-on butter, milk, dried bread, sausage, but I freeze that puppy a week ahead.” She advises freezing the stuffing in small bundles to hasten defrosting. Let the bundles defrost slowly, then stuff the bird.

Other do-aheads:

▪ Casseroles or gratins that can be refrigerated, then put in the oven while the turkey is resting;

▪ The cranberry sauce, Jello mold, relish tray or any other cold dish;

▪ Pies and rolls that just need a little warming.

Make-ahead mashed potato casserole

Start to finish: 1 hour

Serves 10

“Anyone who has had to make a mountain of mashed potatoes for a big holiday dinner knows that it can be quite a mad dash to get the potatoes on the table in a timely manner. When faced with a crowd, I prepare this casserole the day before and bake it with the other side dishes,” Rick Rodgers writes in his new cookbook, “The Big Book of Sides” (Ballantine, $30, 480 pages).


5 pounds baking potatoes (such as russets), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (6 tablespoons at room temperature, 2 tablespoons cut into small cubes), plus extra

Kosher salt and ground black or white pepper


Place the potatoes in a large pot, then add enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Add a generous spoonful of salt, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Set the lid ajar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the potatoes at a steady simmer until they are barely tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes well.

Return the potatoes to the pot. Cook them over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the potatoes begin to film the bottom of the pot, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese. Using a handheld electric mixer, whip the potatoes until the cream cheese melts. Add the sour cream, milk and the 6 tablespoons room temperature butter. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Use a bit of butter to lightly coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Transfer the potatoes to the baking dish, smoothing the top. Dot the top of the casserole with the 2 tablespoons of cubed butter. Let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before the final baking.

When ready to reheat, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover the casserole. Bake it until the top is lightly browned and the casserole is heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Per serving: 390 calories; 190 calories from fat (49 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (13 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 45 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 6 g protein; 300 mg sodium.

Back-to-basics stuffing

Start to finish: 90 minutes

Serves 8

Recipe from Sara Moulton for The Associated Press. If you want to freeze the stuffing ahead, make any additions, then freeze the mixture in several small containers or in small plastic freezer bags inside a large freezer bag. Let them defrost slowly before stuffing the bird or baking the casserole.


For the stuffing base:

1 pound firm white, home-style sandwich bread

1/2cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

1 cup finely diced celery

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

2 to 3 cups turkey or chicken stock

Salt and ground black pepper

Possible additions:

2 apples, cored, diced, briefly sautéed in butter

1/2pound sweet Italian sausages, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or almonds

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup coarsely chopped roasted chestnuts


Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes, then arrange the cubes in single layers on 3 baking sheets.Bake the bread cubes until the edges are dried but the centers are still moist, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When the bread is nearly done, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables and butter to a large bowl. Stir in the sage, thyme, toasted bread and enough of the stock to moisten the bread. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in any additions desired.

If cooking inside the turkey, transfer the mixture to the bird’s cavity and roast. If baking as a separate dish, stir in additional broth, then transfer to a baking dish coated with cooking spray, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 20 minutes.

Fresh (uncooked) cranberry sauce and variations

Did you know cranberries also shine in raw sauces? Though these really are more of a relish or salsa, they are just as delicious.

Raw cranberry sauces are great with the usual turkey and sides, but also can do double duty as a starter served with tortilla chips or spooned over a cream cheese or warm brie and paired with slices of baguette.


One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt


Combine everything in a food processor – along with a selection below – and pulse until well chopped. Serve cold.

Mojito: Add the zest and juice from 2 limes and 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves. Stir in 1 tablespoon light rum.

Melba: Add a 10-ounce bag of thawed frozen peaches and 6 ounces fresh raspberries.

Smoky chipotle: Add 1 minced chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 2 cloves garlic.

Ruby citrus: Add zest of 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime. After processing, stir in 1 cup chopped red grapefruit segments.

Herbed: Add 3 tablespoons each of chopped fresh chives, tarragon, basil, parsley and cilantro.