Thursday, November 15, 2012

Countdown To Turkey Day: Make-Ahead Recipes

Thanksgiving at our house requires a plan.  Or else, disaster will surely follow.  At least in my mind, anyway.

Although, the only time we actually had a disaster was years ago when the power went out during a freak storm just after the turkey went in the oven and we had to scrounge our dinner from a local grocery store which, mercifully, had a leftover complete dinner that someone else never showed up to claim.  It was the year that our wonderful foreign exchange student from Germany, Elli, was living with us and my grand plan was to give her a real, American Thanksgiving feast.

Instead we got meal from a box.  But it wasn't horrible and at least it didn't come with a side of salmonella that a half-warmed turkey that sat in the oven all day waiting for electricity would surely have had.

Since that year, though?  I have been a little crazy about planning ahead and trying to get a few dishes completed before the day...just in case.

That served me well last year, when I had to have surgery to remove melanoma from my back. For my quick and dirty semi-homemade Thanksgiving feast the easy way plan from last year, you can take a peek at this post.

This year, I won't have ginormous stitches in my back and have to sit a lot while cooking -- I consider that a plus.  So many things to be thankful for this year, but that really is near the top of the list.

If you need a timeline as a basic guide to how your week might go, I have one here.  It can be easily modified to what you want for your family dinner, but this is kind of how I throw my meal together over the course of a week so that on Thanksgiving morning, my life isn't completely insane for hours on end.  I also realized that I forgot to add pies into the original timeline -- I make those the day before Thanksgiving and get them fully baked so I won't need the oven space for them -- but never before that or certain persons in my house nibble them into oblivion (and you know who you are, pumpkin pie loving husband!).

When I have time to fully plan this out, it really makes the meal and the day a much more fun one for me -- which means that it is nicer for everyone in the house, too.

In the past, I've shared a few of my tried and true recipes, all of which can be made ahead and some have been family recipes for a few generations (with a little tweaking here and there due to product morphing over the years).  Thought it might be useful to gather links to all of those recipes in one place for all of you:

-- This is my recipe for make-ahead rich and delicious turkey stock.  In my mind, this makes everything else work for your meal, because I incorporate this into my stuffing, my gravy and for basting to help keep the turkey moist while it is cooking.  Having a richly flavored stock makes a world of difference in how everything else tastes, and it is well worth the effort to make just this one thing ahead of time.  The one thing I cannot stand is bland gravy -- a good stock truly can make all the difference here.

-- Here's the recipe I then use for make-ahead gravy.  I add sauteed shallots and some freshly ground black pepper to mine, too.  It is wonderful.  This gets made the night before and popped in the fridge for re-heating.  To it, I add some drippings from the turkey once it is fully cooked, and that really brings the richness full circle.  Yummmmm...I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

-- Here is the recipe for my Granny's fresh cranberry and orange salad.  It isn't a holiday meal for me without it.  Definitely a make-ahead miracle, and something I could honestly eat pretty much every day from now until New Year's.  This link also contains several other links to possible side dish options and other holiday goodies.

--This is the recipe for my Granny's dressing.  She always called it stuffing, but mine goes into a separate pan and not into the bird, and so dressing it is.  Technically, it isn't quite Granny's recipe any longer, either, because I've tweaked it a bit with fresh herbs and some additional veggies ground into a fine chop and sauteed, but it is inspired by the original and I miss my Granny around the holidays, so it stays her version in my mind regardless.

If you have some tips and tricks that you use for Thanksgiving -- or any of your holiday meals -- I'd love to hear them!  Please share in the comments.

(Photo via Melinda Taber.)

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