Whether you are making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time or the 40th, it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the shopping, chopping and roasting. • But so many parts of the holiday meal can be made ahead, significantly reducing the stress level of the host. • Here are 10 items that can be made one or more days in advance, leaving plenty of time to roast the bird, make the gravy and enjoy your guests on Thursday.
Bread dough can be made, shaped and frozen for up to two weeks. "A lot of doughs actually benefit from being frozen," says Romina Rasmussen, chef-owner of Les Madeleines Bakery in Salt Lake City. "If you're a new baker or have a tendency to over-mix, the freezer is your friend. Putting it in the freezer gives the dough time to relax."
2. Pie crust
This is another dough that benefits from a little rest, Rasmussen said. Uncooked pastry dough, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, will keep one to two days in the refrigerator. It also can be frozen for up to three months.
3. Cranberry sauce
Making relish from fresh berries takes just one pan and less than 30 minutes, and the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Dinner is the main event, but it's nice to have something for guests to munch on that doesn't require space in the oven. Hummus and spinach dips can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator until just before serving.
Pureed vegetables soups, such as butternut squash or tomato, will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator. Soups also can be made in advance and placed in the freezer. Simply pour cooled soup into freezer-safe plastic bags or containers, leaving a little room at the top to the liquid to expand. Defrosting will be easier if you freeze soup in several smaller containers rather than one large one. Soups will keep for up to three months. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot or microwave.
The day before the big feast, dry the bread, soften the onions and celery in butter and brown the sausage. Mix it together and keep in the refrigerator. Just before baking, add a little bit of liquid to moisten.
7. Mashed potatoes
"On Thanksgiving morning, you shouldn't be peeling potatoes," Marguerite Henderson said. The cookbook author and cooking instructor peels, cooks and mashes her potatoes the day before the holiday. She keeps them from turning brown by stirring in half-and-half, eggs and cheese. Just before serving, she bakes the dish, which "comes out like a souffle," she said.
8. Sweet potatoes
Steam, then bake and boil them a few days ahead of time. Then just reheat them on the day of the show.
9. Gelatin salad
This is a no-brainer because gelatin must sit overnight to set. As long as the dish is well covered, the gelatin salad can be made two to three days ahead.
10. Turkey stock
"Delicious natural pan gravy is easy to make, but not really that simple," explains chef-owner Frank Brigtsen, of Brigtsen's Restaurant, New Orleans. "Careful timing, good technique and a homemade stock are essential." Brigtsen said his mother's Thanksgiving ritual includes making the turkey stock two to three days before the holiday.
Sources: Marguerite Henderson, Romina Rasmussen, Christina Miller, Frank Brigtsen "Thanksgiving Entertaining" by Williams-Sonoma and "Thanksgiving 101" by Rick Rodgers.