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Thanksgiving Make-Aheads

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This site is exactly what I needed. I have a horse ranch in the middle of nowhere - 36 mi. from the closest grocery store. I have one electric oven and one outdoor wood-burning stove. I have 60 people coming for a pot-luck Thanksgiving. The weekend before, we will "process" our own 4 turkeys and the days before I will be preparing all of the standard TG dishes. Thanks to these boards I've picked up quite a few hints for make-aheads. Is anyone else out there doing a "rural" dinner?

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  1. Sounds like a nice (though hectic!) Thanksgiving. I'm having a plain old boring suburban Thanksgiving but you might enjoy reading, and commiserating with the Pioneer Woman:

    http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/

    Good luck with it all! I'd love to hear how you're cooking four turkeys in one oven.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      (My internet connection is sporadic at best hence the delay.) The 4 turkeys will be in 4 electric roasters, all outside in the cowboy kitchen. The remainder of the traditional dishes will be cooked in the electric and wood stove ovens then transferred to slow cookers. Rolls will be kept warm in the old oven. The guests will bring pies and whatever else. That's the plan anyway. We have a 30' canopy just in case the weather turns, which it may well do - this morning we awoke to snow on the mountains, highly unusual for early Nov. I'm not as concerned about the food as I am about the weather, but several fire pits and plenty of "spirits" should keep everyone comfortable. We're all used to braving the elements.

    2. I've got a great gravy that not only is mostly make-ahead, but stands on its own if you don't get good drippings. And Grandma's creamed onions are fantastic make-ahead, plus make the turkey pot pie leftovers pretty darn good, as well.

      10 Replies
      1. re: katecm

        I would love your gravy recipe and the creamed onions, a favorite of my mother.

        1. re: katecm

          I'd love to have your gravy and creamed onion recipes! Thanks so much in advance!

          1. re: katecm

            I have a make-ahead turkey gravy too that I've adapted from a recipe from barbara c on this list. I mostly make it the night ahead because the hostess one year served canned turkey gravy and I said "never again." My SO makes a brined turkey most years now and I have just gotten into the groove of making the gravy ahead. Thought the brining would make the gravy too salty. Not sure that's true, but now we have plenty of gravy for leftovers. This recipe calls for turkey wings. I've used a combination of wings, turkey thighs and necks. Sometimes I make a little turkey broth ahead to use with this instead of the chickien broth. I'll want to see katecm's recipe to see what I can adapt. Here's the recipe I've been using:

            Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

            4 Turkey Wings, about 3 lb.
            2 Medium Onions, peeled and quartered
            1 Cup Water
            8 Cups Chicken Broth
            3/4 Cup Chopped Carrot
            1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
            3/4 Cup All-purpose Flour
            2 Tablespoons Butter or Margarine
            1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper

            Planning Tip: Make up to 3 months ahead and freeze in an airtight container. Refrigerate 2 days to thaw. Reheat in a saucepan, whisking often.

            1. Heat oven to 400°F. Have ready a large roasting pan.

            2. Arrange wings in a single layer in pan; scatter onions over top. Roast 1-1/4 hours until wings are browned.

            3. Put wings and onions in a 5 to 6-qt pot. Add water to roasting pan and stir to scrape up any brown bits on bottom. Add to pot. Add 6 cups broth (refrigerate remaining 2 cups), the carrot and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 1-1/2 hours.

            4. Remove wings to cutting board. When cool, pull off skin and meat. Discard skin; save meat for another use.

            5. Strain broth into a 3-qt saucepan, pressing vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables; skim fat off broth and discard (if time permits, refrigerate broth overnight to make fat-skimming easier).

            6. Whisk flour into remaining 2 cups broth until blended and smooth.

            7. Bring broth in pot to a gentle boil. Whisk in broth-flour mixture and boil 3 to 4 minutes to thicken gravy and remove floury taste. Stir in butter and pepper. Serve, or pour into containers and refrigerate up to 1 week or freeze up to 6 months. Makes 8 cups.

            1. re: karykat

              karykat, perfect, thanks so much! All saved and ready to print for my files.

              1. re: karykat

                Looks great, but not to worry, brined, rinsed and cooked turkey does not make salty juices... I've used it for gravy and needed to add salt. But I mostly deep fry the turkey now, so recipes for premade are always nice.

                1. re: mcf

                  That's pretty much the same gravy recipe, though I also add a lot of white wine and instead of the wings, I use the neck and giblets. The flavor is unbelievable.

                  For the onions, the trick is to use the jarred cocktail onions - NOT fresh or frozen - and then just stir them into a basic bechamel. I tried with fresh ones one year and they didn't keep the nice textural bite of the jarred ones. Strain them well. Melt butter in your pan, sprinkling on an equal volume of flour, and stir until the flour is cooked a bit. Pour in while milk, whisk until it is nice and thick, then season liberally with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Stir in the onions and let them sit on a double boiler or on super-low for a long time so the flavor permeates the sauce. It's embarrassingly easy, but it's delicious and I do confess to using the onion-flavored bechamel as an alternate gravy.

                  1. re: katecm

                    Thanks so much - I love the fact that it's easy AND delicious.

                2. re: karykat

                  Although I've made most elements of the Thanksgiving Day meal before, I've never made gravy from scratch. My husband likes the dripping straight-up - is that weird? Anyway, I've never taken the time to make real gravy before since it is usually just the two of us. Made this recipe yesterday in anticipation of a busy cooking day on Thursday and it turned out fantastic! Thanks so much.

                  I also made an easy turkey noodle soup that went over well with football-watchers from the excess wing meat. A ton of gravy and soup for 4 from 4$ in wing meat is a definitely win-win for me.

                  1. re: apl222

                    Bravo!

                3. re: katecm

                  Count me in on wanting those too.

                4. Wow. That sounds challenging! Good thing it's a potluck with such limited cooking space. I'm not terribly rural, but I'm a marine ecologist who studies life in the tidepool zone, so I have to be out working from 2-7 about an hour away on the coast on T-day because the low tide is at 4:30pm. That means I'm doing all make-ahead this year and trying to figure out how to set my oven to turn on automatically and get going on the turkey. The breast will be covered in butter-dipped cheesecloth to self-baste and tented with foil. Luckily, standard fare for TG is very make-ahead friendly. I'll just come home, finish off the turkey, and pop everything in the oven for the last hour or so whilst washing tiny critters and algae out of my hair-- and presto! Thanksgiving! (At least in theory.)

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: LJR

                    Good hint - butter-dipped cheesecloth for self-basting. I'd planned to use cooking bags but have been told they can't be used in electric roasters. I'm not a big fan of plastic anyway. Somehow I'll make it through this and it'll go down in local history as either the best T'giving ever, to be repeated annually, or the biggest disaster ever. Either way it'll generate some good stories.

                    1. re: barxhorseranch

                      Actually, we use a combo of wine and butter-soaked cheesecloth. One bottle of wine to (if you dare) 1 lb. butter, you can use less. The extra liquid from the wine not only keeps the bottom of the pan moist, but is also a great flavoring for the gravy AND, the best of all, extends the gravy tremendously. We also roast a couple of turkey legs and wings ( you may want to use 10 -12 of each) w/ onion, celery, carrot, into stock and freeze. This also serves as a great base for gravy. If you don't have enough fat from the turkey, use 1 T butter or other fat to 1T flour, cook into a roux and add 1 C liquid. In our house, the turkey is really just the source for the gravy...

                      1. re: berkleybabe

                        Excellent! Have already frozen some turkey legs / wings to start the gravy, hoping to get to that next week. I like the idea of adding wine to the butter - minus a small amount for tasting, of course. I have a small plot of red onions which must be pulled very soon. How would reds work as the onions for stock?

                        1. re: barxhorseranch

                          We killed the turkeys on Saturday. The 3 toms dressed out at around 45 pounds each and the hen about 35. Had to cut them in half so they'll fit into the electric roasters. I'll start cooking them Wed. morning.

                          1. re: barxhorseranch

                            Wow. How many will be eating? (Maybe you said earlier.)

                            This will be a huge feast.

                            1. re: karykat

                              Yep, a huge one. Actually I'm not even sure how it all happened. Originally 60 guests, a few cancellations, now down to 51. I always associate red onions with salads, but will definitely be trying them in the dressing!

                          2. re: barxhorseranch

                            Red onions will work fine.

                          3. re: berkleybabe

                            I use a combo of thawed orange juice concentrate and margarine soaked cheesecloth. Gives a great flavor to the turkey