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Nov 6, 2011 06:13 PM

Started planning your T-Day menu? What do you do ahead?

I don't have a lot of menu planning duties. We have, pretty much, the same traditional meal every year. So my planning comes down to my shopping, negotiating fridge and freezer real estate and tackling my do aheads.

For me, this year, the do aheads will be bread for the stuffing (it has the herbs baked in), pie crusts, soup base, dough for a cheese cracker, gravy, the ice cream base, the layers for a cake and the caramel sauce for the icing. When I get those ready I'm free to concentrate on the stuff that's done on T-Day or the day before. And that's important to me because everything we have for Thanksgiving is made from scratch.

Today I got started on applesauce for the cake batter, squash purée for the soup base and roasted turkey parts for the gravy.

How about you guys? What do you do ahead? What have you begun? When do you start getting serious?

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  1. I provide the fresh cranberry relish for my daughter's Thanksgiving dinner. I like to play with my food. Instead of water, I use orange juice and an alcoholic beverage for the liquid amount suggested on the product bag. The beverage could be vodka, marsala or madeira. I make it a couple of days ahead just so that I can taste it before bringing it to my daughter's home. If it doesn't meet with my approval, I make a second batch using a different alcoholic beverage.

    1 Reply
    1. I try to do as much ahead as possible in order to stay sane the day of. My chest freezer is my friend!

      I've already made the stock for the stuffing and the gravy (the gravy just needs the last minute addition of roasted shallots that I puree and stir in. I've made the Thai red curry squash soup that will be one of the hors d'oeuvres (served in espresso cups).

      I did a test run of another app yesterday: ham and gruyere thumbprints with fig jam. I'll make the "real" batch next weekend and freeze those to be warmed up right before people arrive.

      I'll also make a mushroom broth this week to freeze, which will be used for the mushroom bourgignon that will be the vegetarian main.

      3 days ahead: buy all the groceries!

      2 days ahead: spatchcock the turkey and dry brine it. I'll make the spicy caramel popcorn, wonton shells (to be filled the day of) and bourbon-cranberry sauce, and I'll cube the bread to dry for stuffing.

      1 day ahead: This year I'm going to try doing mashed potatoes the day before, then warm them with a lot of butter in my slow cooker the day of. Others seem to have success with this, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. I also prep all of the veggies: julienne the Brussels sprouts, caramelize the shallots, cut up the cauliflower, cube the sweet potatoes. blanch the green beans, chop the onions and celery for the stuffing and roast the shallots and garlic for the gravy. Basically, it's all the easy stuff that is time consuming. All the raw veggies go into large ziplock bags in the fridge and makes the cooking on Thanksgiving day way easier.

      Whew. I totally love Thanksgiving, but it really is a lot of work! Fortunately, my husband is a great sous chef and partner in crime, and he'll do a lot of the clean up and the running around (picking up the ham, the rentals, ice, arranging the floral centerpieces, etc.).

      2 Replies
      1. re: TorontoJo

        Sounds GREAT!

        Would you share your recipes for the gruyere thumbprints with fig jam and the spicy caramel corn?

        With a name like TorontoJo didn't you already do this a month ago? ;>

        1. re: rainey

          Ha, yes, I had my Canadian Thanksgiving last month. But I started life as ChicagoJo, so U.S. Thanksgiving is very near and dear to my heart. It's also a wonderful excuse to have a party in Toronto and share lots of food with friends. And since it's not a holiday in Canada, there's rarely conflict with other engagements. :)

          The popcorn is from a NY Times recipe that smittenkitchen wrote about (I use the full amount of cayenne, otherwise I find the spice gets a little lost):

          And the thumbprints are a Martha Stewart recipe that I just tried out this past weekend. They are basically modified gougeres:

          I added a dollop of fig jam to the thumbprint area after baking, and it really, really improves the dish. I froze the batch after baking and tested them warmed up after freezing and they are just as good. So it's perfect for a make-ahead app (they're also super cute, even if you don't use the star tip in the pastry bag). I may play with the cheeses in my next batch, I think I'd like something a little stronger in addition to the gruyere, so I may add some blue or gorgonzola to the mix. And I actually found the ham to be fairly negligible in the final result, so I may just leave it out altogether, or use something with a stronger flavor, like pancetta or prosciutto.

      2. The weekend before I bake bread for my stuffing, make cranberry sauce and stock if I don't already have it in the freezer, make any freezable apps (olive-cheese balls, typically). Occasionally I'll make pie dough and freeze it as well. I usually get most of what I need for the big event on a big grocery run that weekend too.

        I usually start dry brining the turkey on Monday night or Tuesday. Finally, on Wednesday morning I go to the grocery store once more to pick up any odds and ends I've forgotten, and then spend the whole day in the kitchen so that I don't have much to do on Thursday. I make all of my stuffing components (sauteed mirepoix, roasted fennel and shallots, sauteed sausage), pie crust if I haven't made it already, no-knead bread dough, prep for any other vegetable sides (usually cutting brussels sprouts), peel potatoes and store them in water, etc.

        If I'm making pumpkin pie I do it Wednesday evening because DH likes it well chilled - I sometimes do my apple pie the night before as well, and just let it sit out overnight. This year I prepped my apples for apple pie weeks ago - shortly after we made our big orchard trip I peeled and pre-cooked them and stuck them in the freezer, so that will cut down on my Wednesday workload considerably.

        1. I am trying to get stuff done ahead of time since I have two big meals back to back (Thanksgiving for 32 which I am cooking at my folks half an hour away and a Chinese banquet for 45 Friday at my house). I have the pie crust done, am working of the reduction of the turkey stock that I will use for gravy. The menu is at my folks for approval. My brother brings the two turkeys on Wednesday so I will try to get one roasted that night by breaking it down into pieces and boning the breast. I will get all the veggies prepped over that weekend- brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, turnips, pumpkin/butternut squash, and onions. I will make the pecan and lemon tarts on Wednesday. I usually make a list with all steps for each dish, consolidating things like all the onions to be chopped for all dishes etc. That I will do next weekend!

          5 Replies
          1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

            I can feel the fatigue setting in, espectially having to cook on the Friday.

            I always make the broth (and if time, gravy) the prior weekend, as well as cranberry sauce.
            Various pickles are in the pantry. as is mincemeat. Pie crust is prepared ahead and frozen, when possible. Shopping is completed on the weekend, (except for the Turkey picked up Ties, the cheeses, delivered Tues or Wed.) I dont like to sacrifice flavor of preparing much else ahead, so always allow the prior day (Wed) for serious cooking

            silverware is cleaned on the weekend too. this year I have a big dinner party on the preceding Saturday, so hopefully all the decorating, and related taskw will be ready early this year. There is nothing like a pre-party to help with this.

            1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

              A Chinese banquet for 45 people the day after Thanksgiving? You are a brave, brave soul. Or a masochist. ;) Friday after Thanksgiving is usually spent in a total vegetative state at my house, and heating up leftovers is the extent of my exertion.

              Good luck! I would actually love to hear about your Chinese banquet menu, though I don't want to hijack this thread.

              1. re: TorontoJo

                The Chinese banquet started years ago when my mother was doing most of Thanksgiving and I was just contributing a dish or two (pie crusts since otherwise she would use Jiffy mix!). It has become such a family tradition that my cousin's kids call Thanksgiving "Chinese eve". One of the best parts is that we have a bunch of people come and help do the prep work. Especially helpful is my nephew who went to culinary school! My family doesn't celebrate Christmas so this is our big holiday. Everyone comes and stays for a few nights.

                1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                  That sounds wonderful! Quirky family traditions are the best. I used to love Christmas day because it was "Chinese hot pot dinner day".

              2. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                Holy moley! You should get a medal!

                I guess advance prep must be a life saver for you!