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Portable Thanksgiving

I know it might be a little early, but I really like to plan in advance. This year, my husband and I are going to spend Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's. Since she always has so much going on, we would like to be able to bring Thanksgiving dinner so she won't have to worry about it. The problem is she lives about 2.5 hours away, and I'm worried about make-ahead dishes. I hate reheating in the microwave, but I never seem to have much luck with reheating in the oven =/

Any tips, inspiration, or good make ahead recipes would be much appreciated (especially any concerning Brussels sprouts ^-^)

Some things to consider:

We can usually not stay more than 1 day due to our own work and school schedules

My MIL has a very small, basic kitchen (she doesn't really cook)

My hubs also has a teenage daughter who is sweet and wonderful, but I've only seen her eat French fries, or pizza. Any inspiration for something she'd want to eat would a serious bonus! =)

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  1. I know it isn't cooking, but lots of grocery stores do the whole deal for you--turkey, sides and dessert. Or just get the turkey, and prep the sides at home for cooking just before dinner.

    1. Yes to the grocery response. Also, some Honeybaked Ham stores and Boston Markets (don't know where in the US you are) are open on the holiday itself for orders and pick ups, too, and prepare the whole shootin' match, from sides to main to dessert.

      1. I would maybe put the turkey and the stuffing in the oven on a high heat for just a few minutes, then cover with foil. They should both retain the heat long enough to stay warm untill you serve it. Although I love homeade mashed potatoes, the Country Crock ones are actually pretty good, and microwave in about five minutes. Gravy can go on the stovetop on low until you are ready, cranberry sauce is make ahead and should be room temp. And here's my awesome brussel sprout recipe, I've made it for Thanksgiving before and it's a hit!


        2 Replies
        1. how many people are you feeding? is it just the 4 of you? you may want to consider just cooking turkey "parts", like a breast and a leg, which will cook faster and not have to worry about the reheating.

          are you planning to cook anything on-site, or do you want to bring everything already cooked? do you have a cooler? they work to keep foods hot too if you are cooking at your house before the drive.

          people are "funny" about t-day foods, so i don't like recommending specific dishes, lol. your green bean mushroom soup casserole is another person's poison, ya know? ;)

          if you want to reheat foods like stuffing, you need to make them wetter than you normally would.

          roasted potatoes reheat better than do mashed, imo.

          with a small kitchen and oven plan on some cold or room temp foods so you're not killing yourself over oven/stove space.

          i've made a shaved brussel sprout salad that has been a huge hit -- even with brussel haters. dressed simply with a vinaigrette of orange blossom water and finished with shaved carrots and almonds.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I was probably just going to cook a breast or two. It will be us four + our 2 year old son (who eats like a teenager! Haha), and my MIL's boyfriend. My husband's little brother and sister might come, with their own boy/girlfriend, but you never know with them. I'd like to have extra in case they come.

            Thanks for the tips!

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Oh, and yes, we have a plastic cooler. And we're okay with cooking on-site, but we'd like to keep it short and sweet. In that case, I'd like to have all the prep done before we leave our place.

            2. What are your idea of the perfect "must have" Thanksgiving day foods? It sounds like turkey is a must, what other dishes? Cut your menu down to the bare minimum of what you need to bring and we can help you work on reinventing those dishes to make them portable.

              Somebody mentioned using a cooler to keep things hot, which is a great idea. An additional option would be to pick up a "portable oven". They kind of work like a large Crock-Pot. Roast the turkey or turkey breasts at home in your regular oven and transport in the portable oven. Then just plug in the portable oven when you arrive and heat the turkey through. A portable oven doesn't dry out the food as much as reheating it in a standard oven. I have also made mashed potatoes and transported them in a Crock-pot to keep warm.

              If you like to make your own gravy, I suggest adding a few turkey legs or wings to the pan when roasting the breasts so you get some extra fat and flavor. Make the gravy at home and bring it to your MIL's.

              As for the teenage daughter that won't eat anything, how about Mac and Cheese? Here in North Carolina everybody serves Mac and Cheese for Thanksgiving. (I'm from New Jersey, and we never had mac and cheese for holidays.)

              For Brussels sprouts, roasted ones keep and reheat better than boiled. There is a Food Network recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with walnuts and bacon (I think Bobby Flay) that I have made many times and taken to other people's homes. Can be reheated on the stove-top or in the oven.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Springhaze2

                I can't say that I have perfect T-Day foods. My mom is from OK and always made things like corn pudding and green bean casserole... Not a fan, to be honest. I just generally want foods that are autumn/Thanksgiving-ish.

                Mac and cheese is a great idea! I also am born-and-raised NJ, and never thought of that as a T-Day side dish =P

                1. re: ilawjakul

                  My point was not "perfect" but what are the "must have" dishes?

                  For example in my family from NJ, for my parent's generation, a "bare bones" Thanksgiving would include:
                  -Homemade gravy from the pan drippings.
                  -stuffing/dressing (my mom cooked "stuffing" in the bird, I make "dressing" and bake it in a pan.)
                  -Mashed potatoes
                  -A basic fresh cooked green veggie - like fresh green beans (steamed or boiled) or peas (either fresh or frozen)
                  -Cranberry sauce (I make fresh whole berry sauce, my mom used canned.)
                  -Candied sweet potatoes.
                  -One cruciferous vegetable - broccoli, cauliflower, turnips or brussels sprouts served with either cheese sauce or a basic white cream sauce.
                  -If somebody in the party was a fussy eater we might include corn. (frozen)

                  Most basic desserts are apple pie and pumpkin pie.

                  Again, my question is what do you want to establish as the basic "what haves"?

                  Some of my favorite Thanksgiving Dinners are when I have taken the basics and turned them gourmet. Even when we made it just for two of us.

              2. Get additional styrofoam coolers, which are cheap, or some better-constructed insulated grocery totes (which will be useful for shopping). Get some bricks. Wrap them in aluminum foil, dull side out. Heat them in your oven on low heat for a couple of hours before heading to MIL's, then place them, wrapped in newspaper or towels, into the coolers. They'll keep hot food safely and uniformly hot for many hours.

                As for the picky teen, have a few grinder rolls and some lettuce, tomato, cooked bacon, mayo, etc. She can have a turkey sub if she won't eat anything else.

                1. Here would be my plan...

                  Do a deconstructed turkey: The entire breast is plunked over a pile of dressing, and the legs/thighs are laid along side. The turkey can be cut up at home and brought in cooler, I would likely bring all of the dressing components and mix on site, but could like be done in the morning an also brought. This will cook in less than 2 hours.

                  Use the turkey back, etc to make fabulous broth, make gravy ahead and reheat on stove.

                  Make a casserole dish at home (green bean casserole.. which might even be liked by the teenager.. or winter squash gratin, mac and cheese) and cook. The turkey won't take up the whole oven!

                  A simple vegetable... a salad from a bag, frozen peas, etc.

                  Cranberry sauce (easy to bring). I have quit doing rolls for Thanksgiving, but a good filler for the picky eater.

                  And last... For my family, there would have to be mashed potatoes. Not sure how to short cut that!

                  1. I usually make lasagna for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's hearty, freezes well and reheats well.

                    1. ok here is my sad story...for two years I was forced to be in a hotel for Thanksgiving.. Now this may not sound bad but for someone who loves to cook and loves tradition it was horrid...but the event was very important and it happened to be held Thanksgiving weekend. My family and I did not want to do a restraunt and did not want to do the hotel banquet...sooooo we ordered a catered dinner from Publix and made greenbean casarole in the toaster oven...and ate by the pool.

                      1. Don't know most of today's autos, but when we travel, we take along a 12 volt cooler for drinks along the way. About $50 @ WalMart several years ago. Keeps cold foods cold. When cleaning out the car (Ford Flex) after our last 3 wk trip, noticed a 110 Volt outlet next to the 12 volt outlet in the rear of the car. Perfect for a slow cooker type pot to keep hot foods hot. (Also great for tailgating). We will use this at Christmas to go our dtr's, a three hour trip. A call to your local dealer to see if you can have a similar 110volt outlet wired into your baggage area, might provide an outlet for a slowcooker. problem solved..


                        1. Last year i baked the stuffing in a muffin pan which was a huge hit, and would reheat faster.
                          Can you delegate dessert? Maybe find a bakery near your destination and pick up pie and dinner rolls?
                          Picky eaters often love stuffing, but if you are concerned ask her if she will be satsified with what is on the menu and perhaps modify to include what she would also enjoy.

                          1. Last year I had to make all of T'giving and transport it to my stepdaughter's community room in the apartment building where she was living. There's a recipe for mashed potatoes in a slow cooker that I used that was a great hit, cook them and mash them and keep them warm all in the same pan. Mashers were never on my family's radar for the meal, but the family into which I married believed in them, so I was happy to provide it, especially since it turned out to be my stepdaughter's last Thanksgiving and the last time her daughter and granddaughter saw her.