On Thanksgiving Eve (or two days before Thanksgiving Day to be honest) I usually start to get excited and anxious. Not only because I’m high on anticipation of the next day’s holiday festivities, but because there’s things I can start on to reduce the amount of cooking and stress on Thanksgiving day.
Here are some tips for which ingredients I usually prep one or two days before Thanksgiving and also what dishes I make in advance.
Tip #1: Vegetables & Fresh Herbs - Any vegetables that need to be chopped, diced, or sliced for any of my dishes can be done the day before Thanksgiving. They keep well in zip lock bags until you need to use them. By doing this simple prep a day ahead, it makes putting my dishes together easier. Also if you have guests or family coming over to help with the cooking, it takes less time for each dish to be cooked by eliminating this tedious task the day before. I will also label the vegetables for which dish and portion them out according to my recipes before putting them in zip lock bags.
With the herbs, I wash them and pat them dry with paper towel or spin them a few times in a salad spinner. Then I wrap them loosely in a semi damp paper towel before putting them in the zip lock bag. This helps the fresh herbs stay vibrant and also eliminates the task of washing and picking the herbs off their stems. This is especially useful for fresh herbs such as cilantro and Italian flat leaf parsley. For fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage, I usually keep them on the stem until they need to be used. You can give your herbs a quick rinse and put them in a tall glass or jar with water to sit on your counter top. It’ll be ready for use the next day and also makes a nice presentation for those gathering around the kitchen to help.
Tip #2: Turkey and/or Ham
By now my frozen turkey will have been completely thawed and ready for my dry (or wet if you choose) salt brine. I have used a wet brine for some previous Thanksgiving turkey dinners, but I find that unless you have a very large fridge (or chef’s restaurant refrigerator) that can hold the container the turkey is being brined in, it’s much easier and less stressful to do a dry salt brine. I also like the texture of the turkey meat much better when you use a dry salt brine. The turkey meat comes out very juicy, tender, and still firm. If you use a wet salt brine, the meat is juicy, but the texture can turn out a bit spongy if let your turkey sit in the wet brine for too long.
A dry salt brine requires you to salt your turkey 24-48 hours ahead of Thanksgiving day. Massage the turkey every so often to redistribute the salt. The salt will release moisture from the turkey which gets reabsorbed by the turkey (when it roasts in the oven). You are basically brining your turkey with this method as it cooks. When you are dry brining your turkey, remember to carefully loosen the turkey skin and rub the salt under the turkey. You can also mix dry herbs in with the salt to give your turkey more flavor. I usually do this with a mixture of sea salt, fresh cracked peppercorns, and a mixture of Herbs de Provence.
Once my dry brine is done and the turkey is ready to go into the oven to begin roasting, I place small pats of non salted butter under the skin. I also make a mixture of lavendar honey, white basalmic vinegar, verjuice or lemon, and orange marmalade for the turkey glaze. I also stuff my turkey with quartered lemons, oranges, and a bundle of fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary. This makes your turkey more aromatic and also the juices and flavors of the herbs absorbs into the turkey meat as it roasts.
For my ham I usually make a Glazed Spiced Maple Ham. I make sure the ham’s skin in scored so the flavor of my glaze will penetrate through to the meat. The glaze base is made from pure Maple Syrup, honey blossom spread, non salted butter, a mixture of spices that usually are Middle Eastern Influenced, and a reduction of homemade cherry or pineapple jam with fresh orange juice. I make enough of my glaze to coat the ham several times as well as extra to make a gravy/sauce to be served with my glazed ham if guests want any on the side.
Tip #3: Take Home Treats & Thank You Notes - The day before Thanksgiving I wake up in the morning and start baking the take home treats for my guests. I try to make 2-3 variations of bite size cookies, brownie or nut bars. I make 2 batches of each kind and that’s usually enough to fill my take home boxes or goodie bags. Remember, you’ll have a dessert table at dinner so this treat is just a small sweet something for your guests to enjoy at a later date. I also write out my short Thank You Notes to be included with each treat box/bag. Remember to write special thank you notes to those guests who have lent a helping hand or supplied your party with a cooked dish, pot, or pan.
Once the treats are all baked, cooled, and cut into bite size pieces (the bars) I put them into seperate plastic containers that are air tight. This keeps them fresh until I am ready to box/bag them up. I usually box/bag them first thing in the morning on Thanksgiving day, before the guests start to arrive.
Tip #4: Baking Your Pies, Cakes, and/or Desserts – While my oven is still on, I start the baking process for any dishes that will sit on my dessert table (i.e. pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, etc). These items will keep well until the next day and can be also kept on the counter in a cake/pie stand or bakery box. If you have room in your fridge you can also put them in there for extra freshness and just warm in the oven the next day after dinner is eaten.
Tip #5: Baking Cornbread, Stuffing Cups, Rice Stuffing, or Pasta Dishes – If any of these dishes (or categories related) are on your menu, you can also make them the day before Thanksgiving. They are also easily reheated in the oven and leaves you time to mingle with your guests. The next day you only have to cook (or bake) your fresh vegetable dishes, mashed potatoes, the turkey or ham, and your turkey gravy or sauce for the ham. If you have a soup course on your menu, you can also make this 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. This is a good idea if you want to be able to socialize during your Thanksgiving party and not be in the kitchen the entire day.
Tip #6: Last Minute Check and Pick Ups – The day before Thanksgiving Day, I also check to make sure I have everything I’ll need for the next day. Remember to pick up your fresh flowers and pre-ordered bakery items. I also send out one last friendly reminder email to those guests brining anything to my party.
Tip #7: Relax and Remember It’s Only Thanksgiving!- If you’re getting super stressed or overwhelmed for your Thanksgiving Dinner Party go for a walk or stroll around your neighborhood. While this holiday can be stressful, remember to have fun and that whatever happens, it’s only Thanksgiving. The fact that you are taking on this huge cooking holiday is a feat in itself! It’s not an easy holiday to cook or host and while you may want it to go perfect, nothing in life ever is…so remember to relax and just go with the punches. Next year you can pre-order some of the dishes from your favorite caterer!
To read more about what dishes or items you can make in advance of Thanksgiving Day, visit my RECIPES page to see which dishes Mark Bittman from NYTimes makes days ahead of this huge eating holiday! http://amysuestastybites.com/page-3/
To read “Chefs’ Tips For The Thanksgiving Meal” by Sam Sifton for NYTimes, visit my What’s New? – NEWS page. http://amysuestastybites.com/page-8/news/
For last minute tips from Good Housekeeping, click here. http://www.delish.com/entertaining-ideas/holidays/thanksgiving/thanksgiving-prep?GT1=47053
“Eating is Believing!”