Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Make Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner Planner, Timeline, and Easy Recipes

Thanksgiving dinner can be a daunting task - and whether you've been the chief cook for many years. or are just starting out - cooking turkey dinner doesn't have to leave you exhausted and frazzled. What I've found, though, is that most home cooks aren't aware of the restaurant secrets chefs use for making meals like Thanksgiving easier. 

And the first secret home cooks don't always know is that many restaurant dishes are prepared, or are partially prepared, ahead of time. Although we operate under the illusion fresh is always best, any chef will tell you, side dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and carrots, can be prepared ahead of time and re-heated.

That said, this Thanksgiving planner will give you restaurant worthy recipes for your sides (and turkey) along with instructions for roasting, re-heating, and timing an impeccable Thanksgiving dinner worthy of the best restaurant (or your grandmother's table).

 Today's Thanksgiving Dinner menu consists of: Herb Butter Oven Roasted Turkey, Buttery Homemade Dinner Rolls, Apple and Sausage Stuffing, Cranberry Infused Pan Gravy, Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Lemon Dill Carrots, Apple Turnip Mash, Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and Pumpkin Cheesecake for dessert.

And though the menu may sound complicated, I'm going to walk you through my chef secret planner for putting this 5 star meal together effortlessly, starting with the sides, and that amazing Pumpkin Cheesecake - which can all be prepared a day or two ahead.

The recipes for each side dish (and the dessert) along with all of the storage and re-heating instructions can be accessed by clicking the links below.

Following the recipes, is a planner with cooking and prepping times for getting everything on the table without losing your mind :-)

A printable version of planner can be found here for easy use: Make Ahead Thanksgiving: 

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

 Lemon Dill Carrots

Apple Turnip Mash

Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Easy Pumpkin Cheesecake

Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about old fashioned memories. I like to use my vintage corning ware casserole dishes both to store and serve.

Make aheads give the cook time to enjoy friends and family!
    Thanksgiving Day

    Now that you have most of your side dishes and desserts taken care of, your full attention on the big day will be on making the most succulent flavorful turkey ever along with gravy people will want to bottle and drink.

    To get things started, though, you will want to know ahead of time how long your turkey will take to roast.

    Below is a cooking chart to help you out.

    Un-stuffed Turkey

    8 to 12 pounds -- 2 3/4 to 3 hours
    12 to 14 pounds -- 3 to 3 3/4 hours
    14 to 18 pounds -- 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
    18 to 20 pounds -- 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
    20 to 24 pounds -- 4 1/2 to 5 hours

    Stuffed Turkey

    8 to 12 pounds -- 3-3 1/2 hours
    12 to 14 pounds -- 3 1/2 - 4 hours
    14 to 18 pounds -- 4-4 1/2 hours
    18 to 20 pounds --4 1/2 - 4 3/4 hours
    20 to 24 pounds --4 3/4 - 5 1/4

    If in doubt, use use a meat thermometer (available at most grocery stores and kitchen shops) to determine the correct degree of doneness. Turkey is done when meat in the thigh reaches 180°F or (meat in the breast in finished at 170°F).

    Once you know how long your turkey will be in the oven, you can plan the rest of your day accordingly.

    Setting the Table

    Because I'm an anal retentive neurotic, (people what?) the setting of my holiday table in advance has become a bit of an obsession.

    No matter, though.

    Because any good host will tell you that once the table is set, you have created the mood, and mood, after all, sets the tone for all else to come.

    Pictured above is my 2013 table setting.

    I offset the brilliant colors in my Italian pottery Thanksgiving plates with a rustic black table cloth.

    And added a little whimsy with my favorite salt and pepper shakers from the 60's: Owls with googly eyes.

    As an experienced host, I know that the most seamless of dinner parties are always that way because the mood has been set, the host is calm - and that, my friends - is the result of careful planning...

    So here's the plan. Your side dishes and dessert are done, your table is set, you know how long your turkey needs to roast - so now what I have for you is the step by step plan I use every single year to create my legendary Thanksgiving dinner. It's based on a 15-17 pound turkey so if yours is bigger or smaller, just adjust the timeline based on the guide I provided above.

    The PLAN

    10:00 am - Begin the recipe for your buttery dinner rolls (link here: dinner rolls ) When the dough is ready according to the recipe, cover and set aside in a warm place for the first rising. Your dough will sit on your warm stove top and simply do it's thing all day. You will let this dough rise three times - which just means it grows about twice it's normal size - kind of like me after eating this dinner. You will simply put your fist into the middle of the dough to take the air out and then let it rise again.

    11:00 am - Remove the giblets from the turkey, place in a medium sauce pan, and cover with 2 cups of chicken stock, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1/4 cup fresh poultry herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and 4 cloves of garlic. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Strain and set the broth aside to use for the gravy later.

    Prep the turkey - Rinse the turkey and then dry it really good inside and out. Next, mix a half cup of softened butter with 1//4 cup of chopped fresh poultry herbs. Add a tbsp of cranberry sauce and 1 tbsp of orange zest. Roll in plastic wrap kind of like a cigar, refrigerate until firm and then cut into discs. Using your hands, place the discs under the skin of the turkey all over and massage to soften. Salt the cavity liberally and then stuff with the dressing you made the day before. Sprinkle the turkey with liberal amounts of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Put breast side up onto a roasting rack in your roaster and cover with lid or tin foil.

    12:00 pm - Turkey goes into oven at 325. Cover and baste every hour If there are a lot of pan juices, remove them as you go and set aside for your gravy.

    1:00 pm - Remove all of the side dishes you prepared earlier from fridge and set on counter.

    3:00 pm - Prep Brussels Sprouts (follow this link to the recipe) set aside until ready to roast.

    3:30 pm - Remove turkey from oven. Using your baster, remove all excess pan juices and set aside to use for gravy. Remove cover from turkey and return it to the oven to really brown up for the last half hour of roasting.

    3:50 pm - Form the dough you made for the rolls in the morning into buns. It will have risen three times by now. Cover and set aside to rise again.

    4:00 pm - Turkey comes out of oven. Remove the stuffing and put in a bowl covered with tinfoil. Put the turkey on a platter, cover with tin foil, leave to rest. (Don't worry, it won't get cold).

    4:05 - Put pan drippings into a fat seperator. if you have one - it's an easy way to remove excess fat from your gravy.

    Leave about 1/4 cup in the bottom of your roaster pan.

    4:10 - Add 6 tbsp flour to the pan drippings to make a roux, getting as much flavor off the bottom of the pan as you can. Add the de-fatted pan juices, one tbsp cranberry sauce, and the broth you made earlier with the giblets. (add less if you have lots of pan juices) While that heats up, scrape all the good brown stuff off the sides and bottom of the pan. Get every last bit of flavour off that sucker!
    Whisk, whisk whisk! Bring to a boil and thicken with more flour if needed. (If adding more flour shake it up with more chicken stock or extra gible broth so there are no lumps)

    When it's a nice consistency, transfer to a sauce pan and keep on low until ready to eat.

    4:20 - Preheat oven to 350, Wash your roasting pan and put it away. No more mess, no more mashing, no hot steamy kitchen, gravy's done.

    4:30 - Put potatoes into a 350 oven.

    4:35 - Have another cocktail, relax, put out some appetizers - we always have Cranberry Brie Bundles another awesome make ahead that can be frozen and popped into the oven at the last minute.

    4:50 - Put turnip mash, and sweet potato casserole into the oven alongside the potatoes give potatoes a stir while adding a little warm whole milk or cream at their halfway point. This will give them a nice creamy consistency)

    5:25 - Remove veggies from oven (making sure they're heated all the way through), cover with foil and a t-towel, leave to rest on the warm stove top (don't worry, these won't get cold either)

    5:30 - Increase oven heat to 400. Put Brussels sprouts in to roast.

    5:35 - Carve the turkey

    5:55 - Put your buns in the oven (I always wanted to say that) They just go in alongside the Brussels sprouts. Both buns and Brussels will take another 15 minutes.

    6:05 - Heat the carrots in the microwave on high for app five minutes.

    6:10 - Pull your buns and Brussels out of the oven, uncover everything else, stick a ladle in the gravy, and serve. (We usually just do it buffet style as that seems easiest)

    6:15 - Toast the cook and Happy Thanksgiving

    And don't forget dessert!!

    Easy Pumpkin Cheesecake

    "Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more."



    Lyndsay Wells is a professional trainer, writer, and program developer with a passion for food and cooking. She is an award winning recipe developer, a former website ambassador for Kraft Foods Canada, the $20,000.00 winner of the online competition "The Real Women of Philadelphia" and a finalist on the Food Network Canada show Recipe to Riches. Lyndsay believes cooking should be approachable and easy and has great tips and ideas for putting together sophisticated looking dishes that cooks of all levels can accomplish.


    1. Boy all these recipes look & sound delicious. Would you share the Apple Turnip Mash. My husband always has to have turnip with his turkey & this would be a different way after 40 years cooking the same old, same old. Thanks Lyndsay love you site.

    2. Hi there :-)

      I'm so sorry, the link to the apple turnip mash was mixed up. I have fixed it.

      Here's the recipe and glad you like the site!

      Apple Turnip Mash

      3 medium turnips, peeled and cut into small pieces
      2 medium apples, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
      2 tbsp butter
      1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
      Salt and pepper

      Cover the turnips with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender.

      Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the chopped apples and garlic. Saute until tender and fragrant.

      Drain the potatoes and pour them into a large bowl. Add the butter and apple mixture and begin gently mashing. Slowly add the chicken stock until you have the right consitency.
      Stir in thyme and use salt and pepper to taste.

      Serve immediately. These warm up well, so alternatively you can make them ahead and microwave them before serving.

    3. This is great! Thanks so much for the help! my husband is in the military and we cannot make it home for thanksgiving, the same for a lot of the boys he works with! So we will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for them! I was really nervous about how to make the day happen smoothly and your planner is going to be a big help!

    4. Dear Ashleigh,

      Here's wishing you, your family, and all those you're cooking for the happiest and most blessed Thanksgiving ever. If my planner helps make it a little easier, then I am just so happy.

      Thank you for leaving me this note. It means very much to me.

    5. I used your planner last year, and made your apple turnips, glazed carrots, and autumn salad...delish!! Putting the times on the planner and having the make ahead stratgeies really helped, thank you!!

    6. I'm so glad! Thank you for the feedback - it is always good to know!

    7. Thank you so much for the make ahead idea, will try this year!