Thanksgiving is the most frenetic day of the year for cooks like me. So to take a little stress out of the day, there are 3 things I make in advance so that I can give most of my attention to roasting that 24-pound turkey.
The frenetic pace and challenge of getting turkey and side dishes to be served together at precisely 6pm on Thanksgiving day is exhausting. So over the years, I've been working in "make ahead" recipes that makes serving the meal a whole lot easier. Make ahead gravy. Make ahead stuffing.
This year, I added make ahead mashed potatoes. And I'm here to tell you they were the best mashed potatoes ever. First off, I avoided all of the chemistry class theatrics required of boiling potatoes from scratch with cold water. And that method requires great precision in order to serve piping hot potatoes with piping hot turkey at the same time.
And this method is foolproof. You cannot screw it up. Anyone who can read can make perfect mashed potatoes. Yes, even you, Joan.
5 pounds of russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, each potato peeled and quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1-1/2 cups whole milk
8 tablespoons butter
2 cups of half & half
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Chopped chives, for garnish
- Peel and quarter potatoes and place in slow cooker with garlic and 1-1/2 cups of milk. Set slow cooker to high and cover. Cook for 5 hours.
- After 5 hours, turn slow cooker to warm. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the slow cooker.
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan. When melted, add half & half to the pan and heat to warm (do not boil). When warm, add mixture to slow cooker. Using masher, blend potatoes with butter/half & half mixture.
- Add salt and pepper to taste....a half of a teaspoon at a time for the uninitiated.
- Cover potatoes and serve whenever you want.
Being obsessive-compulsive is actually an admirable quality if you are a cook. I find that it comes in especially handy at Thanksgiving, where micro-managing the production of an enormous feast is no small feat.
In order to handle the complexity of the Thanksgiving meal preparation, I create a very comprehensive list of every task that must be accomplished and at precisely what time to perform that task. It starts at 12:35pm with the convection roasting of the turkey. Then the schedule is set to make sure that everything gets done so that we can eat precisely at 6:00pm.
But regardless of the schedule, there are three items that always need my attention at the very last, frenetic second: the carving of the turkey; the mashing of the potatoes; and the making of the gravy. I cannot do all three at once by myself.
I'm really good at quickly carving a 25-pound turkey, so I take on that duty. The potatoes need to be mashed at the last second so that they are good and warm, which is a role my son Patrick has excelled at since he was a boy. Being a big, strong defensive back on the Macalester Football team, he is now able to execute his mashing duties in mere seconds.
Which leaves us with the gravy. I'm really anal about making turkey gravy from scratch. Use butter and flour to make a roux, then add turkey drippings and turkey stock. The problem here is that the drippings come at the end....after you've removed the turkey for carving.
But alas, Mark Bittman (food writer for the New York Times) solved my problem by creating this make-ahead gravy recipe. It can be made up to five days in advance, then re-heated just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. And the gravy still gets the flavor boost from the pan drippings...you just add them in at the last second to your already "at serving temperature" gravy.
A small note here about the stock. Most grocery stores have an abundance of turkey stock on their shelves at this time of year. But if you couldn't find any or simply forgot to pick some up, chicken stock is a really good second choice.
1 stick of butter (I prefer Kerrygold)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
- Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
- When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings or to gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.
Stuffing is, without a doubt, my favorite side at Thanksgiving. And I've been making it the same way for 40+ years. The recipe is nothing earth-shattering...it's all store-bought ingredients with just a few extras thrown in. I cook my stuffing in a casserole as I am not partial to Salmonella Russian Roulette when stuffing is cooked in the cavity of the bird.
I always start with Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Cubed Stuffing. I just love how that stuff tastes. It's simply toasted white and wheat bread cubes in their own special blend of spices. To that I add hot Italian sausage, celery, onion and sautéed mushrooms. I cook those up in the morning and then add the Pepperidge Farm stuffing about an hour before eating. Like I said...there's nothing extraordinary about the recipe...except for the taste. Once you try it, you are hooked for life.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds hot Italian sausage
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
16 ounces mushrooms, chopped
10 tablespoons butter
4 cups chicken broth
2, 12-ounce bags Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Cubed Stuffing
- In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat olive oil until it is shimmering. Then add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms. Cook until there is no pink in the sausage and all of the vegetables have softened (about 8 minutes).
- In a large saucepan, heat butter and chicken broth over medium heat until all of the butter has melted into the broth.
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- In a large casserole, add the two bags of cubed stuffing. Add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms then stir thoroughly to mix. The add broth/butter mixture and stir again to thoroughly mix.
- Cover casserole and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, then serve in a room that is no warmer than 68º.