To cap off a week of posts that have only made me more excited for Thanksgiving next Thursday (and aware of how I really need to get ready for the holiday myself), I thought I’d share just a few of my favorite recipes for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll be making each of these – or putting my own spin on them – this year, and I can tell you from experience that they’re just as easy to make as they are to overeat.
Cooking is something I love to do. I really feel that the process of creating a meal is just as enjoyable, sensually pleasing, and gratifying as eating its end result. I like to take my time in the kitchen, to study the vegetables I’m dicing, to savor the way everything smells, to indulge in the memories I associate with the dishes I’m making. Cooking is a responsibility, but to me it is also a joy.
But it’s hard to really savor the cooking process – to take your time with it, to appreciate it – if you’re hosting Thanksgiving, when the kitchen can become crowded and there are lots of (wonderful!) distractions and time is of the essence because you’re serving a bigger than usual, hungrier than usual group. These recipes are for those of you who – like me – love to cook and want to enjoy putting together a Thanksgiving meal. Because they’re all intended to be made ahead of time (and used or heated up on the actual holiday), you can take your time making them, and really enjoy that part of serving Thanksgiving dinner.
If you’re not like me, and cooking is a tiresome, boring, daunting, or frustrating task, these recipes are still for you. They’re all simple to make, and they’re all made ahead of time, saving you time in the kitchen if you so desire and giving you more time on Thanksgiving to savor what you might actually enjoy – like the eating part of things. Or, you know, being with the people you love. Whatever makes you happy.
1/ Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes:
The Pioneer Woman’s Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Every year, I make my own version of the Pioneer Woman’s mashed potatoes. While regular mashed potatoes lose a lot of their moisture and creamy texture when they sit in the fridge, these potatoes – infused with cream cheese – stay rich and delicious and heat up beautifully in the oven. They are a family favorite at this point.
What really makes these so successful as a make-ahead side is the cream cheese – while it might seem like a bastardized version of mashed potatoes, the composition of the cream cheese keeps the potatoes thick and moist and prevents them from breaking down and getting crumbly and watery before they’re reheated. So, it’s a pretty safe bet to just keep the quantity of potatoes and cream cheese from this recipe the same and adjust all of the rest to taste if you’re feeling experimental.
I make these 1-2 days in advance, and adjust the additions to my tastes – I use Yukon Gold potatoes, more half-and-half, and less butter; I nix the seasoned salt; and I sometimes add in chopped fresh herbs, like parsley or rosemary.
There is something to be said for the experience of making mashed potatoes fresh the moment before you eat them, when the potatoes are so soft and powdery, and you’re mashing them right in their pot right next to a resting turkey. But mashed potatoes are work-intensive, and another task to take up your time and energy on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re like me, and you’d really like to have a low-stress holiday – or you’ve got a limited amount of workspace in which to mash and prepare potatoes – these are a great solution. And they are so delicious.
2/ Make-Ahead Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
Basic Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I came across this recipe by chance, and have been making these mashed sweets for the last 2 years. Like the above recipe, they do not disappoint. Because sweet potatoes have a different composition and texture than regular potatoes, they actually keep really well in the fridge and don’t require the addition of too much else to keep their creamy texture.
Unlike a traditional sweet potato casserole, this is a pretty minimalist sweet potato dish – but I think that’s my favorite thing about it. Just enhanced with a little bit (a few tablespoons) of brown sugar, and some lemon juice to keep the flavors bright, the actual sweet potatoes really shine. I grew up on plain jane sweet potatoes, and have never been a big sweet potato casserole fan – something about marshmallows melted onto sweet potatoes feels like overkill to me – so I’m sure that my love for this recipe is a little biased! However, the simplicity of this recipe is great if you’re hosting someone with dietary restrictions or whose tastes you’re unfamiliar with.
Oh – and this keeps so well in the fridge. Like the mashed potatoes, just reheat these for about a half an hour in a 350-degree oven prior to serving.
3/ Herb Butter
I follow no recipe for this, but it is a staple of my Thanksgiving cooking. I use it for so many things, from basting my turkey to serving with mashed potatoes to pouring over roasted vegetables before they go into the oven. Using this always, always makes me feel fancy. Since it’s easily made ahead of time, its flavors get plenty of opportunity to love on one another and make the butter super flavorful and fragrant.
Simply mix 1 stick of butter, softened, with 1 tablespoon sea salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, and ¼ cup chopped herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, or parsley). Gently combine and store in an airtight container.
These quantities are enough to generously coat a large turkey. I almost always add extra rosemary, and I almost always make double. ; )
4/ Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
If you’re not making this ahead of time, you’re missing out. Cranberry sauce basically cooks itself, is nearly impossible to ruin, and can be made up to 5-7 days in advance, so if you’re feeling inclined and you’ve got a ton of cranberries on hand, you could very well make this now and just put it aside in the back of your fridge until Thanksgiving Day.
For easy cranberry sauce, combine 24 ounces of cranberries (2 standard bags) and ½-1 cup water in a sauce pot and set it over medium-low heat. Let the cranberries heat up and then simmer for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring or gently pressing them with a wooden spoon. Once the cranberries begin to break down, stir in any add-ins, to taste, such as orange zest, lemon zest, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Once it’s broken down to your liking, remove the pot from the heat and let the sauce cool. Store in an airtight container up to a week before serving.
Cranberries contain lots of natural sugars already, and since we like our sauce on the tangy side anyway, we don’t add any sugar to the pot along with the cranberries and water. But you certainly can – usually ½ cup or so will do the trick. These quantities will serve about 8 people (depending on how abiding your dinner guests’ love for cranberry sauce is).
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried these recipes before, if you decide to try them, or if you have your own trusty go-tos for Thanksgiving! Happy cooking, and most importantly, happy savoring.