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Advance Preparation for a Thanksgiving Meal

It has been said that  “the Thanksgiving meal takes an average of 18 hours to complete and 18 minutes to eat.”  I encourage you to start today prepping your meal, each day make or prep something for your dinner.  This way, you’ll be able to sit and enjoy your family and guests instead of spending the entire day in the kitchen.

Based on the following Thanksgiving Menu (yours may differ):
Roasted Turkey
Mashed Potatoes and/or Sweet Potatoes
Rolls and/or Cornbread
Dessert: Pies, Tarts and/or Cakes

Here is a list to get you kick-started:

If you have a frozen turkey, get it out of the freezer today!  Turkeys take a couple of days to thaw out.  Thaw your bird safely in the refrigerator.

Make pie dough:  Follow the pie dough recipe and instructions under the recipes index.  Roll your dough, place into pans, placing a piece of parchment or wax paper between the shells and wrap well with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate.  If you are going to make double crust pies, roll some dough out and freeze on a sheet pan separated by the parchment or wax paper. 
Tarts can be fully baked now and frozen.  I have some wonderful tart recipes you’ll find in the index – all of which are easy and delicious!  Bake them today, cool and freeze until  Thanksgiving day.  (They thaw within a 1/2 hour or so)  I would not bake today and keep until Thursday, not that the tart will be bad, but not as fresh.  If you want to skip the freezing step, bake your tarts or pies on Wednesday.
This is a great day to wash, cut and prep all your vegetables.  I always bag my chopped onions and celery for stuffing, and prep out all of my other vegetables, bagging them too.
Cornbread can be baked to be used for stuffing or cut bread slices into cubes for stuffing.
Make Turkey Stock – Remove the giblet packet and neck from the turkey cavity.  Place in a saucepan and brown on all sides.  Add to browned turkey, celery, an onion (or two), pepper, salt, sage and 2 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours on low heat.  Cool and refrigerate.  This will be the stock you can use for stuffing and gravy tomorrow. (instead of canned broth or water).
Mashed Potatoes –  You can either peel, wash, cut and place in a pan with water and refrigerate for tomorrow OR go ahead and boil today until tender, mash, add cream cheese and/or sour cream, butter, salt and pepper and place in a casserole dish to be warmed through tomorrow.
Sweet Potatoes – Peel, wash and roast or boil.  When the potatoes are tender, drain and cut into cubes or mash, whichever you prefer.  Stir in the ingredients you use and place in a casserole dish to be warmed up tomorrow.  (I use butter, honey, toasted pecans and a dash of cinnamon)
Stuffing/Dressing – Onions and Celery – as many as you like I usually make a couple of cups.  Saute until translucent, cool and then refrigerate (I put mine in a bag to be added to the stuffing tomorrow)
If you are using bread, cut into cubes and then place cubes back in the bread bag for tomorrow.
Dessert – Make your pies/tarts today if you haven’t done so previously in the week.  Most tarts and pies do not need refrigeration.  Creamy pies NEED REFRIGERATION.  Follow recipe instructions. 
Thanksgiving Day:
Turkey – Pat dry your turkey, and season as desired.  (I make a compound butter with sage, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and rub under and over the skin of the turkey.  I also place celery and sage leaves, onions and salt and pepper in the cavity of the bird to flavor from the inside.)  Place your bird on a rack in a roasting pan.  Roast covered in a 325 degree oven for approximately: (I usually uncover to brown mine during the last hour.)
4 to 8 pounds (breast) — 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds — 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds — 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds — 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4½ to 5 hours
Test with meat thermometer in thickest portion of the bird, which is the thigh.  Temp. should be 180 degrees.
Stuffing/Dressing – Add the sauteed celery and onions to the bread cubes or cornbread – add 2 eggs and Poultry Seasoning and enough turkey stock to make it moist but not soaking wet.  Mix lightly with your hands and place in a greased foil bag or casserole dish (It is not recommended to stuff the bird).  Bake in 350 degree oven for approx. 1-1-1/2 hours.
1 hour before your bird is done – place the casserole dishes of potatoes in the oven or begin to boil potatoes.
1/2 hour before the bird is done – begin to prepare rolls and vegetables.
Gravy –  When your bird reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees, lift the rack and remove the bird to a cutting board.  Cover loosely with tin foil and allow to rest approx. 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on the stove top on medium heat.  Whisk up all the bits from bottom of the pan.  Add any remaining turkey stock to the pan juices.  In a small bowl, whisk together 3 Tabl. Flour and 1/4 cup cold water.  Whisk the flour mixture into the turkey juices.  The flour will thicken as it heats.  Bring to a boil and thicken more if needed, or add a bit of stock or water if it is too thick).  Keep the gravy warm while carving the bird.

Pumpkin Roll with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

Perfect for any fall or Thanksgiving meal, the pumpkin roll appeals to all. Rather than serve a pumpkin pie, or maybe in addition to a pumpkin pie, this cake is soft and slightly spicy and has a creamy cream cheese filling.  The maple extract really compliments the pumpkin, but if you don’t like maple, just use the vanilla extract.

Traditionally, the recipe says to dump the cake out on to a towel while it is hot from the oven and then roll the cake lengthwise.  Did you know there is an easier way?  Use parchment on the bottom of the sheet pan.  Then allow to cool before removing – It works great and there’s no chance of getting burned on a hot pan.




In a mixer bowl, whip until light colored and fluffy and doubled in volume:      
3 Eggs, whole
1 cup Sugar
2/3 cup Pumpkin
Sift and fold into above ingredients:
¾ cup Cake Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie spice or ½ tsp. Cinnamon and ¼ tsp. Ground Cloves and 1/4 tsp. Ginger

Spread the mixture into a parchment lined 1” sided cookie sheet.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 12 minutes or until it springs back when touched.

Allow the cake to cool completely, remove cake from the pan by pulling the parchment off on to the counter.  Flip over the cold cake and remove the parchment.

Maple Cream Cheese Filling:
Cream until smooth:
8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
2 Tabl. Butter, softened
½ tsp. Vanilla Extract
½ tsp. Maple Extract
Add and beat until smooth:
1 cup powdered Sugar

Spread the filling onto the cooled cake.  Roll the cake lengthwise, rolling it tight.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Place on serving tray and cut into 1″ slices to serve.

Thanksgiving Meal

Like many of my readers, today will be my prep day for tomorrows feast.  Like you, I’d like to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family and not be stuck in the kitchen all day.

My years as baker for retail bakeries have taught me to plan ahead.  My mantra: “Prepare everything possible today to bake off fresh tomorrow”.  There are major parts of the meal that can be completed today to make tomorrow easy.  Most of these dishes are the “messiest”, so completing them today frees your kitchen from the mess tomorrow.

What to do today:

Mashed potatoes – I add a little cream cheese and sour cream so they taste delicious when warmed up.  Put mashed potatoes in a buttered casserole dish to be warmed tomorrow.

Corn Bread – make the batter, spread in the pan, refrigerate and bake off tomorrow.

Make Turkey Stock – from the giblets and neck, celery, onion, seasonings –  for stuffing and gravy

Saute’ celery and onions, cool and then refrigerate today to be added to the stuffing tomorrow

Cranberry Salad

Trim and wash any Vegetables such as squash, beans

Desserts:  Bake the pumpkin roll, fill and ice,  Prepare pie/tart crusts and fillings, so tomorrow a.m., you can fill and bake and have fresh, warm pie!  If you won’t have enough oven space, bake today.

I hope this guide will be helpful to you today and help you to have a wonderful, peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving tomorrow!

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

If you are still wondering what dessert to serve for Thanksgiving and you want something not “too sweet”, this is it!  Not only is this cake gorgeous, but it is just as delicious, but in a light and slightly tart way.  Orange is such a great compliment to cranberries.  This cake is quick and easy and will serve about 8 people.

In a 10″ round pan, melt:
5 Tabl. Butter

Add and stir to dissolve:
1/2 cup Brown Sugar

Throw into pan:
2-1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries to fill the bottom of the pan, stir to coat all the berries.

Stir in:
1 tsp. Orange Zest

Cook while stirring until cranberries begin to pop.  Remove from heat.

Prepare cake:

Whip to soft peak and set aside:
2 Egg Whites

Combine and set aside:
1 tsp. Baking Soda
3/4 cup Buttermilk

In mixer bowl, Cream:
1/2 cup Butter
2 cups Sugar

Slowly add to above while mixing:
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 cup Buttermilk
1 tsp. Orange Zest

Sift and add to the bowl alternatly with reserved Buttermilk/Soda:
2 -3/4 cup Cake Flour
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Salt

Fold in:
Egg Whites

Mix batter well and pour over the cranberries in pan.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until cake tests done.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge to loosen and then flip onto a cooling rack.   When cool, transfer to a cake plate to serve.

Cranberry Walnut Tart

My top seller in the bakery for Thanksgiving was this Cranberry Walnut Tart.  It is sweet and tangy with a hint of orange and cinnamon. It can be made in advance and freezes very well.  If you are looking for a dessert that is just as lovely as it is quick to make, this is it!

In a bowl, whisk together:       
3 Tabl. Flour
½ cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon

Whisk in:
4 oz. Butter, melted and cooled
½ cup dark Corn Syrup
2 Eggs, whole
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Zest of 1/2 orange

In bottom of  partially baked tart crust* place:
2 cups Fresh or Frozen Cranberries whole
1 cup Walnuts

Pour liquid ingredients over the nuts and berries.  Bake in 350 degree oven for approx. 30 minutes or until lightly browned and center is set.  Cool.

* Recipe for tart dough is in archives

Pecan Tart

I do love the flavors of pecan pie, but I find the inch or so of “goo-iness” is a bit much for me.  A few years back, I began making Pecan Tarts instead of pie, so I could enjoy the flavor of the pecans more. In this case, less (“goo-iness”) is more!

This tart can be baked ahead and frozen.  After it cools, wrap it well in plastic wrap or large freezer bag.  Bring out of the freezer the day you’d like to serve.  It thaws within an hour.            

Have prepared and pre-baked 1 Tart Crust (as found in recipe section)

In bowl, whisk to make smooth:
1 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tabl. Butter, melted
1/2 cup Dark Corn Syrup
3 Eggs, whole

Line the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with Pecans. Pour the above mixture over the top of pecans.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until it is set in the center.  Cool completely before serving.

Keep this tart at room temp. if you are going to serve in a day or two.  Otherwise, refrigerate, and bring to room temp. before serving.  Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

If you’ve ever tried to make a cheesecake, you know that there are a couple of places that it can go wrong:  First up is LUMPS.  No one likes to bite into a solid piece of cream cheese in their dessert.  And the second issue is cracking.  Over-baked cheesecake cracks in the center, leaving a not so presentable dessert.


To solve the lump problem, simply bring your cream cheese to room temperature (soft) before beginning to cream. NEVER ADD LIQUIDS to cream cheese until it is perfectly smooth.  To achieve great results, cream the cream cheese until it it smooth, then add sugar(s) and continue to cream until there are no lumps.  Then gradually add room temperature eggs to the mixture, scraping down the sides.  Then you can add all other ingredients.  If the mixture is smooth going into the pan, it will be smooth when baked.


To prevent cracking, bake your cheesecake in a hot water bath on low temperature.  This is a gentler approach which allows the cake to bake slowly and unless you over-bake, you’ll have no cracks.  To create a hot water bath, place your cheesecake pan in a larger deep pan.  Fill with hot water at least 1/2 way up the sides.


One more thing: It’s not necessary to use a spring form pan, in fact, I NEVER use a spring form pan and have a beautiful cheesecake every time.  Just use parchment circle on the bottom of any 3″ deep cake pan.   After baking and chilling, warm the pan on a burner for a few seconds, run a knife around the edges to release.  Flip the cheesecake over onto a flat plate, remove the parchment paper and flip over onto a serving platter.  Don’t worry, if the cake is cold,  and baked properly, it will flip over easily without breaking or cracking.


I use my gingersnap cookies as the crust, but you can use store -bought cookies or graham crackers.  The ginger in the cookies is a better compliment to the pumpkin, though.  This makes a large 10″ round Cheesecake.


12 Gingersnaps, processed to crumbs
2-3 Tabl. Butter, soft

Beat until creamy:
3# (6-8 oz.pkgs) Cream Cheese

Slowly add and Beat until NO LUMPS REMAIN:
1 cups Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Sugar

Slowly Add:
6 Eggs, whole, room temp.
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Stir in and mix until well incorporated:
1-1/2 cups Pumpkin, solid not pie mix
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground Cloves
1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger

Prepare a 10″ round, 3″ deep pan with parchment paper.  Press gingersnap crumbs firmly onto the bottom only of the pan.  Pour batter in the pan.  Place this pan in a HOT WATER BATH and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool.  Refrigerate overnight before removing from the pan.   Garnish with fresh whipped cream.
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