Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Treat

Do you sometimes feel that you have little to be thankful for at Thanksgiving, after stressing out over cooking for a crowd? I wrote a story several years ago for The Sacamento Bee on "Do-ahead Thanksgiving" and the timetable and recipes that Dianne Phillips came up with still are about the best I've seen.  

By Lori Korleski Richardson

The Sacramento Bee

Thanksgiving is a grand feast, with many dishes to choose from, desserts galore and a whopping brown bird as the centerpiece. It takes hours and hours to prepare. It comes to a table made special by painstaking decorating, the best your budget can afford. And for all this, what happens?

The whole shebang gets wolfed down in minutes so the gang can get back to the football games. Just who is giving thanks here? Certainly not the cook.

If this is your life, Diane Phillips can transform it and show you how to have as much fun as the rest of the gang on Turkey Day. How? Do-ahead Thanksgiving. "I came up with this idea about 10 years ago, after I had spent 12 hours fixing Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people and they polished it off in 10 minutes."

Phillips, a San Diego author of cookbooks and traveling cooking teacher, shows what can be prepared in advance so that "all you have to do on the big day is put the turkey in the oven and the last-minute preparation can be done in the 45 minutes that the turkey is resting after it's out of the oven."

Lest anyone question what a turkey would be like 45 minutes after it was baked, the turkey that was served to the students in one class came out 90 minutes before carving, and it still was warm and delicious. Phillips began her demonstration with a hot apple cake with caramel pecan sauce "because that's just the kind of girl I am." If there is an easier cake to make, it would be hard to imagine. Phillips said that it freezes well for up to two months. You thaw it out the night before, and then pop it into the post-turkey 350-degree oven for 10 minutes and serve, topped with the caramel sauce. It's super-moist and delicious, as we found out near the end of the class.

Then it was on to the make-ahead mashed potatoes, Gulliver's corn, green beans with sherried onion and mushroom sauce, and the do-ahead gravy. At the top of her steps to a painless Thanksgiving is "Relax!" -- and she means it.

On the green beans dish: "Blanch the green beans by bringing a large pot of water to boil, throw the beans in, bring it to a boil again, then drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water. They'll keep several days in the fridge that way. Keep the water boiling, and throw the pearl onions in, skins and all. Cook about two minutes, then drain and cool. The skins will slide right off."

On the gravy: "Want to know how to avoid lumpy gravy? Cook the flour and butter together for at least three minutes after the white bubbles appear. This is what keeps the lumps from happening. Make it thicker than you want it. It will look a little pale, but it will thin out and get its color when you add the fat-skimmed drippings on Thursday."

Her tips for turkey were simple, as well:

  • Use a fresh turkey, 16 pounds or less. Figure 1 pound per person if you want to send some home with people, 3/4 pound if you just want a few leftovers. If you have more people, buy a second turkey. The bigger ones are too tough and have too many tendons, and they don't cook as evenly. If you can't resist the bargains on the frozen ones, buy one and cook it for your family some other time.
  • Use a meat thermometer. Those little plastic pop-up ones are inadequate and inaccurate.
  • Scoop out the stuffing as soon as the turkey is cooked and put it in a bowl. Or bake it separately, in loaf pans, for about 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees, basting it with turkey drippings. Slice it as you would a loaf of bread and serve.

And every time Phillips dotted another casserole with butter, she'd shrug and say, "It's the holiday." She did make some allowances for those watching their fat intake, such as substituting whole milk for cream in some of the recipes, but she drew the line firmly against using just broth in one's mashed potatoes: "Ee-yew," she said, with a shake of her blond bob. "Promise me that none of you will do that!" "It's the holiday," she pleaded.

It also wouldn't work with the do-ahead theme. The advance potatoes rely on cream cheese and sour cream to give them the body to survive two nights in the fridge and come out all pretty and fluffy after a 25-minute bake in the post-turkey oven. Regular mashed potatoes are likely to turn watery or even discolor in that time.

Phillips warned that the participants may get some flak from family members who'd rather stick with tradition, even though her menu doesn't stray far from customary Thanksgiving fare. But to point out how silly traditions sometimes are, she told the story of the newlywed fixing her first holiday ham for her new husband. She cut off the end of the ham and threw it out; he wondered why. "Well, my mother always did it that way." So she asked her mother why they always cut off the end of the ham. Her mother said, "Grandma always did it that way." So mother and daughter went to ask grandmother why she always cut the end off the ham. "Simple," said Grandma. "It wouldn't fit in the pan otherwise."



The timetable

Start cooking Sunday; buy bird Wednesday.

Sunday: Make the apple cake and/or the pumpkin ice cream pie and freeze (the sauces can be refrigerated).

Monday: Make the Gulliver's Corn. Refrigerate.

Tuesday: Make the Curried Cream of Pumpkin Soup and the Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes. Blanch the green beans and make the sauce for that dish. Refrigerate.

Wednesday: Pick up a fresh turkey, allowing 3/4 to 1 pound per person. Make stock from the neck and giblets. Make stuffing and gravy; refrigerate. Wash turkey in cold water and dry well; cover and refrigerate. Set the table and cover with a sheet. Take the cake out of the freezer and thaw overnight in the fridge.

Thursday: Determine when you would like to eat. Calculate the cooking time, stuff the turkey, place it on a rack in a large roasting pan and bake as directed. If you don't stuff the turkey, put the dressing into a loaf pan and cook it with the turkey for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 45 minutes while you heat the soup, the gravy and vegetable sauce on the stove, and bake the potatoes and corn in the 350-degree oven. Take out the green beans from the fridge. After 25-30 minutes, take out the potatoes and corn and crank up the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, serve the soup and urge everyone to start without you. Carve the turkey. Remove the stuffing to a serving dish, or slice it from the loaf pans. Toss the green beans with the sauce. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees. Serve and enjoy!

For dessert, put the apple cake into the oven 10 minutes before you're ready to serve. Heat up the sauce. Serve up the cake and top with sauce. Or soften the ice-cream pie a bit by putting it in the refrigerator before sitting down to eat, then serve it with its sauce after the meal.

Recipes for some of the dishes discussed in Diane Phillips' class appear below.

Curried Cream of Pumpkin Soup


4 Tbs. butter

1/2 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 tsp. curry powder

1 Tbs. flour

2 cups pumpkin puree

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups half-and-half (light cream)

4 to 5 tsp. toasted coconut, optional


Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the apple, onion and curry powder, sauteeing until the apple is softened. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Gradually add the pumpkin and chicken stock, whisking until smooth. Add the cream.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, heat the soup and garnish with toasted coconut, if desired.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 173 cal.; 3 g pro.; 7 g carb.; 13 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 48 mg chol.; 531 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 75 percent calories from fat.

Green Beans with Sherried Onion and Mushroom Sauce


1 lb. green beans, stemmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths

Salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg

3 Tbs. butter

1 cup small pearl onions, sliced in half

1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms

2 Tbs. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. sherry


Bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add the beans. Simmer until they're crisp, but tender. Drain; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

In a 10-inch skillet, melt the butter and add the onions, sauteeing for three minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms give off some of their liquid. Add the flour; stir until blended.

Gradually stir in the stock and whisk until thickened. Add the cream and sherry, stirring until the mixture thickens. Add the seasonings and refrigerate until ready to serve. At that time, heat the sauce and add the green beans to the sauce.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 191 cal.; 3 g pro.; 15 g carb.; 13 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 43 mg chol.; 201 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 62 percent calories from fat. 


Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes


1 cup sour cream

1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened

8 to 10 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender

4 Tbs. butter or margarine plus 2 Tbs.

1/3 cup chopped chives (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 1/4 cup


Beat the sour cream and cream cheese together. Add the hot, drained potatoes. Beat until smooth. Add the butter, optional chives, salt and pepper. Rub the inside of a 3-quart souffle dish with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup grated Parmesan into the dish, and tip the dish, so that the cheese adheres to the butter. Turn the potatoes into the souffle dish and dot with butter and sprinkle with cheese. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until golden.

Serves: 10

Per serving: 308 cal.; 7 g pro.; 29 g carb.; 19 g fat (12 sat., 6 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 52 mg chol.; 237 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 54 percent calories from fat. 

Hot Apple Cake with Caramel Pecan Sauce

Ingredients for cake:

2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tsp. vanilla

Ingredients for caramel sauce:

4 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream


To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, until well blended. Add flour, spices and soda and beat until just incorporated. Mix in the apples, nuts and vanilla. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove to rack to cool. Refrigerate the cake when cooled. Reheat in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.

To make the caramel sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add pecan halves. Add brown sugar and whipping cream, and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce boils and sugar dissolves. Refrigerate for up to a week. To serve, place a wedge of warm cake onto dessert plate. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and spoon hot caramel pecan sauce over all.

Note: A true taste of autumn, this cake and sauce can be made ahead and frozen (1 month) or refrigerated for 3 to 4 days.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 485 cal.; 5 g pro.; 52 g carb.; 29 g fat (15 sat., 11 monounsat., 3 polyunsat.); 115 mg chol.; 177 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 31 g sugar; 54 percent calories from fat. 

Do-Ahead Stuffing


1 cup butter or margarine

2 cups chopped celery

2 cups chopped onion

4 quarts bread cubes

1 Tbs. salt

2 tsp. poultry seasoning

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1/4 tsp. crushed sage leaves

1/4 tsp. crushed thyme leaves

1-1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth


Cook the celery and onion in the butter over low heat and stir until golden. Meanwhile, blend the bread cubes and seasonings. Add the celery-onion mixture. Toss lightly to blend. Pour broth over and stir to blend. Add more seasonings as desired. Can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.

On Thanksgiving Day, stuff the turkey, or the stuffing can be baked in greased loaf pans for about 1 hour, basting occasionally with turkey drippings.

This is a basic dressing, there are lots of additions that can be done while sauteeing the onion and celery: 1 pound sliced mushrooms, 1/2 cup dried chopped apricots, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1 dozen chopped oysters, 1 cup pecan halves, 1/2 pound crawfish tails.

Serves: Enough stuffing for a 14 to 18 lb. turkey

Per serving: 273 cal.; 5 g pro.; 28 g carb.; 16 g fat (9 sat., 5 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 36 mg chol.; 880 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 52 percent calories from fat. 

Turkey Stock


Giblets and neck from turkey

1 large onion, quartered

3 carrots, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. salt

6 whole black peppercorns

Water to cover


Place all the ingredients into a 5-quart stock pot, and bring to a boil. Skim the foam from the surface of the stock, and then simmer the broth partially covered for 3 hours. Strain the broth, and skim the fat from the top of the stock. Use for gravy, or soup.

Note: This can be done the day before, or on the day you roast the bird.

Serves: 2 quarts 

Gulliver's Corn


2 bags (16 oz.) frozen kernel corn (defrosted)

1-1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

3 Tbs. flour mixed with 3 Tbs. melted butter or margarine

2 to 3 Tbs. plus 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Butter an ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons Parmesan over the butter, tilting the pan to distribute the cheese. Bring the whipping cream to a boil. Reduce the heat and add corn. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in salt and sugar. Make a paste out of the butter and flour, and stir into the corn and cook until thickened. Turn corn into oven-proof dish, sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Refrigerate up to 4 days. Do not freeze this dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown.

Serves: 8

Per serving: 310 cal.; 7 g pro.; 28 g carb.; 20 g fat (13 sat., 6 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 66 mg chol.; 717 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 57 percent calories from fat. 

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie with Butterscotch Sauce

Ingredients for graham cracker crust:

1 stick melted butter

6 Tbs. sugar

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Ingredients for pie:

One 16-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

3 pints vanilla ice cream, divided use

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Ingredients for butterscotch sauce:

4 Tbs. butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup cream


Cook the pumpkin with the seasonings and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the puree thickens. Refrigerate until cool. Soften 2 pints of ice cream and beat it with the pumpkin mixture. Spread evenly over frozen pie crust. Freeze at least 2 hours. Soften remaining ice cream and spread over pumpkin mixture and return it to the freezer. Wrap and freeze for up to one month.

Butterscotch sauce: In a small saucepan melt butter, and add brown sugar. Add cream and stir until the sauce boils. Remove from the heat. Refrigerate until ready to use, then warm before serving over pie.

Note: This is a lighter ending to a heavy holiday meal than the traditional pumpkin pie.

Serves: 10

Per serving: 442 cal.; 5 g pro.; 62 g carb.; 20 g fat (12 sat., 6 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 60 mg chol.; 217 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 41 g sugar; 40 percent calories from fat. 

Do-Ahead Gravy

6 Tbs. flour

6 Tbs. butter or margarine

4 cups chicken broth, or turkey stock


In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium high heat until the flour is incorporated. Gradually add the broth, whisking constantly and stirring until the gravy is thickened, and the mixture boils. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate 3 to 4 days ahead.

Thanksgiving Day: Heat the gravy, and when the turkey is done, pour off all the drippings into a jar, or fat separator. Skim or spoon off all the fat and add the drippings to the gravy.

Makes: 4 cups

Per serving: Per 1/4 cup: 59 cal.; 1 g pro.; 2 g carb.; 5 g fat (3 sat., 2 monounsat., 0 polyunsat.); 13 mg chol.; 250 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 81 percent calories from fat.

After Thanksgiving:

Turkey Sausage Casserole


1/2 stick butter or margarine

3/4 lb. sliced mushrooms

4 Tbs. flour

1-1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or you can substitute cheddar)

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 to 4 cups cooked turkey, cut into bite-size pieces

1 lb. bulk sausage, cooked and drained

2 cups herbed seasoned stuffing or any leftover stuffing


In a large saucepan, melt the butter and saute the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle in the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for one minute. Stir in the chicken or turkey broth and cream. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, mustard, salt, pepper, turkey and sausage.

Pour into a greased 2-quart casserole. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. If using dry herb seasoned stuffing, place it in a small bowl and toss with the butter. Sprinkle over the casserole. If using leftover stuffing, sprinkle it over the casserole and sprinkle the butter over the top. This may be covered with foil and refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for 1 month and defrosted the night before Thanksgiving. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 667 cal.; 46 g pro.; 25 g carb.; 39 g fat (19 sat., 15 monounsat., 5 polyunsat.); 191 mg chol.; 1501 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 57 percent calories from fat. 

Southwestern Black Bean Turkey Chili


Two 16-oz. cans black beans

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup chopped mild fresh chilies

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped leeks

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup flour

4 chicken bouillon cubes, crumbled

2 Tbs. ground coriander seeds

1-1/2 Tbs. chili powder

2 Tbs. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cups water

2 cups fresh corn, or equivalent of frozen, defrosted

4 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken


In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat, add the vegetables, and cook for 10 minutes, until they are softened. Add the next 8 ingredients, and whisk until the mixture is combined and bubbles. Stir for 3 minutes, or until the flour is golden. Gradually stir in the water.

Puree 1 cup of corn and add to the chili. Add the sugar, the remaining corn, chicken or turkey and black beans. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or keep in the refrigerator for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Serves: 8

Note: A great warm-up while watching the football game. From Diane Phillips' "Do- Ahead Thanksgiving" class, originally published in The Perfect Basket.

Per serving: 370 cal.; 30 g pro.; 32 g carb.; 14 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 91 mg chol.; 1224 mg sod.; 10 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 34 percent calories from fat. 

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I are joining his side of the family for an out-of-town Thanksgiving this year. By 'out-of-town' I mean that we're packing up the cars and heading to a cabin in the George Washington National Forest. The family is hoping to split up cooking duties, and I think this offers both an excellent menu and a clever approach! Thank you so much for posting this, Lori! Now to pitch it to the in-laws. :-)