Whether you are making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time or the 40th, it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the shopping, chopping and roasting.
But -many parts of the holiday meal can be made ahead, significantly reducing the stress level of the host.
Here are 10 items that can be made one or more days in advance, leaving plenty of time to roast the bird, make the gravy and enjoy your guests on Nov. 25.
1. Rolls -- Bread dough can be made, shaped and frozen up to two weeks. "A lot of doughs actually benefit from being frozen," says Romina Rasmussen, chef/owner of Les Madeleines Bakery in Salt Lake City. "If you're a new baker or have a tendency to over-mix, the freezer is your friend. Putting it in the freezer gives the dough time to relax."
2. Piecrust -- This is another dough that benefits from a little rest, Rasmussen said. Uncooked pastry dough, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, will keep one to two days in the refrigerator. It also can be frozen for up to three months.
3. Cranberry sauce -- Making relish from fresh berries takes just one pan and less than 30 minutes, and the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
4. Appetizers -- Dinner is the main event, but it's nice to have something for guests to munch on that doesn't require space in the oven. Spiced nuts can be made up to three weeks in advance. Dips like hummus and spinach dip can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator until just before serving.
5. Soup -- Pureed vegetables soups, such as butternut squash or tomato, will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator. Soups also can be made in advance and placed in the freezer. Simply pour cooled soup into freezer-safe plastic bags or containers, leaving a little room at the top as the liquid will expand. Defrosting will be easier if you freeze in several smaller containers rather than one large one. Soups will keep up to three months. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot or microwave.
6. Stuffing -- The day before the big feast, dry the bread, soften the onions and celery in butter and brown the sausage. Mix it together and keep in the refrigerator. Just before stuffing the bird, add a little bit of liquid to soften.
7. Mashed potatoes -- "On Thanksgiving morning, you shouldn't be peeling potatoes," Marguerite Henderson said. The Utah cookbook author and cooking instructor peels, cooks and mashes her potatoes the day before the holiday. She keeps them from turning brown by stirring in half-and-half, eggs and cheese. Just before serving, she bakes the dish, which "comes out like a souffle," she said.
8. Yams -- Steam, then bake and boil them a few days ahead of time. Then just reheat them on the day of the show.
9. Gelatin salad -- This is a no-brainer because gelatin must sit overnight to set. But as long as the dish is well covered, the gelatin salad can be made two to three days ahead.
10. Turkey stock -- "Delicious natural pan gravy is easy to make, but not really that simple," explains chef/owner Frank Brigtsen, of Brigtsen's Restaurant, New Orleans. "Careful timing, good technique and a homemade stock are essential." Brigtsen said his mother's Thanksgiving ritual includes making the turkey stock two to three days before the holiday.
(Sources: Marguerite Henderson, Romina Rasmussen, Christina Miller, "Thanksgiving Entertaining," by Williams-Sonoma, and "Thanksgiving 101," by Rick Rodgers.)
BASIC BREAD STUFFING WITH SAUSAGE AND APPLES
1 pound firm white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, about 10 cups (see Note)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium celery ribs with leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 pound pork sausage
1 cup chopped dried apples, about 3 ounces.
2 to 3 cups homemade turkey stock, canned reduced-sodium chicken broth or whole milk
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
Fresh ground pepper
To dry bread cubes, let them stand at room temperature overnight. Or bake them in a 350-degree oven, stirring occasionally until dry, 20 to 30 minutes. Do not toast. The bread will crisp as it cools.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery and parsley. Cook, stirring often until the onion is golden, about 10 minutes.
Scrape the vegetables and butter into a bowl with the bread cubes.
In the same skillet over medium heat, brown pork until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to break up the meat as it cooks. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add cooked sausage and apples to bread mixture. Toss so bread is coated evenly. At this point stuffing can be covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
Just before stuffing the bird, add enough stock or milk to just moisten the stuffing. But don't make it soggy. Add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.
Or place stuffing in a buttered baking dish, drizzle with additional stock. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 35 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Note: 1 (15-ounce) bag cubed seasoned stuffing