Thanksgiving Meal Planning Starts Now: Make-Ahead Recipes

Master your Thanksgiving meal plan like a seasoned home cook, one day at a time. Let’s embark on the journey of Thanksgiving menu planning for an impeccable holiday feast!

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Start your Thanksgiving meal planning the easy way with these make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes and hosting ideas!

How To Prepare To Host Two Weeks Ahead Of Thanksgiving

How to Start planning a Thanksgiving menu

  • Make a list of the dishes you plan to cook, those you’re going to pick up and those that others are bringing to the party.
  • Make a grocery list of the ingredients you need. Sort your list by sections: dairy, produce, pantry staples, meats, and poultry. This makes your trip to the grocery store a lot easier to maneuver.
  • Take stock of your bar and include wine, mixers, and garnishes on your list.
  • After your grocery list is prepared, check your pantry to see which items you’ve already stocked and cross them off your list. (You’re already making progress!)
  • Now, place any orders you need to make. The turkey, of course (I like to order a fresh turkey), bakery goods and specialty items.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

Chili Spiced Pimento Cheese with Crack Crackers

Servings

Serves a crowd

Time to prepare

30 minutes ‘til it’s ready

Ingredients for seasoned crackers

  • 1 sleeve soda crackers (these are Saltines)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried cilantro

Ingredients for pimento cheese

  • 4 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, grated, about 1 cup
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature, about 1 cup
  • ¼ small red onion, peeled and diced, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined, and diced
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled, and diced, about ¼ cup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°. Lay the crackers onto a baking sheet. Stir the seasonings into the melted butter. Brush each cracker with the seasoned butter. Bake until the crackers are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. The crackers can be stored in an airtight container for several days.

Place the Monterrey Jack cheese, cream cheese, red onion, mayo, onion powder, garlic powder and chili powder in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the charred pepper and cilantro leaves and season with salt and pepper. Pulse one more time.

 

Serve the crackers with a slather of cheese on the top.

Thing to Note

To char and roast a bell pepper, heat a grill, grill pan or gas burner to high heat. Place the pepper over the heat. It’s okay to blacken the outside of the pepper. Use tongs to turn the pepper to char all sides. Turn off the heat and place the pepper in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil and let the pepper steam for several minutes. When the pepper has cooled, use your hands to peel the blackened skin from the pepper. What you have left is a flavorful, smoky, soft pepper that you can seed and dice for this version of pimento cheese.

Tomato and Peach Chutney

Servings

Makes about 3 cups

Time to prepare

30 minutes ‘til it’s ready

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely diced, about ½ cup
  • 2 to 3 medium hot cherry peppers, seeded and finely diced, about ½ cup
  • ½ red onion, peeled and finely diced, about ½ cup
  • 6 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced, about 3 cups
  • 6 ripe peaches, peeled and diced, about 3 cups
    2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a deep pot over medium high heat. Add the peppers and onion and cook until just soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and peaches. Stir in the brown sugar. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Season with Chinese Five spice, salt, and pepper. Simmer until the peaches just begin to break apart and the chutney thickens, about 20 to 25 minutes. The longer you simmer, the thicker the chutney!
Cool to room temperature and the store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.

Thing to Note

To peel the tomatoes and peaches, use a sharp knife to cut slits in the top. Place into boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and cool slightly. The peel will come off easily from the slits.

Another Thing to Note

After you peel the tomatoes, you can squeeze out the extra juice and seeds, using your hands. You can then dice the tomato flesh and dump it right into the pot!

Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter

Servings

Serves da whole family

Time To Prepare

20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes prep


Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, room temperature, 1 stick
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 (10 to 12-pound) fresh turkey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1 whole orange, cut into sections
  • ½ cup sherry

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450°. Stir together the softened butter with the herbs. Use your hands to cover the turkey with the herb butter. (Use your fingers to gently loosen the skin and get some of the butter between the skin and the meat.) Season with salt and pepper. Add the orange sections to the cavities in the chicken.

Place the turkey on a rack sitting in a baking dish. Pour the sherry over the top. Put the dish in the oven. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°.

Bake until the skin is crispy, and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes per pound. Use a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165°. You can also pierce the thigh part of the bird with a fork. If the juices that come out are clear (not pink) the bird is ready to eat!

Remove the orange from the cavities and discard. Let the chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Thing to Note

You can certainly stuff the cavities with different fruits or veggies. I usually use some lemons and limes, but you can also try apples, pears, onion, or celery. It depends on what you’ve got to use up. Stuffing the cavities ensure the meat stays moist.

Another Thing to Note

To carve the turkey, start with the wings. Wiggle them around until you find the joint. Use your very sharp knife to slice them away from the breast meat and transfer to your serving platter. Do the same with the legs and thigh portions. If your turkey is perfectly roasted, you may not need your knife to remove these pieces. Slice the breast meat from the breastbone down towards the cavity. Remove both breasts whole. Cut them into slices.

The only Make Ahead Gravy Recipe you'll ever need

Servings

serves a crowd

Time To Prepare

several hours to roast and simmer, so start a day early!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 heads garlic, halved
  • 2 medium onions peeled and cut into chunks, about 2 cups
  • 4 large carrots, trimmed and cut into chunks, about 2 cups
  • 6 celery stalks, cut into pieces, about 2 cups
  • 4 large turkey wings, about 3 pounds
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 (or more) tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons course black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage

Ingredients

Preheat your oven to 450°.

Drizzle the olive oil onto a baking sheet with lip. Add the vegetables and turkey wings to the baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and roast until the turkey wings are golden brown, about another hour. Occasionally, check to make sure that the veggies are not sticking to the baking sheet.

You can add water to help loosen everything. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly. Scrape everything into a large pot or Dutch oven. Put the pot on the stove. Add wine and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid cooks away, about 5 minutes. Cover the vegetables and turkey wings with water, about 1 quart. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the stock until it reduces by half, about 1 hour.

Pour the stock through a wire mesh colander and into a medium size bowl. Use the back of a spoon to push the turkey and veggie pieces into the bottom of the colander to squeeze out all the juices. Place the bowl with the stock in the fridge to chill for at least one hour or up to several days. (You can sift through what remains in the colander and gather enough turkey meat for a couple of yummy hot turkey sandwiches if you like!

Remove the bowl from the fridge. Use a large spoon to skim and discard any thin layer of fat from the top. Transfer the stock to a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. As the stock slowly boils, stir in the cornstarch slurry. The gravy will begin to thicken. You can add as much slurry as you like to get your desired gravy consistency.

Reduce the heat to low and let the gravy simmer slowly. Season the gravy with sage, salt, and pepper, adding just a bit at a time and tasting while you stir.

Thing to Note:

Here’ s another great tip. You can use this same method for beef stock that turns into a lovey gravy or sauce. Simply substitute the turkey wings for beef bones. I use beef short rib bones. I choose the skinny ones from the package and reserve them until I’ve collected enough to make a really good beef stock. I use red wine instead of white and adjust the seasonings from sage to thyme and rosemary. It’s pretty darn delicious!

Super Soft Green Beans with Caramelized Pearl Onions

Servings

Serves 4 to 6

 

Time To Prepare


20 minutes ‘til it’s ready

 

Ingredients

For onions
  • 36 pearl onions, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

For the green beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound green beans, about 3 cups, ends trimmed
  • 1 ½ cup chicken broth

 

Directions

Place the peeled onions into a skillet and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 10 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons butter and brown sugar and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes more. Add the vinegar and season with some of the salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are brown and syrupy. (You can do this in advance. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat the onions when you are ready to serve.)


Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a deep skillet with lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and green beans. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the chicken broth. Cover the skillet with the lid and simmer the beans in the pot until they are quite soft, about 20 to 30 minutes.


Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans to a serving bowl. Raise the heat and bring the remaining liquid to a boil. Cook until the liquid reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Pour the liquid over the beans. Spoon the caramelized onions over the mushy beans.


Thing to Note

To peel pearl onions, cut a slit in the root bottom of each one. Place into boiling water for two minutes. Remove to an ice water bath. Remove an onion from the water and pinch the skin to let the onion pop out.

Creamed Corn

Servings

Serves 6 to 8

 

Time To Prepare

90 minute cuisine

 

Ingredients

  • 6 large ears of corn, husks removed
  • 2 1/2cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion,
  • peeled and diced, about ½ cup
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and deveined, diced, about ½ cup
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined, and finely diced, about 1 tablespoon
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
    2 to 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Directions

Cut the kernels from the cobs, and into a bowl

Break the cobs in half and add to a deep pot. Pour in the cream and season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover the pot and cook over medium-high heat until the cream begins to boil. Turn off the heat and steep the husks in the cream for 1 hour.


Use a spoon to scrape the pulp from each cob piece and add back to the cream. Discard cobs.
Cook the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the corn and ¾ of the cream. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the corn is soft and tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the rest of the cream and half of the green onions and bacon. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the remaining green onions and bacon on top!

Pommes de Terre Chantilly

Ingredients

Serves 4

Time To Prepare

30 minute cuisine

Ingredients

  • 3 large (about 9 ounces each) baking potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature, 1 tablespoon for baking dish
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated, about ¼ cup

Directions

Peel the potatoes and cut them into ½-inch cubes. Place the potato cubes into salted, boiling water. Cook until the potatoes are very soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Use a colander to drain the potatoes. Place 3 tablespoons butter and milk into a large bowl. Use a potato ricer to smoosh the potatoes into the bowl. Stir the potatoes into a smooth puree.


Preheat the oven to 400°. Divide 1 tablespoon butter into four individual baking dishes. Place these onto a baking sheet. Place the dishes into the oven and let the butter melt onto the bottom of each one.


Use an electric mixer to whip the cream into soft peaks. Place about ⅓ of the whipped cream into the center of the potatoes. Gently stir the cream into the potatoes. The potatoes will be soft and light. Scrape the remaining whipped cream into the bowl. Gently fold this cream into the potatoes. You don’t need to overwork the potatoes. You want these to be light and airy.


Spoon the potatoes into the baking dishes. Sprinkle each dish with Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the potatoes are warmed through and the tops begin to turn golden brown on the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Chocolate Silk Pie

Servings

Makes 1 tall pie

Time To Prepare

30 minutes prep plus some chilling

Ingredients

1 baked pie shell

For filling
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature, 2 sticks
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
For topping
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Roll out 1 perfect pie dough round and place into your pie plate without stretching the dough. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°. Use the tines of a fork to pierce the bottom of the dough. Cover the pie dough with parchment paper. Pour pie weights or dried beans onto the sheet and into the pie pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pie shell from the oven. Carefully remove the parchment paper and weights and cook until the crust is golden, about 5 to 10 minutes more. Cool to room temperature.

Melt the chocolate in your microwave oven or in a double boiler over simmering water. Cool. Use an electric mixer to combine the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in the chocolate and 1 teaspoon vanilla. The filling will appear grainy. With the mixer on medium speed add 1 egg. Wait five minutes and add 1 more egg. Continue adding the eggs and waiting 5 minutes after each. Once you’re done (20 minutes’ worth) you will have a light and airy filling to mound into your pie shell. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Prepare the topping by adding the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip until the cream begins to thicken. Add the sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Continue whisking on high until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Dollop this topping over the chilled pie.

One Week Before Thanksgiving

  • Make a list of the dishes you plan to cook, those you’re going to pick up and those that others are bringing to the party.
  • Make a grocery list of the ingredients you need. Sort your list by sections: dairy, produce, pantry staples, meats, and poultry. This makes your trip to the grocery store a lot easier to maneuver.

Thanksgiving Tablescape Planning

Create place cards (a great craft to do with kiddos) assemble your centerpiece and collect décor for platters. Pretty twigs and stems and whole fruit are good for decorating. I love to include food as part of my tablescape centerpiece. I place artichokes alongside pears and limes for a green experience. Add a few branches, pinecones, and a gourd or two and you have an organic look that is perfect for the occasion.

Saturday Before Thanksgiving

How to shop for Thanksgiving

  • If you are a farmer’s market shopper, get up early and visit the market you love. Purchase all the fresh produce items that you need.
  • Stop and smell the coffee beans. Remember this is not a race. Take time to enjoy your stroll through the market. Smile at the people you pass and greet your favorite farmers. This is the season to be thankful for the growers! Slow down long enough to enjoy a festive cup o’ Joe while you double check your list.
  • Finish up at the grocers to purchase anything you were not able to find at the market.

Sunday Before Thanksgiving

  • Make the dishes on your meal plan that are easily made in advance, like chutneys and relishes. (Really, you can make almost everything in advance, freeze and thaw!)
  • Lay out serving dishes and utensils.

Tuesday Before Thanksgiving

How to prep for thanksgiving

Chop and prep all the ingredients you will need the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

If you need onions for three dishes, chop a bunch. Same goes for apples for pie and potatoes for mashed potatoes.

Here’s a trick: Submerge potatoes in cold water in the pot you will use to cook them in and place them in your fridge. They will be fine until you’re ready to boil.

  • Set your table! Prepare your centerpiece. Get those place cards placed! If you are hosting a crowd, a buffet table is the way to go.
  • Set up your bar. Did you remember to make extra ice?
  • If you have a frozen turkey, let’s get it on its way to thawing.

Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

Get ready for Thanksgiving by preparing your desserts ahead of time! 

Make Ahead Thanksgiving Tips

  • Prepare your casseroles and sides ahead of Thanksgiving. You can bake most of these and simply warm them up later.
  • Make your gravy. It will be even better if you chill it overnight and then warm it up tomorrow.
  • Prepare dough for breads or rolls. Letting dough rise in the fridge overnight is a good thing.
  • Cover everything with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until tomorrow. You can place the baking dishes on top of each other to save space. Use a heavy piece of cardboard or a thin baking sheet to separate the dishes.

Thanksgiving Morning

  • Get your Thanksgiving turkey ready to roast by organizing your oven racks
  • Preheat your oven so that you’re ready to bake and warm your dishes
  • Prepare mashed potatoes. Save the potato water to help thicken your gravy
  • Set out your appetizers
  • Get the ice in the bucket
  • Pour yourself a glass of wine….you’re doing great!

The Big Reveal

  • Pull the turkey from the oven and transfer to a cutting board.
  • While the turkey rests, encourage friends and family to help you get the casseroles and side dishes to the table
  • Pour gravy into boats, carve the bird, say a prayer of thanks….And enjoy your family and friends!

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