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The Best Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes

Updated on May 5, 2011
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

image by Norman Rockwell
image by Norman Rockwell

Chaos and Stress

With a large house, livestock, and enough children to populate a town in Arkansas the holidays can be stressful if I let them. Homesteading today is not at all like Little House on the Prairie. I still have errands to run, school to do, email to answer, and blogs to write. Sometimes the added stress of holiday cooking can put me over the edge.

I have done every holiday meal for 27 years. The buck stops here, so to speak, as does the turkey and cranberry sauce! During that time I have come up with a few tricks to make my holiday stress free and actually allow me to spend time with those I love.

Calling Major Tom...

The turkey is, to me anyway, the biggest mess maker of the day. You can't stuff it ahead of time, it takes forever to cook, and when you get done you have all that greasy mess to clean up. Eww.

I learned many years ago to roast the turkey ahead of time. I use the turkey roasting bags, prepare it one sunny October day, complete with my stuffing of choice. Then I take the stuffing out, wrap it securely and pop it in the freezer. I carve the turkey, lay the slices of meat in a freezer to oven casserole dish or two, cover with the meat juices and cover the whole thing with wax paper and then aluminum foil and put it in the freezer.

On the night before I need it, I merely take the turkey out of the freezer and leave in the fridge to thaw. The next day I remove the wax paper, pour off the juice to be made into gravy, and warm up the turkey.

The turkey comes out very moist and delicious, having spent so much time soaking up the juices. The skin is not crispy though, so if you live for that crispy roast turkey skin this won't work for you.

To prepare the turkey for baking I loosen the skin, and rub between the meat and skin with a combination of butter and herbs, or butter and cranberry sauce and then bake as directed. The herbs (or sauce) give the meat a great flavor. Here is a post on how to make turkey with step by step photos.

How To Stuff & Cook A Turkey: Video Instructions

Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes & Yams, Oh MY!

You cannot freeze these unless they have been mashed and other ingredients have been added. Once you have added butter, cream, and all the other good stuff they freeze like a charm. Just plan on removing them from the freezer about 24 hours before you want to heat them up. Thaw, covered, in the fridge.

Here are two recipes I like a lot.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

8 servings

3 1/2 lbs red potatoes cut in chunks but not peeled

3 cloves garlic peeled

1 1/2 c sour cream

1 c cream or 1/2 and 1/2

1/2 stick unsalted butter

1/4 c chopped chives

1/2 c chopped onion

salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes, onion, and garlic in a saucepan and nearly cover with water. Simmer until very tender. Drain. (you can save the water for soup or gravy). Place into a bowl and add cream, sour cream, salt, pepper, butter, and chives. Mash with a masher until smooth. You can also do this in the processor but the peels get really pureed...I like the hand mashing better.

Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

There is nothing like these in the entire known universe.

8 lbs of yams baked in a 350 oven until tender (about 2 hours), then cooled.

Scoop the pulp from the yams (sweet potatoes, whatever) and set aside. Toss the skins on the compost pile.

Mash the pulp in a processor. Unless you have a big processor you will want to switch to a mixer for this next part.


1/2 c c heavy cream

1/2 c melted unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 c light brown sugar

1/4 c bourbon

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp all spice

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

pinch of salt and pepper

Process until smooth.

Turn into a greased casserole dish (freezer to oven type) and seal well and freeze.

Toss 1 c of chopped pecans with 2 tbs butter, and 2 tbs brown sugar and toast in 325 oven for 10 minutes. Seal and put in cupboard where the kids won't find it.

To bake, thaw overnight, Sprinkle pecans on top,then just bake for 1 hour at 325.

Homemade Whole Wheat Brown & Serve Rolls

These are super easy, and taste so much better than the ones from the store.

Homemade Rolls

3 1/2-c whole wheat flour,

2 1/2 -3 c white flour ( you can use all whole wheat but if you are not used to working with yeast dough, and especially whole wheat flours I suggest the combination)

1/2 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 pkgs yeast

1 1/4 warm c water

1/2 c milk

1/3 c butter

2 eggs

1/4 tsp ginger

Mix yeast and lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Set aside to bubble, ten minutes.

Melt the butter, mix with the milk and eggs. Beat well. Add the liquid ingredients, salt , ginger, and sugar to the yeast. Mix well. Add the flour until dough is formed. Knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to get a soft, elastic dough.

Let rise until doubled. Bake at 350 until done but not browned about 8-10 minutes.

Cool, seal, and freeze.

When ready to serve, remove from freezer and bake at 350 until golden brown...about 10 minutes.

Punkin' Pie

You can make the crust ahead of time, I would not, however suggest making the pie and freezing it. Custard pies tend to separate. Make your crust as usual, fit into the pie plate and then slip into a freezer bag, or container and freeze. No need to thaw when ready to bake, just pour in your ingredients and bake as usual.

Whipped cream can be frozen if you whip it with a stabilizer. I like to use about 1 tablespoon of dry white chocolate instant pudding mix as a stabilizer , but vanilla will work as well. Once you have whipped the cream,and pudding together, make serving sized dollops of it on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Set in freezer, on a level surface to flash freeze. In about an hour put the frozen cream in freezer containers, one layer high. When ready to serve, place frozen cream right on the pie and let stand for a few minutes to soften.


With all of that done, you have little left to do except warm up and enjoy the holiday. You can also freeze green bean casserole (add the fried onion topping later), and most vegetable dishes so keep an eye out for anything else you might need.

After dinner you will have only the dishes that were actually used in the meal to wash, all the prep will have been long finished and cleaned up.

Enjoy your holiday!


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    • RTalloni profile image


      8 years ago from the short journey

      Viva make ahead! Your methods are great. Thanks!

    • Karen Ellis profile image

      Karen Ellis 

      8 years ago from Central Oregon

      For us, Christmas is a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner. I haven't tried garlic mashed potatoes, but have tasted them and liked them. I'll have to make them for Christmas.

      Bourban Sweet Potatoes - sounds out-of-this-world. These are also on my Chrismas menu. Thanks.

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Awesome suggestions! I love to cook, but it's so hard to have everything ready at the same time.

    • Elyse Eaton profile image

      Elyse Eaton 

      8 years ago

      Mmmmm . . . It all sounds so good. I haven't heard of rubbing turkey with cranberry sauce. I am going to have to try that.

      My husband insists on his grandmother's recipe for sweet potato casserole, but your sweet potato recipe sounds to good to resist. We may have two types of sweet potatoes this year!

    • febriedethan profile image


      8 years ago from Indonesia

      It's hard to find turkey in my country, but this recipe is worth to try, great hub!

    • Lady LaShonda profile image

      Lady LaShonda 

      9 years ago from Atlantic City, New Jersey

      That is good advice for the turkey made in october. Another way of speed cooking your turkey is brining the turkey first for about 8-12 hours in stock, salt or sugar, and your choice of seasoning. Take it out and take softened butter mixed with herbs and spices. Apply a thick layer under the skin of the turkey. Put the rest on the outside. Chop up garlic, apples, oranges, rosemary, thyme, sage, and celery and stuff that in the cavity. Place your turkey on the rack and put the rack in the roasting pan. Pour some stock in the pan and put it in the oven at 375 degrees for 2 1/2 hours and its done. IMPORTANT don't baste the turkey. It cuts the cooking time in half.

    • MrMarmalade profile image


      10 years ago from Sydney

      Turkey is my most favourite meal. This will be on for Christmas

      Thanks for your help

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Bob- thanks. I do like to have things done it is much less stressful

      Lela, MG, & Mark- The sweet potatoes are really incredibel. i have been making them for 26 years with not one complaint yet...unless I forgot to make them.

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 

      10 years ago

      I do like the sound of bourbon in anything actually. I will definitely be trying these.

    • mgwhite profile image

      Mary White 

      10 years ago from Mobile, AL

      The bourbon sweet potatoes sound awesome. Thanks!

    • Lela Davidson profile image

      Lela Davidson 

      10 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

      Oh yeah! I am all over those sweet potatoes!

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      10 years ago from New Brunswick

      advance preparation is a good time saver, great tips.


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