Will you help me time my Thanksgiving meal?
November 20, 2017 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I have never cooked a big meal before. I'd like to do as much in advance as possible. Please share your expertise.

I'm going to link the recipes and hopefully an avid cook will share their suggestions for how far in advance I can make these dishes, and what order to make them in. For example, is there anything I could make tomorrow that would keep well until Thursday afternoon? Or anything that could be made Wednesday? Is there a way to make two things at once with minimal fuss? I don't know how to figure this out on my own. Maybe there's a website out there that helps you figure this out?

I'd rather do as little as possible day-of, at the same time, because the stress of that type of cooking is part of the reason that I made it this long without ever hosting Thanksgiving. That said, I also want everything to seem fresh.

So here are the recipes. Thanks in advance.

Mashed potatoes which will be served with mushroom gravy
Deconstructed green bean casserole (I will be simplifying this. I hope to use coconut cream instead of heavy cream and will skip the cheese.)
Stuffing made with lentils and bread
Fake ham that must be thawed 24 hours before cooking then baked for 75 minutes at 325 f
"Holiday roast" that should be baked from frozen at 425 for 60 minutes with foil, then 450 with foil removed for 15 minutes
posted by crunchy potato to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Figure out what time you need the food to be ready to serve, and work backwards from there. I don’t know of a website, but I was taught in a home ec class to do this with pencil and paper — make a grid of, say, 5 minute intervals (so each row = 5 minutes). Make one column for each dish. Start at the bottom, which will be when the food is ready, and work upwards. Write down tasks and equipment needed (like “big pot,” “stove burner”, “oven at 350”, or “cutting board”). You will be able to see what will need to happen for each thing at each time, and whether (for example) you’ve double-booked all the stove burners and therefore need to reconsider.

(With experience, you’ll learn to do this planning in your head — but when you’re learning, it’s useful to do it in writing.)

The roast and fake ham might present difficulty because they need such different oven temps and long cook times, unless you have two ovens. I suspect you’ll do best to bake the fake ham first, take it out, then do the roast, take that out, and quickly reheat the fake ham while the roast rests briefly. Fake ham is likely to stand up to heating and cooling and reheating without getting too overcooked, whereas roast beef really needs to be cooked exactly as directed.
posted by snowmentality at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, the NYTimes has a really lovely guide for this.

Of your list:

-You can assemble the stuffing ahead of time (probably best done a day ahead). If it's going to be moist, you can bake ahead and reheat; however, a dry stuffing should be cooked day-of. Regardless, you can cook the lentils the day before.
-If you're making the mushroom gravy, you can make that now.

The rest of it seems to be best done day-of. I'm not sure how to juggle the roast and 'fake ham'.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:09 PM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's a pain in the ass, and you kind of have to decide where you're okayest making trade-offs.

Dressing, the kind cooked independently of and not stuffed inside meat, frankly gets better with age. I'm making mine tomorrow (and half will be frozen for Christmas when it will be amazing) and I'm fine with microwaving it. Your recipe looks like it can also handle that.

Your green bean situation is tough because mushrooms lose a certain lightness once they are full of fat and cooled. And apparently most people like their green beans al dente rather than my beloved mush, so reheating is not going to be spectacular. Cook toward the end of the roast time - at least it's stovetop so you can do them simultaneous.

The fake ham is probably fine reheated. I'd cook it the night before and short it by 10-15 minutes and microwave day-of. Maybe even microwave it first before the other reheatings and let it come back down some, because tepid ham is fine. I have done this for potlucks, I don't remember the brand of faux ham it was. It wasn't stuffed, in any case.

Is your holiday roast the Field Roast brand with stuffing? I only cooked that for the first time last year, it was good, I don't know how well it would microwave whole if you precooked and refrigerated (it was fine for cut up leftovers, but just that whole center cavity for the stuffing is probably likely to try to explode or at least make it fall into pieces) and I'd be a little concerned about how long it would take to cool off in the center.

Reheated mashed potatoes are exactly right for leftovers but you really want that fluffy gorgeousness fresh-cooked when it hits the table. You should probably do it more or less while the holiday roast and green beans are going on. Or, if you want to risk doing it without a test run (or do a test run tomorrow), do you have a slow cooker?
posted by Lyn Never at 4:30 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I make out the menu and put it on the fridge so I don't forget anything. Try to think about extra stuff like parsley garnish, sour cream stuff like that.

I make a grocery list with every single ingredient, even so, I have to go get celery.

Separately, list everything by cooking time
Days before - make sure you have adequate plates, glasses, silverware, napkins, roasting & serving dishes. Choose music.
Fake ham that must be thawed 24 hours before cooking then baked for 75 minutes at 325 f - remove ham from freezer Weds eve
Deconstructed green bean casserole (I will be simplifying this. I hope to use coconut cream instead of heavy cream and will skip the cheese.) - prep green beans - can be done day before
Stuffing made with lentils and bread - can likely be done the day beforeMashed potatoes - "Holiday roast" that should be baked from frozen at 425 for 60 minutes with foil, then 450 with foil removed for 15 minutes
peel, cook potatoes - 30 mins, mash - 10 mins
which will be served with mushroom gravy - 20 minutes? no idea, sorry. Gravy usually holds well,
posted by theora55 at 4:48 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am all about pre-prep on the days before. For day-of cooking, don't be afraid to ask people to help you out. If you will be busy with other things, maybe print out the green bean recipe and put someone in charge of that - or at least in charge of measuring out all the ingredients. Ask someone to set the table if you don't do it ahead of time.

If I were making that menu, here's how I would do it:

Mashed potatoes: You'll need roasted garlic. Roast that Tuesday or Wednesday, separate the garlic from the skins, and refrigerate that for Thursday. I don't know what the mushroom gravy is like, but I'd imagine that's easily made on Wednesday and re-heated on Thursday (either on the stove or in the microwave.) Add a little water to it if it's too thick.

Green Beans: Needs to be cooked day-of. So do all your prep on Wednesday. Trim, wash, and dry the beans. Dice your onion, slice your mushrooms, and mince your garlic (maybe save garlic for day of). Grate your cheese.

Stuffing: Do everything on Wednesday - don't bake it though. Cover it and put it in the fridge. Bake it on Thursday. Take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for about 1 hour before baking, and it will then still take about the same time to bake as the recipe calls for.

On Thursday: Make your mashed potatoes around 1 or 2 p.m. and put them into a slow cooker for an hour or two before guests come.

About 45-60 minutes before dinnertime, start your green beans. That's going to be an active dish to cook - not much room to do other things while it's cooking. It looks like you may be able to start the sauce and keep that warm while you're doing other things. Just keep it from drying out.

Your holiday roast may be able to be cooked at a lower temperature, but it will need more time if so. Look at the manufacturer's website to see if they have any recommendations. That last 15 minutes will be similar to the last 15 minutes your stuffing needs to brown.

If you're planning to eat at 5, then aim your timing so that everything is done by 4:45. This will give you a little leeway and time to carve the roast and ham. Most Thanksgiving food is fine if it's not piping hot.
posted by hydra77 at 4:59 PM on November 20, 2017

Best answer: First, I agree with snowmentality that you should get out a piece of paper and work backwards to figure out what needs to go in the oven when. Actually, your timeline should go all the way back to when you need to start thawing stuff.

The sauce on the deconstructed casserole sounds like it will basically be vegan mushroom gravy by the time you're done with it? Can you make one sauce and eat it on both?

I think you can definitely make the stuffing a day or two ahead and then reheat it in a microwave or toaster oven. (Unless flax egg does some weird un-congealing I don't know about.)

I agree that mashed potatoes are best when made right before eating.

I don't know whether mushroom gravy would hold up well if made in advance. I hope it does! That would simplify things.

Here's the order I'd do stuff in:
Day or two ahead: Make the dressing and refrigerate
Day ahead: Start thawing the fake ham
Day ahead: wash and trim your green beans, chop any other veggies you'll need to make the mushroom gravy and/or the green bean sauce. Mince those chives. I don't know how to keep potatoes from greying if chopped ahead of time, so maybe save that task.
Day of:
Cook the ham first, set aside and refrigerate
Cook the field roast.
While it's cooking, start your pot of potato water boiling. Chop the potatoes and put them in when it boils. Now might be a good time to get the ham out of the fridge so it's not so cold when you go to reheat it. Set timers for everything and/or note actual times on your timeline. You might get to sit down for like 15 minutes.
Start a pot of water with a steamer for your beans.
Start the gravy/sauce. The key part of the sauce is making the roux. Don't start the roux until you're close to go time. You can probably set aside the cooked mushroom onion situation for a bit if you get ahead of yourself.
Steam the beans. Set aside and tent with foil for warmth.
Home stretch now:
Mash the potatoes, put in those chives you minced the day before! Tent with foil.
Take out the roast and tent if you need to use the oven to reheat the ham.
Reheat the dressing in the microwave.
Finish the gravy.

This will all be easier if you have a kitchen buddy who will stir and mash things at your command.
posted by purple_bird at 5:04 PM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would shamelessly make and freeze the stuffing and gravy now. For best results with freezing, in general: undercook, over-season, start with very good and fresh ingredients, let it come to room temp and lose its steam (I have an uninsulated mudroom I use; uncovered stuff gets chucked out there until room temp. How big's your fridge...?) so you don't have surplus liquid or mush on thawing. Fresh herbs, black pepper, milk should go in when you are thawing. Cover and freeze ASAP once it's cooled.

If you want to simplify green bean/mushroom/fried onion stuff, you can just sauté the mushrooms (& onions/shallots if using) a bit, and simmer that in heavy cream until it reduces enough to be saucy. Awful practice, serving guests what amounts to an insane amount of milk fat. They will be too busy enthusiastically shovelling it in to care, though.

+1 on a slow cooker as a keep-warm device -- in my view, the only reason to have a slow cooker. Maybe a friend might lend one out for the stuffing? Thrift stores pretty much always have them, tiny ones included, and you could also use a small one for the mushroom sauce for the beans. And gravy. People don't seem to use the "Little Dipper" mini ones they were at one point giving as a freebie with a big one; two of those, if you got lucky at a thrift, might cost you $4 each and hold the gravy and mushroom sauce.

Thrift stores are also clogged with food processors (because people are fools and can't figure them out, or because people thrilled to them and bought larger and better accessorised models? no idea); do all possible prep in one -- you want a slicing disc and whirling blades depending on what you're chopping and a shredding disc is a plus too -- or, bribe someone with wine to sit at your table and talk with you and slice bread. Extremely tedious, not easily done in a food processor, totally worth it to use top-notch bread (I would use a crusty white over the wholemeal loaf in the recipe -- a hearty bread with lentils is going to be heavy) instead of the pre-cut stuff. (The shredding disc came to mind as grated green apple is a terrific addition.)
posted by kmennie at 1:37 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cheating is OK. If you want to buy mushroom gravy from the Whole Foods and serve that on green beans and potatoes, you have my permission.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:45 AM on November 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: MOne tip I have is, when I’m cutting up items for multiple dishes, I portion them onto paper plates and write in sharpie what they’re for. So for example, I’ll have 4 plates of diced onions, and the rim will say ‘stuffing’ and ‘green bean casserole’ etc etc. I’ll also put other items on the plate if they will get cooked together. Then I’m not having a ton of packages vying for my attention as most are portioned and grouped ahead of time, the night before or early morning of the event. It’s a little wasteful but only once or twice a year and it helps me save time and stay organized. I do sit down with a notepad and review my recipes/menu first, looking for common ingredients. I also write down approx times to make items, making a cooking schedule. I try to include time for a walk out of the house for at least 30 minutes which helps clear my mind and I’m not all grumpy and tired by the time dinner is ready.

Also try to clean as you go, it makes things a lot easier. And if anyone offers to help, let them!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I realize your list does not have a turkey. However, I cannot pass this thread by without a plug for the 2 Hour Safeway Turkey! I've baked it for years to rave reviews.
posted by eglenner at 9:37 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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