When planning a holiday menu, it’s important to take into account time and real estate as much as taste. What will fit in the oven or stovetop on the big day, and what can you make in advance? Whether cooking for one, two or a few, get ahead with a little planning and strategy, and your day-of tasks will be minimal.
Inspired by West African stew, Yewande Komolafe’s pumpkin soup has earthiness from peanut butter, brightness from ginger and heat from fresh chiles, all united by creamy coconut milk.
DO AHEAD: Make it a few days in advance to enjoy as a simple Thanksgiving lunch while the main meal comes together, or serve small portions as a warming appetizer.
This five-star recipe brings fresh, assertive flavor to the Thanksgiving table and has enough texture to hold up overnight in the fridge.
DO AHEAD: Assemble the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar so you can simply shake before serving. Toss your sliced celery, apples and celery root with just enough vinaigrette to form a light coating, which will prevent them from oxidizing. Refrigerate both elements overnight, then assemble just before the big meal.
Kale can easily weather a night in the fridge without wilting into oblivion, and the salad helps offset a (tasty!) sea of starches on the table. Use any leftovers to perk up turkey sandwiches, turkey soup or grilled cheese.
DO AHEAD: Prep the greens and dressing a day or two in advance, refrigerating them separately overnight. Assemble just before serving.
Recipe: Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad
When it comes to carbs, some households swear by store-bought family favorites for simplicity, while those with avid bakers have freshly baked bread. These rolls from Erin Jeanne McDowell bridge that divide: The everything bagel topping makes them unique enough to justify the effort. (Just think of all the sandwich combinations you can craft with leftovers.)
DO AHEAD: Bake them up to a day or two in advance. To reheat, simply wrap the rolls in a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second bursts until steamy.
Recipe: Everything Parker House Rolls
There are many strong opinions out there on whether or not mashed potatoes can be made in advance — and conflicting methods on how to store them — but nearly 2,000 readers have given this recipe five stars. Melissa Clark mashes hers with a generous amount of sour cream and butter, folds them into a baking dish and refrigerates them until mealtime. Her trick to keep them moist when reheating? Top — and protect — the creamy spuds with a crisp crust of cheesy bread crumbs before baking.
DO AHEAD: Cook the potatoes, assemble the casserole, wrap tightly and store it in the refrigerator a day or two before Thanksgiving.
This visual masterpiece from Susan Spungen is as practical as it is stunning. Serve any leftovers for brunch, or match them with a zingy green salad for supper.
DO AHEAD: You can assemble it a day in advance, refrigerate overnight, then bake just before serving.
Recipe: Mushroom Bread Pudding
The roasted carrots in this bright dish from Sue Li lend themselves especially well to advance cooking because they are equally good hot or at room temperature.
DO AHEAD: Roast the carrots a day or two ahead and to reheat, quickly tuck them into a hot oven, warm them in a microwave or simply remove them from the fridge and bring to room temp. Top them with the chives, toasted nuts, ginger and vinegar just before serving.
Millie Peartree’s green bean casserole takes inspiration from the classic three-ingredient dish, but bumps up the flavor by adding roasted mushrooms and a Parmesan-based cream, with Cajun spices and nutmeg. This is not a dish of crisp-tender greens; they will be soft and creamy, and the topping will provide all the crunch you crave.
DO AHEAD: Shorten the roasting time by a few minutes, prepare your sauce and stash both separately in the refrigerator up to a day ahead. Reheat them gently in a saucepan together, slip them into your baking dish, top with the cheesy bread crumbs and fried onions and broil until bubbly.
Recipe: Green Bean Casserole
These roasted root vegetables from Sean Sherman’s collection of 10 essential Native American recipes are seasoned with sage and sweetened with agave.
DO AHEAD: The vegetables can be cooked through Step 2, then cooled and chilled one or two days in advance. To reheat, set them on a baking sheet and cover them tightly with aluminum foil and roast gently at 400 until warmed, about 15 minutes, then proceed with Step 3, brushing with agave and cooking until glossy.
By baking these potatoes on a sheet pan, not only does Melissa Clark maximize the surface area of the gratin to boost browning and caramelization, she thoughtfully saves you time on the front end and back end: It’ll cook — and reheat — faster than denser dishes.
DO AHEAD: You can assemble the gratin up to four hours before baking. Store it, loosely covered, in the fridge. The gratin can also be baked four hours ahead, kept uncovered at room temperature, and then reheated in a 450-degree oven until the top is shiny.
Recipe: Scalloped Potato Gratin
This sweet potato casserole, adapted from the chef Jimmy Sneed by Marian Burros, takes some time but a minimal amount of effort.
DO AHEAD: Bake the sweet potatoes and assemble the mash a few days in advance, then refrigerate. On Thanksgiving, remember to pull it from the fridge about an hour in advance to lose its chill, then top with the sweetened pecans and bake. If your cravings skew sticky-sweet, top the finished casserole with marshmallows and broil for a couple minutes until molten and caramelized.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole
Samin Nosrat describes panade as “the French country cook’s answer to stuffing.” Though many stuffings can lose their structure when prepared in advance, her recipe relies on sturdy stale bread, caramelized onions and layers of melted Gruyère.
DO AHEAD: Unlike your typical stuffing, this can be refrigerated up to three days and reheated for indisputably delicious results.
Get a head start on homemade gravy by preparing this simple base of butter, onion, flour and stock ahead of time.
DO AHEAD: You can make this recipe up to five days ahead. Then, as you reheat it, whisk in the turkey pan drippings for extra flavor. A pinch of fresh herbs never hurt.
Recipe: Make-Ahead Gravy
Prepared in advance, this jiggly treat will require some serious space in the fridge, but earns it by making a statement at the table. Save leftovers for your next cheese board, or tuck slices of the jelly into sandwiches.
DO AHEAD: Make the mold and refrigerate several days in advance. Set the chilled centerpiece in a bowl of warm water to release it from its mold, transfer the jelly to a serving plate and slice it at the table.
Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Jelly
This cranberry relish from Mark Bittman doesn’t require any cooking. Pulse the cranberries, orange segments and nuts in a food processor with some honey until they break into itty-bitty pieces and your sauce is set.
DO AHEAD: Refrigerating it for a few days helps the flavors meld. (Most cranberry sauces will hold up well refrigerated for a few days.) You can punch up the flavor with fresh ginger and orange zest — or tame it with warming spices like nutmeg, cinnamon or five-spice — just before serving.
Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Relish
Inspired by — you guessed it! — sweet potato casserole, Jerrelle Guy presents a convincing case that this classic dish is best enjoyed in pie form.
DO AHEAD: Prepare your foundation of crunchy ground pecans and custardy roasted sweet potatoes and refrigerate up to two days in advance. Come dessert time, top it with marshmallows and broil a few minutes until golden in spots.
Recipe: Sweet Potato Casserole Pie
Spiced like apple pie and pressed around a cream cheese filling, these tiny autumn cakes from Samantha Seneviratne are an absolute delight.
DO AHEAD: You can prepare them a day in advance and set them aside at room temperature before serving, but beware: They are highly snackable, and the cream cheese might help justify eating them for breakfast.
Recipe: Apple Cider Whoopie Pies
Flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, these hand-held pie bars from Genevieve Ko are topped with a buttery walnut crumble. They are delicious, and a back-pocket dessert for ambitious cooks with big day-of plans.
DO AHEAD: Though these bars are best fresh out of the oven the day they are baked, they can be sliced and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month ahead.
Recipe: Apple Pie Bars
Yossy Arefi’s recipe requires some time, but the payoff is as spectacular as it looks.
DO AHEAD: The cake can be prepared, assembled and refrigerated a couple days in advance. Bring it to room temperature before serving, or slice and wrap chilled pieces to share, as the stiff buttercream will make them sturdy enough to deliver to friends, family and neighbors.
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