Thanksgiving 101: Recipes and tips for a memorable holiday meal

Roasted turkey with traditional sides.
Roasted turkey with traditional sides.

This Thanksgiving, spend less time fussing in the kitchen and more time enjoying the company of your friends and family. Here is a road map to a traditional turkey meal with all the trimmings, much of which can be made in advance and reheated.


▪ Wild Mushroom Soup

▪ Roasted Turkey with Stuffing and Quick Gravy

▪ Cranberry Sauce

▪ Gratinéed Spaghetti Squash

▪ Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

▪ Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

▪ Simple Salad

▪ Pecan Pie

Game Plan

One week before:

▪ Buy ingredients.

▪ Make cranberry sauce and freeze.

▪ Make spaghetti squash and freeze.

▪ Make stuffing and freeze.

▪ Make pecan pie and freeze.

One day before:

▪ Make potatoes and refrigerate.

▪ Make quick gravy and refrigerate.

▪ Make mushroom soup and refrigerate.

▪ Move cranberry sauce, spaghetti squash, stuffing and pie to refrigerator to defrost.

Thanksgiving Day:

▪ Prepare turkey.

▪ Make sprouts.

▪ Warm spaghetti squash and twice-baked potatoes.

▪ Assemble salad

Turkey Tips

▪ When buying a turkey, consider about 1 pound per person; 1 1/2 pounds per person for leftovers.

▪ Use a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer to gauge doneness (see guidelines below). Pop-up thermometers that come with some turkeys are not always reliable.

▪ To thaw a frozen turkey, place it on a rack on a baking sheet and refrigerate; allow 24 hours thawing per 4 pounds of turkey. Alternatively, put turkey, in its packaging, in a bowl with enough cool water to cover, changing water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of submerged thawing per 5 pounds.

▪ To roast, heat oven to 325 degrees. Place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up, with legs trussed. Brush with olive or canola oil, then season with salt and pepper. Cover breast, wings and lower legs with foil. Place 1 cup chicken or turkey broth in pan, and roast, basting every 15-20 minutes with pan juices. Remove foil for the final 45 minutes of cooking. Let turkey rest 20-30 minutes before carving.

▪ Temperatures: A meat thermometer should read 180 degrees for thigh meat, 170 degrees for breast, 165 degrees for center of stuffing (if stuffed in bird).

▪ Times: A fully thawed, unstuffed turkey should take about 15 minutes per pound to cook in a 325-degree oven. An 8- to 12-pound bird should take about 2 to 3 hours. A 20- to 24-pound turkey will take about 5 to 6 hours.

▪ In a pinch: Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line will be staffed with experts throughout the holidays. Call 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372).

Linda Gassenheimer:

Coming next week

Day-after cooking: Leftover and other recipe ideas for the day after Thanksgiving, so you won’t have to schlep to the grocery store.

Pecan Pie

This can be made a week ahead and frozen. Bring to room temperature before serving.

1 (8-inch) store-bought pastry crust

5 ounces shelled pecans (about 1 3/4 cups)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup extra fine granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups light karo syrup

1 1/2 ounces melted butter

3 medium eggs, well beaten

A few drops vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a pie plate with the pastry. Save about 20 of the best pecan halves to place on top of the pie and coarsely chop the rest. Mix the chopped pecans, brown sugar, white sugar, karo syrup, butter, eggs and vanilla together until smooth. Pour into the lined pie plate. Place the pecan halves around the edge to decorate. Bake for about 1 hour. Cool and freeze. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

These can be made a day ahead.

4 medium sweet potatoes

6 tablespoons soft butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes; do not peel. Bake for one hour. The potatoes are done when they are darkened outside and the inside is soft.

Cut baked potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out pulp into a bowl, leaving skins intact. Add butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Place potato skins in a baking dish and fill them with the potato mixture. They can be made a day ahead to this point. Refrigerate and bring to room temperature before rewarming. Place in a 325 degree oven to warm through, about 30 minutes. Serve one potato half per person.

Yield: 8 servings

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

These can be made several hours ahead and rewarmed in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes.

2 pounds Brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 bacon slices, diced (about 6 ounces)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse sprouts, cut off rough stem and cut in half. Place in a bowl and add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Line a sheet pan with foil and add the sprouts in one layer. Roast 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove from skillet to paper towels to absorb fat. Mix vinegar, honey and mustard together. To finish: Place sprouts in a serving dish and drizzle with vinegar mixture. Toss well. Sprinkle bacon on top. Set aside and rewarm at 325 degrees for 20 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

Gratinéed Spaghetti Squash

This can be made one week ahead and frozen.

1 medium spaghetti squash (3-4 pounds)

1/2 cup butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1 cup broken walnuts

Prick several holes in the skin of the squash to let steam escape. Microwave on high 5 minutes to soften and make it easier to cut into. Cut in half, microwave both halves 10 minutes until soft. Spoon out seeds and scrape along the pulp with a fork and pull out the flesh. These will come out looking like thin strands of spaghetti. Place in a large bowl and mix with the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle cheese on top and then the walnuts. It can be frozen at this point.

To serve, defrost and bring to room temperature. Cover with foil and place in a 325-degree oven for 30 minutes or until warmed through.

Yield: 8 servings

Bread and Herb Stuffing

Use this recipe as a guide to add your own personal touches, like more vegetables, spices or other bread. It can be made a week ahead and frozen. I prefer to bake the stuffing outside of the turkey. This recipe can, also, be used to stuff the turkey.

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups finely chopped onion

2 cups chopped celery

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

8 cups stale whole grain bread cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper. Sauté until onion is softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl. Add the bread cubes, parsley and 1 cup chicken broth to the bowl. Mix well.

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil and add the stuffing mixture. Drizzle the remaining 1 cup chicken broth over the stuffing. Cover and freeze.

To serve: Bring to room temperature and bake in a 325-degree oven until heated through, about 50 minutes. Remove cover after about 25 minutes for a crusty top.

Yield: 8 servings

Cranberry Sauce

This can be made a week ahead and frozen.

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries

2 strips orange zest

Add sugar and water to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and add the cranberries and orange zest. Lower heat to medium-high and cook until the cranberries burst and a thick sauce is formed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool, remove orange zest and freeze. Defrost and bring to room temperature to serve. If it has become too thick, place in a sauce pan with a little orange juice and gently heat.

Yield: 8 servings

Quick Gravy

Instead of making a traditional gravy, I like to make this one. It’s very easy, can be made a day ahead and is a crowd-pleaser. This means you won’t have to make a fresh gravy while completing the rest of the meal.

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups maple syrup

2 cups Dijon-style mustard

Combine ingredients in a sauce pan and place over medium-low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Heat through; do not boil.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Wild Mushroom Soup

This can be made a day ahead. Bring to room temperature before heating on the stove. Dried wild mushrooms give the soup an added flavor boost. If hard to find, the recipe also works well without the dried mushrooms and no other changes to the recipe.

1/2 cup dried porcini or morel mushrooms

4 tablespoons butter

4 cups sliced onion

2 pounds sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons flour

8 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water to rehydrate. Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they are golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove dried mushrooms from water, pat dry and add to saucepan with the sliced mushrooms. Sauté 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour on top. Stir until flour is absorbed. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Lower heat to a simmer, half cover with a lid and simmer 20 minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Taste for seasoning and add more nutmeg if needed.

Yield: 8 servings


Greens, vegetables, herbs, nuts (your choice)

Sea salt and pepper


Fill a large salad bowl with your favorite washed greens. Season, then toss with oil and vinegar just before serving.