It happens almost every year. November always seems to be a crazy month, and Thanksgiving rolls around before I expect it. Between a busy work schedule and juggling holiday plans with family and friends, we don't usually cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But we do like to celebrate with a special dinner, and it often takes place the day before or a couple days after after the official holiday. We developed this menu a couple of years ago when we were cooking for family who'd already had one T-day dinner -- we wanted something different but with a nod to the classics, and we also needed a do-ahead menu so we could spend time with our guests.
This menu is a great choice if you're in the same boat, or if you just want a smaller, less traditional dinner for two without a lot of last minute work.
This lighter, updated version of a Waldorf salad features shaved aged Cheddar cheese and spicy walnuts. It makes an easy, delicious and different start to your Thanksgiving.
Make the sweet and spicy walnuts up to a week ahead -- they also make a great appetizer with a glass of champagne before dinner. If you like, you can also make the vinaigrette the day before.
I've long thought that dark meat is the best part of the turkey -- it's more flavorful than breast meat and stays moist even when overcooked (which, let's face it, happens more often than not). This method of braising turkey thighs results in even more succulent meat, and the braising liquid also makes a luscious sauce. It's perfect over the stuffing crouton
, but if you prefer, you can serve it over mashed potatoes or grits
You can braise the turkey up to three days before Thanksgiving, and reduce the sauce and shred the meat the day before. Thanksgiving Day, all you have to do is finish the sauce and reheat the turkey. For the stuffing crouton, you can make the stuffing and form the croutons the day before. Fry them right before serving.
In this dish, tender green beans and savory mushrooms are tossed in garlic cream sauce and topped with crispy shallots for a delicious update of the ubiquitous holiday casserole.
You can blanch the green beans and cook the mushrooms a day ahead, or even assemble the whole dish and reheat before serving. And if you don't want to fry the shallots for a topping, follow the directions for the panko topping in this gratin recipe.
To many, Thanksgiving dinner is all about side dishes. If you'd like another starch to augment the stuffing croutons, these silky, creamy mashed sweet potatoes are a great addition to the menu. (Or, for a different take on sweet potatoes, try this recipe
with beets and sweet potatoes.)
The sweet potatoes can be cooked and riced the day before, or you can prepare them completely and just reheat them.
This easy fruit crisp is delicious made with frozen peaches, but for a fall dessert, I think pears are the best choice.
Whichever fruit you choose, you can make the crisp the day before and bake it during dinner. Or bake it the day before and warm it before serving. The topping is less crisp, but the flavor is great.