Make-ahead dishes, other appliances help pull Thanksgiving meal together
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a formidable task in a spacious kitchen. But hosting the biggest holiday meal of the year from a kitchen with a single, standard-size oven can seem like a Herculean challenge. Take heart. Hot food from the oven is not the only path to getting this festive dinner on the table. Make-ahead recipes and use of alternative appliances are strategies that can help pull together a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the lowliest of kitchens. All four of the side dishes and both desserts we suggest here do not require any space in the oven (at least not on the day of the big dinner).
Timing and temperature
The loveliest thing about roasting a whole turkey is that when it comes out of the oven, it needs in the neighborhood of 45 minutes to rest and let the juices redistribute before slicing.
This presents a golden opportunity, with an already preheated oven, to cook off anything previously prepared. This is the time to bake rolls, dressing or any gratins or casseroles (think sweet potatoes or green beans). Your side dishes will be hot from the oven just as you finish carving.
Dave Swanson, chef and owner of Braise Restaurant, 1101 S., 2nd St., reminds us that not everything needs to be served piping hot. Swanson plans a few sides and salads, such as a wild rice pomegranate salad, that can be made ahead, refrigerated and brought to room temperature before serving.
Hearty grain-based salads, corn bread and cheese boards are all at their best when not too hot or too cold. Green and raw salads can be kept in the refrigerator until the last minute, as something cold and crisp, and is a good foil to hot, soft foods. So is that all-important cranberry sauce.
Just keep in mind the USDA “danger zone” for perishable foods. Any foods between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit can begin growing dangerous bacteria. A good rule is simply to not keep any perishable food out of refrigeration longer than two hours.
Many side dishes can be cooked on the stovetop, although burners can be used up fast, so think strategically. Consider items that can be cooked earlier over a burner, such as sweet potato puree, mashed potatoes and dressing (see recipe below) and then kept warm in a slow cooker or chafing dish until serving time.
Alternative cooking appliances such as slow cookers and pressure cookers can be employed to make tasks more hands-off — and in the case of the pressure cooker, much faster.
“For years I dreamed of having a second oven,” says Leigh Anne Wilkes, author of “Holiday Slow Cooker” (Page Street Publishing, 2017). “Little did I know that one was sitting on the shelf in the back of my coat closet!”
Her book begins with a chapter on Thanksgiving and weaves its way through Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, July Fourth and beyond.
For Thanksgiving, she often cooks the turkey in the oven but uses her four slow cookers for all the sides, from sausage corn-bread stuffing to pecan and brown sugar sweet potatoes. Here, you'll find her takes on roasted garlic and herb mashed potatoes and a spiced pumpkin pudding cake.
Pressure cookers are making a comeback, too, but these aren’t your grandmother’s slightly scary stovetop cookers. The Instant Pot is an electric “multicooker” that has a sauté function but that also can work as a slow cooker, yogurt-maker and pressure cooker.
The Instant Pot was Amazon’s bestselling item in both the U.S. and Canada during the site’s 2017 Prime Day event in July (with sales bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday). It’s become such a popular small appliance that there is now a large selection of Instant Pot- or multicooker-specific cookbooks, from vegetarian to paleo to Indian-themed.
Melissa Clark, food writer for the New York Times, was given an assignment to write about the new phenomenon. Two hours after opening the box, she was eating the best short-ribs she had ever made and was a convert.
Her newest cookbook, “Dinner in an Instant” (Clarkson Potter, 2017) is a collection of 75 recipes. And these aren’t recipes that you can make in the Instant Pot, these are dishes you should make in the Instant Pot because “the electric pressure cooker does it better — faster or more flavorfully, or with less mess and/or stress,” Clark says.
There are a variety of holiday-worthy dishes in Clark’s book, including Wild Rice Salad with Pine Nuts and Clementines, Tangerine Carrots with Ricotta, Chives and Walnuts and Bread Pudding with Dried Cherries.
Here we share her recipe for Wild Mushroom, Pancetta and Pea Risotto. A risotto normally would be out of the question on a day like Thanksgiving, as it needs constant attention for up to 40 minutes. However, in the multicooker, tender Arborio rice collapses into creaminess in about 30 minutes, and half that time is hands-off.
With a bit of strategizing, a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings can be prepared in a kitchen with just one oven. This spread is from "Holiday Slow Cooker" by Leigh Anne Wilkes.