How to Have a Stress-free Thanksgiving Dinner


Canadian Thanksgiving is only two weeks away!

I have been hosting the extended family Thanksgiving Dinner for the past 6 or 7 years but I remember how stressed I was the first time I was responsible for the whole dinner. How was I going to get everything on the table hot at the same time? How could I cook the casseroles when there was a big bird already taking up my entire oven? How could I enjoy my company when I was stuck in the kitchen juggling 5 dishes?

I’ve figured out the key to a successful Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner is a bit of planning and making as much as possible ahead of time, including cooking the turkey ahead. Trust me, I’ve done it for years and the turkey is just fine!

We eat (Canadian) Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday, usually mid-afternoon. I prepare the stuffing Saturday morning and refrigerate it until I stuff the turkey (It’s actually safer to put cold stuffing in a cold bird. Less chance of bacteria growth). The turkey itself goes in the oven about 4pm on Saturday and cooks for about 4 – 5 hours, so it comes out mid-evening. Immediately remove the stuffing to an oven-proof casserole dish and refrigerate (Important! This is the leading cause of Thanksgiving food poisoning). Let the turkey cool slightly then cover loosely with tinfoil and two, damp, clean tea towels, which keep moisture around the turkey while it’s in the refrigerator. I then make up the gravy in the roasting pan and refrigerate it.

As for the sides, the potatoes are made earlier in the week and frozen. The butternut squash soup is made the week ahead and frozen before adding the cream. I make the pastry for the pies the night before while the turkey is cooking and refrigerate. I then bake up the pies in the morning and prepare the carrots, which are cut and cooked in the late morning (while the pies are baking) and are just left out to be re-warmed and “glazed” just before eating. The vegetable casserole is also assembled in the morning and refrigerated until ready to bake.

Apart from taking everything out of the freezer or fridge and popping in the oven the appropriate time ahead, I have nothing to do in the kitchen once my guests arrive. The turkey gets sliced cold and plated just before eating and then is given a quick shot in the microwave to warm it and it’s perfectly lovely and moist every time. The carrots get a quick re-warm and glaze and then it’s just a matter of taking the potatoes and vegetable casserole out of the oven and serving.

Below is my Thanksgiving menu, with recipes that should feed 8-10. If you’re cooking for more, adjust accordingly (and if you’re cooking for more, my thoughts are with you :). I’ve also included a timetable to make sure everything gets on the table on time and stress-free!

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Turkey with Traditional Bread Stuffing and Giblet Gravy
Homemade Cranberry Sauce (Recipe Below)
Bread Basket with assorted rolls and bread
Mashed Potato Casserole (Recipe Below)
Maple Glazed Carrots (Recipe Below)
Provencal Vegetable Gratin (Recipe Below)
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie (Recipe Below)


Week before:
Prepare and freeze mashed potato casserole and butternut squash soup (don’t add cream before freezing). Place potatoes in oven-proof casserole. Freeze potatoes and soup.

3 Days before: (2 days before turkey cooking day)
If using frozen turkey, take it out of freezer and place in fridge 2 days ahead of the day it will be cooked. (They take much longer to thaw than we usually think they will!)

The day before:
Morning: Prepare bread stuffing and refrigerate.
Mid-day: Prepare cranberry sauce and refrigerate.
Late afternoon:
Stuff turkey and roast. Remove stuffing to separate casserole dish. Refrigerate stuffing and turkey. Make gravy. Refrigerate.
While turkey is cooking, make pie crust and refrigerate.
Set table.
Remove mashed potatoes from freezer to sit out overnight.

Morning of Thanksgiving:
Take butternut squash soup out of freezer to thaw.
Check state of Mashed Potatoes. If thawed completely, put in refrigerator. If not, leave at room temperature.
Prepare and bake pies.
Cut vegetables (for Glazed Carrots and Vegetable Casserole).
Prepare Vegetable Casserole and refrigerate until baking.
Cook carrots and let stand at room temperature (to be re-warmed and glazed later).

2 hours before dinner:
Take refrigerated dishes out of fridge to come to room temperature (Including cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, vegetable casserole)

Last hour before eating:
60 minutes before, put mashed potatoes in oven.
50 minutes before, put the vegetable casserole in the oven.
30 minutes before, put the stuffing in the oven covered with lid or tin foil (Add a tablespoons of chicken stock over it to add some moisture for re-heating). Add cheese to vegetable casserole.
15 minutes before, put butternut soup in saucepan over low heat to re-warm. Put refrigerated gravy in a saucepan on low, to re-heat.
5 minutes before, glaze carrots in skillet and place into serving bowl. Add cream to butternut soup. Recruit someone to slice turkey and place on microwave-proof dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave for only about 1 – 1/2 minutes. Just until warmed. Do not over-heat (Remember, you’ll be putting got gravy over it.)
Take casseroles from oven and place on table. Put gravy in gravy boat and put on table. Put some cranberry sauce in a small bowl on table. Serve up soup into pretty cups or small bowls and place at each setting.
Everything’s ready. Enjoy!!


Cranberry Sauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
1 (12 oz.) package fresh cranberries
pinch cinnamon

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the orange juice. Stir in the cranberries, and cook until they start to pop (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, and transfer to a bowl. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.

Mashed Potato Casserole

10 to 12 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
package cream cheese, softened (8oz)
1 carton sour cream, (8 oz)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons chopped chives, or to taste
2 teaspoons dried parsley, or to taste
butter, melted

Cook potatoes, covered, in boiling water to cover 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Mash potato in a medium mixing bowl. Add cream cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper, chives, and parsley; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth.

Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with paprika. (Freeze at this point for later use) Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

Maple Glazed Carrots

4 1/2 cups water
4 pounds carrots, peeled, cut on sharp diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick ovals (about 11 cups)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Combine 4 1/2 cups water, carrots, 4 tablespoons butter, sugar, and coarse salt in heavy large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until carrots are just tender when pierced with knife, about 10 minutes. Drain. (Can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
To Glaze: Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add maple syrup and brown sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add carrots and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.Transfer carrots to large bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Pecan Pie

9″ Unbaked Pie Shell
6 tablespoons Butter
3/4 cup packed Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt
3 Eggs
1/2 cup Light Corn Syrup
1/4 cup Dark Corn Syrup
1 tablespoon Vanilla
2 cups Pecans, toasted, cooled, and chopped

Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake pie shell 5-6 minutes, or until crust begins to brown around the edges. Remove from oven then reduce oven heat to 275 F.

In top of double boiler, melt butter. Remove from heat and whisk in sugars and salt. Stir until mixture is smooth. One at a time, add in beaten eggs. Stir in light corn syrup. Stir in dark corn syrup. Stir in vanilla. To make sure its perfectly smooth, strain the pecan pie mixture.

Return mixture to heat. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is hot and shiny. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans. Pour pecan mixture into warm piecrust.

Bake 50-60 minutes until center is set. Transfer pie to wire rack and let cool completely, at least 4 hours.

Provencal Vegetable Gratin

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for dish
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
5 to 6 medium plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 medium yellow summer squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 7 by 11-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until completely softened and cooked but not browned. Stir in the basil and thyme. Spread on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Toss the sliced vegetables with the remaining olive oil and salt, and pepper. With the long side of the baking dish facing you, alternate the sliced vegetables in compact upright rows on top of the onion mixture.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil (Refrigerate at this point to bake later) Bake until the vegetables are softened, about 30 to 35 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Continue baking until cheese begins to brown, about 20 minutes or so. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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