Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 10: Work Ahead

These handy tips from the turkey trenches will help you with the last few crucial days of preparation.

To catch up on Megan Swoyer's first nine steps of the “turkey day” planning process, read the full series

Chef Jim Bologna of in Birmingham could be considered a kitchen boy scout: He’s always prepared, especially when hosting a feast at home with family and friends. Here are some of his tips:

Keep appetizers frozen until the big day: Bologna also is big on having cheese and crackers with some cured meats on hand — that’s “always a win and  they will hold for quite some time, and go great with wine.”

Plan, plan, plan: “Write your menu so that most of your items can be done ahead,” he said. “Most if not all of the sides can be done a day or two beforehand.”

Plan the oven space: This is important so that everything that needs to be reheated will fit, along with the main entreé — the bird!  

“Casseroles, veggies like carrots and parsnips or garlic green beans can all be cooked, seasoned and cooled to be reheated later," Bologna said.

What will I be doing?

As for me, I’ll make a gluten-free carrot cake (recipe below, from The Cooking Light Gluten-free Cookbook — Oxmoor House, $21.95, available at Barnes & Noble), the day before for those who are gluten- and wheat-intolerant. I’ll also make my mom’s favorite corn casserole and a green bean dish and then just heat as needed come Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, and remember Day 1 of this series? I mentioned that my dream this year is to have chair covers so I can disguise my hideous card-table chairs (used for extra seating). I’ll be heading out real soon to places like in search of pretty cover-ups. Stay tuned!

More prepare-ahead tips

Shop, and prepare, ahead of time: “I write a list of provisions and shop a few days before (hoping to avoid crazy-crowded stores). I make things like cranberry sauce ahead of time. Corn casseroles, anything with multiple ingredients, is made the day before.” — Laurie Eisenhardt, ceramicist and tilemaker, Royal Oak

Set the table the day before: “I prep as much as I can the day before, including mashed potatoes and cranberry salad. I also parboil green beans, saute broccoli, bake butternut squash, and prep all the stuffing ingredients. And I set the table the day before as well.” — Chef Dawn Bause, cooking teacher at , Birmingham 

Martha Stewart: The queen of preparedness offers some great do-ahead recipes for the big day, including for snacks and for a lovely bisque.  

Bake ahead of time: Jeanne Besser of the EveningEdge.com also features tips for baking ahead of time and what can be freezed or not. “As soon as cranberries appear at the stores, I buy several bags for the freezer so I have them all year long and can make the sauce ahead of time," she writes.

Freeze cranberries, make the stuffing: "“As soon as cranberries appear at the stores, I buy several bags for the freezer so I have them all year long and can make the sauce ahead of time. I make the stuffing one to two days ahead so the messy process is done. As for pies, I go to the cider mill a few weeks in advance to get apples and then make pies and place in the freezer (I don’t bake them until Thanksgiving). And I’ll make my pumpkin pie the morning of Thanksgiving, but will have the shell ready in the freezer, too.”  — Carolyn Hefner, owner of , Birmingham

Wait til the big day: “The only thing I make ahead of time is an appetizer or dessert and I never freeze anything.  I always think it tastes better when made as close to the date as possible.” — Kim McInerney, Bloomfield Hills      

Do food prep beforehand: “I'll do some food prep ahead of time — cutting up vegetables, etc. — but will spend most of my morning cooking things up. “ — April McCrumb, , the home décor and gift shops located in Berkley and Rochester Hills, and the Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley.

Day-of cooking is best: “I prepare just about everything the day-of, except the cranberry dish.” — Deborah Lee, owner of , Rochester Hills    

Have that table ready: “I don’t freeze anything ahead but I set the table the day before.” — Kris Puffer, Silpada sales representative, Rochester Hills

Tuesday, Day 11: Little details make a big difference: Think music, candles, etc.

Carrot Cake Recipe (Gluten-free)

(From "The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook," Oxmoor House, $21.95)

  • Cake
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 2/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) package gluten-free yellow cake mix (such as Betty Crocker)
  • 1 (3.4-ounce) package gluten-free vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 3 1/3 cups grated carrot (about 1 pound carrots)
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • Cooking spray 
  • Frosting
  • 6 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons 1 percent low-fat milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350. To prepare cake, combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute. Scrape side of bowl; beat at medium-high speed for 2 minutes or until batter is smooth, scraping sides of bowl occasionally (batter will be thick). Fold in carrot, raisins, and walnuts. Spoon batter evenly into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare frosting, place cream cheese, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar; beat at low speed just until blended.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with ½ cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Yield: 22 slices.


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