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Flyladies and Flybabies
Make ahead Thanksgiving Dinner 
3rd-Nov-2007 10:00 pm
bag end 2 by <lj user="danae_b">

I thought some of you might be interested in this make-ahead Thanksgiving dinner I've used for a long time.

Easy no fuss Thanksgiving Dinner:

Sweet Potato Casserole
Peas and mushrooms
Apple salad
Pumpkin chiffon pie
Pecan pie

(Optional: gravy, bread or rolls, cranberry sauce, stuffed mushrooms)

You start a few weeks before Thanksgiving Day, and prepare one thing at a time: Noodles, dressing, casserole and pies every few days. You will need some disposable aluminum baking pans, non-stick cooking spray (like Pam), plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and freezer space.


1 8 oz. bag of wide noodles
1 can of chicken broth (I use the low-sodium kind)
1 can of cream of chicken soup

While you are cooking something else in the kitchen, put the chicken broth into a large saucepan, and add enough water to make 2 cups of liquid. Bring to a boil, add noodles, reduce heat to a simmer, and put the lid on. Cook the noodles, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the noodles are done. (Usually about 10 minutes. Don't let them scorch.) Stir in the soup.

Spray an aluminum foil pan with the cooking spray. Add noodles to the pan and level them out. (If I'm cooking for a family gathering, I use a 9"x12" pan, but if I'm cooking for the two of us, I use two 8" pans, and use only one for Thanksgiving, saving the other for later.) Allow to cool slightly, then cover first with the plastic wrap and then with the aluminum foil. Place in freezer.


(I make dressing instead of stuffing: difference being that I don't stuff it into the turkey, but make it as a separate side dish.)

Again, while you are working on other things in the kitchen.

Enough fresh bread crumbs to equal 4 cups.
(I save up the heels of the bread, leftover hamburger or hot dog buns--whatever I have--in the freezer. Then when I have some time, I thaw them slightly, and chuck them in the food processor, and then bag the crumbs and put back in the freezer until I'm ready to use them. You can use any kind of bread you like.)

1 stalk of celery
½ carrot
½ medium onion
1 TBSP. butter or margarine
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup of either raisins or dried cranberries or both
1 small apple, peeled and chopped
¼ cup of either orange juice or apple juice
1 egg
2 tsp. Nature's Seasons (this is a seasoning blend made by McCormick's. You could also just use your own favorite seasoning blend, with salt and pepper to taste.)

Put the celery, carrot and onion in the food processor, and pulse briefly to chop.
In a skillet, melt the butter or margarine, and add the chopped vegetables, sautéing until they are soft (about 5 minutes on medium heat). Add about half the chicken broth and about half the juice, the raisins and/or cranberries and the apple. Simmer for a while until most of the liquid is absorbed. Cool slightly.

Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl, then add the cooked mixture. Add the reserved liquid, seasoning, and the egg, and stir thoroughly. If it seems a little too dry, you can add a bit more liquid if you like--either broth or juice.

Spray an aluminum foil pan with the cooking spray. Add dressing to the pan and level it out. (If I'm cooking for a family gathering, I use a 9"x12" pan, but if I'm cooking for the two of us, I use two 8" pans and use only one for Thanksgiving, saving the other for later.) Allow to cool slightly, then cover first with the plastic wrap and then with the aluminum foil. Place in freezer.

Sweet Potato Casserole

2 (17 oz.) cans of sweet potatoes, drained
1 (8 oz.) can of fruit cocktail
2 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP butter or margarine, melted
1 ½ tsp. Nature's Seasons

Marshmallows (Save these until later)

Mash the sweet potatoes well in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir in thoroughly.

Line a 1 ½ quart casserole dish with aluminum foil, and then with plastic wrap. Spray with cooking spray. Pour in the sweet potato mixture and level it off. Cover with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, and put in the freezer for 24 hours. After 23 hours you it should be frozen solid, and you can take it out of the dish, and return it to the freezer. Just make sure it is completely wrapped, so no air will get in.

Easy No-Bake Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin 

ETA: 1  8 oz container of Cool Whip or equal amount of whipped cream 
1 tsp. vanilla  (thanks  mumsthewordfor pointing that out)

1 pre-made graham cracker crust

Your favorite whipped topping. (Save until serving.)

Combine pumpkin pie filling, egg, brown sugar and gelatin in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat. Pour into large bowl; cover. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until partially set. Fold in whipped cream and vanilla extract. Pour filling into crust. Refrigerate for about 3 hours or until firm.

Take the clear plastic lid that comes with the pie crust and turn it upside down. Lift up the edges of the aluminum pan, and put the plastic lid on the pie, and press the edges down on it. This doesn't completely seal it, so cover it over with either plastic wrap or aluminum foil, to make sure it's airtight. Place in freezer.

Pecan Pie

1 C. plus 2 T. sugar
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 C. melted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/3 C. dark Karo syrup
1 1/3 C. broken pecans
About 24 nice pecan halves.

1 frozen deep dish pie crust.

Mix together first 4 ingredients. When smooth, add Karo and pecans. Pour into a 9” deep-dish pie shell. Arrange the reserved halves on top in a nice pattern. Don't worry if they sink a little into the filling, they will raise up when it bakes. Bake 40 to 45 minutes at 375.
Allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap, and make sure it's airtight, and put in freezer.

The day before Thanksgiving:

Take everything out of the freezer and put in the refrigerator to thaw. It's best to give it at least 36 hours to thaw completely, so if you are having your dinner in the evening, then take the things out in the morning  of the day before.

If you are having canned cranberry sauce, stick it in the fridge at the same time.

Thanksgiving Day

(We eat our dinner about 5:30 in the evening, so this timetable is according to that. If you eat earlier or later, then change it to suit your timetable.)

If you have a bread machine, add your favorite bread recipe to it, and set the timer for the time you will be eating. (If not, other alternatives are either refrigerated rolls or brown 'n' serve rolls.)

If you are planning a large turkey, then you will need to get it in the oven around noonish. I usually clean the bird out, sprinkle it on the inside with Nature's Seasons and put ½ an onion, some garlic cloves and ½ a lemon inside. Then I spray the outside of the bird with cooking spray, sprinkle it with seasoning, and put it in a heavy duty disposable foil roaster. I add 1 can of chicken broth and the juice of ½ a lemon to the bottom of the pan, and bake it at 350º for 20 minutes a pound, basting it about every 30 minutes with the juices. I try to plan for it to be done about 45 minutes to an hour before time to eat An alternative is to order a turkey already cooked from a grocery store deli, or, if you are only cooking for two, make a small turkey breast instead.

About an hour and a half before the turkey's done, get the noodles, dressing and sweet potatoes out of the refrigerator to take the chill off. Transfer the sweet potatoes into the casserole dish you used originally, spraying it with cooking spray, and removing the plastic and aluminum foil.  Top them with the marshmallows.

When that's done, make the apple salad.

Apple Salad

For *each* person, dice one large apple, and cut about six to eight seedless grapes in half. Add 1 tsp of lemon juice, and toss, to prevent the apples from turning brown. Stir in 1 TBSP of vanilla yogurt for dressing. (Optional: add some chopped pecans and dried cranberries.)

(For two people, double this, for three, triple it, etc. This doesn't keep real well as leftovers, so I just make *exactly* as much as needed.)

After you take out the turkey, put the noodles and dressing and sweet potatoes in the oven about half an hour before time to eat. If you are making brown 'n' serve rolls or refrigerated rolls, you can put them in at the appropriate time as well.

Put the cranberry sauce in a dish. If I want gravy, I usually make brown gravy from a mix. Add whipped topping of your choice to the top of the pumpkin pie, and if you want, garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.

Set the table.

About 20 minutes before time to eat, make the peas:

Peas and Mushrooms

1 small can of mushrooms (for Thanksgiving, I use the nice sliced ones--rest of the time I just use the stems and pieces.)
1 small package frozen peas

Put the mushrooms, juice and all, into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add frozen peas, cover, and reduce to simmer. Allow to simmer until time to serve--you may want to add a little water if the juice evaporates too much.

If you timed it right, everything should be done about the same time, and the turkey will have had enough time to settle its juices.


Easy-peasy! Put away all your leftovers, and bag up the aluminum foil containers and aluminum foil for recycling. The only serving dishes that will need to be washed are for the sweet potatoes and the peas, and whatever you put the apple salad, cranberry sauce and/or gravy in. Stick the dishes in the dishwasher, and you're done. (If you don't have a dishwasher, you might want to use some pretty paper plates and napkins.)

With occasional additions (depending on how many people I'm feeding) this is the Thanksgiving dinner I've made every year for more than 30 years. Up until about seven years ago, I usually did almost all of it on Thanksgiving Day, and ended up exhausted. Then I began to make some of it ahead of time--and found that it made everything much more pleasant. I spend far less time in the kitchen, and I'm free to sit around in the morning with my husband and watch the parades on TV.

Cross-posted to 



ETA: I made a correction to the pumpkin pie recipe!

4th-Nov-2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
oh my, this is making me so excited for Thanksgiving!
4th-Nov-2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
I'm glad! It really is exciting to cook for a holiday--and making enough of it ahead of time, gives the cook a chance to enjoy the holiday as well!
6th-Dec-2014 08:06 am (UTC)
This entire menu is incredible! Thanks for sharing it.
6th-Dec-2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad it's still useful. I'd completely forgotten about this post.

Made this dinner again this year, though for the first time, I tried a new sweet potato recipe. And I didn't have to make the apple salad myself, but taught my 15-year-old step-granddaughter how to do it.
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