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Chat Leftovers: A Make-Ahead Thanksgiving

Welcome to Wednesday, when just a few hours from now we'll launch into our regular weekly Free Range chat. On hand will be wine columnist Dave McIntyre, who writes today about the remarkable increase in the number of wineries in close-in Loudoun County. We'll be there at 1, waiting for you.

Last week, as usual, we got a ton of questions and comments. Here's one we didn't have time to get to.

This year we are doing Thanksgiving at my folks' place atop a mountain in North Carolina. It takes almost 45 minutes to get from civilization up to their house, and once you are there, there isn't a darn place to buy anything but the basic essentials. Add to that the fact that their kitchen is the size of a small broom closet, and you end up with a less-than-ideal place to cook a meal for eight, which is what we'll have. So we're trying to come up with as many things as we can to make in our own kitchen and then pack into coolers in the car for the seven-hour trek, to be served the next day. Any suggestions would be great!

I sympathize. I faced much the same sitution two years ago when I made Christmas dinner for 10 in a small rented cabin in the North Carolina mountains. The only tense moment was when I realized that the tiny kitchen's tiny stove had a tiny oven. Thankfully, the turkey roasting pan fit -- barely.

Assuming you'll be roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving -- and that you'll have an oven big enough to get that job done -- here are some ideas for the rest of the meal. I'm figuring you'll be spending some or all of Wednesday in the car, so you'll mostly need dishes that can be made two days in advance.

The turkey, clearly, has to be done on the day of. But your favorite stuffing recipe in all likelihood can be made early and refrigerated. There should be enough to cook in the bird, if that's your habit -- just make sure it doesn't go in there cold -- and some to bake separately in a foil-covered baking dish. And check out our recipe for Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy, which also can be finished two days out. For a relish, Cranberry and Fig Sauce replaced my previous go-to cranberry sauce after we ran the recipe in 2007; it's terrific. It must be made at least a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld, and it has a refrigerator life of about a week, so you can get this one out of the way pretty early.

On to the vegetables. You might not be able to get away with making mashed potatoes a day ahead of time and reheating them, but that approach will work just fine with Celeriac Puree. It's a mix of potatoes and celery root that can be made up to two days in advance and reheated on the stove top or in the oven. If you'd rather go the traditional sweet potato route, try Crushed Sweet Potatoes With Roasted Garlic and Ginger, which also can be assembled two days ahead. You'll need a green vegetable, so consider Best-Ever Green Beans Amandine With Leek Chips. You can make it Wednesday and reheat it.

Finally, for dessert, Pumpkin Hazelnut Bars will be a good choice. They're much easier to transport than a pie; remember to take along whipping cream for a topping.

One final thought: Before you leave, think through which pieces of kitchen equipment you'll be needing for each dish on Thanksgiving, and either make sure your folks can supply it or plan to take it with you. You don't want to get up to the mountaintop and find no baster for the turkey, or no mixer to whip the cream. Having all the right stuff will help put you on the road to feeling truly thankful.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  October 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
 | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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You might consider having a smoked turkey instead of a regular one, which is already cooked and only needs to be warmed up -- so less time in the oven. Less mess too, also good for a small kitchen. I like North Country Smokehouse in NH, but there's probably some good smoke houses in North Carolina too.

Posted by: CookinB-more | October 14, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

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