Planning and Prep for the First Test Thanksgiving Dinner

Planning and Prep for the First Test Thanksgiving Dinner

For my first foray into Thanksgiving cooking, visions of roasted fruits and vegetables, potato hash, stuffing, and bread pudding filled my head. When I started to plot out my menu, I realized that I had some serious oven issues on my hands.

It is an unfortunate truth that “traditional” Thanksgiving foods require oven cooking: stuffing, turkey, potatoes, pies, pumpkin. This past week, I originally want to make Cheddar-Butternut Squash Bread Pudding, Thyme Roasted Apples and Onions, Rustic Chestnut Stuffing, Potato and Autumn Vegetable Hash and Mini Fruitcake Cookies. Unfortunately, almost all of these dishes take an hour in the oven at *different* temperatures. How does anyone ever get a fresh, warm Thanksgiving dinner on the table?!

My mission for the Thanksgiving Test Kitchen became clear: to find delicious, traditional(ish) Thanksgiving recipes that DO NOT require hours and hours of oven time. Even if this is how everyone does it, I am determined to find (and share with you) a simple, yet still scrumptious, way to pull this meal off with the usual fixings in an unusual amount of time. If for no other reason, I don’t want my guests to be eating lukewarm or re-heated food.

With my dinner guests last week confirmed around thirteen, I laid out the following menu. If you want to re-create this menu for your Thanksgiving, I have included my whole cooking plan and detailed timeline below for getting the dishes ready as expediently and efficiently as possible. Feel free to follow it and save yourself the planning!

Rustic Chestnut Stuffing
Total cooking time: ~1:15 minutes
Oven time: 375 degrees for 60 minutes

Cheddar-Butternut Squash Bread Pudding (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~1:20 minutes
Oven time: 400 degrees for 20 minutes, 350 degrees for 40 minutes

Thyme Roasted Apples and Onions (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~60 minutes
Oven time: 425 degrees for 50 minutes, 475 degrees for 10 minutes

Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Apple Cider-Mustard Dressing (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~50-1:20 minutes

Carrot-Cranberry Salad with Ginger Dressing
Total cooking time: ~20 minutes

Chipotle Cranberry Chutney (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~20 minutes

Onion Marmalade (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~25 minutes

Mini Fruitcake Cookies (recipe)
Total cooking time: ~35-60
Oven time: 325 degrees for 25 minutes

Since this is a slightly overwhelming number and breadth of dishes, I combed through each recipe and broke down the important cooking components into what needed to be done the day before, what needed to be done before cooking, and which dishes would be competing for oven and stovetop space.

Make ahead

  • Fruitcakes: soak dried fruits in alcohol

Prep cooking

  • Stuffing + Bread Pudding: cut bread into cubes
  • Onions: chop onions
  • Bread Pudding: grate cheese
  • Bread Pudding: soak bread (30 minutes)
  • Brussels Sprouts: make dressing
  • Brussels Sprouts: slice brussels sprouts and marinate (30-60 minutes)
  • Roasted Apples: slice apples and wedge onions
  • Fruitcakes: mix fruitcake batter
  • Carrot Salad: grate carrots
  • Carrot Salad: make dressing

Oven cooking

  • Stuffing: bake bread cubes at 375 for 15 minutes
  • Stuffing: cook whole dish at 375 for 25 minutes + 20 minutes
  • Bread Pudding: bake squash at 400 for 20/25 mins
  • Bread Pudding: bake whole dish at 350 for 20 mins + 20 mins
  • Roasted Apples: roast apples and onions at 425 for 50 mins
  • Roasted Apples: caramelize apples and onions at 475 for 10 mins
  • Fruitcakes: bake for 23 mins per tray at 325

Stovetop cooking

  • Stuffing: cook pancetta, chestnuts, shallots, thyme, and rosemary (15 minutes)
  • Stuffing: boil down broth
  • Chutney: combine all ingredients and simmer (20 minutes)
  • Onions: combine all ingredients and simmer (25 minutes)
  • Bread Pudding: saute shallots and kale (10 minutes)
  • Brussels Sprouts: boil water and blanch (12 minutes)
  • Roasted Apples: reduce cider (30 minutes)

To make my life easier (and so I could come home from work later), I did a bit of prep the night before. I would recommend the following low-attention tasks be completed in advance if possible. I have marked the more crucial items with asterisks.

  • soak dried fruits in alcohol for the fruitcake cookies*
  • cut bread into cubes for the stuffing and bread pudding*
  • bake bread cubes at 375 for 15 minutes for the stuffing*
  • bake squash at 400 for 20/25 minutes for the bread pudding*
  • boil down broth for the stuffing
  • reduce cider for about 30 minutes for the roasted apples and onions

If you know you are really going to be short on time the day of your dinner, you can also do the following tasks in advance and just leave a little mixing and the oven cooking of the main ingredients for the day of.

  • bake fruitcake cookies
  • make cranberry chutney and onion marmalade
  • grate cheese for bread budding
  • slice apples and wedge onions for roasted apples and onions
  • prepare brussels sprouts and dressing (do not mix yet)
  • prepare carrots and dressing (do not mix yet)

On the day of your dinner, you are guaranteed to need about two and a half hours of cooking time just due to the dishes that need to cook in the oven. Luckily, you can use the time one dish is baking to prepare another to pop in the oven, as well as assemble to salads and do any other remaining prep or stovetop cooking.

I made the bread pudding last because it has a souffle-like eggy consistency that doesn’t stand well for reheated, and started with the stuffing because it took the least day-of prep and assembly. Here is a timeline for pulling off this very well-received meal:

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Cook pancetta, chestnuts, shallots, thyme, and rosemary for the stuffing on the stovetop while you are waiting for the oven to heat up.
  3. Boil down broth for the stuffing and the cider for the roasted apples (if not done already).
  4. Assemble and cook the stuffing at 375 for 25 minutes covered and 20 minutes uncovered.
  5. Slice the apples and wedge the onions (if not done already).
  6. Make the cranberry chutney and onion marmalade.
  7. Roast apples and onions at 425 for 50 minutes and then caramelize at 475 for 10 minutes.
  8. Blanch the brussels sprouts.
  9. Make dressings for brussels sprouts and carrot salad.
  10. Soak bread in egg mixture for bread pudding.
  11. Grate the cheddar cheese and saute the shallots and kale for the bread pudding.
  12. Assemble the bread pudding and bake at 350 for 20 minutes covered and 20 minutes uncovered.
  13. Slice the brussels sprouts and marinate in dressing.
  14. Grate carrots and assemble the carrot salad.
  15. Mix fruitcake batter.
  16. If space allows, pop the stuffing and roasted apples and onions bake in the oven for a few minutes before serving so that everything can be served piping hot.
  17. After you serve the main dishes, cook the fruitcake cookies for 23 minutes per tray at 325.

Enjoy!

Looking for more thanksgiving recipes? Check out the rest of the Thanksgiving Test Kitchen or our Holiday page for menus!

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