Wrapping it Up: Do-Ahead Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving Day brought family together in our home—Kelley’s, Garneau’s and McKinney’s—for feast and fun. The best part for me was the relaxing time to visit with everyone and enjoy the day.

Why? Because I prepared everything ahead of the actual day.

Here’s the menu and the plan.  Bookmark this page for next year or adapt it for Christmas. You, too, can serve up your best and enjoy both your holidays and your guests. You might say, “How can a person who works full time accomplish all this?” I say, this method is really great for the working gal or guy or busy stay-at-home mom—you shop and cook when you can—in the evenings, weekends, or early mornings. You chip away at your assignments and it becomes fun not a chore.

 Create Your Table

Photo by Cindy Dyer

Three days or so ahead, whenever you can, prepare your table. This gives you time for creative editing.

Afternoon Snacks

Simple and light munchies were served outdoors by the smoker, the fire pit, and football on the outdoor screen. Luckily, the weather was about 70 degrees and folks worked up an appetite by throwing the football in the yard.

  • Popped corn with seasonings popped over the fire pit
  • Cheeses and crackers—Stilton with cranberries and Gouda

Dinner Menu

Smoked Turkey—The perfect brine included a recipe of pungent spices called Bonedust. The turkey is washed and brined a day ahead. Even if you roast it in the oven, wash and brine the turkey a day ahead so all you have to do is season it (and stuff it if you wish) right before you put it in the oven.

Traditional Bread Stuffing—Dry the breadcrumbs one week ahead and save them in the refrigerator. Cook the onions, celery, apples, spices and herbs in butter two days before Thanksgiving and refrigerate. Reheat the butter mixture in the microwave the day before Thanksgiving and mix with bread crumbs. Put the stuffing in a buttered casserole dish. Note: Safety never takes a holiday! If you plan to stuff the turkey, please don’t stuff the turkey ahead of time. It must be stuffed just before roasting erstwhile you get food poisoning. I didn’t stuff the turkey because it was smoked.

Gravy by Bobby G.—Root vegetables, herbs, turkey neck and giblets made this gravy tasty. Guest Chef Bobby G. made the gravy while the turkey smoked outdoors. He stirred it a lot! (But I think he just likes to do that.). You could make your stock ahead of time when you clean the turkey. Refrigerate and continue cooking when the turkey is roasting.

Mashed Potato Casserole—Make a week or two ahead and freeze. Thaw well ahead of baking. Recipe below.

Sweet Potatoes—Make a week or two ahead and freeze. Same as above. Recipe below.

Baked Cranberry-Orange Sauce—Make up to four days ahead. Put in serving bowl, cover with wrap. Can be served hot or cold.

Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Sauté of Haricots Verts and Pearl Tomatoes—Wash green beans and tomatoes the day before and cook about 20 minutes before the meal is served. Sauté some shallots in olive oil. Add the green beans and steam until tenderly crunchy. Add tomatoes. When warm, season to taste with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.

Rolls and Butter—I purchased some yeast rolls from the bakery the day before and heated them. Or make your own a week ahead and freeze them.


Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Bill’s Pecan-Bourbon Pie with a Touch of White Chocolate Bill made this scrumptious pie a week ahead and froze it. Take out of freezer on Thanksgiving morning.

Lucille’s Pumpkin Roll —Make it several days ahead and freeze. Put in the refrigerator to thaw.

Key Lime Pie—Make the graham cracker crust a week or two ahead and freeze it. Make the Key Lime filling the morning of Thanksgiving and top with fresh whipped cream. This takes no time at all! The filling is a “piece of cake”…well, I mean pie.

The Wine

Thanks to our friends in Spain, Javier and Cristina, we had some of the finest wine of Rioja region, delivered from Spain to our door via a vintner in McLean, Virginia. We enjoyed Vino Cabillo (2005) from Bodegas Lopez de Heredia winery, better known as Tondonia or simply Heredia.

“The reason that Tondonia deserves a position of prominence on the Rioja podium is the sheer quality and seductiveness of its wines, across virtually the entire portfolio….Maria Jose Lopez and her sister, Mercedes, protect the proud reputation of the family firm. “ (From The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain.)

I don’t know if this varietal was the best choice for turkey. However, we loved it and its boldness stood up to all the various foods. Plus, we toasted our friends with their wonderful gift. Thank you to our Spanish friends!

Potato Recipes Mentioned Above

For the other recipes, click on the live links.

Mashed Potato Casserole

A Kentucky gal, Nova Jean Monroe, gave me this recipe years ago and it is a mainstay at holiday meals. Go University of Kentucky Wildcats!

  • 8 cups (2-1/2 lbs., peeled, quartered potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes or comparable
  • ½ cup Miracle Whip salad dressing
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 T minced fresh onion (or1 teaspoon onion powder)
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt season to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper or season to taste
  • paprika

Cook potatoes in water, 25-30 minutes, until tender. Drain well. Mash potatoes gradually adding salad dressing, cream cheese, onion, salt and pepper.

Spoon into 1-1/2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

This freezes well. Do not bake and cover tightly and freeze. To serve, thaw casserole. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until thoroughly heated.

Serves 10-12, can easily be doubled for a crowd

 Sweet Potatoes

I first enjoyed this at Thanksgiving 1997 at Bobby G’s house in Raleigh.

  • 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup sugar (you can cut this back a little)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Combine the above ingredients and top with topping


  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Bake in a casserole dish at 350 degrees for one hour.  Freezes beautifully. Thaw completely before baking.

Hint: Mark all your do-ahead items in foil and write with a permanent marker on the foil its name and cooking instructions, including how long to thaw, and/or what time to thaw or bake. This avoids having to backtrack and find recipes at the last-minute.

Last, since all your cooking is done well ahead of time, you can tidy up the kitchen, clean up your prep mess, start with a clean sink and an empty dishwasher, and you’re good to go!

(Photos by Barbara Kelley unless specified otherwise.)

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille…”

I served Lucille’s Pumpkin Roll for Thanksgiving and may do so again for Christmas (using holly greens instead of the strawberries.)

Lucille’s Pumpkin Roll is about the best thing I have ever tasted. I met Lucille Nestler in 1988 when I started my career at the Hearing Loss Association of America. Lucille was a weekly volunteer. Some might call her a “little old lady.” Little, yes. Old, hardly. She would be considered a senior, but she was not a little old lady. Lucille wore hearing aids and missed a lot of what you said, but she would beam a disarming smile and kindly ask you to repeat.

Lucille was sprightly and positive. Her husband died when their only son was young and she decided that she would raise her son doing things her husband would have done with him. She taught him to fish, hike, and how to catch pollywogs. She knew she couldn’t fill the shoes of a dad, but she would do her best so he wouldn’t miss out on certain things. The result was an enduring and close relationship with her son, his wife and her grandchildren.

She also loved to bake. Her regular treats brought to the office were crispy peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, applesauce cake and, on special occasions, her pumpkin roll. She never installed air-conditioning in her Washington, D.C., area home where the temps soar and the humidity swealters. Yet, she continued to bake and bring goodies to the office weekly, year round. She would apologize when she didn’t have time to do so.

This year I ran across her neatly-typed recipe she gave me for her pumpkin roll. It would be part of this year’s feast. But one thing I needed to know…could I make it ahead of time and freeze it? I had to know because the dessert had to cooperate with this year’s “Do-Ahead Thanksgiving” which I will write about when I wrap up all the short entries.

I don’t know where Lucille is, but she must be around 90. I wanted so much to be able to call her and ask her advice about freezing her pumpkin roll and catch up. Fond memories flooded my thoughts. As the song goes, you picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.

Lucille’s Pumpkin Roll

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet. (1” sides, 10 x 15) and cover with wax paper. Grease again. Mix all of the above ingredients and pour into pan. Bake 10-15 minutes until center springs back. Lay a tea towel (not terry) on table and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Flip cake on towel and peel off paper. Roll pumpkin in the towel and let it cool for several hours.

Spread cream cheese filling onto baked pumpkin cake and roll up.

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine ingredients. Unroll pumpkin loaf and spread with filling. Roll up again. Wrap in wax paper and then in foil. Refrigerate. Slice when ready to serve.

Note: I took a leap of faith and froze the Lucille’s Pumpkin Roll. It freezes beautifully.

Cooking the Turkey Outdoors is a Social Event

Bill Kelley knows a good thing when he sees it. His decision to smoke our Thanksgiving turkey on the outdoor smoker is more than just sustenance, it’s a social event. Everyone gathers around the smoker to smell, add some wood chips, turn the bird, plus ogle and tell Bill what a cool guy he is. Pair that with a fire pit, popped corn over the flame, a TV screen with football, a couple of footballs to toss, and you have a Thanksgiving party!

Cooking the turkey outdoors is a social event.

Bonedust Brine

It starts with the wood chips. Our yard has nearly 20 varieties of trees and we are always trimming and chopping. Bill used oak wood this time for the smoker. Then, he built his recipe around something called Bonedust Seasoning Rub – a seasoning mix with pungent spices that he incorporated into a brine/marinade. The recipe he found was for smoked turkey legs – first marinating the turkey legs then rubbing Bonedust on them before smoking. Bill took the basic tenets of this recipe and adapted them for an 18-pound turkey.

He created the brine by using the marinade with Bonedust recipe from King of the Q’s Blue Plate BBQ cookbook. The Bonedust Seasoning Rub is author Ted Reader’s signature seasoning mix that can be used on everything from ribs to popcorn.

A typical brine for any meat would involve soaking it in a solution of water, salt and sometimes sugar before cooking. As the turkey soaks it absorbs the brine, retains it during cooking and the result is a juicy and great-tasting bird. Bill improvised a bit from Ted Reader’s turkey leg method and here is what he came up with.

Make the Bonedust Rub

  • ½ cup paprika
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 3 T salt
  • 2 T ground coriander
  • 2 T garlic powder
  • 2 T hot mustard powder
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T dried basil
  • 1 T dried thyme
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 T cayenne pepper

Make Luther’s Sheep Dip Marinade

  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 12-oz. bottle of beer (preferable dark ale)
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup Worcester sauce
  • ¼ cup Bonedust Seasoning
  • 2 T freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T salt

Bill doubled the marinade for an 18-pound turkey. Place the turkey in a brining bag, place turkey in bag, seal, and turn occasionally to cut turkey. Marinate for 12-24 hours.

The turkey went on the smoker at 8:30 a.m. and by 5 p.m. we were ready to eat. He tended to the wood and the temperature except for a few hours when he played in the annual Turkey Bowl (see He Left Me…Alone with the Turkey). The bird was succulent, juicy and oh so memorable. Pared with Bobby G’s gravy, it was a turkey to remember.

Bookmark this page for next year or try it for Christmas. It’s worth it. And, everyone will think you are really cool!

“Save the neck for me, Clark.”

You might remember that line from the movie, Christmas Vacation, when Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) said it to Clark (Chevy Chase). The same request was made of me from my brother Bobby G. (The same guy from Bobby G. Creates Almost Heaven in North Carolina.) I asked him to come the whole way from Raleigh to make the gravy for Thanksgiving.

Gravy as a Verb

If we made gravy a verb, I would say, “I can’t gravy.” Or maybe it’s “I won’t gravy.”

I béchamel, hollandaise, bordelaise, dijonaise, carmelize, but I don’t gravy. Thus, it was gravely important that Bobby show up to gravy for this Thanksgiving.

And, gravy he did.

The Challenge: How to Make Turkey Gravy from a Smoked Turkey

I knew Bobby G. would figure something out.

"Save the neck for me, Clark."

“Save me the neck and the giblets from the turkey, he said. “I also need onion, carrot, celery with leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns, shake flour, and if you can capture any of the turkey drippings from the smoker, I’ll see what I can do.”

I got all the ingredients, including what mom used to call “shake flour” —  aka Gold Medal’s Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy. (Guaranteed no lumps or bumps.) But I should have known Bobby would come with a few of his own —  more fresh herbs and a jar of Better than Bouillon organic chicken base.

Bobby G’s Gravy — Thanksgiving 2011

  • Root vegetables: carrot, onion, celery, parsnips, turnips, anything
  • Turkey neck and giblets
  • Herbs: rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, parsley
  • Peppercorns
  • Salt

Save the neck to boil with root vegetables, herbs, and giblets.

Boil the above ingredients a couple of hours. Hint: remove the liver after 30 minutes as it tends to make the stock bitter if boiled too long.

Strain the stock.

Put stock in pan on stove top and bring to a boil. Add shake flour, about two tablespoons of Better than Bouillon and whisk. Flavor with turkey drippings, season to taste.

What About That Smoked Turkey?

Bobby decided to add some captured drippings. The result was a gravy with a slightly smoky flavor…delish!

My Advice

Leave the gravy-ing to the experts. I’m glad I did.

He Left Me…Alone with the Turkey

Bill and Patrick have gone to play in the neighborhood Turkey Bowl. I am trailing along in a while to do my part in the game. However, Bill is smoking the turkey this year and I have explicit instructions what to do in the next 45 minutes: turn 90 degrees, add two briquettes, etc. I have never smoked a turkey so I hope I don’t mess it up.

Tune in at another time to find out how the bird fared. The brine, which included four Jalapeno peppers, was really a tasty concoction. And why do I have time to blog when I have 10 people coming for dinner? That is a subject of another blog.

For now, off to turn the bird and return the punt.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

There’s Still Time…Baked Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Baked Cranberry-Orange Sauce (Photo by Cindy Dyer)

This dish takes no time at all. You can give the traditional cranberry sauce a new twist with a jar of orange marmalade. I made mine a few days ahead. You can serve it cold or warm. The prep is so easy and fast there is still time to make it for today’s Thanksgiving dinner.

  • 4 cups fresh cranberries (one bag)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 (13-oz jar orange marmalade)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Wash cranberries and drain. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl; add cranberries, stirring well. Place cranberry mixture in a 9-inch square pan. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Add marmalade, walnuts and lemon juice; stir well. Cool.

Credit for this recipe goes to Southern Living.

No Two Pecan Pies Are Ever Alike

My husband Bill makes the pecan pie. Period. I don’t go there. Why should I when I have someone who specializes in pecan pies? He won’t give me the recipe for the blog, well, uh, because there really isn’t one. You should see him — he gets a big mixing bowl and in goes butter, plenty of eggs, light Karo syrup, a little molasses, maybe some dark Karo syrup, splash of vanilla extract, and maybe almond extract. As he says: “It depends on the guest list, any combination of the above depending on my mood, what’s in the pantry and the liquor cabinet, and what the guests might like.

This year’s pie is a “Pecan-Bourbon Pie with a Touch of White Chocolate.” (Yes, that’s the title of the pie.) We’ve had peanut and chocolate pecan pies, pecan-chocolate, walnut-pecan, straight pecan, rum-pecan, you name it.

It’s always good. You either love pecan pie or you say it’s too rich and you don’t eat it. Trust me, everyone samples Bill’s pies. Sorry folks. No recipe available. The best I can do to advise you is to read the recipe on the Karo Syrup bottle, then improvise.

Have fun!