Three Do-Ahead Recipes to Help You Beat Thanksgiving Kitchen Chaos

AUTHOR: | POSTED: November 13, 2012 | COMMENTS: 17 Comments
CATEGORIES: Food on the Fly, Glass City Parent, Holidays,

Carolyn Savage

There are a few things in our house that are a given on Thanksgiving day. 

Turkey, wine, and expletives.

The turkey?  Well duh!

The wine?  Well…double duh!

The expletives?  Well…let me explain…

First of all, swearing shouldn’t be part of anyone’s Thanksgiving day traditions.  I’m pretty sure the pilgrims and the native Americans weren’t cursing while celebrating their first harvest.


Mrs. Pilgrim and Mrs. Indian were in the kitchen trying to make the last minute gravy while the stuffing was burning, and the cranberries boiled over.  If that scene was playing out…there may have been some obscenities muttered about how a bunch of men thought cooking all this food at once was a grand idea, while the wee ones played in their skirts…like this…

And you wonder why cooking is so hard!


Absolutely, especially based on the scene that usually plays out in my kitchen as preperations for the gargantuine feast are climaxing.  That’s usually when tension boils over as someone (usually my mom) is chaotically scraping the bottom of the turkey roaster  trying to chip off the good stuff to make the gravy, and someone else makes a quip wondering why dinner isn’t ready yet…which usually ends up with said inquisitor getting smacked with a wooden spoon and culminating in an expletive.  (In our home it’s usually the S-bomb).

In order to avoid the scene described above, I’ve ripped a page from my mother-in-law’s book of doing things early.  Her motto is, “If you can cook it early, cook it earlier…then freeze it.” 

The first time I experienced a holiday dinner at my mother-in-laws, I was stunned.  Absent were the women running through the kitchen, throwing hips and shoulders to protect their coveted work space.  There was nothing burning or boiling over.  Just serene calmness.  I have to admit it was such a bizarre experience for me, I had to stifle my instinct to shout out a cuss word at…well…anyone…you know…just to remind me of home.  Actually, the whole thing felt a little “Stepford” for me, but I have to admit…I kind of liked it.  There was no swearing and her sink didn’t look like this afterwards…

All but the bottles were from cooking the stuffing. Now why anyone would want to do that and make a turkey on the same day is beyond me!

As I’ve grown older, I’ve implemented a few of my mother-in-law’s do-ahead methods.  Not all of them.  I’ve written before about how I like a little chaos in my life.  I don’t totally want to lose my childhood experiences of the excitement of the last minute meal prep.  So I compromised with three dishes that are tried and true do-ahead winners.  I’m sharing them with you this week just in case you want to try and make your Thanksgiving day kitchen a little more zenlike!



Make Ahead Cranberry Orance Sauce

I haven’t always been a fan of cranberry sauce, but this recipe sweetens it perfectly and is easy-peasy.  Cranberry sauce actually tastes better if made at least a few days ahead of time.  It gives the spices of the dish time to mingle, resulting in a yummy sauce that will make even the driest of birds taste like heaven. 


2 12 oz bags of cranberries

2 cups of orange juice

2 cups of brown sugar

the zest of one orange

One orange…zested!

3 cinnamon sticks


1.  Place cranberries, brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon sticks and orange juice  in sauce pan.  Mix. 


2.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat, simmering for 90 minutes or until sauce thickens.

3.  Remove from heat and refrigerate. 

This recipe can be made up to two weeks in advance and kept in refrigerator.  Warning…it makes a lot, so if you have a small crowd, cut ingredients in half! 


Do Ahead Turkey Gravy

Like I indicated above, making the gravy last minute causes chaos in the kitchen.  Who knew you could make it early and freeze it until the big day.  Brilliant.


4 Turkey Wings

Olive Oil

2 cups of chopped onions (I use a bag of frozen chopped onions…easier)

1 cup water

2 quarts chicken brothe

3/4 cup chopped carrot

1/2 tsp dried thyme

3/4 cup wondra flour (you can use all purpose but Wondra is better for gravy)

1/2 c. butter (1 stick)

1/4 tsp black pepper


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Arrange a single layer of turkey wings in a large roasting pan. Brush wings with olive oil.  Scatter the onions over the top of the wings. Roast in the preheated oven for 1-1/4 hours or until wings are browned.
  • Place browned wings and onions in a 5 quart stockpot. Add water to roasting pan and stir, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the the water from the pan into the stockpot. Stir in 6 cups of broth, carrot, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 1-1/2 hours.
  • Remove wings from the pot and place on a cutting board. When the wings are cool, pull off the skin and meat. Discard the skin and save the meat for another use. Strain contents of stockpot through a large strainer into a 3 quart saucepan. Press on the vegetables to extract any remaining liquid. Discard the vegetables and skim the fat off the liquid and reserve in a frying pan. Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle boil.
  • In a frying pan (with reserved fat), whisk flour, 1/2 cup butter and the remaining 2 cups chicken broth until smooth. Gradually whisk the flour mixture until the “floury smell of the flour is gone”…about five minutes.  (You just made a roux!)
  •  Pour the Roux into the simmering turkey broth; simmer 3-4 minutes or until the gravy has thickened. Stir in the pepper. Serve immediately or pour into containers and refrigerate or freeze.


If you freeze, warm gradually in sauce pan the day of Thanksgiving.  Enjoy!


Make Ahead Sausage and Sage Stuffing

This is my mother-in-law’s recipe.  It’s truly the best stuffing I’ve ever had.  It makes a huge batch, though.  So…adjust measurements as you see fit.  (Remember…you are freezing it, so buy some smaller containers and freeze for other meals.  What a treat!)


3 pounds sage breakfast sausage (I use Bob Evans)

2 1/4 cups of chopped onions

4 1/2 cups of chopped celery (I chopped two celery hearts)

2 1/4 cups butter, melted

16 cups of dried bread cubes (I used two loaves of Pepperidge Farm House White bread.  Cubed and dried for 24 hours.)

9 tsp. of poultry seasoning

3/4 tsp. ground black pepper

6-8 cups of chicken broth (to be used the day of cooking)


  • Cook sausage. Do not drain!  Put aside.


  • Melt margarine in large sauce pan or frying pan. 
  • Saute; onions and celery in butter until onion is tender. DO NOT BROWN. Add poultry seasoning, pepper. Stir. 
  • In large bowl, (and I mean honking huge bowl) mix bread crumbs, butter mixture, sausage and drippings.  Mix well..with your CLEAN hands.  Be careful it’s hot.
  • Place the stuffing in a buttered casserole dish.  (I needed three 9×13 dishes)
  • Allow stuffing to cool, cover tightly and freeze.
  • 24 hours before meal, place stuffing in refrigerator.  Thaw.
  • Before baking, pour 2-3 cups of chicken broth (per 9×13 pan) in stuffing to moisten.  Cover and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, basting occasionally to keep moist.



Oh…one last given at our Thanksgiving Day table is Toll House pie.  You see, my family doesn’t like pie.  We like chocolate.  So, I compromise because it seems just plain unpatriotic to eat anything but pie on Thanksgiving day.  You can make this the day before…but it’s best all gooey and straight from the oven so I put in the oven while we are eating dinner! 

Toll House Pie

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts (chopped)

1 nine inch single pie crust (you can make your own..I don’t!  Let’s be real people.  The ones from the grocery store are perfection!)


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  • Beat eggs until frothy, add sugars and vanilla.
  • Melt butter or margarine, and add to sugar and egg mixture.
  • Stir in flour until well blended.
  • Mix in walnuts and chocolate chips.
  • Pour into pie pan and bake for 1 hour. Serve warm with ice cream! 

Note…This pie is very gooey.  Pie is supposed to be gooey.  Don’t let the chocolate goo freak you out.  Just eat it and enjoy!











17 Comments on “ Three Do-Ahead Recipes to Help You Beat Thanksgiving Kitchen Chaos ”

  • Teri | November 14th, 2012 11:13 am

    Hey Carolyn those recipes look awesome. I’m absolutely going to try to make the stuffing. Can you tell me about how many that will serve? I’m having 11 total for Thanksgiving dinner and want to be sure I’m either making enough or if I should find more folks to invite to ensure I don’t have 10 gallons leftover. 🙂


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  • Carolyn Savage | November 14th, 2012 2:15 pm

    Hi Teri,

    Hmmm…I think it depends on how many side dishes you are serving. The more options, the smaller the portions of stuffing people will take. I serve 18 and we always go through about 1 & 1/2 9×13 pans. So, for eleven I think you would be okay cutting the recipe in half. (It will also be more manageable in the bowl when tossing!)

    Hope that helps!

    (I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!)

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  • Teri | November 14th, 2012 4:57 pm

    Thanks honey, that helps a lot! Much appreciated. I can’t wait to make this.

    And a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well! <3

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  • Carolyn Savage | November 15th, 2012 10:29 am

    Gah…Teri…I don’t know what I was thinking. This recipe above actually makes THREE 9×13 pans. I forgot I made an extra to take into Rick and Mary Beth for my readio appearance yesterday. DEFINITELY cut it in half! Making some changes now to my post! I hope to God you read this!

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  • Tina | November 14th, 2012 11:26 am

    I don’t know if you are a Little House fan, but in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Laura and Mary have an argument over what stuffing to have with the goose Pa is going to shoot for them. Mary wanted sage, and Laura wanted onion.

    The point became moot when Pa came home without a goose.

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  • Carolyn Savage | November 16th, 2012 12:16 pm

    Tina…I am a Little House fanatic. I know exactly the episode you are talking about. Your comment made my day. Truly.

    Little story…A few days after Logan was born I was feeding MK and watching The View. Imagine my surprise when my name was announced and my picture went up on the big screen behind the hosts. That day Melissa Gilbert was there guest hosting. She said she admired me. WHAT? I was so excited. My mom was there and we were both dumbfounded because…well…it was weird hearing these ladies talk about me but mostly because “Half Pint” said she admired me.

    I swear…it’s a highlight of my life.

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  • Denise Reichanadter Stump (Facebook Comment) | November 15th, 2012 10:32 am

    I make the gravy every year. So easy and saves alot of time when preparing Thanksgiving dinner. We are the travelers so this is what I am always asked to bring.

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  • Beth Noe June (Facebook Comment) | November 15th, 2012 10:32 am

    Thanks, Carolyn…..I always have too much chaos on Thanksgiving…..and I didn’t think I could make the dressing/stuffing ahead of time. This year will be calmer…..and I can also have another glass of wine!!! God bless. Now, if we can just get my brother ‘home’ so he can enjoy with us!!

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  • Denise Reichanadter Stump (Facebook Comment) | November 15th, 2012 10:33 am

    We tend to like our gravy a little thicker so just add a little cornstarch.

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  • Leeann | November 15th, 2012 7:53 pm


    Thanks for the recipies! I first heard about on rick and mary beth. We are having thanksgiving for the first time at our house. I am really looking forward the making the sage stuffing. We do not have a large amount of family so If I cut the recipe in half, do I still cook it at the same temperature for the same amount of time?

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  • Carolyn Savage | November 16th, 2012 8:46 am

    HI Leeann…Okay, my first question is how many people you are serving for dinner. The stuffing recipe is huge (makes 3 9×13 pans) so you may even want to cut it down to a third of the original. THat being said, yes…same temperature…same amount of baking time!

    Best of luck. I remember hosting my first Thanksgiving. I was super nervous!

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  • Teri | November 16th, 2012 3:37 pm

    I’m SO glad I came back one more time to check this Carolyn!! I’d be looking at all the stuffing on Thanksgiving day thinking, where in the blazes am I going to fit all of this??? 🙂 I will definitely take the recipe and cut it in half.

    Thanks honey!

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  • TheNextMartha | November 16th, 2012 10:36 pm

    Ok. I already do a few of those but the make ahead gravy? GENIUS. omg. Such a great idea. Thank you.

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  • Linda Alexander | November 21st, 2012 9:43 am

    Carolyn, Would like to try your turkey brining recipe, but couldn’t find it on the river’s website. Could you email it to me at the above address. Thank you so much.

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  • Maureen Martindale | November 21st, 2012 2:49 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving! I have enjoyed reading your blog. Since my mother has been dead for 12 years, can I rent the senior Mrs. Savage, to be my mother for a year & train me in the art of “EARLY” or “AHEAD” …those are concepts I cannot comprehend.

    enjoy your time together, it goes by too quickly!!! Seriously, we need to work on Mrs. Savage rentals!!!

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  • Carolyn Savage | November 26th, 2012 8:36 am


    So good to hear from you! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! You can borrow Kate anytime!

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  • My Make Ahead Thanksgiving | Mama On The Fly | November 19th, 2013 8:52 pm

    […] Make Ahead Sausage and Sage Stuffing  (see recipe here) […]

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