Thanksgiving ON ICE

Make-ahead dishes stored in the freezer are the secret to a no-hassle holiday meal

November 17, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN FOOD EDITOR

Chill out this Thanksgiving. After all, dinner is in the freezer. Or most of it, anyway.

With a little planning, we found the holiday meal doesn't have to be a marathon of chopping, stirring and cooking before the hordes arrive. This year, we managed to tuck into our freezer ahead of time a cheese-ball appetizer, stock for the gravy, the dressing, a zucchini casserole, a sweet-potato dish, green beans, pumpkin-molasses muffins, ginger-honey butter, cranberry relish and a pumpkin tart.

In a dress rehearsal, all we had to do was thaw out most of the dishes in the refrigerator overnight and pop them in the oven after the cooked turkey was removed.

The strategy really works, even with a standard freezer-top refrigerator and home oven. The key is organization. And we can give thanks to several cookbook authors who shared their expertise with us.

"Make a cooking timetable," urges Rick Rodgers, author of "Thanksgiving 101" (Broadway Books, 1998). "The secret of Thanksgiving is to get as much done ahead of time as you can."

Rodgers, a former caterer and spokesman for Salisbury-based Perdue turkeys, should know. His specialty is Thanksgiving dinner, which he makes about 30 times a year for cooking classes around the country. He realizes that Turkey Day is a once-a-year event for most of us.

"You haven't cooked this food in 364 days," he says. "You're starting from scratch every year. When was the last time you had this many people over?"

Cookbook author Nathalie Dupree, who entertains about 25 guests at a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner each year, knows from experience how hectic the November feast can be. She'll never forget the first time she cooked Thanksgiving dinner. She uses words like "frustrated" and "harried" to describe the topsy-turvy kitchen scene.

Now, she clears out the refrigerator, freezer and cabinets weeks ahead of time and makes a list of which foods go on which platters and bowls. "Have a plan in mind. It makes you look organized," she says. "Do your grocery shopping the week before and decide what can be made and frozen."

But perhaps her most innovative strategy is using a food cooler. She stores serving dishes in it days beforehand so she won't inadvertently use the pieces for other meals. Then, after emptying the cooler on Thanksgiving, she fills it with warm, soapy water and hides soiled pots and pans in it, freeing up sink and counter space.

"Thinking it through makes a difference," says Dupree, whose book "Nathalie Dupree's Comfortable Entertaining" (Viking, 1998) offers Thanksgiving tips and easy-to-follow recipes.

Marlene Sorosky, author of "Season's Greetings" (Harper & Row, 1986), is another list maker. She advises writing down what ingredients you will need for each recipe and noting if the dish can be frozen.

Sorosky, a California resident who has written numerous cookbooks, recommends asking each guest to bring something. She even gives out recipes so people won't have to worry about what to prepare. "Anybody can make one recipe," says Sorosky, who won't have to worry about chief-chef duties this year as a dinner guest at her daughter's house.

Sorosky also stresses the importance of putting the turkey in the oven earlier than the recommended cooking time. Once it's done, a 12-pound, or larger, bird can sit for an hour and still stay hot, she says. Then, the rest of the meal can be prepared or reheated.

"If you get yourself organized, things will flow smoothly and you will feel more relaxed," Sorosky says. "The advantage is you don't tire yourself out -- and you don't feel out of control."

Cranberry Relish

Makes about 5 cups

1 package (12 ounces, about 3 cups) fresh cranberries

2 medium pippin or Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered and cored

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup orange marmalade

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Grand Marnier

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) chopped walnuts

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chop the cranberries fine in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Remove to a large bowl. Chop the apples in the food processor; add them to the cranberries. Stir in the sugar, marmalade, lemon juice, Grand Marnier, nuts and cinnamon. Cover tightly and freeze.

TO THAW: Take out of freezer the morning before serving and defrost overnight in refrigerator.

-- From "Season's Greetings" (Harper & Row, 1986) by Marlene Sorosky

Pumpkin-Molasses Muffins

Makes 18 2-inch muffins (see note)

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter or margarine, at room temperature

3/4 cup golden brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/4 cup molasses

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Ginger-Honey Butter for serving, if desired (see recipe)

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