For Turkey Day, Work Ahead, Then Relax

For entertaining, especially around the holidays, I'm a firm believer in doing as much as possible ahead of time. I want to be able to sit and enjoy my family and friends, instead of jumping up to check something in the kitchen. So, for my Thanksgiving menu, only the turkey, golden and succulent, is cooked on that special day.

Directions on every turkey are explicit — and with the pop-ups or a meat thermometer, cooking is fail-safe. The nibbles, side dishes and desserts are all made ahead.

In the Colonial period, everybody pitched in, whether it was gathering wood for the fires, hunting or cooking. Dishes relied on natural flavors. Turkeys and wild fowl had to be plucked, and venison and seal skinned and cleaned. Wild berries needed to be gathered, then made into pies and crumbles using honey as the sweetener.

It's said that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 in Plymouth, Mass., sometime between September 21 and November 11. The colonists had much to be thankful for. Of the original 102 settlers who arrived at Plymouth in the winter of 1620, only 55 were still alive by the spring of 1621. The entire colony would have perished but for 90 or so friendly Wampanoag Indians who shared in the feasting.

These friendly Indians had shared their knowledge of hunting and fishing, and how to plant corn and other native vegetables. It wasn't until Oct. 3, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. This was at the persistent lobbying of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the influential Godey's Lady's Magazine, who began the movement that established the last Thursday in November as the Thanksgiving holiday.

Make-ahead dishes, like the ones below, are uncomplicated. Turn it into a family affair. Set aside an evening to cook for Thanksgiving. Then plan on a delightfully easy, delicious holiday. Servings for six may be doubled.

Spiced Mixed Nuts

(Pareve or Dairy)

Any nuts or combination of nuts may be used. For best prices, buy from a spice and/or nut shop that sells in bulk.

3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
2 Tbsps. unsalted margarine or butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. orange extract
1 lb. nuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cardamom or 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, margarine or butter, sugar and orange extract. Add the nuts and stir to mix. Marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the nut mixture over in a single layer. Toast in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until just beginning to be golden.

While nuts are toasting, mix the remaining spices in a small bowl. Toss the warm, toasted nuts in the spice mixture to coat. Spread on a paper towel-lined pan. Cool completely. May be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Makes about 4 cups

Approximate nutrients per 1/4 cup: calories, 234; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 22 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 2 mg.

Pita Crackers


You may substitute a variety of dried herbs and seasonings to make about 4 tablespoons of the spice mixture.

1 Tbsp. dried basil or oregano
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsps. dried onions
2 tsps. garlic powder
2 tsps. celery seed
1 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning
3 whole wheat pitas (61/2-inch), split
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325°.

In a cup, mix the basil or oregano, salt, onions, garlic powder, celery seed and lemon pepper seasoning. Set aside.

Cut each split pita bread circle into 6 triangles. Brush lightly with beaten egg white. Sprinkle with the herb mixture. Place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 45 minutes or until crisp. Cool. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (not in refrigerator). Serve with soups or dips.

Makes 36 crackers

Approximate nutrients per cracker: calories, 14; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 0 mg; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 222 mg.

Orange Pumpkin Soup


Float 2 to 3 mini-pretzels on top to garnish, if desired.

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
3/4 tsp. minced garlic
11/2 cups canned pumpkin
2 cups water
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp. grated ginger root, or 1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg)
salt and white pepper to taste
3 Tbsps. nondairy creamer

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic. Reduce heat to low.

Saute vegetables until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin, water, orange juice concentrate and ginger. Stir well to mix and blend. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the nondairy creamer.

May be made 1 to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Heat through before serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 95; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 18 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 65 mg.

Couscous Corn Stuffing


This makes enough for an 8- to 10-lb. bird.

11/2 cups water or vegetable stock
5 Tbsps. olive oil, divided
1 package (6 oz.) unflavored couscous (such as Near East)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
11/2 cups canned or frozen corn kernels, thawed
3/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 tsps. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot, bring the water or stock and 3 tablespoons oil to a boil.

Pour in the couscous according to package directions. Cover tightly, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Keep warm.

Heat remaining oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, celery and carrot. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes until soft. Add to the couscous, along with the corn, parsley, lemon rind, sage, thyme and oregano. Fluff with a fork.

Add salt and pepper to taste. May be refrigerated up to 2 days.

Makes about 6 cups.

Approximate nutrients per 1/2 cup: calories, 121; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 2 mg.

Glazed Sliced Oranges


6 large oranges
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsps. orange liqueur
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. shredded mint leaves (optional)

Grate the oranges on small side of a grater to make about 2 tablespoons grated peel. Cover and refrigerate.

Peel the oranges so that no white pith remains (pith makes the oranges bitter). Slice about 1/4-inch thick, removing any seeds. Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer. Cook for 5 minutes or until syrupy. Cool slightly. Stir in the orange liqueur and vanilla.

Place the sliced oranges in a bowl just large enough to fit snugly. Pour the syrup over. Refrigerate up to 2 days. Before serving, sprinkle with the reserved grated peel and shredded mint (optional).

Serves 6 to 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 105; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 1 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.



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