Making time for Thanksgiving

Plan ahead: Don’t wait until the big day

November 10, 2010 

Thanksgiving is two weeks away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start cooking the feast today.

With careful planning, say two South Sound chefs, preparing dishes ahead of time will make the big day less hectic and give you more time to be thankful.

Diana Prine, executive chef-owner at the Fife Bar & Grill, makes nearly all of her Thanksgiving dinner at home a couple of days ahead of time.

The day of the feast, she said, “We put the bird in the oven three hours before we eat. We reheat everything, and it’s ready to go.”

Private chef Linda Strong of Shelton recommends writing down the entire Thanksgiving menu, from appetizers to desserts. Then, instead of limiting the advance work to one or two dishes, she said, “you can really cruise through the menu and look at a lot of things that can be made ahead.”

Puréed soups can be made a month in advance and frozen. Relishes can be made a week ahead. Apple pie can be assembled a month in advance, frozen unbaked, then popped into the oven Thanksgiving morning. “The day of Thanksgiving, you have millions of things to do but pie isn’t one of them,” said Strong, whose Cedar Bay Culinary business creates custom meals for clients. “You get up, preheat the oven, and bake the pie while you’re having breakfast.”

And don’t forget to incorporate items that friends and family will enjoy finishing. For appetizers, Strong mixes and bakes polenta on a sheet pan two days before an event. She slices, seasons and toasts baguettes in the oven for crostini. She gathers cheeses, pesto and other ingredients for toppings. The day of the gathering, guests use cookie cutters to cut out the baked polenta and spread the toppings on the cut polenta and crostini.

Both Strong and Prine stress that food safety must be a key consideration.

“Cooking ahead is the right thing to do, but if you’re not properly storing it, you could make everyone sick,” Strong said.

Food safety experts say hot foods must be kept hot, cold foods must be kept cold and neither should be allowed to linger in the “danger zone.” That’s the temperature range of 40 to 140 degrees at which illness-causing bacteria grow, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Hot dishes made days, or even hours, before they’re eaten should be quickly cooled and refrigerated or frozen. Strong recommends buying two refrigerator-freezer thermometers to make sure the refrigerator is 40 degrees or colder – she says 35 degrees is ideal – and the freezer is 10 degrees below zero. She’s worked in many client homes whose refrigerator and freezer compartments were much warmer.

Prine suggests people stagger the days they prepare and store hot foods so they won’t raise their refrigerator temperature.

Prine also advises against making any “large piece of protein” (think: turkey, prime rib, roast beef, ham) ahead of time. Large pieces, she said, generally take a long time to cool and risk falling into the danger zone.

Cooking dishes ahead with raw seafood raises both safety and taste concerns, Strong said. “Seafood is so delicate you want to get it as fresh as possible and serve it right away,” she said.

Here are more factors to consider when choosing which dishes to prepare before Thanksgiving:

 • Green salads, and fresh fruits and vegetables taste best when assembled or prepared just before eating.

 • Dishes made with potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, squash and other winter vegetables are good make-ahead candidates, if properly stored.

 • On pumpkin pies. Prine says they can be baked five days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. She finds freezing baked pies results in soggy crusts. Strong says baked pumpkin pies can be frozen a month in advance, then thawed in the refrigerator the night before eating. To recrisp the crust, she heats the thawed pie in a low oven, at about 200 to 225 degrees, for 30 to 45 minutes.

 • Roasted pumpkin, ginger-carrot and other puréed soups can be prepared a month in advance and frozen in plastic containers. Thaw them in the refrigerator the night before the meal, and reheat on Thanksgiving, Strong said.

 • Raw or cooked relishes made of cranberries, other fruits and onions can be prepared a week ahead of time and refrigerated, Strong said.

 • Stuffing can be prepared a couple of days before the big meal. If adding oysters or other seafood, add just before serving, Strong said. To prevent foodborne illness, food experts say don’t cook stuffing in the turkey cavity.

 • As soon as people are done eating, quickly cool and refrigerate leftovers. Wrapping or covering hot foods slows down cooling times, Prine said.

 • For more food safety information, go to and search for “danger zone fact sheet.”

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694

Chocolate Pecan Pie

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

l cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Set aside.

Combine the corn syrup and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. Combine the sugar syrup and chocolate mixture, stir well, and pour 3/4 of this mixture into the eggs. Pour it slowly back into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the pecans. Pour into a pie shell that’s frozen so the filling and crust will cook evenly.

Bake 1 hour. To store, cool pie, then cover with plastic wrap to prevent crust from getting soggy in refrigerator. Can be refrigerated up to seven days.


Use your favorite recipe but remember to:

 • Use pastry flour, not all-purpose flour (less gluten equals a more flaky crust).

 • Use shortening, not butter, which has too much water and creates a mushy crust. The shortening should be cold so that when combined with flour, the shortening will remain the size of hazelnuts.

 • Use ice water.

 •  Mix the dough just until it catches; don’t over-mix.

The pie can be cut into bite size portions for a buffet.

Source: Diana Prine, Fife City Bar & Grill Sweet Potato Pancakes

1/2 onion

2 sweet potatoes or yams

1 russet potato

2 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Olive oil

Peel the onion and the potatoes. Use the large hole on the grater to grate the potatoes. Combine all ingredients in a bowl except the olive oil. In medium hot sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil, place a small scoop and flatten to 1/2-inch thick. Brown on both sides and finish for 10 minutes on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven. Reheat on a sheet pan. The pancakes will stay fresh in the cooler for seven days.

Source: Diana Prine, Fife City Bar & Grill Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Makes 12 servings

31/2 pounds pumpkin

Olive oil for brushing squash

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 onions)

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream (optional)

11/2 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crme frache for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut edges lightly with oil and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 1 to 11/2 hours. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop the pumpkin flesh from the skin and set aside.

While the pumpkin is roasting, caramelize the onions. Heat the butter with the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring occasionally until they are soft and uniformly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes; set aside.

In a food processor, process the squash, onions, and 1 to 2 cups of the chicken stock until smooth; you may need to do this in batches. Transfer the puree to a large pot and add the remaining 1 cup chicken stock

Cool the soup to room temperature within 2 hours; package into freezer-type containers and freeze up to a month.

When ready to use, put the frozen soup in the fridge the night before. About an hour before serving, put the thawed soup into a pot. Heat the soup to a simmer, whisking a few times. Add the heavy cream, chopped herbs, and sherry vinegar; season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and serve with a swirl of crme frache.

Source: Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Baked Polenta with Toppings (appetizer)

Makes 4 to 6 dinner servings or up to 40 appetizer servings

Butter for greasing dish and foil

2 quarts chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

16 ounces (1 pound) cornmeal

Optional mix ins: Fresh thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, sautéed or roasted garlic, sautéed chopped onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 18-inch by 13-inch sheet pan and set aside.

Place stock and salt into a large saucepan, and bring to simmer. Remove pan from heat. Slowly pour polenta into stock, stirring rapidly with a whip then switch to a wooden spoon to prevent lumps. Place the pan back on medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Add your chosen mix-ins. Pour polenta into buttered sheet pan and spread evenly over pan about half an inch deep, cover with buttered foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and cool to room temperature. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate; can be made two days ahead.

When ready to serve, cut out shapes with your favorite 2-inch cookie cutters and top with any of the following and serve on an appetizer tray.

Crme frache and smoked salmon with a sprig of dill.

Classic basil pesto and a sprinkle of shredded parmesan.

Goat cheese topped with roasted red bell pepper strips.

Mascarpone topped with tapenade, an olive pesto made with anchovies.

Sour cream topped with caviar.

Source: Linda Strong, private chef doing business as Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton, 360-490-0009, Basic Herb & Sausage Stuffing

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 pound ground pork sausage

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion (1 medium onion)

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon fresh sage chopped

2 tablespoons fresh thyme chopped

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary chopped

11/2 to 2 cups chicken stock

6 cups day-old or crusty French bread, cut into cubes

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Fry the sausage over medium heat until brown and cooked, crumbling into small pieces with a spatula. Cook completely, set aside. If there is more than 2 teaspoons of oil in the pan, drain some off. If the pan is quite dry, add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery and sauté in the same pan. Add salt and pepper to taste, dried cranberries, sage, thyme, rosemary; stir to coat. Fry for 4 minutes over medium heat then reduce to low. Add 1/2 cup of stock to the pan to stir up all the browned bits from the bottom and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, add the bread cubes the cooked sausage and the cooked vegetables and 1 to 11/2 cups of chicken stock; stirring well to make a moist but not wet mixture. Pour into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan that has been sprayed with Pam cooking spray. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Can be made two days ahead.

To reheat, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and cover with foil; bake for about an hour, remove foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until browned and puffed. Serve immediately..

Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Apple Pie

Makes one 10- to 12-inch pie, 8 to 10 servings

Pie dough:

21/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

14 tablespoons (13/4 sticks or 7 ounces) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon cider vinegar, cold


6 to 8 large apples; mixture of sweet and tart varieties, such as Fuji and Granny Smith

1 lemon, zest and juice

1 cup sugar


2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

1 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

For the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt. Add half the butter bits and pulse 8 to 10 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the other half of the butter bits and pulse until butter is size of peas, another 8 to 10 pulses. Toss it with a fork to see it better.

Add three-quarters of the ice water and pulse about 6 times until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together; if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls; flatten each ball into a disk and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored frozen for up to 1 month.

To prepare the filling: Pare, core and slice the apples into a bowl with the lemon zest, juice and sugar; toss to coat.

To prepare the streusel: With your fingers smear the butter with the flour and sugar until it becomes a crumbly mixture that can hold its shape when squeezed together.

To assemble: Roll out one disk of dough into a 14-inch round and place into the 10- to 12-inch pie dish. Gently place half the sliced apples over the bottom of the pastry. Crumble half the streusel over top; place the rest of the sliced apples over the first layer and top with the other half of the streusel.

Roll out the second disk of pastry into a 10- to 12-inch round and place over top of the pie. Fold the bottom pastry over the top around the edges, crimp together to seal the pie. Pierce the top crust several times with a paring knife to make steam vents.

Place the pie into the freezer for at least 4 hours; then remove and wrap securely with plastic wrap; this prevents the plastic wrap from denting the edge of the pie. Pie can be frozen at least one month in advance.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove pie from freezer, remove plastic wrap and place pie on a sheet pan. Bake frozen pie for 20 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the apples are tender and the crust is golden brown. If the pastry browns too quickly, lightly cover with a small sheet of foil.

Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool for about 2 hours to get the best-looking slices.

Source: Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Sweet Sour Red Onion Jam (relish)

Makes 16 servings

2 medium red onions cut into thin slices

2 cups fresh orange juice

2 cups port wine

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine the onions, orange juice, wine, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer and cook to a thick jammy consistency, about 1 to 11/2 hours. Set aside to cool. Can make two weeks in advance and keep in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature with the turkey, chicken, or roasted pork loin.

Source: Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Twice Baked Potatoes

Makes 4 to 8 servings

4 large baking potatoes

1 package (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1 shallot, minced

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pam oil spray

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Grated cheddar cheese to sprinkle over top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and dry potatoes; spray with Pam coating, and pierce the skins with the tip of a knife. Place on a sheet pan and bake for about one hour to one hour and a half or until tender. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Put a dry dish towel in your hand to hold one of the potatoes and cut out an oval. Using a spoon, remove enough potato from the center to leave a shell with about 1/2 inch of potato all around. Put the scooped potato into a bowl and add the cream cheese, shallot, butter, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, the egg, salt and pepper. Mix together thoroughly.

Spoon this filling back into the potato shells. Place on a tray and chill in the refrigerator until cold, then cover with plastic wrap. Put the extra cheddar cheese into a container for later use. The filled potatoes can be made one day ahead.

An hour before serving, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the filled potatoes on a sheet pan and bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the extra cheddar cheese over the top and bake again for about 5 to 8 minutes. Can be cut in half. Serve immediately.

Source: Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Roasted Beet and Orange Relish

Makes 12 servings

3 pounds fresh beets

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons squeezed orange juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

11/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small)

Zest of 2 large oranges and the orange slices, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place beets on a strip of foil, large enough to wrap the beets completely. Put the edges of the foil together and fold them until they form-fit around the beets, then take the sides and fold them up snugly. Roast the beets for about an hour or slightly longer. Test for tenderness by poking the beets with a toothpick right through the foil. If it goes in easily, they’re done. Open the foil packet and let the beets cool

Next, you may want to slip on plastic gloves, though the red stain on your hands from the beets washes away with soap and water. Peel and dice the beets into 1/4-inch cubes. Place them in a mixing bowl and add the champagne vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper, red onions, orange zest and orange segments. Mix well, taste for salt and pepper and serve cold or at room temperature.

Let mixture marinate at least overnight for best flavor; it can be made three days ahead. To serve, use a slotted spoon and serve with the turkey, chicken or roasted pork loin

Source: Linda Strong, Cedar Bay Culinary, Shelton Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Olive oil

1 onion

2 sweet potatoes or yams

1/2 cup heavy cream

Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Peel and slice the onion. In a hot sauce pan with a small amount of olive oil, sauté until it begins to caramelize. Peel sweet potatoes and yams.

Slice 1/8-inch thick and add to onions. Add cream and season to taste. Simmer over low heat until potatoes are tender. Cool in a pan in a thin layer. Will stay fresh in the cooler for seven days.

Source: Diana Prine, executive chef-owner of Fife City Bar & Grill, 3025 Pacific Highway E., Fife, 253-922-9555.

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