November 1, 2019

Thanksgiving Hacks and Helpers

I will be making Thanksgiving dinner for 14 people this year. Whenever I’m cooking the feast, I start thinking about how to make the day as easy as possible so I can enjoy it with my guests with minimal stress. The evening before Thanksgiving is when most of my prep work and baking begins. Here are a few of my go-to Thanksgiving hacks and helpers that may help you have a stress-free day.

Thanksgiving Hacks and Helpers


For Thanksgiving, I like to have apple cider in a Crock-Pot with a ladle. I have rum, bourbon, cinnamon sticks, and dehydrated apple slices with mugs.

A fall sangria with apples, pears, and white wine with a hint of Grand Marnier can also feel festive. (See below for recipe)

This makes the house smell fabulous and festive, and people can mix their own drinks.


When cooking for a large crowd, I like to save stovetop and oven space by using my Instant Pot to make mashed potatoes. They stay warm in the pot while it’s sealed and taste tremendous and stay fluffy with the addition of cream cheese, without drying out. (See below for recipe)

No Instant Pot? No problem. Save time by not peeling the potatoes before boiling them. Just simmer for 15 minutes, wait until cool enough to handle and rub the skins off before mashing for a rustic mash.


2-3 days before: Make pie dough and par-bake your pie crusts. After they’re baked, freeze them for the night before Thanksgiving when you’ll fill and assemble. (See below for recipe)

Always make one extra round of dough for Thanksgiving leftover pot pie. One of my hacks is that I serve vegetables (onions, peas, and carrots) so all the leftovers can go into the Thanksgiving leftover turkey pot pie.

Night Before: Bake Pies
Prep and cut all vegetables. The night before the feast, while I’m baking my pies, I prep my frozen peas and cover them, so all I have to do is pop in the microwave. I cut my carrots into batons for roasted thyme carrots with goat cheese (see recipe below), and I thaw out pearl onions for creamed onions (see recipe below). I prep all the dressing bread cubes and chopped veggies, and I bag it all up, so there’s no chopping that needs to be done thanksgiving AM.


Rhodes dinner rolls are a favorite holiday helper. I love that I can bake them the morning of the feast and that they taste like hot fresh rolls baked from scratch. They can be prepped and defrosted in the refrigerator overnight, where they slow rise so I can bake fresh on the day of the feast. These rolls are the perfect size for late-night turkey “sammies,” so make sure you make some extra.


You have multiple options when it comes to the gravy, which I think is one of the main stressors of the Thanksgiving meal. You Can:
So all you have to do is heat it up. (See recipe below)

Purchase it already made:
Whole Foods
The Birchwood Café
Keys Café

All have delicious, pre-made Thanksgiving turkey gravy that you can purchase in advance.

Day-of gravy making requires a simple ingredient to make it show-stopping, and that is Kitchen Bouquet. This little bottle of magic flavors the gravy, but it also gives it a deliciously rich, caramel color and umami. In a pinch with no Kitchen Bouquet? Add soy sauce.


You can whip the night before and stir it up the day you want to serve.

Serving dessert at someone else’s house and don’t want to get in their way to make the whipped cream? No Blender, no problem. Put your cream, sugar, and vanilla in a mason jar and shake it up for perfect whipped cream.


Fall Sangria Recipe


  • 2 cinnamon sticks (plus more for serving)
  • 2 Honeycrisp apples, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium pear, thinly sliced
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle Pinot Grigio
  • 3 c apple cider
  • 1/2 c brandy
  • 1/3 c orange juice
  • Club soda


  1. Place all the fruit in a large pitcher. Add wine, apple cider, brandy, and orange juice. Allow to sit in the refrigerator 6-8 hours.
  2. Pour the sangria into glasses. Top with a splash of club soda.
  3. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes Recipe


  • 8 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/3 c cream cheese
  • 1/3 c milk or cream


  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Place in the Instant Pot and cover with water by an inch.
  3. Cook on the steam setting for 12 minutes. Release steam immediately. Drain the potatoes.
  4. Using a potato masher mash the potatoes.
  5. Mix in the butter, cream cheese, milk, and one teaspoon salt.

Pre-Baked Pie Crust Recipe


  • 2 and 1/2 c (315g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c (230g; 16 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1/2 c (120ml) ice water, plus more as needed


  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes.
  3. Using a food processor, pulse and cut the butter into the dry ingredients until all flour is coated. You’re looking for pea-sized bits of flour coated butter. A few larger bits of butter is OK.
  4. Measure 1/2 cup (120ml) of water in a cup. Add ice. Stir it around. From that, measure 1/2 cup (120ml) of water since the ice has melted a bit. Drizzle the cold water in, 2 tablespoons (30ml) at a time, and pulse after each addition. Stop adding water when the dough comes together in a ball and begins to form large clumps. The dough will feel moist and a little sticky, but should not feel overly wet. Do not add any more water than you need to. I always use about 1/2 cup (120ml) of ice water.
  5. Divide dough in half. Using your hands, flatten each half into a 1-inch thick disc.
  6. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours and up to 5 days before using in a quiche recipe.
  7. When rolling out the chilled dough discs, use gentle force with your rolling pin. Start from the center of the disc and work your way out in all directions, turning the dough with your hands between rolls. Smooth out the edges if you notice cracks. Keeping your work surface, rolling pin, and hands lightly floured makes rolling out easier.
  8. Roll out enough dough so that you have enough to have a 1.5-inch high edge to your crust. Roll crust edge back and over itself until the crust is an inch above the pie pan.
  9. Partially blind bake your pie crust at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes with pie weights or with parchment paper weighted down with beans. Pull out your crust and fork the bottom and bake another 7 minutes. (You can partially pre-bake the crust up to 3 days ahead of time. Cover cooled crust tightly and refrigerate until ready to fill.)
  10. Pull crust out and prepare to fill with pie ingredients.

Make-Ahead Gravy Recipe

(Adapted from Ina Garten)


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3 c chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 c chicken stock, beef stock, or pan drippings, heated
  • 1 tbsp Kitchen Bouquet
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce


  1. In a large (10- to 12-inch) sauté pan, cook the butter and onions on medium-low heat for 12 to 15 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned.
  2. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and whisk until you get a thick but well-mixed roux.
  3. Add salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Add Kitchen Bouquet.
  6. Add soy sauce.
  7. Add stock and cook, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes, until thickened.
MAKE AHEAD TIP: You can store the gravy, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. Heat it slowly before serving.

Creamed Onions


  • 2 bags frozen pearl onions
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. Thaw pearl onions.
  2. Saute in butter until golden brown.
  3. Deglaze the pan by adding a little water at a time.
  4. Finish with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese.
  5. Reduce until you achieve a smooth consistency.
  6. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Now that you know all my Thanksgiving hacks and helpers, why not check out some Thanksgiving salad recipes?