Thanksgiving Pre-Game and The Suppers Programs

There are things you can do ahead of time to prepare for Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners (besides make reservations at a restaurant!). Some of these things involve the food itself – scroll down for a make-ahead gravy recipe and give thanks if you don’t have to wrestle with that  task on turkey day. But another strategy involves our approach to holiday eating itself.

In an effort to approach the subject of holiday meals as they relate to our eating habits, Dorothy Mullen, founder of the Princeton-based non-profit Suppers Programs, reached out to me, writing, “Planning is everything. We plan to help people live according to their intentions instead of their impulses, which can be especially challenging between October 31st and January 1st.”

The organization runs programs in central New Jersey, most involving the preparation and eating of whole – unprocessed – food. (They accommodate all sorts of diets, not necessarily vegetarian, in a non-judgmental way.) Their goal is to make food that’s so delicious and a social experience that’s so satisfying that it reduces that sense of deprivation people experience from feeling like they’re on a diet. There will be about 35 nearly free events a month in and around Princeton in private homes and public venues, and information on those events can be found here.

A lot of the meetings in November and December will be about meal preparation and planning. “By the time we get to the holidays many of us will already have eaten so well that we won’t need to shock our systems trading pie and cookies for green shakes.  I think a lot of people would like to refrain from going overboard on holiday celebrating.  We’ll help make that easier and delicious,” Mullen said. “For me,” she continued, “I’d like to be eating well through the holidays, rather than put all my eggs in the new year’s resolution basket.”

Unless you load up on marshmallow-drenched yams (not so popular these days anyway), or overload on desserts, a lot of Thanksgiving dinner dishes are not inherently unhealthful. Vegetable side dishes are important to this meal (green beans and Brussels sprouts, for instance), and it’s not too hard to make healthful, yet still delicious, versions of most dishes, even those yams, or sweet potatoes, or mashed potatoes.

I cannot tell a lie - it's a duck!

I cannot tell a lie – it’s a duck!

Now, for that gravy. Preparing that was always what pushed my perfectionist mother over the edge. But there are other options here. You can make flavorful turkey stock weeks ahead of time by browning turkey wings with roughly diced mirepoix, then simmering that, and freezing the stock. (Some markets even sell house made turkey stock this time of year.) Then, on Thanksgiving Day, you blend your fresh pan drippings with the thawed stock which has been warmed on a back burner, then thicken it.

The recipe below, which makes its own drippings, but uses chicken stock, is meant to be made a few days ahead of time, and if you can make time for this earlier in the week, you don’t even need to freeze anything. This way, you don’t have to use the TG day turkey drippings at all, although I’d tend to throw them in too, or I guess you could save and freeze those for another use later in the winter. And keep in mind that if you roast a brined turkey, the drippings might be too salty to use, anyway.

Also, if you like giblets in your gravy, oil them and roast them in a heavy-duty foil packet next to the bird, then chop them up and throw them in the gravy as you finish it.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Adapted from

Makes 4 cups

Use the drumstick meat in soup or enchiladas, or whatever your family will enjoy. F.B.

2 1/4 pounds turkey drumsticks

3 carrots, cut into pieces

1 large onion, quartered

6 fresh parsley sprigs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Salt to taste

Brown drumsticks and veggies: Pat drumsticks dry. Cook drumsticks and next 3 ingredients in hot oil in a large roasting pan over medium-high heat. Cook drumsticks 3 minutes on each side; cook vegetables, at the same time, stirring often.

Preheat oven to 400°. Bake drumsticks and vegetables in pan for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion of drumsticks registers 160°. Remove from oven. Remove and discard vegetables and parsley using a slotted spoon. Reserve flavorful pan drippings in the pan. Save drumsticks for another use (or reheat and use on TG day-F.B.).

Whisk flour into hot drippings in pan, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in chicken broth until smooth (reserve a few tablespoons for when you reheat the gravy on TG day). Whisk in pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, and gently boil, whisking occasionally, 45 minutes or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt to taste (it might not need any, depending on how salty chicken stock was).

To make ahead: Cool gravy 45 minutes. Cover and chill up to 3 days. (You can skim chilled fat off the top if you like.) Add a few tablespoons of broth, and reheat over medium heat.

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