Let me start by admitting that I’m a horrible meal planner. It’s not for lack of trying. Lists have been made in the past, only to be lost or forgotten on the counter. After doing that one too many times, I took it as a sign that perhaps I was better suited to winging it. Truth be told, I like the spontaneity of “planning” meals while I’m shopping too. It offers more inspiration and frees me from the rigidity of a set menu.
Thanksgiving, though, is a different story. There are certain favorites I know I want to make every year, so when November rolls around I feel more inclined to be prepared. Two essentials I’ve needed every year are homemade stock for making gravy and pie crusts for dessert. Luckily, they’re both components you can get a jump on prepping well in advance before the holiday.
Homemade stock is a great make-ahead ingredient and can be stored in the freezer up to two months in advance. If you’re serving roast chicken within a couple months of Thanksgiving, put those carcasses to good use and make homemade broth out of them. Just add the leftover chicken (bones and all) to a deep pot with some carrots, celery, peppercorns, fresh parsley, an onion cut in half and a clove of garlic (tip: you don’t even need to chop or peel the veggies; just scrub them clean). Add enough water to just cover the ingredients — adding too much water will result in a less flavorful stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Taste before adding salt, as your roasted chicken carcass was likely already seasoned before you used the carcass to make your stock.
Transfer the stock to containers and be sure to let it cool completely before storing in the freezer (adding a hot container to the freezer will raise the overall temperature of your unit, potentially spoiling other ingredients).
Many recipes call for making your crust in advance and then freezing it. I go one step further and roll out the crust too. Place your dough between two sheets of parchment paper to roll it out. Set the rolled-out dough, still keeping it inside the parchment, onto a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the dough is frozen. Wrap the pie crust very well in a few sheets of plastic wrap, and store it flat in the freezer for up to one month. Thaw the dough out in the fridge the night before you plan to bake. Transfer from the fridge to the counter and let it sit out for about 10 minutes before working with it. You don’t want it to get too warm — just pliable enough that you can fit it into the pie plate.