Update on the pre-Thanksgiving preparations

Aside from assembling my Black Friday list, and getting the best discounted gift cards for Christmas shopping, I’m preparing what foods I can ahead of time for Thanksgiving. I’ll have relatives visiting for a few days, and rather than spend all my time in the kitchen, I’m making and freezing meals ahead of time so I can spend more time visiting and shopping.

We tested the frozen/reheated hashbrown casseroles. Worked out great, flavorful and tender. I will say that they (like any starchy food) dries out some when frozen, so it’s recommended to reconstitute it a bit with either half-and-half, a gravy, or chicken stock when you re-heat it. The recipe I have makes 4 casseroles, so cut it in half if you only want to make two. You will use 3 bowls for this, a sharp knife, 4 pie pans or 2 large casserole dishes, and some large spoons. The casseroles consisted of:

  • 8 ounces ham, chopped small
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 packages Simply Potatoes hash browns, unseasoned (BOGO plus coupon!)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half, cream, or whole milk (can substitute almond or coconut milk)
  • 8 ounces grated cheese, your choice, I picked Extra Sharp Cheddar for the stronger flavor
  • topping of your choice (I’ve discussed this in other posts) such as bread crumbs, cereal (that’s what I used), cracker crumbs, sliced almonds, or granola
  1. Chop all vegetables into small pieces and place in a bowl, mix with the ham.
  2. In another bowl, mix the cans of soup, eggs, and milk or cream and shredded cheese. In our house, we have mixed reviews on the subject of mushrooms, so that’s why there are 2 different cans of concentrated soup. If you have real mushroom fans in your house, make both cans the cream of mushroom. If no one in your house likes mushrooms, make both cans the cream of chicken.
  3. In a third bowl, empty a package of the hashbrowns. Add about half the liquid and combine well. Scoop a few scoops of the chopped vegetables and ham until it “looks right” for your taste. Some people really like a colorful blend, some people really prefer the potatoes to be the star of the dish. Stir everything until coated.
  4. Scoop combined mixture into either large casserole dish or two pie pans, cover with your topping of choice, and bake at 325 for 45 minutes.
  5. Repeat for second batch.
  6. The leftover vegetables, if you didn’t add them all to the casserole, are bonus! I put the chopped ham and vegetables in a ziploc bag and labeled them “chopped vegetables and ham” and put that in the freezer. It will go in an omelette for one of the breakfasts.

Sweet potato casserole was a hit frozen and re-heated, just added a few marshmallows on top when reheating and it was great.

  • Select desired number of sweet potatoes, mine was a mix of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Cover in foil and slow roast in the oven at 200 degrees all afternoon.
  • Remove from oven, remove foil, allow to cool.
  • Skins will slip off the sweet potatoes with your fingers, no knife needed. If you used butternut squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and use a spoon to scoop the flesh away from the skin rather than trying to peel the skin. You’ll get the more tender parts that way and the fibrous tougher parts will stick to the skin.
  • Put the flesh in a bowl, add butter (I don’t know how much because I don’t know how many potatoes you’re making). Add some sugar and cinnamon.
  • I blended it all with my stick blender. You could use a mixer or fix all this in a blender.
  • When smooth, scoop into pie pans and top with pecans, marshmallows, or both. Cooking at this point is really just to cook the topping since the insides are cooked. Use your best judgment.

Making the cranberry sauce today. I do it a little different than most, but I’ve had good reviews on it. My recipe is really simple, a little different, and your house will smell AMAZING for a whole day if you cook it this way.

  • Start with one quart of orange juice, the more natural the better. If you have the time and patience, fresh squeezed is best.
  • Cook in a deeper cooking pot than you will need – you’ll understand why after you add the cranberries (they pop).
  • Simmer the orange juice until at least half of the liquid has reduced. You’ll need to stir it a few times.
  • When the liquid is very thick and much darker, add a bag of fresh cranberries.
  • Add a generous handful of chopped pecans (if you’re in the South) or chopped walnuts (if you’re in the North).
  • Optional but I do it: Grate about two tablespoons of fresh orange rind and add.
  • Let simmer, COVERED, while the cranberries pop. Reduce heat and allow to cook for at least two hours on low heat, stirring occasionally, to thicken.

Traditional recipes use cranberries, water and sugar. I don’t add any sugar because the reduced orange juice is very sweet. Many traditional recipes also throw in cloves or cinnamon stick, add those if you want. I skip it because the orange flavor is very intense.

If you want to cheat and use a can of cranberries instead of the fresh ones, that’s fine, I won’t tell. Just keep in mind you will be doubling the concentrated sugar taste, so you might want to balance it with a little lemon juice or throw in some peeled orange wedges. Allow to simmer on very low heat for at least a couple of hours to let the flavors really blend and mellow.

Next – prepping and freezing the mashed potatoes.

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