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Thanksgiving is just 4 weeks away. We repeat: Thanksgiving is in 4 weeks! To help out with the most labor intensive, holiest of cooking holidays, we're giving you a Thanksgiving prep list, starting today. We'll let you know what you can make (and freeze!) 4 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, and 1 week ahead.
And while, yes, a lot of Thanksgiving dishes will last in the freezer for several months, we're not going to include them all in one post. Instead, we're breaking them up into groups, divided by similar ingredient or technique. This week: cranberry sauce (just because), stock, gravy, and soup.
The key to a stress-less Thanksgiving? Divide and conquer.
This is easy: Let the cranberry sauce cool completely, then place into freezer bags, the size of which will depend on the amount of sauce you have. Cranberry sauce will keep up to 2 months, which makes 4 weeks practically seem like a blink of an eye.
You know what's annoying? Realizing a recipe that calls for a cup of vegetable, chicken, or turkey stock and then remembering how easy it would have been to make and freeze any of these ahead of time.
We have recipes (or rather, Not Recipes) on the site for making vegetable and chicken stocks, but making turkey stock isn't all that much different: Do as you would for chicken stock, except instead of browning chicken in oil, you're going to want to roast about 3 1/2 pounds of turkey wings at 450° F until golden brown, about 40 to 50 minutes. Discard any fat on the baking sheet and transfer the wings to a stockpot, add your aromatics, water, and any other seasonings (a splash of wine, perhaps!) and simmer for about 4 hours. Strain and let cool.
For any kind of stock, you'll want to store it in heavy freezer bags or plastic containers in 1/2-, 1-, and 2-cup portions. That way, you can take exactly how much you need when you need it. To store liquids, it's often easier to place the full bags on a sheet tray, let freeze, and then reorganize in once fully frozen.
The good news: You can take that turkey stock you made, turn it into gravy, and check two things off your list. While flour- or roux-based gravies (like this) will freeze for up to 4 months, cream- or milk-based gravies (like this) will separate when thawed. Since this changes the gravy's texture, we don't recommend freezing those in advance.
To freeze a flour- or roux-based gravy, let the gravy cool, then store in freezer bags. Thaw in the refrigerator. If, when reheating, the gravy is too thin, whisk in a teaspoon of cornstarch or rice flour while stirring.
There are soups that freeze well and soups that don't. The latter include those with lots of dairy (the dairy might separate) and seafood (the flavor can turn a bit ick). It also goes without saying that you should freeze soups without their toppings: Save the swirl of pesto and the crumbled bacon (and even the cooked pasta) for later.
But the list of soups that do freeze well includes (thankfully!) some ideal Thanksgiving options, like broth-based soups and puréed soups that are light on the dairy. And if a puréed soup does separate, the good news is you can put it back together again by just placing it into a blender.
To freeze, let soup cool completely before placing it into heavy freezer bags, only filling about 3/4 of the way. It will keep for 2 to 3 months.
Next week, we'll be tackling make-ahead baked goods (pie crust! rolls!).
What do you make 4 weeks ahead for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments below!