A Gluten-Free Holiday: Week 2 – Thanksgiving Favorites

It’s Week 2 of A Gluten-Free Holiday! This week our event is hosted by Kim at Cook It Allergy Free. Head on over there to check out her candied apple cranberry upside-down cake, and enter for your chance to win a copy of Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen! This weeks’ theme is Thanksgiving Favorites, so share your favorite recipes for a chance to win.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Why? It’s one of the few national holidays that hasn’t been overly commercialized, it’s a holiday where the food is spectacular, full of comforting favorites, pie is the dessert of choice (and I’m a big pie fan!), and you can share a great meal and give thanks with family. And did I mention the food?

I love cooking and hosting Thanksgiving.

We’ve held Thanksgiving at our house for the past 5 years. This year will be the 6th. Over these past few years, I’ve started to really learn how to coordinate a Thanksgiving meal successfully, sometimes for as many as 30 people. And no, we don’t have a big house – I don’t even have a proper dining room, much less a double oven. We eat buffet-style, and it works for us. Note I said I can coordinate the meal successfully – it’s not perfect each time (sometimes I forget things, and one year, I was distracted by the doorbell and burned the brulee topping on a sweet potato brulee – it’s true, when you walk away from something that’s sitting under the broiler, it will burn!), but it’s a great time with family, and there is always more than enough (gluten-free) food to eat. That’s what it’s all about, right?

The biggest key to pulling off a successful Thanksgiving celebration (or any celebration, for that matter) is planning. Here’s a bit of insight into what I do to plan for the big day:

Three to four weeks before: Order a turkey from my nearby organic farm, Rehoboth Ranch.

One to two weeks before: Prepare make-ahead gluten-free stuffing and gravy and freeze. Finalize menu, and start making shopping list. Try to figure out how many people will be attending, and assign/request side dishes. Fill in gaps with menu.

The weekend before: Shop for all but the most perishable items. Prepare broccoli cheese rice casserole and freeze.

Monday or Tuesday before: Thaw turkey. Purchase any groceries not already purchased. Make cranberries.

Wednesday: Thaw casserole, stuffing, and gravy in refrigerator. Bake pies. Prep vegetables for side dishes (such as green beans). Peel potatoes for mashed potatoes and place in water and refrigerate. Brine turkey. (I’ve used this recipe for years. I’m still deciding whether to stray from this tried-and-true method, but regardless, I think I’ll be brining – it’s such a great way to ensure a juicy bird.) Make hour-by-hour schedule for following day.

Thanksgiving Day: Follow hour-by-hour schedule, which looks something like this:

8:00am – Iron tablecloths, arrange furniture, make sure clean towels are in bathroom, and other “tidying up” activities. Drink coffee!!

10:00am – Finish any prep work for vegetables or other sides. Get out cutlery, plates, napkins, glasses.

12:00pm – Get turkey in oven, take shower. Feed the kids something so they stop complaining about being hungry.

1:00pm – Cook potatoes and sweet potatoes. Mash potatoes and place in crock pot and turn on warm (this is a great way to keep them warm and ready, freeing up valuable space on the stove for gravy and such.)

3:00pm – People start arriving for the Cowboys game. Take out casseroles and stuffing to come to room temperature while turkey finishes roasting. Prepare gluten-free rolls or biscuits.

3:45pm – Bake rolls/biscuits. Place in basket with towel to keep warm.

4:00pm – Take turkey out of oven to rest. Place stuffing, casserole, sweet potatoes in oven to bake. Warm gravy in a saucepan, whisking to make smooth again. Place red wine in fridge briefly to chill. If other dishes brought by guests need warming or other prep, assist with that. Make sure any dishes containing gluten are segregated to one area to prevent cross-contamination.

4:30pm – Finish any last-minute dishes. Carve turkey. Take dishes out of oven. Tell everyone food is ready. Take out wine and open it. Pour myself a glass. Proceed to stuff myself silly with food and pie.

Of course, the time schedule isn’t always so tightly followed – but this is the general idea. I tend to take the day before Thanksgiving off so I can prepare, but it’s not always possible, so this is why I try to make some side dishes in advance, making it easier to keep sane on the big day. It’s a lot of cooking, and I generally am tired by the end of the day, but it’s all worth it. Especially if there are turkey leftovers for a midnight snack (along with an additional slice of pie).

Like anyone, I have favorites that I simply must have at Thanksgiving. Even though we have a gluten-free Thanksgiving, I must have stuffing and gravy. So I make my own. This year, I’m hoping to successfully modify this recipe – I have several members of the family that can’t eat corn, and one that can’t eat celery, so I’ll have to eliminate the cornbread from the stuffing, and replace the celery – possibly with fennel. I’m still experimenting. I also have family members that insist I make broccoli cheese rice casserole. Since the traditional version involves a can of cream of mushroom soup (which contains gluten and dairy) and cheese, I make a vegan version that everyone can have. But there are other dishes where I take a bit of liberty. I try new desserts. Last year, I made a peach and kumquat crostata that, while non-traditional, was very welcome at the dessert table. I also set out various appetizers and/or small snacks, such as spiced nuts, relish trays, and possibly some candies or cookies. Like I mentioned before, no one goes hungry at our house.

Are you new to gluten-free living, and are looking for help making your favorites gluten-free or allergy-free? Or are you just looking for a new favorite for this year’s holiday? Be sure to visit Cook It Allergy Free and read through her holiday plan. Be sure and review all of the links from other readers as well – we all get better when we learn from each other! Besides, you will be entered to win a copy of The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell (the same book I’m giving away, in fact) – a splendid book packed full of amazing gluten-free Asian recipes.

Don’t forget to check back here next week, where I will be hosting Week 3 of A Gluten-Free Holiday. The theme will be Gifts of Good Taste!


  1. says

    I bet it’s a fun and delicious day at your house, Alta! I’d take that Sweet Potato Brulee, slightly burned or not. 😉 I’m hosting this year, but it will be a small group, only about 7 to 9, due to work schedules, etc. I’m sure it will be a great time though. I do love Thanksgiving!



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