As part of our 52 Days of Thanksgiving, we’re giving you all the tools and tips to pull off the best Thanksgiving ever, from setting a stylish table to curating the ultimate menu. Sign up for emails here to unlock the secrets of planning the most memorable feast of the year.
This summer, we shared a story on our Instagram about a Thanksgiving dinner so over-the-top it sparked nearly 7,000 likes and more than 100 comments, most expressing pure admiration.
The feast was extraordinary not just because it included an astounding 25 appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts for a guest list of around 35 family and friends—but because of how early the host began cooking it.
In Sherri Maxman’s ode to her mother Anita Steinfeld’s holiday dinner—which we first published in 2015—she recounts how, as early as August, her mom would pull out her deep freezer and begin cranking out the dishes she could make ahead of time: fried onions (Steinfeld family slang for caramelized onions, destined for her warm chopped liver and fresh challah), sweet-and-sour meatballs, gravy, stuffing, spinach artichoke dip, baked ziti, cornbread, vanilla butter, and sweet potato hash. Knocking these out early allowed her mom to focus on everything else that needed to be made closer to or on Thanksgiving—an epic supper that included ham, steak, lamb chops, and deep-fried turkeys, plural.
It was a wonderful, generous, unbelievable feat—that, as I mentioned, was last documented eight years ago. So, naturally, I wondered: Is Anita still at the stove (and deep freezer)?
Curious if this family tradition was still alive, and how it has evolved over time, I decided to reach out to Sherri. The good news: Though she’s no longer the host, Mom is still cooking up a storm. And, although the last time everyone came to her Long Island home was in 2017, she is still making her chopped liver and fried onions to bring to a friend’s house for the holiday.
She also hasn’t stopped freezing her meals, a trick she learned when she was 14 years old.
“My mother worked, and I used to make dinners,” said Anita, who now lives in Hollywood, Florida and will turn 82 in October. “In those days they came out with the TV dinner. So I used to save the dishes that they were in and then if I’d make something for dinner that I’d like, I’d make my own TV dinner and stick it in the freezer!”
Now that she is no longer planning her own Thanksgiving—she spends it with friends nearby who used to come to her house on Long Island—I asked her if she felt a sense of relief.
“No, I like to cook,” said Anita, who very much misses hosting the holiday. “I still do and I still have people over for dinner. That’s my thing. It’s always been my thing.”
Like her mother, Sherri—a former pastry chef and culinary instructor—is passionate about cooking, too. She just throws a Thanksgiving feast on a smaller scale with her brother’s family and her own. (No one is up for traveling for the holiday, and everyone is OK with that.)
“Even when my mom did her extravaganzas,” said Sherri, “I would have never wanted them to end. But, a little part of me thought, someday I’m gonna be doing this and I’ll just tweak it and adapt it to do the things that I want to do.”
Sherri starts her Thanksgiving prep like most of us do: in the fall. Aside from the caramelized onions—which she makes well in advance—she begins menu planning in October and doesn’t begin cooking until the week of. “People are so excited when they hear that they can make fried onions ahead of time because a lot of people don’t realize they can do that,” she said.
It’s the classic Thanksgiving changing of the guard. Until you host the holiday yourself, there is not much tinkering you can do to the menu. Only when you become the planner and cook is it possible to innovate and drop things from the lineup without (too much) guilt. And even then, the dishes you skip often leave deep cravings.
Looking at Sherri’s menu from 2022, you can trace the lineage from her mom’s feasts to hers. The challah, liver, and onions are a must. “That’s a non-negotiable,” said Sherri.
Like her mother’s meal, turkey is not the only meat involved—brisket has made an appearance, as have meatball sliders, a nod to Anita’s meatballs (sometimes sweet-and-sour, sometimes spicy and stuffed). Sherri also bakes a handful of Thanksgiving pies, a dessert Anita passed over in favor of jelly donuts. “We all love them and haven’t made them yet for our feasts,” said Sherri, “but we’re always thinking about it!”
Last year, Sherri and her brother introduced a “radical change” to their menu. “My brother said, ‘We spend all day cooking on Thanksgiving. We eat so much, nobody can even eat the main course. Let’s do the appetizers on Wednesday night and the main course and the sides on Thursday night.’ Right? And we all thought that [was] brilliant. A new tradition is born.”
So which style of Thanksgiving, Sherri’s or Anita’s, is more you?
Judging from the reaction to our Instagram post about Anita’s heroic head start on Thanksgiving, some of you feel seen. “Omg I thought I was the only one!” wrote one of our followers.
Others expressed admiration for a feat they could never pull off themselves: “I can’t even pick my outfit out the day before. God bless her.”
If you consider yourself team Anita, below is everything she made and froze in advance of Thanksgiving for inspiration. We also have a guide to foods that freeze well, and make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes.
You can also take it easy like Sherri, and start cooking at a more conventional time, like November. To help you plot out your meal, we have a handy timeline to help you plan Thanksgiving, along with the menu of Sherri’s dinner last year (including her appetizer-only pre-game the evening before).
Anita’s 2015 Thanksgiving Menu
Below, we’ve sprinkled in links to similar, test-kitchen approved recipes on our site.
Made months in advance
Served on Thanksgiving Day
(Psst! Some of these dishes were made a day or two before!)
Chopped liver, fried onions, and challah
Spinach and artichoke dip
Mussels with basil bread crumbs
Gravlax and molasses lox
Spicy stuffed meatballs
Rib lamb chops
Deep fried turkeys
Sweet potato hash browns
Lime Jell-O mold
Jellied cranberry sauce with Mandarin oranges
Cornbread with vanilla butter
Pretzel sticks rolled in chocolate and bacon
Jelly donuts and ice cream sundaes
Sherri’s 2022 Thanksgiving Menu
Prepped two days ahead
Prepped one day ahead
Wednesday Night Appetizer Feast
Spinach and artichoke dip
Spice-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts & Tahini Drizzle (Sherri often makes hers with walnuts when pine nuts are not on hand)
Mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows
Hot fudge pudding cake
More entertaining inspiration from Food52
Which end of the Thanksgiving planning spectrum do you fall upon? Let us know below!