The day before your party is likely to be your busiest cooking day. If preparing a turkey, your bird should be fully defrosted by now and ready to roast in the oven. I don't prepare it with bread stuffing but simply fill the cavity with a mixture of sliced apples, oranges, lemons, onions, celery and fresh herbs. This will keep the meat extra juicy and slightly fruit-infused, perfect for serving sliced at the party for sandwiches. Cooking the bird the day before lefts you not have to tie up your oven right before or during the party, nor worried if it doesn't turn out right.
While the turkey is in the oven, work on other dishes for the party that will be best if they've had a day to marinate and chill in your refrigerator. These dishes will either be served chilled or brought back to room temperature before serving at the party. Here are some of my suggestions, from which you can mix-and-match based on your taste preferences, and what you think your guests will enjoy:
* Fresh fruit salsas. In my experience people love unique, homemade salsas at parties, and they're super-easy to make - just requiring some preparation and chopping time. A salsa can be made from almost any kind of fruit - mango, papaya, apples, nectarines, and of course tomatoes - combined with citrus juice, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, cilantro or parsley, and hot or sweet peppers to your taste. I like to prepare three different colorful salsas for a party, say red tomato, yellow mango, and blueberry, to make a colorful display for the buffet. And salsas typically are best once they've had a day in the fridge to chill and marinate, making them a perfect plan-ahead party dish.
* Dairy, bean or tofu-based dips. It's nice to have some creamy dips available for your guests, along with or instead of the salsas. Sour cream or cream cheese-based dips are easy to make at home with some fresh herbs, seasonings and additions of your choice. A pureed bean dip is often well-appreciated - making your own hummus is quite easy and great in all different varieties, including garlic, jalapeno, olive or lemon. And soft tofu can make for great high-protein dips as well! Dips are just always popular at parties for light snacking, served with chips, crackers, raw vegetables or small slices of bread.
* Pasta salad. It's hard to go wrong with a pasta salad, and of course the possibilities are endless. You can continue a Mexican theme from the salsas and make a pasta salad with corn, black beans, tomatoes, roasted peppers and ranch or a chili-lime dressing. Or make an Italian-style pasta salad with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic in a nice Italian dressing. One of my favorite pasta salads is very simple: I saute canned chick peas in olive oil seasoned with fresh garlic, rosemary and chili pepper flakes, then toss with cooked pasta and fresh parsley. This dish is great hot or cold, and so simple - even people who swear they don't like chickpeas love this dish! What's great about a pasta salad is you can have a nice and filling vegetarian option for your guests - or add some quality canned tuna fish and have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions available.
* Cheese Ball. I know, it sounds so very 1950s, but cheese balls can be really delicious and a nice change of pace from a simple sliced cheese tray or baked brie. Try my cheeseball recipe, which you can dress up with any number of toppings such as fresh chopped parsley, walnuts, or paprika.
* Home-Roasted Mixed Nuts. Oven still hot after baking your turkey? Toss in a tray of raw mixed walnut halves, cashews, almonds, pecans and/or peanuts mixed with salt, rosemary, sugar, coarse pepper, olive oil and a little maple syrup. Roast them for 10 minutes or so, until the syrup is bubbly and the nuts toasty. Take out and cool on wax paper. Your guests will love these flavorful, salty/sweet (and homemade!) nut snacks.