Make Ahead and Freeze ~ Wild Rice Dressing and Mashed Potatoes

Because feeding people is my love language and I have a large family, I have always loved making our holiday dinners. With my health issues, I can’t be on my feet for long periods of time, or for many days in a row. This has pushed me over the years to devise ways to pull together a mouth-watering banquet that lets everyone know how much I love them without killing myself in the process.

One of the ways I do this is by taking the weeks leading up to the big day to prepare and freeze some of the dishes.  Two that I always do this with are wild rice dressing and mashed potatoes. Wild rice is a common staple in Minnesota grocery stores. The woodsy, earthy taste makes a perfect accompaniment to turkey. The dressing is easy to make, but it has multiple steps, which can get frustrating when there are a lot of other things happening at the same time. Freezing it ahead of time clears both my mind and my kitchen of clutter.

Turkey wild rice soup in the days after Thanksgiving is almost as much a tradition in Minnesota as turkey on Thanksgiving is throughout the country. Years ago, I accidentally created the best turkey wild rice soup in the world.  For a long time I didn’t know why it was so much better than any other I tasted.

Then, one time I made it according to my own recipe, but with plain wild rice, and it was bland in comparison, like the others I had tried. I realized then that the difference was that I always made it with my leftover wild rice dressing. A day after the big day, with those leftovers that soup is exquisite.

As for the potatoes, I was never pleased with frozen mashed potatoes until I discovered the secret that I share with you here. They are creamy and smooth, and so yummy! My brother-in-law and I have a standing holiday joke. Every year, no matter how much mashed potatoes there are, he’ll say to me, “Well there’s our mashed potatoes. What’s everyone else going to eat?” Sure it’s cheesy—the joke, not the mashed potatoes—but that’s what brothers-in-law are for, right? I don’t think I could serve the meal if he didn’t say it first.

Without further ado, drum roll please…..


As always, gather the ingredients

If you’re concerned by the amount of fat in the recipe, about 1/2 cup between oils and butter, remember it is spread out over 14 cups of finished product. If you take a 2/3 cup serving, you’re getting about half a teaspoon of fat.

Wild rice triples or quadruples in size.  2 1/2 cups of dry wild rice became 10 1/2 cups when cooked. Not bad!  On the right is a close-up of the cooked grains. I love that they don’t just puff up; they burst and curl, and you get all kinds of creams and dark browns, and everything in between.

At this point I fluff the rice like you see above, and place it in a large mixing bowl where it will wait to be turned into the most delicious thing ever. 

Now to caramelize the onions. The trick to caramelized onions is simply time. Allowing the onions to sauté for a long time brings out the sugars. Your patience is rewarded with a nutty, sweet addition to whatever you are making. There is nothing quite like it.

2 large onions, diced and just starting to simmer. Stir every 5 minutes.

After 25 minutes they’re → golden, but not caramelized

← This is caramelized! 35 minutes of total cook time, stirring every 5 minutes. Caramelized onions have → some crispy parts, not burnt, and a sweet smell

When the onions are done, I scrape them right on top of the cooked, fluffed wild rice. Then, in the same pan so I don’t lose any of that wonderful sweet, nutty essence, I add just a little wok or stir-fry oil. You want just a hint, not quite recognizable but lending its seasoning to the savory layers within the dish. Add the almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. They burn quickly, so don’t turn your back on them. Scrape them onto the pile of wild rice with the onions.

Next, prepare the mushrooms, garlic and carrots. You may need to deglaze the pan first; add a couple tablespoons of chicken or turkey broth, or a couple splashes of wine, and stir up the yumminess off the bottom. You don’t want to lose that flavor!

Over medium heat, add another tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter. As soon as the butter melts, add the mushrooms and garlic. Stir them until combined and let them simmer, stirring occasionally. When the mushrooms are wilted and golden brown as in the second picture above, stir in the carrots. You can deglaze the pan whenever necessary, but be sure you’re sautéing and not simmering in liquid.

Sauté the carrot mushroom mixture about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the carrots are crisp-tender, deglaze the pan one more time, and pour everything on top of the wild rice in the mixing bowl. Then stir it all together.

At this point you can serve it as is, stuff a turkey with it, bake it at 350°F for 45 minutes, refrigerate it for a few days, or freeze it for up to 3 months.   I highly recommend baking it. It is delicious as is, but baking brings out and harmonizes all of the toasty, nutty, sweet, savory layers you’ve created. It takes it to a gourmet level.


One of the secrets to the remarkable taste of this dressing is caramelizing the onions. Believe me, it makes a world of difference. The other secret is layering the flavors by using the same pan and deglazing throughout the preparation.

  • 16 oz               Wild rice (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 6 c                   Water
  • 1tsp                 Coarse salt, such as Kosher or sea salt
  • 3 Tb +            Olive oil
  • 5 Tb                Butter, divided into 3 Tb and 2 Tb
  • 3 lg                  Onions, diced
  • 1 Tb               Wok oil
  • ½ c                Slivered almonds
  • 1 c                  Chicken or turkey broth or wine, for deglazing
  • 16 oz              Mushrooms, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 6-8 cloves     Garlic, minced
  • 4 lg                 Carrots, diced
  • 1 can              Water chestnuts, chopped (optional)
  1. Cook rice*: place rice, water and salt in rice cooker and turn on, or in a large pot with tight-fitting lid on stove. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes. Remove from heat. Fluff it up as you place it in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Caramelize onions**
    1. Melt 3 Tb butter in olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onions. Sauté over medium to medium-low heat until onions soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
    2. Set heat so that onions sizzle but do not burn or stick to bottom of pan, about medium, depending on your stove. Sauté 25 to 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned and starting to crisp, but not burnt. Add a couple tablespoons of  broth and stir to loosen browned bits. Pour onions into bowl with wild rice.
  3. Prepare rest of dressing
    1. In same pan, after removing the caramelized onions, heat over medium heat, add wok oil and almonds. Sauté just until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon, place in mixing bowl with wild rice and onions.
    2. To same pan, add 2 Tb butter. When melted, add mushrooms and garlic. After  mushrooms wilt, about 10 minutes, add carrots. Saute carrots with mushrooms another 5 to 10 minutes, until crisp-tender.
  4. Assemble***: Add mushroom, garlic, and carrot mixture to rice. Stir to combine.
  5. TO REHEAT: thaw overnight or during the day in refrigerator. Fluff up and add water chestnuts. Spoon into turkey cavity until lightly full. Do not pack in tightly. Place the rest of the dressing in a casserole dish and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes.

 *Wild Rice—the amount of water and the cook time are specific to the dressing. If making wild rice as a side dish, use 7 cups water and cook for 55 minutes or until rice has fully burst. Wild rice can be prepared ahead and refrigerated for 3 days, or frozen for 3 months.

**Caramelized onions—onions can be prepared ahead and refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 3 months.

*** Once dressing is assembled, it can be placed into gallon zippered freezer bags and refrigerated for 3 days, or frozen for 3 months. If you make enough, you can freeze half for Thanksgiving and half for Christmas.



The secret is very simple. Cream cheese in place of milk or cream makes wonderfully smooth and creamy mashed potatoes when thawed and reheated. The fat and water in milk and cream separate and break down into ice crystals when frozen, and give the potatoes a mealy texture when thawed. Try this technique once and it will become part of your holiday tradition!

  • 5 lb.                Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into twelfths (basically, big chunks)
  • 4 oz                 cream cheese, brought to room temperature, cut into 6 or 8 chunks
  • ¼  c                unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tb                salt

After thawed and reheated (so don’t buy until ready to use)

  • ¼ c                  chopped chives or green onions
  1. Boil potatoes in large pot with enough water to cover by an inch for about 15 minutes
  2. When cooked through, drain water, return potatoes to pot
  3. Add cream cheese, butter* and salt, and mash well. Use a hand masher rather than an electric mixer to avoid gooey-ness, or glue-like consistency.   Once the potatoes are mashed and have no big chunks left, let cool. It will be thicker than you might usually make yours. Wait until after reheating to make adjustments. **
  4. When cooled, place in zippered freezer bags and freeze for up to three months.
  5. TO REHEAT: remove from freezer and thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours. If any part is still frozen, place in crock pot on low or warm in the morning. Otherwise, allow 4 hours on low. Stir occasionally for even heating. If it is heating too quickly, lower heat to warm if you have that setting, or turn off until 1 hour before. You will be the best judge according to your crock pot and how much mashed potatoes you are heating. I completely fill my 5-quart pot, and it takes about 3 – 4 hours from cold to ready to serve. ~~If you use anything other than a crock pot to heat this, heat it very slowly over low heat and stir frequently. The milk will scorch quickly to the bottom of the pot, before the rest of it has even heated through.
  6. If desired, add chopped chives or green onions about half an hour before serving. This freshens and brightens the flavor. I was surprised to find I greatly prefer it to the fresh garlic I used to add.

 *The cream cheese and butter can also be heated in a microwave safe measuring cup or bowl for about 1 minute. You want to just warm and soften the cheese, not melt it.

**Once reheated, you will notice it is not as thick as when you prepared it, and a taste test will show that the salt has seasoned throughout the potatoes. This is the time to make adjustments, if necessary.

I hope some of you can use these recipes to get a head start on your holiday cooking. It makes a world of difference for me every year. I enjoy the day more and can spend more time with the people I’m trying to spoil.

Please comment if you try either recipe! I’d love to hear how it works for you, and if I have any corrections to make.

This entry was posted in Food, Holiday Cooking, Recipes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Make Ahead and Freeze ~ Wild Rice Dressing and Mashed Potatoes

  1. Pingback: De-stress Your Thanksgiving Preparations (and have some lavender hot cocoa) – Part 1 | Life is Delicious

  2. Pingback: De-stress Your Thanksgiving Preparations – Part 2 (And have a London Fog) | Life is Delicious

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s