The traditional Thanksgiving dinner usually evokes weary sighs at the thought of potato mashing, gravy making, turkey carving and unmolding the gelatin -- all at the same time, all at the last minute.

This dinner is designed so the cook will be essentially on holiday until the last half hour, and then will simply be assembling and heating food. The normal preparation and cooking is done, for the most part, in the days prior to Thanksgiving.

As for the turkey, fresh sage leaves and cognac are inserted under the skin, and it is simply roasted, unstuffed, to facilitate quick and easy carving. The other recipes are easy too.

The sweet potatoes and white potatoes are seasoned and mashed the day ahead, then stuffed back into their shells to be heated at the last minute. The gravy is also made ahead, in the form of a Madeira sauce to which defatted pan drippings are added at the last minute.

The peas are also prepared the day before the dinner, as are the salad and sherry vinaigrette. The cranberry sauce may be made weeks in advance and frozen. The gelatin is unmolded in the morning, and the dessert can be made weeks ahead too.

Your favorite stuffing may be prepared the day ahead and refrigerated, then tossed with defatted pan drippings and heated in the oven, along with the potatoes, after the turkey is removed. This eliminates the last-minute difficulty of removing the stuffing and carving the turkey at the same time, yet the pan drippings give the stuffing the flavor of having been cooked in the bird. The Menu (for 8)

Golden Roasted Turkey with Fresh Sage (to be roasted Thanksgiving day)

Bourbon-Orange Sweet Potatoes (made one day ahead)

Herb-Stuffed White Potatoes (made one day ahead)

Bread Stuffing (made one day ahead)

Minted Peas (made one day ahead)

Madeira Gravy (made one to three days ahead)

Cranberry-Tangerine Sauce with Apples and Almonds (made days or weeks ahead and frozen)

Apple-Cranberry Gelatin Mold (made one or two days ahead)

Butter Lettuce with Radishes (made one day ahead) and Sherry Vinaigrette (made one to three days ahead)

Persimmon Pudding (made days or weeks ahead and frozen) with Lemon Cream Sauce (to be made Thanksgiving day) Thanksgiving Day Timetable

Early in the day: Defrost the cranberry sauce and persimmon pudding; unmold the gelatin onto a serving platter and place it in the refrigerator; prepare the turkey for roasting.

Four hours to serving: Place the turkey in preheated oven; prepare the lemon cream.

Half an hour to go: Remove the turkey from the oven (adjust time schedule if turkey is not done), and turn the heat up to 375 degrees; remove one cup of defatted drippings from the roasting pan and add half of it to the stuffing and half to the Madeira sauce; place the potatoes and stuffing in the oven; bring the cranberry sauce to room temperature.

Fifteen minutes to go: Slowly heat the peas and Madeira sauce.

Serving time: Bring the gelatin and cranberry sauce to the table; carve the turkey; place the potatoes, peas, Madeira sauce, stuffing and salad on the table and serve. Before eating, place the persimmon pudding in a pot to resteam (as instructed) for dessert 45 minutes to an hour later (it can be kept warm by not removing it from the mold). The Recipes

The recipes that follow are listed in the order of preparation. Those to be frozen are listed first, those prepared Thanksgiving day are at the end.

CRANBERRY-TANGERINE SAUCE WITH APPLES AND ALMONDS (8 servings)

2 tangerines, unpeeled and chopped (seeds removed)

2 cups water

12 ounces cranberries, rinsed

2 medium, tart green apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup slivered almonds

Combine tangerines and water in a saucepan. Cook rapidly until peel is tender, about 20 minutes. Add cranberries, apples and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and boil gently for about 20 minutes. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add almonds during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

Per serving: 270 calories, 3 gm protein, 52 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, .7 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 mg sodium.

PERSIMMON PUDDING (8 servings)

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 eggs

2 pounds ripe persimmons, pulp removed and mashed

1/4 cup whole milk

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Optional: 1/2 teaspoon white sugar

Optional: 1/4 cup brandy

Combine butter and sugar with a fork until fluffy. Add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add mashed persimmon pulp (approximately 2 cups), and milk, mixing well. Mix flour, soda, salt, cinnamon and lemon peel and add to persimmon mixture. Stir to combine well and spoon into an oiled and floured 2-pound coffee can or a traditional pudding mold. If using a coffee can, cover top with foil and tie well with a string to keep water out. Place on a rack or trivet in a deep pot. Add enough boiling water to reach halfway up the can or mold, cover pot and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 2 hours. Remove can from pot and let the pudding set for 5 minutes before unmolding. To refrigerate or freeze, cool completely and wrap tightly with foil. Will keep 10 weeks in refrigerator, or three months in freezer. Defrost and bring to room temperature. To reheat, replace in can or mold, cover, tie and steam as before, this time for 45 to 60 minutes, or until hot (put on when you sit down to dinner). Serve with chilled Lemon Cream Sauce (see recipe on Page E19). Optional, when preparing to serve: Add the sugar to the brandy and ignite with a match. Pour flaming brandy over pudding, then serve with chilled Lemon Sauce.

Per serving: 591 calories, 7 gm protein, 121 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat, 425 mg cholesterol, mg sodium.

MADEIRA GRAVY (8 servings)

Everyone seems to want gravy with their turkey dinner but as much as 90 percent of gravy's calories can come from fat. This recipe, using defatted drippings, has fewer calories.

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup finely chopped onions

3 cups chicken broth

3/4 cup Madeira

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup water

Melt butter or margarine and saute' onions for 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add Madeira, stir and boil uncovered for 10 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water and add to boiling sauce. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Cool and store in refrigerator. When turkey is done, spoon fat off pan drippings and add 1/2 cup of the defatted drippings to the sauce. Heat and serve.

Per serving: 89 calories, 2 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 363 mg sodium. Note: analysis does not include pan drippings.

APPLE-CRANBERRY GELATIN MOLD (8 servings)

Just as simple to make as a mold from packaged gelatin, but with the fresh taste of real fruit juice.

4 cups cranberry juice

5 envelopes unflavored gelatin

4 cups apple juice

Garnish: fresh fruit and lemon, mint or holly leaves

Heat 2 cups of the cranberry juice to boiling. Remove from heat and add the gelatin, stirring until dissolved. Add the remaining juices, stir and pour into a 10-cup mold. Refrigerate until set. May be unmolded several hours ahead and kept in refrigerator until serving time. Garnish with fresh fruit and lemon, mint or holly leaves.

Per serving: 147 calories, 4 gm protein, 33 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 14 mg sodium.

BOURBON-ORANGE SWEET POTATOES (8 servings)

8 medium sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1/3 cup low-fat milk

1/4 cup bourbon

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons slivered almonds

Bake potatoes in a 400-degree oven for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cut a lengthwise slice off the potato and scoop out pulp, leaving enough to support the shell. Mash the potato with remaining ingredients (except almonds) until light and fluffy. Stuff the shells with the potato mixture and sprinkle almonds on top. Store in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until heated through. May be put in oven when turkey is removed, as it takes 30 minutes to let the turkey set before carving it.

Per serving: 224 calories, 3 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 185 mg sodium.

HERB-STUFFED WHITE POTATOES (8 servings)

8 medium white potatoes (about 4 pounds)

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

2 tablespoons chicken broth

1/4 cup low-fat milk

1/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 cup fresh chives

3 tablespoons dried bread crumbs

1/3 cup chopped scallions

Bake potatoes in a 400-degree oven for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cut a lengthwise slice off the potato and scoop out pulp, leaving enough to support the shell. Mash the potato with remaining ingredients (except bread crumbs and scallions) until light and fluffy. Stuff the shells with the potato mixture and sprinkle bread crumbs and scallions top. Store in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until heated through. May be put in oven when turkey is removed, as it takes 30 minutes to let the turkey set before carving it.

Per serving: 169 calories, 4 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 211 mg sodium.

MINTED PEAS (8 servings)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons mint jelly

1/2 teaspoon salt

30 ounces frozen peas, defrosted

Melt butter or margarine with the water, mint jelly and salt. Toss with the drained, defrosted peas and refrigerate until just before serving. Heat gently and serve.

Per serving: 123 calories, 5 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 249 mg sodium.

BUTTER LETTUCE WITH RADISHES AND SHERRY VINAIGRETTE (8 servings)

1/2 pound butter lettuce

16 radishes

24 walnuts

8 tablespoons walnut oil

4 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Pinch of sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Wash lettuce, dry well and refrigerate until ready to use. Slice radishes. Toast walnuts in dry frying pan for 10 minutes over medium heat (to bring out flavor). Whisk the oil into the vinegar and add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until serving time, then toss with lettuce and sprinkle salad with radishes and walnuts.

Per serving: 174 calories, 2 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 71 mg sodium.

LEMON CREAM SAUCE (8 servings)

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup water

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 cup whipped cream ( 1/2 cup unwhipped)

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in heavy pan. Add lemon juice and water and stir to combine. Bring to gentle boil, stirring constantly, until mixture is clear and thick. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and cool completely. Add orange peel and fold in whipped cream. This may be made several hours ahead and refrigerated.

Per serving: 120 calories, .4 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 72 mg sodium.

GOLDEN ROASTED TURKEY WITH FRESH SAGE (8 servings)

12- to 14-pound turkey, giblets removed

1/4 cup cognac or brandy

8 fresh sage leaves

3 tablespoons oil

Several bunches of fresh sage for stuffing turkey

Fresh sage leaves for garnish

With the breast side up, loosen skin from both the body cavity and neck ends of the turkey by slipping your hand between the skin and flesh. Pour cognac under the skin, and rub into the flesh. Arrange sage leaves under skin in an attractive design. Brush skin with oil to prevent it from drying out. Fill neck and body cavities of bird with bunches of sage. Pull neck skin over cavity and fasten to back of turkey with skewers or wooden toothpicks. Tuck legs under metal loop or skin flap, if possible. Otherwise skewer or tie legs together. In a fairly shallow pan with rack, roast turkey, breast side up, at 325 degrees for about 3 1/2 hours, or until meat thermometer registers 170 degrees. Let rest for 30 minutes, then carve and serve, garnished with fresh sage.

Per serving: 431 calories, 31 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 8 gm saturated fat, 153 mg cholesterol, .3 mg sodium.

Terri P. Wuerthner is a freelance California food writer and the author of "Food for Life, the Cancer Prevention Cookbook."