I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving. Preparing this meal is something I look forward to all year long. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas, but I particularly like this time of year to re-focus on all of the things we have to be thankful for. For me the list has always been long and I am excited to share this time with my family and friends.
For some reason this year several people who will be making this spread for the first time have come to ask my advice, so I know that many will be stressing out over this meal. To help out, I am going to post my menu for this year and give you the recipes. This will be a monster of a post, but hopefully it will give you some inspiration for your own meal.
I always have to start here. This is a must have for me, one of those things that define this meal to me. I use Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and large diced which I boil until easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and then take heavy cream and steam it (or heat it in the microwave). Melt some unsalted butter (and I do mean butter, none of this fake crap – it’s Thanksgiving for cryin’ out loud) and then mash the potatoes a bit. Pour in some hot cream and some butter, while whisking the mixture. Add cream and butter until it gets to the consistency you like, then add salt and pepper. You really can’t mess this one up.
Gravy is one of those things that seems to strike fear into the hearts of many cooks. Everyone has experienced the lumpy, floury, greasy failures that I think cause this fear. Gravy doesn’t have to be hard, though. You are going to get a fantastic flavor boost for free from the turkey drippings, so all you have to do is to get a good consistency to work with. For me, a nice blond roux is the perfect start. I usually sauté some onions in a decent amount of butter because I like the flavor that they bring to the party. Then add about 1/2 cup of flour (sifting the flour into the pan helps reduce lumps) and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes. Then add some hot chicken stock and whisk until it gets to a thick consistency. When your turkey is done, strain out the drippings into a large glass measuring cup and allow the fat to separate out. Skim off all of the fat and then whisk the remainder into the gravy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sweet Potato Casserole
No marshmallows in this one, sorry. It’s full of butter and sugar, so quit your whining. This one is best started the day before. Bake 3 or 4 large sweet potatoes until they’re completely soft. Let them cool. Peel them and then put the insides into a large bowl. Beat in about a cup of sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup milk and a tsp of vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine 3 tablespoons butter, a cup of brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour. Once it’s all mixed up put this mixture on top of the sweet potatoes and then bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so.
Green Beans Almondine
I vacillate between this one and the green bean casserole (with homemade mushroom cream sauce and fried onions, of course). My problem is that oven time is at a premium on Thanksgiving day as I only have a single oven, which is a sad thing indeed. So I go with this simple skillet preparation instead. I take a couple of pounds of fresh green beans with the ends trimmed and cut them in half for easier sautéing. I boil them in salted water for a couple of minutes, then drain the hot water and dump the beans into an ice water bath to stop the cooking and prevent them from turning an ugly gray. I then heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and drop a few tablespoons of butter into it. Once the butter melts, add a minced shallot (or onion or garlic even) and cook for a minute or so. Add the beans and toss to heat and coat. Add sliced almonds and cook for another few minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Caramelized Corn and Mint
Every year, I do an experimental recipe. Some times it works out, sometimes not. My only requirement is that I’ve never tried to cook it before. This year I was reading a food blog which I had never cooked anything from – The Wednesday Chef – and she really sold this recipe, so there you have it.
This is one is from Cook’s Illustrated. I am not the greatest baker, so I pretty much follow this one as written.
Whisk water, yeast, and honey in bowl of stand mixer until well combined, making sure no honey sticks to bottom of bowl. Add flours and mix on low speed with dough hook until cohesive dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap and evenly sprinkle salt over dough. Knead on low speed (speed 2 on KitchenAid) 5 minutes. (If dough creeps up attachment, stop mixer and scrape down using well-floured hands or greased spatula.) Increase speed to medium and continue to knead until dough is smooth and slightly tacky, about 1 minute. If dough is very sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour and continue mixing 1 minute. Lightly spray 2-quart bowl with nonstick cooking spray; transfer dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Fold dough over itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes. Repeat folding, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Transfer dough to floured work surface, sprinkle top with more flour. Using bench scraper, cut dough in half and gently stretch each half into 16-inch cylinders. Divide each cylinder into quarters, then each quarter into 2 pieces (you should have 16 pieces total), and dust top of each piece with more flour. With floured hands, gently pick up each piece and roll in palms to coat with flour, shaking off excess, and place in prepared cake pan. Arrange 8 dough pieces in each cake pan, placing one piece in middle and others around it, with long side of each piece running from center of pan to edge and making sure cut-side faces up. Loosely cover cake pans with plastic wrap and let rolls rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes (dough is ready when it springs back slowly when pressed lightly with finger). Thirty minutes before baking, adjust rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.
Remove plastic wrap from cake pans, spray rolls lightly with water, and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes until tops of rolls are brown; remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees; using kitchen towels or oven mitts, invert rolls from both cake pans onto rimmed baking sheet. When rolls are cool enough to handle, turn right-side up, pull apart, and space evenly on baking sheet. Continue to bake until rolls develop deep golden brown crust and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 10 to 15 minutes; rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Transfer rolls to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Orange Cranberry Sauce
This is another one to make the day before. First, use a microplane or zester and get all of the zest off of one orange. Then finish peeling off the pith and chop the orange into pieces (remove any seeds). Take a couple of packages of fresh cranberries, put them in a sauce pan and add 1/2 cup of sugar, the chopped orange and a cinnamon stick. Simmer all of this together until the cranberries start bursting and the sauce thickens. Then mix in the zest and add a little freshly grated nutmeg. Let cool and put it in the refrigerator, overnight if possible.
I have nothing against ham. Or beef. Or pork. I am truly an equal opportunity glutton. For Thanksgiving for me, though, it has to be turkey. Look at this bad boy from a few years ago:
Turkey is pretty simple really. I soak mine in brine for a couple of days before hand. I get a cooler, put the defrosted bird in it. I try to guess how much water it will take to completely cover the bird (usually 4-6 gallons) and then I dissolve 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water, a couple of cups of brown sugar, a palm full of whole allspice, 4 or 5 dried bay leaves, 2 or 3 palms full of whole black peppercorns in a gallon or so of water. I pour this mixture along with the rest of the cold water over the bird, and then add a bag of ice. Let it sit in the brine for 24-48 hours and then take it out and rinse it off.
Then take the bird and put it on a roasting rack inside a deep pan. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. On Thanksgiving morning, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and brush the bird all over with it. Then sprinkle on kosher salt and pepper. Take some chopped onion, celery and carrot and some fresh thyme and put some inside the cavity of the turkey and the rest in the bottom of the roasting pan. Also, add about a cup of water to the bottom of the pan. Roast the turkey, breast side down at 400 degrees for an hour or so. Then flip the bird with one wing up, baste it and roast for about 15 or 20 minutes. Then flip the bird to the other wing baste it and roast for 15 minutes. Then flip the breast side up baste it again, and roast until the breast gets to 160 degrees or so (start checking after 30 minutes or so). Take the bird out and let it rest for 10 minutes or so, then it’s ready to carve.
Pumpkin Mousse Parfait
I really like Ina Garten. She is very classy and yet down to earth. This recipe is from one of her cookbooks and I don’t really change anything about it. It’s fantastic!
My wife is actually the pie maker in our house. She does a spectacular job and this is her recipe for a most excellent apple pie.
Add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to dutch oven (do not wash bowl) and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. (Apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking). Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. While apples cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place empty rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.
Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. (If dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return to refrigerator until firm.) Remove parchment from one side of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, roll second disk of dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate, leaving dough between parchment sheets, until firm, about 30 minutes.
Set large colander over now-empty bowl; transfer cooled apples to colander. Shake colander to drain off as much juice as possible (cooked apples should measure about 8 cups); discard juice. Transfer apples to dough lined pie plate; sprinkle with lemon juice.
Remove parchment from one side of remaining dough and flip dough onto apples; peel off second piece of parchment. Pinch edges of top and bottom dough rounds firmly together. Cut four 2 inch slits in top of dough. Brush surface with beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon sugar.
Set pie on preheated baking sheet; bake until crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool at least 1 ½ hours. Cut into wedges and serve.
I have no idea why people think that ground turkey is a substitute for ground beef. Sure, with enough salt, Worcestershire, tomato paste or soy sauce you can make turkey an approximation of beef, but it just strikes me as…wrong. I get the whole less red meat/lower fat/don’t kill the cute animals thing. (Not that I understand it, but I hear you talking…) Why not let turkey taste like turkey?
My dear wife wanted turkey meatloaf. We have tried turkey meatloaf recipes in the past and that’s largely what produced the above tirade. So I thought I’d take another path and try to work with the flavor of the turkey instead of trying to make it into something that it’s not. Instead of bludgeoning the delicate flavor of the turkey meat into submission with umami ridden flavors, I thought why not use the tried and true flavors that everyone raves about at thanksgiving. (Don’t worry, November will be here before you know it. I will rock your world.) So I started with some turkey friendly aromatics, carrots, onions and celery. I added some ground thyme – always a winner with poultry, and then a touch of butter and garlic.
The feedback from my favorite testers was it’s really good, but the carrots were too much. (That was a winner in my book – this is a tough crowd). As always, you be the judge.
Thanksgiving Turkey Meatloaf
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat canola oil in heavy skillet or saute pan over medium high. Add the onion, celery, carrot, thyme, and bay. After 5 or 6 minutes, add salt, pepper, butter and garlic. Heat for 2 or 3 more minutes, until the butter is melted, remove the bay leaf. Scrape out the skillet into a medium bowl.
Add the turkey, egg, and cracker (bread) crumbs to the vegetable mixture. Mix well to combine then transfer meat into a loaf pan or baking dish. Form the loaf shape that you want in the pan.
If you want this to be more of a traditional meatloaf you can mix the ketchup, chili sauce and sugar and spread it over the top of the loaf. It’s just fine if you leave that out though.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so before cutting.