Sticking to basics for Thanksgiving
A simple Thanksgiving prep without compromise.
Last week's Recipe of the Week was filled with great ideas about taking Thanksgiving up a notch. (In case you missed it, click here.) But not every dish -- nor every Thanksgiving -- needs to be a sophisticated variation on a traditional theme. There's a reason we all love Thanksgiving, and it comes down to comfort. And while putting together any Thanksgiving takes time and effort, it's all better when you have a plan.
But first: I know some of you reading this are not the designated chef this time around. But you can bring things to your host's home (check with them first, of course) -- or organize a pot luck if you want the day to be giddy fun and silly simple. We have tips here!
So, without further ado, I've got good, simple approaches to the turkey day hit parade.
DRESSING THAT TASTES LIKE FALL
In my variation on a sausage and cranberry dressing, I add some rendered bacon fat. It keeps the dressing moister and rounds out the savory goodness.
Sausage and Cranberry Dressing
- 16 cups 1-inch bread cubes, white or sourdough (1-1/2 pound loaf)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (that's about 2 onions)
- 1 cup medium-diced celery
- 2 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped roughly
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound diced bacon
- 3/4 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl.
- Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, parsley, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.
- In the same saute pan, cook the bacon until crisp, remove with a slotted spoon leaving the rendered bacon fat to cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. Remove with a slotted spoon and **(reserve the rendered fat to add later).
- Add to the bread cubes and vegetables.
- Add the chicken stock and cranberries to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
This serves 4-6, but for my family, I alway's double or triple the "suggested" amount, 'cause I’m wacky that way. Plus -- and here's the main reason you cannot have too many mashed potatoes during the holidays -- you'll have leftovers for thickening up the pumpkin or butternut soup you'll make in the next days.
- 3 pounds boiling potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 3 shallots sliced thin into rings
- 2 Tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
Peel the potatoes (really well if you like your mash with a purée texture, or leaving some skin on for extra flavor and a bumpy mouth-feel), cut them into cubes between 1" and 2", and place them in a large pot of boiling salted water. Simmer uncovered for 10 to 12 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return them to the pot.
Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter is melted.
Using an immersion blender or hand-held mixer, break the potatoes up, and then reduce the blander/mixer speed to low, so you can slowly add the hot milk/butter mixture to make the potatoes creamy, without throwing hot potatoes out of the pot.
Add the sour cream (or, optionally, some heavy cream or half-and-half), 2 teaspoons of salt and the pepper and whisk to combine.
Top with finely sliced shallots and parsley if you like.
Oh, yes. the turkey
The top of the EuroCAST double-roaster took a 12-pound turkey, big enough for a family of four to six people with ease.
Most people eat Thanksgiving dinner longing for the side dishes, so you don't really have to pile on the protein.
That means a smaller turkey can feed the gang well, and you'll still probably have leftovers for your turkey sandwich or ... well, stay tuned for leftover ideas in a subsequent Recipe of the Week.
I brought it to room temperature, patted it very dry (this is really important), and made sure everything was removed from inside the cavity.
Here's what to do next.
- Heavily salt the cavity.
- Rub in olive oil, all over, and salt EVERYWHERE. Inside and out.
- Pepper outside. Ground black pepper is my preferred, and use it all over, but you can use it from a bottle or tin if it's fresh.
- Sprinkle dried sage and dried thyme all over it, without any bashfulness.
- Then, into the cavity, stuff a handful of fresh thyme, lemon, bay leaf, sage, a head of garlic.
- Truss the bird.
- Put it in the top of your EuroCAST double-roaster, and then place that on the bottom of the oven at 525F for 45 minutes. This is, in my head, like doing a hard sear, and will give the skin a glorious texture that will also keep it moist during the longer, lower cooking time.
- During that initial high-heat session, the turkey starts to render some fat. This is good.
- After 45 minutes, I turned the oven down to 375F.
- Time to start basting: I melted about 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and then basted the bird with that and its rendered juices from the bottom of the pan.
- Total cooking time is about 3 hours -- but use a thermometer. Birds vary, ovens vary. Find our EuroCAST to-do tip sheet below for guidance on cooking times that match your bird.
- You MUST let it rest. Must.
- Since you cannot eat it right away, build anticipation by basting it while it rests.
- At the end, shower it with some kosher salt.
Turkey gravy with thyme
Gravy can be vexing. If you're feeling like it's all too much. You can find high-quality gravy other places -- just buy it and avoid the brain strain you'll get making what might be the only roux you make in 2017. That's OK.
If you're drinking white wine as you cook, you could spill a little into the gravy as you're heating it up. It can add a little brightness, and make it all yours.
This recipe is one of my favorites from our friends at Bon Appétit.
- Roasting pan with pan drippings from roasting turkey
- ⅓ cup Wondra flour
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ bunch thyme
- 4 cups roasted poultry stock
- 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- Carefully tilt the turkey roasting pan and strain drippings into a measuring glass or small bowl; discard solids. Let settle, then skim fat from surface, reserving ¼ cup (you should have about ¾ cup drippings).
- Place roasting pan over 2 burners set to medium heat. Add reserved fat to pan and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking, until roux is deep golden brown and looks shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes (a richly browned roux will add much more flavor than a pale one). Whisk in wine and cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Whisk in thyme and reserved turkey drippings.
- Meanwhile, bring stock to a bare simmer in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and keep warm.
- Gradually ladle warm stock into roux, whisking until incorporated before adding more, and simmer (still whisking!) until thickened (it should coat the back of a spoon), 8–10 minutes. If you prefer a thicker gravy, simmer a few minutes longer.
- For a silky gravy, strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan. Stir in vinegar; season gravy with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
I think creamed corn needs a PR makeover. Maybe it's the name ... it feels a bit namby-pamby. But when done right, it can be ridiculously delicious. To my mind, this version's use of thyme and garlic really make it sing. I use a lot of thyme in my holiday cooking. It tastes great and has a ton of health benefits. Which, given the number of holiday dishes using butter and heavy cream, is not a bad thing to add to the mix.
Speaking of the delights of dairy: You can use 12 ounces of half-and-half in this recipe instead of the cream/milk combination.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs
- 6 ears yellow corn, shucked and kernels cut off
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4-1/2 cup whole roasted garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- In a large EuroCAST sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the onion and thyme and saute about 4 minutes, or until the onion is tender and very pale golden.
- With the back of the fork, smash the garlic cloves to the skillet, stir in the corn, and then stir in the cream and milk.
- Bring to a simmer and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, or until the corn is heated through and a little tender, but with a little "tooth" (a crunchy resistance when biting into it -- you are tasting this, right?)
- Discard the thyme stems.
- Season the corn to taste with salt and pepper.
When I do this, I top it with slow-roasted garlic confit. Then, to balance that savory, sweet confit flavor, I put a dashing splash of red pepper flakes.
Chocolate pecan pie
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces
- 1/2 cup shaved excellent quality bittersweet chocolate
- 1 recipe pie crust (I'm persnickety about my crust, see below for my persnickety recipe for the pie crust)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans.
- Cover the bottom of the crust with the shaved chocolate.
- Pour filling into pie crust.
- Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Top should be set, if the top begins to brown and the center is still jiggly, cover loosely with foil and continue cooking until set.
- Cool for 2 hours or overnight before serving.
Serve with whipped cream. Yes. Because.
Pie Crust Recipe
Perfect Pie Crust:
This recipe makes two crusts. Because you're making two pies. Aren't you? You should. The chocolate pecan pie, of course, and then whatever family favorite pie everyone is clamoring for. (A friend of mine always make a chocolate chess pie from his aunt's recipe, who got it from her mother. Thinking you could trace that chocolate chess pie genealogy way back into Biblical times.)
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening
- 6-8 tablespoons ice water
- Dice the butter and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture.
- Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix.
- Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas.
- With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball.
- Dump out on a floured board and roll into a ball.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Cut the dough in half.
- Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn't stick to the board.
- Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan.
- Repeat with the top crust.
I unabashedly present to you Martha Stewart's homemade marshmallows.
Why marshmallows? Once you make them, you'll never run out of ideas -- or excuses. I, for example, found them to be a perfect topping for my double-spiced pumpkin pie.
About that crackly goodness on top ... it's caramelized sugar that tastes intensely sweet and dark. And looks like a fantasy dessert topping. Seriously great.
- Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with oil. Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Brush parchment with oil; set aside.
- Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.
- Attach bowl with gelatin to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin mixture.
- Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes.
- Beat in vanilla.
- Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula.
- Set aside, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.
- Sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar onto a work surface. Unmold marshmallow onto confectioners' sugar; remove parchment.
- Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil, then cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares.
- Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and roll each marshmallow in the sugar to coat.
Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature between sheets of parchment paper dusted with extra powdered sugar for up to 3 days.
Dinner is served.
Frank and I wish you a safe holiday filled with love and great leftovers.