Home Cooking: Enjoy a relaxed and flavorful Thanksgiving
Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner should be as fun for you as it is for your guests. By the time you sit down at the dinner table, I want you to be eager to enjoy the meal and your guests, and I want you to be relaxed.
The key is advanced preparation. Plan your menu now. First, consider any special dietary needs. For instance, if you have vegans or vegetarians, you might wish to include one main dish they can enjoy such as a hearty vegetarian stew or lasagna. Do you have pescatarians in the crowd? Individual portions of salmon can be easily roasted in the oven for 30 minutes along with the sides. For gluten-free friends, you might want to make a dressing from rice instead of bread.
Second, are your guests planning to arrive early and stay late? You might want to plan on easy and no-cooking-involved appetizers, such as nuts, cheese and cold shrimp.
Third, there will be all sorts of menu ideas for Thanksgiving, from basic to complex. I’ve tried them all, including all number of ways to prep the turkey long before it reaches the oven. As you think about your menu, does your crowd want the tried and true classics or something exotic and new? Perhaps the right balance is one new dish and old favorites. If you’re doing all the cooking, honestly assess what you can handle and keep it simple. On the other hand, if you’re expecting a crowd, encourage your friends to bring a favorite dish. Finally, write out your menu and grocery list and stick to it.
Once you’re ready to cook, start early in the week. Here’s some ideas:
If you are buying a frozen turkey, put it into the refrigerator on Monday so that the bird is thoroughly defrosted by Thursday morning.
If you plan to bake pies, bake them on Tuesday.
You can wash and chop your vegetables on Wednesday, put them in plastic bags and store them in the refrigerator.
The dressing can be assembled on Tuesday or Wednesday but not baked, then covered and kept in the fridge, and then popped into the oven for 30 minutes before dinner time.
Set the entire dinner table on Wednesday. The beauty of your prepared table will be a lovely welcome when your guests arrive on Thursday.
The dishes I made this year are classics that will be familiar and welcome. Your guests will feel right at home, no matter how far from home they may be.
This dinner will easily feed four with leftovers. However, you’ll see that each dish is easily adaptable to feed more.
I hope you’ll have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with friends and family and peace and joy. I hope everyone will enjoy dinner and save room for pie. But most of all, I hope you will know that by feeding others you are sharing love.
Herb Roast Turkey
I made a turkey breast this year, but this recipe is easily adaptable to a large turkey.
On Wednesday or Thursday morning, take the bird out of its wrapping, rinse and pat dry, sprinkle a generous handful of kosher salt inside and outside of the entire turkey and then let rest uncovered in the fridge.
When you’re ready to cook the turkey, preheat the oven to 375°. In a food processor mix together one stick of butter with 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs: thyme, sage and rosemary, add 1 teaspoon of allspice, a pinch of salt and a fresh grating of pepper, a grating of fresh nutmeg and one garlic clove. Pulse until you have a good paste. Then rub your turkey all over with the butter, as well as in between the skin and the breast meat. Then place the turkey into the oven and roast according to the directions for its size.
Bourbon Bacon Brussels Sprouts
I used 1.5 pounds of Brussels sprouts. Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and trim off the bottoms. Put them into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until fork tender. While they are cooking, in a small sauce pan gently warm 1 cup of heavy cream and a quarter cup of bourbon, with a clove of garlic, a fresh grating of nutmeg, a pinch of salt and pepper, and two sprigs of thyme. You are flavoring the cream. In another skillet, fry three pieces of bacon until crisp and then break into half-inch pieces. Drain the Brussels sprouts and place into a baking dish. Using a sieve to catch the garlic and thyme, pour the cream into the baking dish and top with your favorite cheese. I used a Bellavenita, but a gruyere, emmanthaler, or parmesan would also be excellent. Bake for 30 minutes in the oven with the turkey at 375°.
Cornbread Dressing with Sausage, Apple, and Cranberries
Fry 1 pound of pork sausage in a large frying pan. I used a sage-flavored sausage. Break the sausage into little pieces. As the sausage is cooking add one diced leek (white part only) and two celery stalks diced. Sauté all together, until the leeks and celery are softened. If necessary, you may add a tablespoon of butter for flavor. To the pan add one diced apple (red or green) and 1/3 cup of dried cranberries. Add 6 cups of crumbled corn bread and 2 to 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Season with a pinch of freshly ground pepper Kosher salt, nutmeg and a pinch of red pepper flakes, if you wish. Gently toss all ingredients together. If you’re making this ahead, cover with foil and chill in the fridge. When you’re ready to cook, dot with butter, cover again and bake for 25 minutes at 375°, then uncover and allow to brown for another 10 minutes.
Mashed Potatoes and Turnips
Peel and cut into large chunks 3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes and three medium turnips. Cook them in a large pot of boiling salted water until they are fork tender. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan on a medium-low heat melt 1/2 cup or one stick of butter and 2/3 cup of heavy cream with two sprigs of fresh thyme and three cloves of unpeeled garlic. This is to gently flavor the cream. Drain and mash the potatoes. Then gradually pour half the cream and butter mixture over the potatoes, mix well. Then add the remaining cream, little by little, until you’ve reached the consistency you want. Don’t over hydrate the mashed potatoes or you’ll end up with soup! Taste and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Optionally, grate your favorite cheese over the mashed potatoes and mix in. The mashed potatoes can also be made a day or two ahead and then warmed in a slow cooker.
Chocolate Pecan Pie
To make the pie crust: In the bowl of a food processor combine 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of sugar, half a cup of cold butter cut into small cubes. Pulse until the flour and butter mixture resemble course sand. Then, by 1 tablespoon at a time, add cold water while the flour mixture is processed. You want to add just enough water for the dough to form a ball, not a drop more. I like to roll out my pastry at this point and place it into the pie pan and then chill it for an hour in the refrigerator. I find it easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Blind bake the pie crust for 10 minutes until partially baked. Remove from the oven and allow to come back to room temperature. For the filling: Mix together four eggs, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup white sugar, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, 1 cup of Caro dark corn syrup, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix well. Place 2 cups of whole pecans and ½ cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the pie shell, then pour over the wet ingredients. Bake in a 325° oven for 50–55 minutes until the center is just set but not boiling. Allow to cool to room temperature for the pie to set, before serving.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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