Home Cooking: Here’s everything you need for the best Thanksgiving dinner (column)
Special to the Daily
Editor’s note: This is an abbreviated version of the article, for more recipes go online to SummitDaily.com
Pat, one of the beloved librarians at the South Branch Library in Breckenridge, told me this: After her father died she craved and ate pumpkin pie with whipped cream every week, for months. She knew her grief was abating when the craving finally lessened.
My mother, at the impressive age of 90, wistfully recounts how her mother made a simple Thanksgiving dressing, befitting their Depression era circumstances, of home baked bread, milk, celery, onions and parsley.
When I asked Facebook friends to share their favorite Thanksgiving dish people recounted the entire menu, which rarely changed from one year to the next. Most remarkable, the dishes were simple home cooking.
Such is the power of our Thanksgiving memories. While we may dread gathering around a holiday table with precarious family dynamics, we remember the food with enthusiasm and nostalgia because it truly is comfort food.
With the weight of this feedback, my plans for Thanksgiving recipes featuring the latest foodie trends went out the window. Instead, my goal is to take classic Thanksgiving dishes and present delightful recipes made with fresh, simple ingredients found at your local grocery store. I hope they’ll become your new family favorites.
Please remember this: Thanksgiving is not about food, it’s about being with people you love, and experiencing gratitude. These recipes can be made the day before (or week before and frozen) and reheated on Thanksgiving Day. Make these side dishes ahead, roast the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and then relax and enjoy the people gahtered around your table.
P.S. In my next column, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, I’ll give you an elegant Thanksgiving menu for two to four people, easy enough for a last-minute dinner. It will include my famous chocolate bourbon pecan pie!
Turkey – Buttermilk is the key
1 thawed turkey of your choice, giblets removed from the cavity
1 quart of buttermilk
1 poultry fresh herb mix (found in the produce section) consists of sage, rosemary, and thyme, just use a few sprigs of each herb. One package of the herb mix is enough for all of the recipes here.
Combine these three ingredients in an extra-large plastic bag and allow the bird to ‘brine’ for 24-48 hours. This is the most important step for moist and flavorful turkey meat. Even if you can only let the turkey brine overnight, you will notice the difference.
Preheat oven to 350F
Take the buttermilk brined turkey out of the bag, wipe off the excess buttermilk, but don’t rinse. Stuff the interior of the turkey cavity with your favorite aromatics: slices of apple, onion, garlic, sage, rosemary, thyme.
Tuck sliced butter under the skin of the breast meat, rub the bird with butter, sprinkle salt and pepper on the skin.
Roast the bird at 350F, baste occasionally with melted butter. Roast until the juices run clear. Time will depend on the weight of the turkey, follow the guide on the wrapper.
*Some recipes start the turkey at a much higher temperature to crisp the skin. I’ve tried this with mixed results. The best turkey I’ve ever had is slow and steady at 350F, and still results in gorgeous brown crisp skin.
Cornbread Sausage Stuffing/Dressing – Omit the Sausage and it’s still delicious
5 cups cornbread, crumbled (I baked my own, but you can also buy it already baked)
4 cups toasted bread cubes (I used store-bought, day-old baguettes I lightly toasted in the oven until they were dry)
1 ½ cups half-and-half
3 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves finely chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme leaves finely chopped
1 lb ground pork sausage (hot, sage, or your choice)
1 cup celery diced include celery leaves
1 med sweet onion diced
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Put the cornbread and bread cubes into a large bowl, add half-and-half, eggs, herbs, and allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
Cook the sausage. Place in a separate bowl. In the same frying pan, with the grease from the pork, cook the celery and onion until softened. Add the vegetables to the bowl with the sausage. Allow it to cool, then add it to the bowl containing the cornbread mixture. Mix together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put mixture into a baking dish, add broth so that the dressing is moist. Let stand for 30 minutes for liquid to be fully absorbed into the bread.
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350F, until heated through and top is crisp.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping – Old school never tasted this good
5 sweet potatoes cut into cubes, boiled and mashed
1 cup half-and-half
¼ cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional, you can substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla)
3 tablespoons bourbon or brandy (optional)
pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, salt to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
8 oz chopped pecans
pinch cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Preheat oven to 350F
Combine mashed sweet potatoes and other ingredients in a bowl and stir until smooth
Then spread in a 9×13 pan.
In a small bowl, combine all the topping ingredients, mix the butter and flour together with your fingers until it reaches the consistency of sand. Then sprinkle over the top of the sweet potato casserole.
Bake for 30 minutes until the topping is golden.
Green Bean Casserole – A Thanksgiving classic improved and we keep French’s fried onions
1 ½ lbs of fresh green beans, ends removed
16 oz of cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 med/lg sweet onion sliced in rings
2 tablespoons of butter
Béchamel sauce: Don’t be intimidated by the name, it’s just flour, butter and milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
4 cloves of garlic sliced/diced thin
½ cup hard cheese of your choice: parmesan, gruyere, aged gouda
nutmeg, salt, pepper to taste
French’s fried onions to garnish
Boil the green beans until just done, but not too done. Drain.
While the beans are boiling, sauté the mushrooms and onions in butter until the mushrooms are softened and browned and the onions are caramelized (light brown, not burned). Add the green beans, season to taste. Then slide the beans, mushrooms and onions into a baking dish.
Give a quick wipe to the frying pan used to sauté the veggies, add the flour and butter. Allow the flour to cook until golden, about 2-3 minutes. Add in half-and-half, whisk with a whisk or fork to eliminate flour lumps, and allow the sauce to thicken. Add garlic, grated nutmeg and grated cheese. Stir to combine.
Pour the Bechamel sauce over the green beans, onions and mushrooms. Grate additional cheese over the dish, cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then remove the foil, add the fried onions and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Cranberry Sauce – You’ll never eat canned cranberry sauce again after you taste this
1 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries
1 orange (juiced and scrape the zest)
½ cup sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook for 20-25 minutes over medium/medium low heat, stirring often, until the cranberry sauce thickens. Put into a small bowl and let cool.
Pumpkin Pie – Just the smell of this pie will make you happy
1 oversize graham cracker crust (I used a store-bought graham cracker crust, use a standard pie crust if you wish)
1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not the flavored pumpkin pie filling)
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cup half-and-half
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg*
¼ teaspoon ground cloves*
1 teaspoon ground ginger*
¼ – ½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons bourbon (or brandy, which is less expensive)
*If you can’t imagine using ground cloves or ground ginger for the rest of the year, you have my permission to buy an inexpensive pumpkin pie spice. … just add a little at a time, taste and adjust to your taste.
Preheat oven to 275F
Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl, mix well, then pour into the pie crust. Taste and adjust seasonings to your palate. Bake for 1 ½ hours.
Thanksgiving to Go Bags Now Available
For the second year, St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge, in conjunction with other Summit County faith communities, will lead the “Thanksgiving to Go” project. Each “TTG” bag will provide everything needed to prepare a delicious home-cooked Thanksgiving Day meal, providing nourishment and joy to those who might need a little extra help this holiday season.
Last year, with your help, we provided 300 bags. Can we double that number this year?
Please fill and return at least one TTG bag by Monday, Nov. 13. Please buy the items specified on the shopping list, (and if financially feasible) a $25 supermarket gift card! To participate, please email Terese Keil TKpropmgmt@aol.com, bags are also available at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church (both in Breckenridge), and Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Silverthorne.
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