Thanksgiving Recipes

In trying to figure out how to address what kind of things everyone wanted me to write, what people wanted me to include in these blog posts, it was a tradeoff between walking the traditional line and coming up with something a little bit different. A few times during the holidays, my mom has made these brussels sprouts with a lemon poppyseed dressing, and they turn out delicious. Without further comment, here is the recipe:

5 T. light olive oil
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t. poppy seeds
1 t. minced garlic
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1/4 t. salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1 egg
8 carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch thick coins
1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed (peel outer layer, slice X in the stalk)
1 T. chopped green onions (optional)

Whisk oil, lemon juice, poppy seeds, garlic, mustard, salt, and cayenne pepper together until well blended. Gently heat sauce over low heat until warm. In separate bowl, break and beat egg until homogenous. and whisk in the sauce a spoonful at a time to temper egg and prevent curdling.

Steam carrots and Brussels sprouts until tender-crisp; drain. Toss with sauce.
Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with green onions. Serves 4-6.

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How To Prepare Green Beans

Green Beans are pretty simple. I like to keep them looking fresh and green, and this can be arranged by blanching them ahead of time, and quick finishing them right at service.

Get out your big pot. Fill it with a good amount of water so that when you drop your beans in it doesn’t slow the boil. Crank it to high, cover, and let it heat up while you prep the beans.

If the beans have the stems or strings, take them right off. Sure, it’s not that fun, but think of all the time you’re saving by doing this ahead! Eat your heart out, Clarence Birdseye*!

Think about how many people are eating. You want to do a serving forkful for each person. To count would be silly, but to estimate, it would be about 10-15 beans.

Grab a big bowl from your cabinet. Fill it with a lot of ice, and then cover the ice with water.

Next, heavily salt the now boiling water in your stockpot. You want to do it when the water’s boiling, because if you do it at the beginning, all you’ll be achieving is a thorough chemical scouring of your pot.

Toss a couple handfuls of beans in, and let them go for about a minute, until they become a deep, verdant green. When this happens, pull them out with a spider, slotted spoon or tongs, and plunge them immediately into your ice bath. This arrests the cooking process and temporarily preserves the fresh greenery of the chlorophyll blooming. No shabby canned beans for YOU this year. Oh, no.

If the water needs to get back up to a boil, let it, and add some more beans, blanching and shocking them in small batches until you have no more beans to cook. It is important that you have a lot of ice in the cold bath, because you want to stop the cooking process immediately. Add more if you must, because a giant bowl of beautiful green beans will go quickly, but a pile of limp and languid overcooked beans will sit untouched, or merely eaten out of obligation and not joy.

Once all your beans are blanched and shocked, fully cooled down, drain the water from your ice bath and put all your beans in a ziploc in the fridge until you’re ready to finish them. This can be achieved by a quick flash in the pan for a minute or two with some butter and almonds, or with a pat of butter, some shallot, and a bit of fresh thyme, pepper, and then covered for a minute with a splash of white wine to quick steam them.

There are many avenues to take after this. For a quick and delicious sauce, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add equal parts flour and stir until it is absorbed into a paste. Cook it over medium heat for two to three minutes until it starts to smell nutty and begins to show signs that the flour will brown. When this happens, whisk in two cups of milk, a dash of nutmeg, a pinch or two of sage, and stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about two minutes. When this happens, add some shredded swiss cheese and incorporate it until it melts. Finish with black pepper and serve alongside the beans.

You know what I haven’t done? The absolute mainstays. The Classics. Here they are, unflinchingly mine, but tasting like yours.

Green Bean Casserole

So you’ve got your beans, right? Great. They’re blanched and shocked, waiting to be dressed. Here’s how to do your green bean casserole without any oven time.

Slice a carton of mushrooms. Dice one yellow onion. Put a pat of butter in a pan over medium heat, and let them sweat and cook down until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are brown and shiny. They’ll release a lot of moisture. Season them with salt and pepper and remove half of the mixture from the pan, transferring to a bowl. To the bowl, add a carton of heavy cream and puree with the mushroom mix. When it is smooth, pour the cream mixture back in the pan with the mushrooms, and let it come to a bubbling boil. When it does, cut the heat to low and whisk in a tablespoon of flour. Keep stirring. The mixture will thicken. When it does, turn off the heat.

Put your beans in a serving dish. Pour the Mushroom cream over the beans and coat them with the mixture. Now, one thing that I refuse to compromise on is French-Fried Onions. I know they exist, but like so many other things such as French Fried Potatoes, Ketchup, Marshmallows, and a host of others, you never really appreciate them until you try to make them yourself.

Sidebar: French Fries? There’s a reason why we shouldn’t eat them every day. If we had to make them from scratch, there would be far fewer people with heart disease. To be done correctly, the intensive labor associated with making french fries is so high, and in small batches with such little reward, that if we were forced to make our own, most would make the conscious choice not to, because as a sedentary culture, we’re far too lazy. 

Wow. Sorry. I blacked out there for a moment. What were we talking about? French Fried Onions, yes. The onion that rarely exists in nature without a little elbow grease and a lot of vegetable grease. Just buy them. Buy a canister. There is nobody I know who has a book full of recipes that call for French Fried Onions. This dish is the only one. You can eat them once a year, on top of the beans. That’s it.

Open the can, and put some of those babies on top. Do you need to cook them? I don’t recall the strong desire to cook them. I think you don’t. I’m going to say no. No, you don’t.

Okay, great. You now have your green bean casserole.

Cranberry Sauce

Easiest thing ever. Go to cupboard. Open can. Plop can into dish. Put on table.

Dinner is served.

I know that canned cranberry sauce is a staple and a mainstay of many a holiday table, but since the cranberry is in season and so plentiful around the holidays, why not take advantage of fresh cranberries and make your own sauce? On every bag, and I do mean every bag, of fresh cranberries sold around the holidays, there is a recipe for cranberry sauce/dressing/etc. It most often consists of three things: Cranberries, sugar, and citrus.

The easiest thing to do, if you have a Food Processor, is to cut an orange into wedges. Do not peel it. Throw it in the food processor and pulse it until it becomes a pulp. Pour the macerated orange into a saucepan. Most recipes call for up to two cups of sugar, but that’s unreasonable. I tend to think they add that much to make it palatable to children. I say to add 1/4 to 1/3 cup, just enough to cover the orange matter with a short dusting.Whatever extra sweetness you need will come through with the citrus. Cover it with a half/cup of water. Stir to mix everything together, and turn the heat to medium high.  Boil the mixture or stir until all the sugar is dissolved from the heat. Add your bag of fresh cranberries and return to a boil. Turn it down and simmer for 10 minutes.

Now, you’ve got cranberry sauce.

*of the Frozen Foods Birdseyes, known as the father of Modern blanching/freezing techniques.

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Now that we have the stuffing out of the way, let’s talk about other things that we can pair with dinner. Here are some great staples for the table that no holiday dinner should be without:

Mashed Potatoes

Everyone loves the mashed potatoes. We just can’t get enough. Here’s a great thing about them: You can, just like the stuffing, do them ahead of time. Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen the day of Thanksgiving peeling potatoes, running to the pot to plop them in one by one. Oh, no. If you’re feeding a hungry brood, you want to have it all out of the way. For any good family raised in the Midwest, this means one thing: Instead of serving from a big bowl or pot, shift to the casserole dish.

For each person eating potatoes, you want to figure for at least two sizeable serving spoonfuls of potatoes per person. (If you have sweet potatoes of any form, you can cut this down a bit, but two is a good figure). This means, comfortably, one medium baker or russet per person, peeled and quartered. If you’re going all out, one to two medium yukon golds per person ought to do the trick.

Tip #1– Start with your pot of tap water, put your potatoes in, THEN turn on the stove. If you’re worried about overboiling your potatoes, that problem can always be solved with butter and dairy.

So, peel those potatoes and quarter them, throwing them in your large stockpot filled about halfway with water. If there’s one Ancient Greek Principle to recommend this holiday season, it’s Archimedes’ principle of water displacement.

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

Salt your water like you salt your pasta water. Not like you’re SUPPOSED to, but how you normally do. If it’s a big pot, this means about a silver dollar sized pile of salt in your palm, right?

The more potatoes you put into the pot, the higher the water level will rise. You want to leave at least 2-3 inches between the water surface and the lip of the pot, as between all your potato pieces, bubbles will emerge and roil the waters with great excitement. You do not want splashover. (Sidenote: I did not read the entire wikipedia entry on Archimedes’ principle, but I bet it says somewhere in there “Don’t overfill your potato pot, lest ye wish to splasheth over onto yon range.”)

Let the pot come to a boil, and let it go for about ten minutes at a full boil. Grab one of those big serving forks and poke at a potato. Even if it’s kind of fork tender, it’s pretty much done. Fork tender, in this instance, means little to no resistance, not simply that you can get a fork into it. If the potato cleaves easily on either side of your fork tines, turn off the heat and pour about 95% of the water out through a colander. You can reserve about a cup or two of water on the side to reincorporate into your potatoes should they need more texture.

Mash the potatoes. If you want creamy potatoes, add your butter and dairy and mash/whip them together. Taste to see if they’re seasoned right. Potatoes will absorb a lot of whatever flavor you put with it, which is why it’s important to add a little to the pot for flavor, but not too much so that they’re all salt.

Tip#2- Put peeled whole garlic cloves in with the water as you boil. The boiling will mellow out the garlic flavor, and as you mash, the garlic will be incorporated into the potatoes. You won’t know it’s there, but it is a comforting yet subtle flavor.

After you’ve mashed and seasoned your potatoes, load them into a casserole dish and cover. Smooth the top with a spatula and cover with foil. On the day of the feast, warm them in your all purpose service oven (300-325 degrees to heat but not dry all your food) at your leisure.  If you have a heavier casserole dish, they will maintain temperature for a while, staying warm for equally as long as you have them in the oven.

If you wish to serve them in a bowl, simply cover them and refrigerate. The day of service, put your potato water in the bottom of a pan and boil it. When it’s hot, add the potatoes and stir until the water is reconstituted into the potatoes. After 5-10 minutes, the potatoes should be warm. If they bubble in a gloppy fashion, you can always add a little more water and fluff them up toward the end.


Candied Yams/Roasted Squash

These dishes aren’t a big staple at our table, but I hear they’re good. Here’s my take:

Preheat your oven to 400°. For Candied Yams, peel your tubers and cut them into manageable pieces, generally in eighths for a medium sized sweet potato. Melt 1/4 cup of butter and toss with the yams and 1/2 cup brown sugar, a couple pinches of nutmeg and cardamom, and a bit of salt and pepper. Throw it all in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes have a nice glaze on them. If you’re also doing these ahead of time, leave the marshmallows off the top until just before service, when you fire up the broiler and toast them quickly underneath.

Tip#3- With all the side dishes, pull them out of the fridge about an hour before you want to put them in the oven. This gives them the opportunity to come up to room temperature, lessening the time that they’ll monopolize your baking racks.

With Roasted Squash, the principles are the same. When you select your squash, know that butternut is creamy and light, and other smaller varieties are going to be more hardy and firm. Acorns, Delicatas, Red Kuri (doesn’t taste like curry. don’t fret). All of these are great if you are going to roast them. Spaghetti Squash is just silly. Don’t use that one.

So, you’ve selected a squash. Peel it. Pull the seeds out. Dice it into one inch chunks. Toss it with a little bit of salt and pepper, maybe a little smidge of maple, and a good drizzle of a neutral oil. Don’t use olive oil. You’ll taste it.

Same thing. Toss them in a casserole dish, throw it in your 400° oven for about 40 minutes, giving your dish a stir about halfway through. Anything touching your casserole dish will probably caramelize with the maple sugar. You want to get as much festive color on there as possible for maximum sweet/savory dispersal of flavor. When everything’s of good color and has a decent amount of tenderness and starchiness (once again, let the moisture cook out of them. We’re looking for firm, yet tender, like a robot nanny), pull it out and let it cool. Once again, if you’re doing this ahead of time, let it cool to room temperature, then throw it in the fridge. If you want it a little more starchy and a little less mushy, leave it uncovered so a little bit of moisture can escape.

So there we have it. The fridge is full of potatoes and squashes and yams, and you’ve got all your fixings for stuffing ready to roll. Sounding pretty good, isn’t it?

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Between now and Thanksgiving, you’ll have plenty of time to stockpile all the goods you’ll need. I’m going to start you with the stuffing.

So many places have box stuffings or premade mixes. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve sampled out about half a dozen turkeys over the last few weeks, and all of them have some variation on an in-the-bird stuffing.

Box stuffings (save for Stove Top) are tasty and always a hit at the Holidays, and most require little more than adding a little water or broth. However, if you want to make your own, here’s my helpful hint that will save you money:

All the bread you go through? Save the heels, the odds and ends, and start freezing the weird pieces, a slice or two at a time, until you have a good loaf’s worth. If you don’t make it that far, you can make up the stagger with whatever savory bread you have lying around. Tip#1: Crusts are good. A couple days before the big day, pull them out, dice them into small pieces, and leave them to sit on your countertop or on top of the fridge. You know those fancy multigrain stuffings you see in the store? Congratulations. You now have a melange of different croutons to use. also, you can season them with a little oil, salt, pepper, dry sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley, throw them in the oven for about ten minutes to crisp, and you have a quick base for your stuffing.

Chop a stalk or two of celery, one or two onions, (Save the tops and ends) add some golden raisins. Chop an apple. Saute them. Toss it all together with half a stick of melted butter. Add some walnuts, and enough liquid (veg, chicken stock, or even water) to moisten, but not make it overly spongy. If you’re doing your stuffing out of the bird, you want a stuffing that’s a little more moist, but one that when you put it in the oven  for about 45 minutes to an hour will give you a nice crusty top. That’s it. Bake it at 350-375 until the top is golden brown. If you’re doing the stuffing in the bird, a lot of moisture will come from the turkey itself, as well as flavor.

Tip #2: If you’re planning ahead and doing this the day before, pull the giblets out, cover them with water and the odds and ends from the celery/onion mixture, and let them simmer for about an hour. Boom. Quick stock to flavor your stuffing.

This is a general recipe for a Turkey Stuffing with fruits of the season. If you want other stuff in there, put it in. Chestnuts can be done just as easily as walnuts or pecans, and if you want a stuffing with sausage, your local butcher will have some delicious options for you. They will probably also have Jimmy Dean. If you can help it, try to have a holiday dinner without inviting Jimmy Dean to the table. Yes, his manners are polite, but his sausage is all fat.

Tip #3- Last tip on the stuffing: You can make it a day ahead of time and reheat it the day of service. The holiday is about the food, but it’s more about having the pleasure of the company of friends and/or family. Nobody will care if it’s not piping hot. So many things will go in and out of the oven on Thursday that not a single person will have the right to dare badmouth all the cook’s hard work. If they do, they’re simply not invited next year, but that still doesn’t leave a place for Jimmy Dean.


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