Sunday, November 22, 2009

Food November 2009: Thanksgiving

Perfect Roast Turkey
source: Martha

I am thankful for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is Christmas without the gifts and commercialization to leave the holiday about what it should be - family, a sense of gratitude, and amazing food.  Despite the perfect picture, every family has a little Thanksgiving dysfunction.  That's what really makes it Thanksgiving; and in my family, we always say the goal is to put the fun back in dysfunctional.

Growing up, my family had without a doubt - the best food.  The cost however was a grumpy Dad who wouldn't let us near the kitchen all day (the grump would definitely wear off after the first pre-dinner scotch) and a rather stressed mom who served no less than 10 dishes and 2-3 pies for dessert.  The results were a New England culinary tour de force and two exhausted parents.  When I got married and spent my first Thanksgiving away from the fam and with my in-laws, I witnessed the other side of things.  I was amazed at how relaxed everyone was... and then I tasted the food.  Needless to say, my father-in-law's turkey with the giblets (plastic wrap still on) roasted into the bird topped off with a  store bought gravy was less than savory - thankfully, my husband's cousin makes a mean mashed potato that saved the day.   So where is the balance?  I'm still searching, but here is my take on Thanksgiving - keep it simple.  If you chose a few well cooked dishes then there is no need to serve ten things, as everyone will stuff up on the good stuff.  Besides - creamed onions and french bean casserole are not the necessities when you go to make the leftover sandwich the next day - right?  Moreover, whether everyone will admit it or not, store bought Ocean Spray Cranberry Jelly is always better than Grandma's four hour pain-stakingly technical cranberry mold.  Good luck with your holiday - here is mine.  

Thanksgiving Menu (10-12 adults and 4-6 kids)
Roasted Turkey with Cornbread Maple Sausage Stuffing
Martha Stewart Recipe for Perfect Roast Turkey and Figs and Cupcakes Stuffing
Creme Fraice Whipped Mashed Potatoes - Figs and Cupcakes
Roasted Garnet Yams with "souffle" of marshmallow - Figs and Cupcakes
Steamed Green Beans with Butter and Slivered Almonds - Figs and Cupcakes

Dessert: Apple Pie - The Best Recipe Cookbook or Cooks Illustrated Online - free with a 14 day trial membership.
Pumpkin Cheesecake - unknown attribution used by my mother - on Figs and Cupcakes

Thankgiving Timeline: 

Sunday: Make the pie crust and stick in the freezer.

Monday night: grocery shop 

Tuesday: make the cornbread and pre-roast the yams.  

Wednesday morning: before work or your day starts, make the brine and place the turkey in to soak in the fridge.

Wednesday night: Make the pumpkin cheesecake, stick in the oven and start the cornbread stuffing (roughly 40 minutes) and place both in the fridge.  Set the Thanksgiving table and straighten up the house. Take the pie crust out of the freezer and place in the fridge. 

Thursday early morning - take the turkey out of the fridge and brine and let come to room temperature for 2 hours.  While you are waiting for the bird, make the rest of the apple pie and bake.  Then, stuff and prep the bird and place in the oven. 
Thursday day: watch your turkey while finishing the sweet potato souffle (up to two hours in advance) and setting aside to place in the oven when the turkey comes out of the oven.  Peel potatoes, cut and place in a pot of cold water on top of the stovetop.  Toast your slivered almonds and set aside.  Wash your green beans and put in a steamer on the stovetop ready to start when the turkey is done.  
When the turkey is done, you have 40 minutes to mealtime.  Take the turkey out of the oven, keeping it on, take out and cover for 30 minutes.  Immediately turn on your potatoes,  and start to steam your green beans.  After ten minutes, place the sweet potatoes in the oven.  When the turkey is done resting and someone is carving, finish the mashed potatoes in the stand mixer, dress the green beans, take the sweet potatoes out of the oven and serve dinner.  


Turkey and Corn Bread Stuffing 

When I want to make a turkey, I always start with two sources.  The first (contrary to my small farm, organic food beliefs) is Butterball - they have the absolute best calculators for how long to cook a turkey at a variety of temperatures - stuffed and unstuffed.  The second source is Martha Stewart - her website has a number of turkey recipes to inspire you, but for me, the Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe starts and finishes the conversation on the classic roasted turkey.  Her suggestions are based on a kitchen staff that has perfected the bird, so pay attention to the (1) brine, (2) bringing the bird to room temp before you roast, and (3) taking the bird out at 165 degrees and letting it rest for 30 minutes to continue cooking on its own.  My grandfather used to take it out even earlier (like 160) and then covered it with tin foil and a wool blanket for 30 minutes until it finished.  This resting process allows the moisture that has bottomed in the dark meat and cavity to steam up and hydrate the breast of the bird.  

For 12-14 people, I recommend a 20 pound bird.  Before placing it in the oven, you need to stuff it - and here is where our family reaches the line between debate and war - my Dad's italian mushroom white bread walnut stuffing, or my favorite - the cornbread, sausage, apple, maple stuffing.  Since its my blog - here is the recipe. 

I start with 2 loaves of cornbread, made a couple of days before Thanksgiving.  You can make it from scratch, but I use the boxed Jiffy bread - 4 packages of them will cook two large loaves (2 packages each in a 9 inch square pan).  If the loaves sit out for a couple of days, wrapped, they will get stale enough for stuffing.  The other option, if you are a last minute type, is to bake it the night before and after baking and cooling, chop into 1 inch squares and let sit out on a baking pan for uncovered overnight to get stale and dry - or if you are really last minute and are baking that morning, you can chop the bread and then place it in a 170 degree oven for 40 minutes to dry out - making sure that your oven stays low so as not to burn. 

2 loaves stale cornbread, chopped into one half inch pieces
4 fresh sweet italian sausages (not precooked) - roughly one pound
cutting each in half lengthwise and then chopping.
4 cloves garlic crushed
3 large Vidalia onions, chopped
8 Granny Smith apples, diced
1/4 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons fresh thyme -leaves only
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
salt - 1/2 teaspoon
pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, place butter and olive oil and allow to reach translucency, waiting until the butter has stopped foaming.  Add chopped onions and half of salt and saute on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove the onions from the pan, keeping the juices and turn up the heat to medium-high, adding the cut sausages.  Cook roughly five minutes or until the sausage begins to brown, reduce heat to medium low and add the onions and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently, and then add apples, thyme and oregano, maple syrup, the rest of the salt, and cider.  Let cook uncovered on low heat until the apples are starting to soften - roughly 15 minutes but it will depend on how small you have diced the apples.  If for some reason it begins to dry out, add more apple cider if needed.  Place your cornbread pieces in a large bowl and dump the warm sausage mixture onto the bread.  Let sit to room temp and refrigerate overnight to stuff into the bird.  There should be enough stuffing to stuff the bird loosely and still have more.  Take the extra and place in an oven proof casserole dish.  Place in the oven for ten minutes before dinner and pour an extra pan juices - keeping some for the gravy - from the turkey roasting pan into the stuffing and toss and serve.  

Pumpkin Cheesecake 
I have never been a fan of pumpkin pie - its like carrot cake to me.  All I can think is "how dare you put vegetables into my dessert."  This cheesecake is the exception to me - its smooth and sinful and you only have a hint of the pumpkin.  


3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 table sugar
1 oz butter melted

1 lb cream cheese softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar

6 eggs, beat slightly 
3/4 cup heavy cream
11 oz solid pumkin (no spices)
 1 teas cinnamon
1/3 teas cloves
1/3 teas nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2/3 cup brown sugar packed
1 oz melted butter

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the elements of the crust and pack with your fingers in a spring form pan.  Set aside.  Put the cream cheese and sugars in a stand mixer or bowl and mix until creamy.  Add eggs, beating lightly after each addition and then cream, pumpkin and spices.  Mix until blended and add to the pan.  Place spring pan in a larger high sided pan, and surround with hot water from the tea kettle (water bath) place in the oven and bake for 1 hour ( I sometimes find it needs slightly more - wait until the cake is just solidified and slightly browned).

When it looks done, place the topping on, keeping the cake in the oven.  Then turn off the heat and let sit in the warm oven roughly 15 minutes.  Refrigerate for up to two days and take out of the oven 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temp.

Creme Fraiche Whipped Mashed Potatoes
I like this recipe because of its light texture and flavor. While I am a big fan of the garlic mashed potato, on this day - there are too many flavors coming at you to showcase a roasted garlic mash and a whipped potatoes is a little lighter on the plate.

5 lbs. organic russet potatoes (with potatoes organic is important to health and taste), peeled and cut into thirds
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 and 1/2 sticks butter chopped ( I know what you are saying, but its Thanksgiving and its not the time for an Eating Well or Cooking Light Recipe)
Salt to taste

Place the potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil.  Boil roughly 25 minutes or until the potato is finished - this is the hardest part to learn and practice makes perfect.  If the potato splits when a fork is put into it, it is perfect - but one or two minutes after that will create a much more starchy flavor.  Drain and place in stand mixer or bowl if you are using a hand mxer.  Immediately add butter so that it can melt, salt, creme fraiche and parmesan cheese and mix.  Go light on the salt because of the Parm and taste as you go.  Mix on medium until the potatoes are light and airy.  Serve immediately.  DO NOT make ahead of time and reheat in an oven or crock pot - it will dry them out.  

Sweet Potato "Souffle" with Marshmallows
If you had the excuse to cook this everyday, your kids would never give up on vegetables.  My sister and I would get in HUGE fights over who got the most marshmallows and while she was screaming at me, I would steal hers off her plate.  This souffle will not explode or rise all that high because of the heavy nature of yams, but it will rise a bit and lighten-up.  

4 cups pre-roasted garnet yams/ sweet potatoes (roughly 4 large) with 4 tablespoons butter
(I roast in oven of 400 degrees by cutting them in half and placing them skin up in a roasting pan with an inch of water for 40 minutes or until soft when poked with a fork.  I then skin them and blend in the food processor with the four tablespoons butter until very smooth but not liquified) - warmed
teaspoon lemon juice
6 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 handfuls of all natural vanilla marshmallows
( I like Elyon Kosher) which they sell at Whole Foods

Whip the egg whites and lemon juice on medium-high speed until they are able to stand on their own - 8-10 minutes.  Fold the whites into the warmed (even use a microwave to take the chill out of them) 4 cups of yams and butter and add salt.  While the eggs are mixing, butter a large souffle pan.  Place the folded egg-white yam mixture in a large souffle dish and top with marshmallows.  Set aside on the counter for up to two hours before cooking.  Cook in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 minutes and until the marshmallows are a golden brown and the yams have risen just a little. Yum Yum. 

Green Beans with Slivered Almonds
Clean and end cut 6 cups of raw green beans.  
1/4 cup slivered almonds
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 lemon squeezed

In a small pan, melt the butter and toast the slivered almonds on medium heat roughly four minutes or until lightly browned.  Take out the almonds, keeping the butter and mix with lemon juice and set aside.  Steam the 6 cups of green beans in water and drain when they are al-dente (they will continue to cook as they are warming down and if you take out too much after that, they will lose flavor and their beautiful green color.  Toss with the melted butter, lemon juice and sprinkle almonds on top.  

Last but not least, the gravy - well, that is a long story... so maybe next year.  In the meantime, please check out this cider gravy from Bon Appetit - I have tried it before and its a crowd pleaser.  


  1. I am doing scalloped potatoes this year, of course the marshmallow yams, and a roasted sweet potato/apple/chestnut dish....just can't get enough potatoes this year...must we eat that dead bird too?
    I'm also getting addicted to my roasted garlic and brussle sprouts dish place of the green beans....I'm not eating till Christmas after this!

  2. LOVE the brussel sprouts idea. Fill us in with the recipe when you can! Just finished the stuffing for tomorrow and did not have apple cider in the house, so i only used 6 apples and a 1/4 cup of applesauce in place of the cider and its seems to have worked.