Thanksgiving Recipe Round Up

Even though I plan to make an exceedingly simple and classic Thanksgiving dinner this year, there are so many wonderful recipes out there I thought I would share a round up.

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Turkey Recipes

Slow Cooker Herbed Turkey Breast

Cider Brined & Glazed Turkey

Apple Cider Brined & Smoked Turkey

Honey Riesling Turkey (okay, chicken – but the same with turkey)

Side Dishes

Stuffing Muffins

Sage Onion & Bacon Stuffing

Cauliflower with Garlic Thyme Vinaigrette

Corn with Bacon Vinaigrette

Rosemary & Balsamic Baked Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

Smokey Roasted Cauliflower

Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Mustard & Garlic

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Kale with Roasted Peppers & Olives

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Home Made Cranberry Sauce

Desserts

Rustic Apple Galette

Pumpkin Pie (allergy friendly)

Flour-less Chocolate Lava Cake

A Cozy Thanksgiving For Three

It looks like this year will be just the three of us for Thanksgiving, so I think a simple dinner is in order. I debated doing a small turkey breast in the crock pot, but I do still have a frozen full sized turkey in the freezer, so I figure I may as well cook that. And plus, having the leftovers will be great – making stock and having turkey soup and turkey noodle casserole are some of my favorite ways to eat turkey leftovers.

I think I’ll do a cider brined and glazed turkey this year, and keep the sides really simple – mashed potatoes  with gravy, corn bread stuffing, steamed broccoli, home made cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie. And we’ll have a nice bottle of beaujolais nouveau to go with it. So, a simple and classic meal. I’m really looking forward to a low-stress relaxing day at home with the menfolk.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I am full. Dinner was a huge success. I lazed out last night and didn’t do any prep or baking, instead opting to do it all today. And you know what? It worked out just fine. It was a leisurely day of cooking and spending time with family, just as it should be. Of course I made a few last-minute alterations to the menu, so this is what we ended up actually eating this year –

Honey and chardonnay glazed roasted turkey

Mashed potatoes

Mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon and brown sugar

Green beans

Bread stuffing

Home made cranberry sauce

Croissants

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate icebox pie

And it was so good, if I do say so myself. My pie crust turned out perfect, with delicate, flaky layers. And I found a mini turkey cookie cutter in my stash, so it was adorned with cute little pastry turkeys for a festive touch. It was a great day. I am thankful for the bountiful table we were able to provide for our family today. I’m thankful for my family, especially my son and my husband. I’m thankful for decent jobs that allow us to provide decent well for ourselves. I’m thankful that we’re in a position to pay it forward and give back a little to those in need this year. And I’m thankful for all of you, sharing this little corner of the interwebs with me.

I hope you all had a safe, happy, contented, bountiful Thanksgiving with those you love. And officially now, Happy Holidays!

Thanksgiving Dinner 2013

It’s hard to believe that it’s less than three weeks to Thanksgiving already, but here we are. The winter season always seems to creep up on me. We’ll being having the usual in law crowd over for the big meal this year, and I’m really excited about hosting in our new place. We had Little Man’s birthday party here back in September, but this will be the first major holiday here, so that will be nice.

I’m keeping the decor simple again this year – I’ve got a wheat-colored tablecloth that I’ve used the last few years, and have my glittered gourds out and about. Battery operated tea lights in milk glass. I picked up some plastic leaf-shaped “vase filler” on 50% off clearance from the Target One Spot after Halloween, so I’m going to use that to decorate the table – I’m just going to “sprinkle” it down the center of the table among the glittered gourds.

The meal will be simple and classic again this year –

Roasted turkey (I got a twelve pound bird)

Mashed potatoes (I’m considering doing roasted garlic mashed potatoes to dress it up a little bit)

Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon

Home made cranberry sauce

Candied yams (just a small casserole dish as my husband is the only one that really likes them)

Bread stuffing

Croissants

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate icebox pie

Shoofly pie (maybe – if I feel like making three pies this year. Oddly my in laws aren’t big pie eaters…)

I asked my mother in law to bring a few appetizers and the wine for dinner this year, so those will be what ever she feels like bringing, though she usually shows up with things like cheese, sausage and crackers and sometimes shrimp cocktail. I have some dilled gherkins to set out as well, and I may go by Whole Foods and pick up some of their marinated mushrooms as an indulgent addition – I just love them and I have yet to figure out how to replicate their recipe at home.

The turkey I’m still on the fence about. I would love to smoke it with apple wood this year, but the ban on grills at our apartment complex is basically putting a swift end to that idea. Seriously – if we had known before we moved here that they banned grills I would’ve seriously reconsidered signing the lease… but I digress. I’m really leaning towards brining it in spiced apple cider and roasting it in the oven. Or doing a honey riesling glaze. I haven’t quite decided yet, so it’s a good thing I still have a couple of weeks to figure it out.

I pretty much have everything needed for the dinner already though – I bought the turkey, cranberries and yams on this last grocery shop, as well as a few more supplies that I needed to round out my holiday baking supplies. The only thing I’ll need to buy is more potatoes, since we eat so many of them on a regular basis. And if I end up being lazy and not baking my own bread for the stuffing, I’ll need to buy a bag of bread cubes. But we’ll see on that one…

Let’s Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the turkey. In recent years we haven’t done turkey, so having one this year was a bit of a novelty for us. I’m not a big fan of turkey generally (too much white meat; I prefer the more flavorful dark meat on poultry), but this one turned out pretty amazing. And I even consumed a fair bit of white meat myself.

What made this turkey different for us? I have one word for you friends – brining. Allow me to reinvent the wheel here. Authorities greater than I have been extolling the wonders of brining for a good long time in the culinary world, but leave it to me to ignore sound advice. I’m pretty sore about the fact that I haven’t tried it before recently. But now that I’ve brined, I’ll never go back. No more dry birds at our house!

In addition to brining our bird, we also apple smoked it. Last year’s apple smoked pheasant was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten, and I wanted to capture the incredible mahogany color and intense apple flavor again this year. Why not throw a turkey on the Weber? It’s really easier than it seems, so I’ll give you the run down. Maybe you’ll brave the weather and smoke yourself a turkey on Christmas Day. Wouldn’t that be a show stopper?

This year we did a fourteen pound bird. You’ll need to have a thawed bird forty-eight hours before you want to serve it – an overnight for the brine (the longer the better – we only did twelve hours, but twice that would’ve been better) and a second overnight uncovered in the fridge so the skin gets super dry (which will make it nice and crispy when you cook it).  So for a Thanksgiving bird, start on Tuesday. For a Christmas Day bird, start on the 23rd, the day before Christmas Eve (this year it’s a Friday).

First up, let’s talk about gear. Like me, you probably do not have a non-reactive food-safe plastic or glass container in the 21 quart ballpark in order to brine your turkey. For less than five bucks though, you can put together something that will actually fit in your fridge. All you need is a disposable turkey roasting pan and a turkey cooking bag. While I think those bags are fully useless for actual cooking (and I just don’t trust heating any kind of plastic with food in it) they’re great for brining and curing. I actually use them when I make my own bacon because I can’t find two quart zip top bags in my area and I never get around to ordering them online. But I digress. If you have a proper roasting pan that will fit a turkey, by all means use it with the bag. It’s just one of those big ticket items we haven’t acquired yet. A word on brining in chest coolers – I see it recommended a fair bit of the time, but I just can’t get behind it. I don’t trust the temperature being stable at all. Better, and safer, to do your brining in the fridge. Aside from the brining ingredients, the only other thing you’re going to need is some apple chips. I still consider myself a beginner food smoker, so I cheat like hell and use the Camerons Flavorwood cans. I love these things. They’re absolutely foolproof and everything I’ve ever smoked with them tastes great. You’ll need three to four cans to do a whole turkey for three to four hour smoke time. Basically, one can per hour.

Now let’s discuss the brine. As it’s most basic, a brine is a water/salt/sugar solution. Where it gets fun and exciting are the flavor components. There are a billion different combinations you could come up with. Since we apple smoked, we thought an apple brine would really make for intense flavor. My point of reference was a recipe I found on Serious Eats. Naturally, I made some modifications –

half gallon of apple cider

1/2 cup of lemon juice (next time I’ll use 2-3 large fresh lemons, but I only had juice on hand this year)

3 quarts water

2 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 cup kosher salt

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks

15 whole cloves

3 fresh bay leaves (if you don’t have a tree like I do, you’ll need 6 dried)

6 whole peppercorns (I forgot to add them for Thanksgiving, but I plan to put them in next time for a little extra kick)

First up, you want to dissolve the sugar and salt in the apple cider. The quickest way to do that is to heat it up in a saucepan on the stove. Bring it to  a boil for just a minute, stirring well until both the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. Let it come to room temp – I came back to it after an hour while I was doing other prep.

As a matter of fact, you can take down your bird while you’re waiting for the cider to cool down. We’re not big on presenting the whole bird and carving it at the table at our house, and we wanted to put it on the grill in pieces to make sure everything got evenly smoked, and we could take off meat when it was done. Turkeys are notoriously hard to cook right whole – half the meat is often overdone, half underdone. Not too appealing. Now I’ll be honest. I was pretty mentally fried after a long day of Thanksgiving prep and baby care, so I didn’t take apart my turkey before putting it in the brine, which was supremely stupid for a couple of reasons. First of all, try holding a plastic bag full of liquid open with one hand while lifting a fourteen pound turkey with the other hand into it. Want to guess how long it took me to clean up that sticky mess? Longer than I cared to spend on it as the clock was nearing midnight. The other reason has to do with flavor. Forget flipping the bird in the brine in the middle of the night so that it brines evenly – which is another disaster waiting to happen. If it’s it in pieces, you drop them in one by one no problem, everything gets brined equally and you’re all set to go. Learn from my mistake. Never took down a turkey before? Me either. But it’s just a chicken, only much, much bigger. Leave everything bone in for the best flavor. You can do it.

Then put your turkey bag into your roasting pan. You probably want a sheet pan underneath the flimsy disposable so it’s easier to lift – the disposables will bend and warp at the drop of a hat. Pour your now room temp cider mix into the bag. Add the rest of the brine ingredients, and plunk in your turkey pieces. Tie up the bag and make sure it’s sitting pretty in the pan, and stick the whole affair in the fridge for twenty four hours. You can get away with eight-twelve, but longer is better in my opinion. You really want the cider and spices to penetrate all the way to the center of the meat.

When you feel like you’ve brined enough, take your turkey pieces from the brine and rinse them really well under cold running water. You want to remove any excess salt that may still be on the skin of the bird. Pour the brine down the drain (it’s done it’s good work) and put the bag in the recycling. Hang onto the roasting pan for drying out the bird. Once the turkey is well rinsed, dry it thoroughly with paper towels and stick it back in the disposable roasting pan and return it to the fridge for another twenty four hours. Make sure there’s nothing weird in your fridge – like an uncovered bowl of chopped onions or anything. It will reek up your turkey. I don’t know why anyone would have a bowl of uncovered chopped onions in their fridge, but you get the idea. The only naked thing in there should be the turkey.

You’ve now made it through forty eight hours of turkey preparation. It’s now time for the big show. Pull the turkey out of the fridge about a half hour before you want to put it on the grill so it comes up to room temp. You want a simple two zone fire in your grill. Throw one of the smoke cans onto the coals, give it a couple of minutes to start smoking, then place your turkey pieces on the cool side. Put the lid on and position the upper vent over the turkey so it draws the smoke up over the meat. You’ll need anywhere from three to four hours for a fourteen pound bird – temp it periodically when you get towards the end. And since your bird is in pieces, you’re halfway there with the carving. You’ll still want to let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving so all the juices don’t run out.

And that’s it. With a little advance planning and some simple tools, you can have an amazingly flavorful, beautifully browned bird. And it won’t be like every other turkey on the block! Be sure to set a couple extra places at the table – when your neighbors smell your bird smoking away out back, you can bet they’ll abandon their boring oven roasted birds in favor of pulling up a chair at your house.

Wait! Don’t Go To Bed Just Yet!

I almost made a terrible, terrible mistake. I almost forgot to put our turkey in the fridge to defrost. If you got a frozen bird this year as well, you’ll want to be sure to get up out of bed, trot over to the kitchen and spend ten minutes rearranging your refrigerator so it fits. Especially if you plan on using a recipe that requires you to brine your turkey for 24 hours.

According to the USDA factsheet on turkey it can take 3-4 days to defrost a 12-16 pound turkey, and up to 5 days to defrost a 16-20 pounder. So that means you’ve really got to get on it! Leave it in it’s original wrappings and place it on a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest shelf.

But fear not – if you didn’t see this post in time all hope is not lost. The USDA also says it’s safe to defrost your bird in cold water – 6-8 hours for 12-16 pounds and 8-10 hours for 16-20 pounds. You could even put it to defrost on Wednesday night and be able to put it in the oven Thanksgiving morning. You’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes. You can do it in your sink, but if you’ve got to use the sink for other things (as most of us do) you can do it in a large stockpot (at least 16 quarts should work, but if you’re a canner your 21 quart canning pot would be perfect) or even a clean plastic bin or tote. One of these days I’ll get a proper food storage container to tackle these types of jobs, but until then I’ll just try to remember to defrost my turkey on time.

Make Ready – Thanksgiving is Coming!

Okay folks, it’s one week until the Big Feast. Where are you with your pre-holiday preparations? I’ve got the lists all made and ready to go. Three lists are key to getting your big dinner on the table without a hitch – the menu, the shopping list and your prep outline. Here are mine for this year – not so simple that I’ll be bored getting it together, but not so complicated (as in previous years) that I won’t be able to pull it off with a baby on the scene.

The Menu

Roasted turkey (still trying to convince husband we should also apple smoke it)

Honey glazed ham

Mashed potatoes

Bread stuffing (with white and rye breads)

Stuffed sweet potatoes

Braised greens (whatever’s on sale – Swiss chard, kale, collards…)

Home made cranberry sauce

Turkey gravy

Pumpkin crescent rolls

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate icebox pie

Shopping List

12-15 pound turkey

8-10 pound ham

5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes

celery

carrots

onions

chicken stock

4 sweet potatoes

3 large bunches greens

cranberries

flour

sugar

eggs

soymilk

mini marshmallows

Prep Itinerary

Monday – Bake white bread and rye bread for stuffing.

Tuesday – Parbake and freeze crescent rolls; make chocolate pie; make cranberry sauce.

Wednesday – Bake pumpkin pie; prep all veggies and keep in fridge.

Thanksgiving – Get turkey and ham in oven by 9:00; cook bread stuffing in crockpot; cook mashed potatoes; bake sweet potatoes; braise greens; finish baking rolls.

 

Of course the Thanksgiving work list needs expanding and refining. I like to have times listed out so I know when to start each item so that everything is ready to eat at the same time. It takes a little maneuvering. That’s why I’ve decided to sacrifice the crisp crust on the bread stuffing this year and do it in the crockpot. I can just set it and forget it. Actually, I suppose I could throw it under the broiler for a few minutes if I’m so inclined, but personally I like a softer stuffing anyhow. So we’ll see. And juggling the turkey and ham in the oven will be tricky. Another pro to apple smoking it, as it can be done on the grill. But if we go that route, I’ll have to take the turkey down into pieces so it will fit on our grill. Not a big deal, since we don’t make a big thing of presenting the whole bird at the table anyway. But if we don’t smoke it, I may have to cook the ham through on Wednesday night so I can just heat it up on Thursday when the turkey is out and resting. So, I’ve got the master plan all set to go but we’ve still got some planning to do in the next week. And we’ve got to do the grocery shopping this weekend for sure!