Thanksgiving is upon us.
That first Thanksgiving is depicted as a great feast celebrating the survival of the Pilgrims, who gave thanks not only for their lives, but for the Native Americans who lent assistance to the struggling colony. Despite biases, no doubt on each side, the two cultures broke bread together.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Your Thanksgiving this year is potentially much more explosive. With entire families sitting on opposite sides of a divisive political line in the sand, the usual holiday conflicts may reach an all-time high. Suddenly, nosy Aunt Martha and your sister’s new vegan boyfriend may seem surmountable frustrations compared to the political fanaticism of Uncle Steve. How would Norman Rockwell paint this scene?
So, let’s take deep breaths and remember a common denominator – great food. What follows are recipes and ideas from a cooking class I conducted almost every year for more than a decade. Originally titled, “Thanksgiving for the Absolute Beginner,” the recipes are very approachable, time-tested and delicious. I also include a cue sheet to help with planning (Remember: Hot food hot; cold food cold), and a shopping list – just in case you ARE a beginner and don’t have a nicely stocked pantry.
As for the stressful part of conflicting family members, I call upon my wife, T.J. Rutherford, LCSW, a psychotherapist, for some tips on handling family dysfunction. You can learn more about her here.
“It’s inevitable and deeply rooted in some families that holidays mean conflict,” T.J. says. “Knowing that the potential for disagreement is likely, there are things you can do to reduce or cope with conflict.”
Among T.J.’s tips are:
- · If you are the host, consider setting ground rules. Gather your guests before sitting for the meal and declare topics out of bounds, things like politics, lifestyle choices, or other family “hot buttons” known to set off a dinner table war.
- · Redirect conversations, politely but firmly. “I’m sorry Uncle Steve, but can we save discussion of politics until after dessert?”
- · Guide the discussion. “It’s been a year since we’ve all been together. Let’s go around the table and each of us share something great that happened to us this year.”
- · Enlist help from other guests in advance to help redirect or head off arguments.
- · Make time to care for yourself. Take a walk, or find a quiet place to practice relaxation techniques.
- · Be grateful.
There, you’re armed with everything from a shopping list to how to manage unruly family behavior. Here are the recipes!
WHAT ABOUT BRINING?
You know, I've brined ... and not brined. And when cooked properly, I can't tell the difference. When I do brine my turkey breast I use a honey brine -- which helps to create a deep, mahogany brown skin. If you choose to brine, here's the recipe:
HONEY BRINE FOR TURKEY BREAST
- 1 bone-in turkey breast
- 6-8 quarts water
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup honey
- 3 -4 tsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
- 10 -12 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 bunches fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh sage
- 4 -5 cups chicken stock
- 2 -3 lemons
- 2 -4 tsp olive oil
Rinse turkey with cold running water and drain well. Blot dry with paper towels.
Prepare brine by mixing water, honey and salt in a large bowl. Stir until honey dissolves. Add half the thyme and sage along with the garlic and black pepper. Set aside. Add chicken stock.
Line an extra-large stock pot with a food-safe plastic bag. Place the rinsed turkey in the bag and pour brine over the turkey. Gather the bag tightly around the turkey, causing the turkey to be surrounded by the brine. Seal the bag and refrigerate the pot, bag and brined turkey for at least 12 hours.
Remove turkey from brine and pat dry inside and out. Discard brine. Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large shallow (about 2 1/2" deep) roasting pan.
Squeeze lemon juice into the main turkey cavity. Put the squeezed lemon halves into the cavity along with the rest of the thyme and sage. Coat turkey lightly with oil and sprinkle inside and out with salt, pepper.
ROASTED TURKEY BREAST (6-8 LBS)
Place thawed or fresh turkey, breast up on a flat rack in a shallow pan, 2-2 1/2 inches deep. Brush or rub skin with oil to prevent the skin from drying and to enhance the golden color.
Insert oven-safe meat thermometer deep into the meatiest part of the breast, but not touching the bone. For turkey breast, the thermometer should read 165°F when inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh. (Source: American Turkey Federation)
Place in a preheated 325°F oven. When the turkey is about two-thirds done, loosely cover the breast with a piece of lightweight foil to prevent overcooking the breast.
Use this roasting schedule as a guideline; start checking for doneness 1/2 hour before recommended end times. Allow the turkey breast to stand for 15-20 minutes before carving the bird.
4 to 6 lbs. breast...1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hrs.
6 to 8 lbs. breast...2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hrs.
UN-STUFFED WHOLE TURKEY
8 to 12 lbs............…...2 3/4 to 3 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs.....…........3 to 3 3/4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs...…....3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs..….....4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs...…..........4 1/2 to 5 hrs.
CONFESSION: I smoke my turkey breast – or two if I’m having company. It is easier to handle than a whole bird and two breasts fit nicely on a Weber smoker or a large Big Green Egg. Cooking temperature should not change and is pretty easy to dial in on a Big Green Egg. If you are using a Weber or a gas grill, check out these tips from Butterball.com.
A great cocktail can add to the holiday spirit. JL Hoke gives you new takes on familiar flavors to whip up three cocktails with seasonal flair.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS, WATER CHESTNUTS AND MUSHROOMS
The water chestnuts, mushrooms and spicy ginger integrate more complex flavors and different textures into the recipe. Add anther pleasing flavor component by sauteing in bacon drippings.
- 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, fresh or frozen
- 2 Tbsp butter
- ½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
- 1 can (16 oz) water chestnuts, drained
- 1 tsp thyme
- ½ tsp ginger
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Serves 6
Steam Brussels sprouts until tender; if frozen until heated through. Sauté mushrooms, water chestnuts and seasonings in butter until mushrooms are tender. Dish sprouts onto plate; top with mushroom mixture.
ROASTED WINTER VEGETABLES
This is a great variation on the traditional mashed potatoes or dessert-like sweet potato casserole. It's also an easy and flavorful way to sneak some veggies the kids won't touch into a dish.
- 4 cups cubed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, onions – any combination
- 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- Serves 4-6
Preheat the oven to 425°F Peel the vegetables and cube into 1/2-inch pieces (I leave the peeling on the potatoes). Add rosemary to the olive oil in a small bowl, then toss with the vegetables to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Line the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat with vegetable cooking spray. Spread the vegetables on the sheet; roast 35-45 minutes or until tender.
C’mon, don’t use that junk from a box! It’s too sweet and doesn’t have the same character as this recipe from scratch. This is as close as I get to the recipe that my maternal grandmother made nearly every day of her life.
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- ¼ cup cooking oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients thoroughly. Add wet ingredients and stir until well blended.
I use a 10-inch cast iron fry pan. I begin by spraying a non-stick cooking spray into the pan, or you may use vegetable oil or shortening. Pour in the batter, place in 400 degree oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Use this to make Cornbread Dressing
- 4 cups crumbled cornbread (see cornbread recipe)
- 2 13-14 ounce cans chicken broth
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 ribs celery, chopped
- Sage, salt, pepper to taste
- 3 eggs 1 cup butter, melted
- Serves: 8
In a large bowl combine the cornbread and chicken broth, and allow to soak. Sauté the onions and celery until tender. Add the onions, celery, sage, salt and pepper to taste. Add eggs and melted butter, mixing thoroughly. Place the mixture in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350°F oven for 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Note: The chicken broth may vary, depending on the texture of your cornbread. The resulting mixture should be thick and just a bit soupy – otherwise it will be very dry upon completion.
SWEET POTATO PIE WITH A KICK
I made this pie for the first time in the mid-1990s. I baked it in a reflector oven in front of an open hearth to cap off a pioneer" dinner for a meeting of The Daughters of the American Revolution. These ladies were pretty leery of sweet potato pie -- until they tasted the bourbon. There wasn't a crumb remaining! Enjoy!
- 2 cups cooked, peeled and
- mashed sweet potatoes
- 4 Tbsp butter or margarine
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1 unbaked pie crust (I use a
- frozen crust for this one!)
- Serves 8
Bake (350 degrees F for about an hour) or microwave the sweet potatoes until very tender. Peel and mash thoroughly. Mix all ingredients together and pour into unbaked pie crust.
Place in a 400°F oven, immediately lower the temperature to 325°F, and bake about 45 minutes or until the center of the pie sets (a table knife inserted into the center should come out clean).
The alcohol cooks out completely, but you’re left with the flavor – and the wonderful aroma.
Any leftover filling is tasty baked alone in a small dish and eaten like pudding.
Of course, for a classic Southern touch, top the cooled pie with miniature marshmallows, pop the pie under the broiler and remove when marshmallows are just toasted.
BREAD AND WINE
Hey, Tim, what about bread and cranberry sauce? T.J. and I fall back on our childhood comfort foods here: Brown and serve rolls and jellied cranberry sauce. It’s OK for a beginner or for the nostalgic, but if you want to ramp it up, don’t stress: Get rolls from a local baker or bake up Pillsbury frozen Grands (Southern style) and score you choice of cranberry sauce, chutney, whatever you prefer, from a local deli. One less thing to fuss over!
About Pairing Wine and Beer: This menu is very compatible with Pinot Noir, Burgundy and Beaujolais wines. The label isn’t particularly important – buy within your budget. Fruit forward Washington State Cabinet Sauvignon will work too, as will Argentinian Malbec. American Chardonnay is a good choice if you’re not a red wine drinker, as are drier styles of Riesling. I’m partial to Italian whites with Thanksgiving – like Soave, Vernaccia or the slightly sweeter Friuliano.
For beer, malt driven styles will serve best: Brown or amber ales. Pumpkin beers are a good choice as are some of the winter seasonal just coming to market. Avoid high IBU styles – really hoppy beers can over power some Thanksgiving flavors.
Nothing left now but shopping and planning your kitchen time. Click the links below to score a shopping list and a cue sheet. Happy, stress-free Thanksgiving!
Shopping List and Cue Sheet -- Adobe Acrobat Reader required