For some home cooks, Thanksgiving Day is a much-anticipated chance to show off their culinary prowess. However, for most of us, cooking an elaborate meal for dozens of people is a somewhat nerve-racking and overwhelming task.
Thankfully, with some expert advice and recipes from Kowalski’s culinary director Rachael Perron, this year’s meal can be your most delicious and stress-free yet (a little wine wouldn’t hurt, either). “There’s a lot of pressure around this particular meal,” says Perron, a four-time cookbook author and former private chef. “Planning is the key.”
Perron suggests planning your menu and shopping list in advance, so you’ll know what ingredients you need to pick up, how long each dish will take to prepare and what you can do ahead of time to keep day-of cooking to a minimum. “Lists are a hostess’s best friend,” Perron says. She suggests that when looking for recipes, be wary of using too many that say “serve immediately.” Having a variety of dishes that can be made ahead of time is a better strategy.
Also, not everything needs to be homemade. “Buy the pie or the dinner rolls,” she says. “You can pick and choose the things to make from scratch.”
And just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you need to do everything; many families opt for a potluck-style meal, with each guest contributing a side dish or dessert. In fact, many guests are looking for ways to help out, and there’s nothing wrong with enlisting them to help pour wine or stir sauces. “My niece is a great cook, and when she shows up and asks what she can do, I have a little list of things I give to her,” Perron says. “It takes that pressure off; know who your helpers are.”
In addition, Perron suggests asking the experts at your local grocery store for advice. “Don’t be afraid to ask the butchers what they do with their turkeys; if you want a good suggestion, these guys have tried it all,” she says. “At our wine shop, they love wine and helping people find the right bottle.”
Below, Perron shares her tried-and-true recipe for a deliciously juicy turkey, as well as a fresh side dish, a traditional pumpkin pie and a creative spin on leftovers.
Brined Roast Turkey
• 2 cups kosher salt
• 1 cup sugar
• 8 quarts water, divided
• 10-12 lb. turkey
• 1/2 cup melted butter
Remove neck and giblets from turkey. In a large stockpot, combine salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in remaining water and let cool completely. Put brine and turkey into container or brining bag; refrigerate completely covered turkey overnight.
Remove turkey from brine and pat dry (don’t rinse). Place on rack in roasting pan, breast-side up, tucking wings under body and tying legs together with butcher’s twine. Brush with butter and roast in preheated 325-degree oven, basting every 30 minutes, until deep golden-brown and a thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh registers 165-degrees (roughly 3 hours, or 15 minutes per pound). Cover with foil and let rest 20 minutes before carving.
Gorgonzola Green Beans
• 1 1/2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
• 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
• 2 Tbsp. thinly-sliced red onion
• 2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
• Freshly ground citrus salt and black peppercorns, to taste
• Freshly grated lemon zest
Bring salted water to boil in a large saucepan; add beans. Boil just until beans are crisp-tender (about 5 minutes). Drain, move beans to large mixing bowl and drizzle with oil and vinegar, then toss to coat. Season with citrus salt and pepper, toss again and move beans to serving platter. Sprinkle evenly with cheese, onion, pine nuts and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Leftover Turkey Fritters
• 1 cup mashed potatoes
• 1 cup prepared stuffing or dressing
• 2 cups shredded leftover roasted turkey
• 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
• 1/2 cup finely-chopped onion
• 1 egg, beaten
• 3/4 ounce fresh finely-chopped Italian parsley, stems discarded
• 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1/4 cup flour (approx.)
• Freshly ground sea salt and black peppercorns, to taste
• Canola oil, for frying
• Leftover cranberry sauce, relish or gravy, for serving
In a large mixing bowl, combine first 10 ingredients and mix until well blended. Add enough flour so that the mixture isn’t too sticky. Shape into 8 evenly-sized patties about 1/2-inch thick. Chill on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Heat about 1 tablespoon canola oil in medium nonstick skillet until shimmering but not smoking. Cook half of the fritters until golden-brown on first side (4 minutes). Add additional oil, flip cakes and cook another 4 minutes. Repeat with remaining cakes. Serve warm with cranberry sauce. Serves 4.
1 prepared pie crust, chilled
15 ounces canned, unsweetened pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
On a lightly-floured surface, roll chilled dough into a 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer dough to 9-inch pie plate, trimming edges to leave 1 inch over the edge. Tuck overhanging dough underneath itself to form a thick edge even with the plate rim; flute if desired. Freeze for 30 minutes. Put foil or parchment paper over the crust and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake on baking sheet in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove parchment and weights; return crust to oven until light golden-brown (about 10 more minutes). Cool on a rack.
Lower oven temp to 350 degrees. Whisk pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, half-and-half, spices and salt in large mixing bowl until smooth. Return pie shell to baking sheet and pour in filling. Bake on lower oven rack until edges of filling are set but center is still slightly loose (50-60 minutes). Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature.
Take It To-Go
Bring home a delicious Thanksgiving meal from Woodbury grocery stores.
If creating an elaborate Thanksgiving meal isn’t your idea of fun, check out one of the local grocery stores that offer prepared Thanksgiving meals with all of the traditional trimmings.
Heat-and-serve options serving 10-12 ($159.99) or 4-6 ($109.99) include turkey, mashed potatoes, maple sweet potatoes, sage-and-onion dressing, cranberry relish, poultry gravy, green beans, rolls and pumpkin pie.
Cub offers a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, homestyle gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce that serves 8-10 ($69.99) or a smaller gathering of 4-6 ($29.99). A holiday ham dinner, with baked scalloped potatoes, green-bean casserole and spiced apples ($69.99, serves 8-10) or a prime rib option ($79.99, serves 6-8) are also available.
This dinner features a 10-12-pound turkey, poultry gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green-bean casserole, cranberry relish, sweet buns and a freshly-baked pumpkin pie. Serves 8-10 people. $99.99.
Lunds & Byerlys
Lunds & Byerlys offers a turkey dinner that serves 8-10 people and includes a fully-cooked, all-natural whole turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sage dressing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, tea buns and both pecan and pumpkin pies for $139.99. A smaller option serves 3-5 people for $79.99.
Whole Foods offers a traditional dinner with a fully-cooked organic turkey, mushroom gravy, butternut squash with green beans and cranberries, biscuit-and-mushroom stuffing and more for $129.99 (serves 6-8).