This year, for the first time in at least thirty-eight years, I’m probably not going to be cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Or if I do, it will be in a strange inadequately equipped kitchen, sharing the job with someone else, and keeping mostly with their traditions. My sister-in-law is gathering the clan at a beach house in North Carolina and the meal is likely to be a communal effort.
It feels strange not to be making the final tweaks to my menu, planning and executing my shopping forays, and cleaning out the refrigerator to make room for everything. Read More
Recipes and Stories
This year, I’m not doing my usual planning and precooking for Thanksgiving dinner, which has not been easy. For the first time in years my house isn’t fragrant with turkey broth and roasting pecans and my refrigerator isn’t crammed with more food than will fit into it.
My father turns ninety on Thanksgiving Day, so Tim and I are heading up to my parents’ house to be with them. I’ll be cooking, but it will be my mother’s way and there will be a lot of things that I usually do that won’t be on the table this year.
Never mind. Read More
Since fall is my favorite season for cooking, it shouldn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Thanksgiving is my favorite cook’s holiday. Normally, the second week in November would find me up to my elbows in planning—gathering recipes, happily mapping out every detail, stocking up on the basics.
And by the week of the feast, my kitchen is fragrant with a simmering broth pot, bubbling cranberry conserve, baking cheese straws, and toasting pecans. For the space of that week, no kitchen job—not even peeling brussels sprouts—seems tedious.
This year, however, my kitchen will be a lot quieter, not to mention less fragrant. Read More
It isn’t my job to tell you what kind of gravy to serve with your turkey. Whether or not you add wine to it, and whether you include the giblets and add chopped boiled eggs is up to you. My job is to show you how to make gravy that’s silky-smooth and delicious. You will need a roasting pan with a heavy enough bottom to withstand direct heat, a degreasing pitcher (fat separator), and a flat whisk. Read More
The other key ingredient in my family’s cornbread dressing is actually another kind of bread altogether: biscuits. They give the dressing body and help bind it together without having to add eggs, which can sometimes make dressing a bit heavy.
Unfortunately, few home cooks seem to make biscuits very often, which is too bad. Because once one gets the knack, they’re drop-dead easy, and serving forth a basket of delicate, piping hot biscuits never fails to impress company. They always think you’ve gone to a lot more trouble than you actually have. Read More
Before tackling the stuffing or dressing, a quick word about tradition, with a word (and recipe) for one of the ingredients from my own tradition.
The wonderful thing about what you put into that savory bread pudding that accompanies your turkey, no matter what you put in it and whether you bake it in the bird or out of it, is that it’s one time that sticking to tradition will win for you every time. You really don’t have to think about it, analyze it, or reinvent it—you just make it and sit back and bask in the praise. Read More
If all has gone well and you’ve done enough basic prep by tomorrow, your only really big job will be the turkey and dressing. If you haven’t tried to roast a turkey in a year (or have never done it), relax: a turkey roasts just like a chicken – it just takes longer. Allow plenty of time and remember that it doesn’t have to look like those magazine covers. Read More
Until now, this series has been about planning ahead, doing ahead, and keeping calm. This installment, however, is for those of you who have, until now, done none of that, either because cooking the dinner was not supposed to be your worry or because you’re a world-class procrastinator.
It doesn’t matter why you’re not prepared, and the purpose of this is not to shame or judge you. Read More
One of the lovely things about Thanksgiving dinner is the way family traditions are perpetuated from generation to generation as we gather around that common table. Even lovelier is the way other traditions get adopted and shared as people come into our family and as we get absorbed into theirs, sometimes through legal ties but more often just because we love one another. Read More
Now that we’ve established that I take an ecumenical approach to the traditional sweet potato and pumpkin custard pies on Thanksgiving’s dessert board, and have shared my grandmother’s recipe for the former, here’s how she made the latter.
It’s just a standard pumpkin custard without frills or “reinvention,” varying from most other American recipes only in detail. Read More
I am not entering into the argument over whether pumpkin pie is a Yankee thing and sweet potato is a Southern one. My grandmother always served both at Thanksgiving, and both sweet potato and pumpkin pie (they were sometimes just called “custard”) were included in one of our earliest published records of Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph’s classic The Virginia House-Wife (1824), and both were included in most every antebellum Southern cookbook that followed, from Lettice Bryan’s Kentucky Housewife (1839) through Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book (1867). Read More
Never mind the arguments over whether the pie should be pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan or not pie at all, but cheesecake: the easiest way to deal with whatever you’ve planned for the grand finale is to sweet talk someone else into doing it. However, if you’ve not done that (or you’re the person who got sweet-talked), and are contemplating a ready-made pastry, know that the difference between a memorable pie and a merely good one is the crust. Read More
On Thanksgiving day, practically every table across the country on which the centerpiece is our quintessentially American bird, one can almost take for granted that the turkey will be mated with another quintessentially American thing: cranberries.
And despite the hundreds, if not thousands of cranberry sauce, compote, chutney, and relish recipes that are presently cluttering the internet, most of those berries will be served straight out of a can, which is odd. Read More
One of the most essential elements of Thanksgiving dinner, the one on which the rest of the meal rests, is the one that is the most often neglected: the broth. Each year, of the big packaged broth companies hawks its chicken broth with a warm, fuzzy thing about how caring cooks who love the process always rely on packaged broth to boost the flavor of their best dishes. Read More
Thanksgiving may be a week away, but that's not as much time as you think: if you don’t already have a plan in place, it’s time to stop daydreaming over those picture-perfect magazine table-settings and turkeys and get real.
As you begin to plan, be aware that your three greatest weapons are good organization, the make-ahead dish, and the fine art of delegation (also known as sweet talking someone into doing something for you), but at the risk of sounding scriptural, the greatest of these is organization. Read More
This is how we polished off the last of the turkey and dressing in my house. Although it’s now too late for your Thanksgiving leftovers, it’s worth keeping on file, especially if you have turkey and dressing at Christmas. And if you should not have any leftover dressing, try it on waffles, biscuits, or just buttered toast. Read More
If you’re getting down to the wire with Thanksgiving and don’t have time to make cranberry sauce, but still don’t want to open a can, here’s a quick and simple classic that requires no cooking. If you have a food processor handy, it comes together in five minutes flat—and will keep until Christmas if you keep it well-covered and refrigerated, and use only a clean silver or stainless steel spoon to dip into it. Read More
It’s now time to talk about the Thanksgiving cook’s central job: the turkey and dressing. If you haven’t tried to roast a turkey in a year (or have never done it) the first thing to do is relax: a turkey roasts just like a chicken – it just takes longer. Allow plenty of time and remember that it doesn’t have to look like those magazine covers. Read More
You’ll notice that up till now there’s been no mention of pastry-making (which I’d normally be doing either today or tomorrow). Happily, thanks to the gentle art of delegation (also known as sweet-talking), someone else is making the pies and dinner rolls.
If, on the outside chance the pie-making still falls in your lap, today is not too soon to make the pastry, Read More
This morning my own stock pot came off the pantry shelf and I set to work cleaning and slicing carrots, celery, onions and gingerroot. Deciding to give the broth a little extra color and depth of flavor, I tossed my hoard of turkey wings and necks into a large roasting pan, lightly coated them with oil, and set them to roast in a hot oven (425° F. for about 45 minutes).
While that was going on, Read More
For some reason, Thanksgiving dinner tends to be a feast of starches: there’s that quintessential dressing/stuffing, yeast rolls, sweet potatoes, flour-thickened gravy, pastry, and often even cake. My own family also had baked macaroni and cheese. And just in case that’s not starch enough, many families throw in mashed potatoes. And what could be better? Fluffy, cloud-like, and meltingly tender, they’re the ultimate comfort on a fork. Read More
Today’s post is late because it’s my birthday, and is about dressing and cornbread because—it’s my birthday, and for this one day I can be personal and frank.
Whoever figured out how to recycle stale bread by seasoning it with herbs and spices, moistening it with broth, and then shoving it into a roasting fowl so that it slowly baked, basting itself in the juices from the bird while it rotated on the spit, is one of those thousands of unsung culinary giants that has been lost to history. But that the idea survives to this day is a testament to its sheer genius, and it’s a shame that they never got due credit. Read More
Today, let’s talk about the foundation on which the entire Thanksgiving dinner will rest: broth.
The most neglected pot in far too many American kitchens is the stockpot. At Kitchenware Outfitters, the kitchenware store where I work and teach, we sell a respectable number of these pots, but inevitably the words “cooking pasta” or “spaghetti sauce” or “chili” or “stew” come up, accompanied by a lot of questions about other possible uses for this tall, relatively narrow pot. Read More
Thanksgiving is just a week away. If you haven’t already started to plan, you need to know that time, as they say, is wasting. You aren’t in trouble yet, but you will be if you wait until next week to start planning and shopping.
Your three greatest weapons are good organization, the practical art of the make-ahead dish, and the fine art of delegation (also known as sweet talking someone into doing something for you). Read More
For the first time in more than a decade of writing for the Savannah Morning News, my November columns will have nothing to do with Thanksgiving. My friend Teri Bell (brave woman) has decided to take on the subject in her Miss Sophie feature.
You’d think I’d be happy: Read More