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Variations on classic recipes for Thanksgiving

My family can be quite the traditionalists when it comes to food for the holidays. Boooring. This year, I tried to sneak a chocolate french silk pie into my bake list, and not surprisingly, got some grumbles and several thumbs down. “What about the pecan pie?” my sister asked. So, it got nixed for the pecan. Damn crybabies. If I knew I could get away with it, I’d make it a black bottomed one, but I doubt I’ll get my family blitzed enough that they wouldn’t notice. If you think you can sneak a few recipes into your bake/cook list this year, and still compromise with the family by using some traditional flavors, you should definitely check these out.

Thanksgiving twofer pie is a great spin that knocks out two pies in one. Two glorious pies: pumpkin on the bottom, pecan pie on the top. I usually leave it in longer than the recommended time, since it can come out a little gooey. Nothing wrong with gooey though. Dorie Greenspan’s Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough is one of my favorites. I just made seven discs of it in preparation for the pie marathon I’ll be doing this week.

Ginger Orange Cranberry Sauce gets its flavor from ginger beer and orange juice. Be sure to have a lid or splatter cover on hand in case those cranberry juices try to make a run for it all over the oven and onto your shirt.

Stuffing Cups help you use a pan this holiday that, unless you’re making muffins or cupcakes, wouldn’t otherwise be used. Which is great since I always seem to be lacking 13 x 9 pans around the holidays. You could use this technique and use your favorite stuffing recipe. I think muffin sized cups are a great idea, especially since this cuts down the baking time by one half.

Ina Garten’s Pecan Squares are a tasty variation of the pecan pie in a handheld form. If I can double fist these and have a square in each hand makes this recipe a definite “W”.

Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream is a better choice than the store-bought version that “bakers” have made on some indeterminate date. No thanks. These can also be made in advance, just wrap tightly and freeze. Place in the fridge the day before to let it thaw out.

Celery Root and Apple Puree, another by Ina Garten, is a great way to get that starchy fix and sneak some veggies into the kids. I’m talking about those adult-sized kids. The food mill gives it a great texture that cannot be duplicated in the food processor or blender.


Dismembering tips suitable for La Cosa Nostra

I hate to disappoint, but I did not get my carving tips from someone in the Sicilian crime syndicate. However, the tips you will learn from the video below will definitely please the Don. He may even open the books for you after this. Carving a turkey can be very stressful, especially if you’re doing it in front of the family while they’re “patiently” waiting to be fed. You want to be able to do it right, do it quick, and get as much meat off the bird as possible. It’s not as easy as you would think. The first time I carved a turkey, I was (luckily) in the kitchen alone, away from the guests. They didn’t get to see me desperately pulling out the breast meat my knife missed with my bare hands or trying to whack the legs off with my chef’s knife. Don’t do what I did, unless you’re doing dinner and a show, and get it right this year.

If you have some time before a side dish will be done and your turkey is already carved up, be sure to cover him up. You want the meat to stay moist after you cut it. Obviously. Even if you’re drowning him in delicious gravy. I use the foil that I covered him up with during his rest time of 30 minutes post-oven and save some of my broth (from the turkey gravy) to pour on top of the meat.  Make sure your knife is sharp and is kept away from all your digits. You don’t want The Family to start calling you Teresa “Three Fingers,” do you?

To brine or not brine the turkey? Totally up to you

The technique that I use to cook my turkey always delivers a juicy one, so I’ve never felt compelled to brine. This year’s turkey is a genetically enhanced mutant, over 20 lbs, and that scares me a little. He’s not actually enhanced as I got him from a farm 150 miles north of me, but I like to think he’s a farm-raised anomaly. Since he’s so big, I’m kind of scared of him drying out so this year I’m brining. Here are a few recipes that include a brine to get your juices flowing (to ensure your turkey’s juices flow too):

If you can’t decide what to do and you’re basically freaking out, you have to watch the video below. It’s absolutely hilarious and completely true. And it keeps you from falling to the floor and crying in a fetal position.

I know that my turkey will be absolutely delicious because I’m taking her advice and getting absolutely lit. It is the holidays after all. If you plan on doing the same, be sure to pick up your provisions the day before as many liquor stores (at least the ones in my state) are closed for the holidays. If you’re stuck on deciding what to drink and wanna get a little festive, here are some recipes I found on reddit that look pretty damn tasty. As for me, I’ll stick to my Makers Mark and Coke this year. And wine. And maybe some hard cider. Cheers!

  • Hard Cider. Yeah, it takes a while so if you’re wanting some in a pinch, Huffington Post made a slide show of their favorite hard ciders. Glad they start with their number one as I hate those damn slide shows.
  • Turkey trot and pumpkin pie shot recipe. The first drink makes enough for a crowd and the pumpkin pie shot features two alcohols that you can make at home. Try replacing the cinnamon schnapps with Fireball whiskey. Awesome.

Tom turkey troubleshooting: Turkey cooking techniques

There are a myriad of ways to cook that Tom turkey for Thanksgiving. And they’re not all in the oven either. You can brave the elements and attempt to burn down your garage and/or house with the deep-fry method. There’s even one that involves a trash can. The people that employ this technique say that they get different flavors depending on the type of grass they cook on. Seriously? Sure hope they’re not cooking over some fertilizer …

This year, like the years before, I will be using my oven. It’s in my house, I can control the temp, and I’m familiar with it. That could be classified as being a pussy for not trying something new, but I don’t have the time to try a different technique before the big day. So, yeah, excuses aside, I’m a pussy. Here are a few recipes that use your trusty oven:

  • Homestyle Turkey, the Michigander Way. This recipe hails from the general web site I’ve tried this recipe and it’s pretty awesome. The chicken stock lends its flavor and moisture to the turkey. Because of this recipe, I always cover my bird tightly with foil and put some liquid in the bottom of my roasting pan.
  • Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast. Ina Garten is one of my fave chefs because her recipes are easy, they have ingredients I don’t have to special order and they come out great every time. This one is great for a small crowd and reduces the skill level of carving to noobian proportions.
  • Asian Rubbed Thanksgiving Turkey. Asian as in the spices that are rubbed into the bird are Asian. No Asian masseuse required for this recipe. I thought it would be nice to include a recipe for those that are wanting to try something a little different this year, but don’t want to stray too far from tradition. The recipe has Sriracha in it. You can’t go wrong.

If the turkey you will be cooking is frozen, the best question you could ask is: “How long does this guy take to defrost?” Refer to the USDA’s safe thawing times and find your turkey’s weight and estimated time to thaw. The average sized turkey used in the United States is approximately 12 lbs. That size will take you 3 days to thaw out in the fridge. Cold water thawing will take 6 hours, so make sure you have enough time to get that bird defrosted. I recommend planning ahead a little, since the bird is safe completely thawed in the fridge for 1-2 days.

The next best question would be: “What temperature does my thermometer need to read before it’s safe to take the turkey out?” Many recipes give different temperatures. As a cook, you need to know that white and dark meat’s temperatures are different. You also need to know that, and this goes for anything that you put in the oven, even though you have taken it out of the oven, it’s still cooking. Breast is done at 165 degrees and dark meat is done at 180 degrees. Be sure to let your turkey rest for at least 30 minutes, covered with foil, before cutting into it.

Are you unsure where you are supposed to check the temperature? Since you can’t check it by sticking a thermometer into its mouth, I’d suggest looking at thermometer placement on Butterball’s how-to page.

Tools of the trade: Equipment for Thanksgiving

Before you start your recipe search, I find it easier to spend some money. Because, honestly, you need something to store your food in, mix your food in, and eat your food on. I’ve learned through the years to take a few tools into my welcoming embrace, because I’ve cooked without them before. And it was absolute hell. No one gives a flying squirrel if you’re trying to de-fat the broth to make your gravy. They want the food. Now.

Before you start your shopping spree, it’s important to know what you’re making. Are you going to do three pies this year? You only have two pie plates? First of all, shame on you. Second, it’s good to know this now so you can purchase accordingly. Make a general list of what you plan to make and what type of pan, container, etc. is used to hold it.

  • Kitchen twine. Works great to tie that turkey into submission and making a bouquet garni to infuse flavors into liquids
  • Pie plates come in various sizes and I love them all. I find it much easier to have a couple of deep dishes on hand for fruit pies and 9″ for everything else.
  • 9 x 13 glass baking dish for stuffing, cakes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, layered dips, etc. Might wanna get a couple of these babies.
  • Roasting pan. I feel like this tool is the pièce de résistance for Thanksgiving cooking. If you have the cash, I recommend a tri-ply stainless steel one that can go straight from the oven to the stove top to make your gravy. You can always throw some wine or stock in the bottom, scrape and place back in the oven if this type of roasting pan isn’t your thing. Some people are into some weird stuff, so I’ve learned to not ask questions.
  • A flat whisk works worlds better than a balloon whisk for making gravies and sauces because it makes more contact with the surface of the pan.
  • Thermometer. You can go a couple of ways with this. A stick or probe thermometer will require you to open the oven several times to check the temp. An in-oven thermometer won’t. They’re both accurate, so it’s just a matter of preference.
  • Fat separator. Like the story above, it’s better to use a fat separator than grab the turkey carver and go after a family member in a stressed out frenzy. It’s quicker, and easier. Get one.
  • Gravy boat. This is somewhat out of my purview as we do something quite horrifying in our house. We keep it in a two-cup measuring cup. *Gasp* Yeah, I know. But it pours great, heats up easily and we’re not planning on having Better Homes magazine come and take pictures anytime soon.

Channel your inner ‘Dude’: White Russians and homemade Baileys

After realizing I could make my own Kahlua, I thought of Baileys. If I could make the two liqueurs that are in a White Russian, I could save a ton of money and make them how I like them … strong. It’s interesting to think that these two liqueurs are much more expensive than the alcohol you make them with. Actually, it’s not interesting, it’s kind of stupid. But, now that we know we can make them, it’s stupid in a good way. Stupid easy.

Homemade Baileys is just as easy as making your own Kahlua. But it does involve a certain alcohol that I do not keep in large quantities in my house: Jameson. Unless you plan on blacking out on some Irish car bombs, I advise you to buy a bottle that will be big enough for the recipe.

Around the holidays, I like to try new drinks. My family doesn’t really drink, and when I drink, it’s usually just two or three. So, I can essentially pick any drink that would be a bad idea if drank excessively (White Russian, Bloody Mary, etc.) and make them. And have them all to myself too. This year, I want to make White Russians, and have the ability to slightly tweak them if I want. A really great friend of mine is a bartender (score!) and she’s always telling me about new drinks. Mainly because I’m constantly asking her “Wow, that’s really good. What’s in it?” and then getting into note-taking mode. She told me about a recent spin on the White Russian involving the cookie dough vodka. Umm … sold.  Just use your favorite White Russian recipe  and replace the vodka with the cookie dough vodka. Maybe I will drink more than three this year …

So enjoy that White Russian, just don’t spill it on the rug. You know, the one that really ties the room together.

Alcoholic synonymous: make your own Kahlua

Holidays equal family time. Which means you have to spend time with the family. This causes me to drink. Not excessively, just enough to dull the dull relatives. I find that making your own alcohol is a great way to save money and adapt it to your taste. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a Kahlua recipe. Oh, Kahlua, I love you. Mainly because I can load you full of vodka to balance the sweetness (or whatever excuse you want to use for this “technique”) and drink you on the rocks. Some recipes use Everclear. I don’t touch the stuff and prefer a mid-level vodka since I can do a ton of things with it. Also, it’s an excuse to buy a 1.75L – you save money that way. On the subject of containers, this recipe will make you an entire 1.75L. Trust me, it doesn’t last long.

Coffee and chocolate are soul mates. They compliment one another. Coffee in a chocolate dessert intensifies the chocolate taste. It works the other way around too. The first batch I made, I used chocolate-flavored coffee with great results.

My second batch … well … I had to improvise.

I was out of chocolate coffee. The problem with using something as an ingredient that tastes good on its own is that it’s hard to keep in stock at the house. Another problem: I was out of brown sugar. I replaced the coffee with some Peaberry Kona coffee a friend got me on a recent trip to Hawaii. What was I to replace the brown sugar with? I wanted that caramely taste, damn it. And I wasn’t going to settle.

Homemade brown sugar. So frakking easy and looks so much better than store bought. I’m honestly never buying it from the store again, it’s that good.

See? These smart people from the Twitterverse agree with me. It’s that good.

My friends are enjoying the idea of being my constant test subjects, especially since I’ve been making liqueurs. I’m just happy I don’t have to drink alone.