You gotta love Thanksgiving. It's non-denominational, everyone celebrates it and even if you're not a cook, there are endless opportunities to participate. You can be the one who sets the table, buys the groceries, brings the wine, serves the drinks, orders ahead of time or picks up dessert. You can also be the one who turns on the TV and expresses gratitude for what we've got: Food, shelter, friends, family, and hopefully, health, happiness and internet access.
In our house, Thanksgiving is an all-day eating marathon. There's always plenty of food and it's usually pretty good. This year, though, we're not hosting. I'm not even cooking. One of my brothers-in-law just married a pianist from Israel who is an outstanding cook. She wants to host Thanksgiving so we're heading to the Midwest this year. If my new sister-in-law wants to embrace this most American of holidays, I say, "You go, girl."
We can't pack sweet potato casseroles and string beans into our duffle bags, so I went to Williams Sonoma where I found a nice turkey platter on sale to ship to them instead. With nothing else to do to prepare except pack and write this column, I started to think about the kind of Thanksgiving we'd have if we were home. Maybe it would be gluten free. Maybe it would incorporate the pressure cooker I just learned to use. Maybe one of the desserts would have nothing to do with pie. And because, I have to admit, I was on steroids for a sinus infection, I had enough energy to actually make the dishes I was fantasizing about. (Yes, you read that right, Mom's on the juice.)
The November issue of bon appetit has tempting recipes for cider-brined, lemon-sage, tandoori-spiced and Cajun style turkeys. But who was I kidding? Even hyped-up on steroids, I wasn't going to cook a 14-pound turkey if I didn't have to. But I knew my neighbors were because they had asked to borrow our folding chairs so I went to see what they were doing.
My neighbor, whose husband is an enthusiastic and some might say fearless cook, took me on a tour of her garage and backyard. She is having 37 people for Thanksgiving. Her husband and father-in-law plan to cook three turkeys: One in the oven, one in the fryer and one in the Big Green Egg on her patio. The turkey fryer looks like fun. It's cheap and cooks turkeys quickly. You can get one at Sears, Target, Wal Mart, Lowe's, The Find and Amazon for $79 or so. (Bed Bath & Beyond carries indoor electric fryers.) Frying a turkey in several gallons of peanut oil outside makes the turkey crispy and delicious, and depending on the size of the turkey, takes less than an hour. You do have to stand by the fryer and make sure the oil temperature doesn't rise above 350 degrees so that's a job for someone who wants to be outside for a while. You'll also need several gallons of oil and a place to dispose of the oil. (The Millburn dump will take it.)
The Big Green Egg, also known as a ceramic Kamado charcoal cooker, is an egg-shaped smoker and grill that originated in Southern Japan. It takes about eight hours to smoke a 20-pound turkey. Though sleek and beautiful, the device is pricey. (It starts at $700.) In a perfect world, someone will give it to you as a gift. You can find it at Sam's Club and Amazon, or check the Big Green Egg website for local dealers.
Those are the turkey toys. Now you need the bird. Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff sells chickens, turkeys and eggs. My friend Terri swears by them. Turkeys start at $2.39/pound, live weight. You have to place your Thanksgiving orders by this Saturday, Nov. 19. Goffle Road turkeys aren't given steroids or preservatives and the website offers easy-to-follow recipes, including a complicated one for Paul Prudhomme's turkducken.
Other turkey vendors include Trader Joe's, which sells brined turkey for $1.99/pound and glatt kosher turkeys for $2.49/pound. Whole Foods sells organic turkeys for $1.99/pound. Kings sells hormone-free turkeys for $1.79/pound. ShopRite sells frozen, store-brand turkeys for $1.29/pound; fresh, store-brand turkeys for $1.79/pound; Butterball frozen turkeys for $1.59/pound; Butterball fresh turkeys for $2.19/pound; kosher frozen turkeys for $2.99/pound and organic turkeys for almost $4/pound. If you're looking for a roasting pan, Kitchen a la Mode in South Orange has All-Clad roasters (with rack and turkey lifting forks included) on sale for $159.95, down from $199.95. These pans can accommodate a 22-24 pound turkey.
Once you've got your bird, it's on to the side dishes. Every year, I make roasted green beans with toasted almonds and some kind of corn pudding. My mother-in-law makes sweet potato casserole and my sister-in-law brings fruit salad. Since in this fantasy Thanksgiving we're gluten-free, I made corn pudding in the pressure cooker, courtesy of Arlene Ward, the cookbook author and cooking instructor, and substituted corn starch for flour. (One tablespoon of corn starch equals two tablespoons of flour.) Both my kids loved this corn pudding. "I can taste the love in it," my younger son said.
The recipe worked beautifully except for one thing: When I went to lower the casserole dish into the pressure cooker, I hadn't counted on the lip of the casserole dish being so wide. It wouldn't fit inside. Whoops. I had to quickly transfer the uncooked pudding into a smaller bowl. If you're planning to make this dish, use a ruler and measure the casserole dish ahead of time. If you don't have a pressure cooker, try Barbara Kafka's Corn Custard from her excellent cookbook, Vegetable Love.
I also made Ward's dried fruit compote from her cookbook Pressure Cooking for Everyone. The compote takes less time than slicing up fruit for fruit salad and can be used as dessert , especially if served with vanilla ice cream, or as a sophisticated cranberry sauce. The recipe calls for Merlot and we only had cabernet sauvignon but it didn't matter, it was still excellent.
Then, because I was pumped up on steroids, I decided to make Ward's chocolate pots de creme (fancy chocolate pudding), which was also really easy and delicious. Chocolate pots of creme can be made a couple of days ahead and do not require a pressure cooker.
None of this takes a long time. I made the corn pudding, dried fruit compote and chocolate pots de creme in two and a half hours. (It would have been done in two hours but I spent half an hour retrieving my older son from a dark parking lot because his bus had broken down.) The string beans and sweet potato casserole take very little time to prepare and can be made a day ahead.
As for stuffing, you probably have your own favorite recipe. This is where I literally cut corners. I get a 365 Every Day Value bag of organic stuffing from Whole Foods, cut open the bag, dump it into a pot, pour warm chicken broth into it and serve. It's not gluten free but it's easy and makes everyone happy. Even if I've spent 10 hours preparing everything else, the one thing that everyone raves about, no matter what, is stuffing from the bag. My brother's wife and my husband both grew up eating that so it's what they know. My kids have never had anything else so don't know from better. I usually try to make everything from scratch but unless you have a small staff (which most of us don't) or a cooking show (ditto), the only way to save your sanity if you're cooking for a big holiday is to cut a corner here and there. Happy Holidays!
Roasted Greenbeans with Toasted Almonds (also good w/out almonds)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
Place almonds in dry skillet over medium heat. Cook the almonds, shaking and stirring often, until they start to smell (good). When they are golden around the edges, put them on a plate and let them cool. You can do this several days in advance.Mix the string beans with the olive oil, salt and a little pepper.
Spread them out flat onto two cookie sheets. Roast 12-13 minutes, until they are slightly brown.
Mix with almonds.
Ingredients for turkey:
- 3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
- 1 16- to 18-pound turkey, rinsed, patted dry; neck, heart, and gizzard reserved for Turkey Stock
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
- 3/4 cup fresh refrigerated apple cider or fresh refrigerated apple juice
Ingredients for gravy:
- 2 cups (or more) Turkey Stock (click for recipe) or low-salt chicken broth
- 3/4 cup fresh refrigerated apple cider or fresh refrigerated apple juice
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy) or applejack brandy
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
Preparation for turkey:
- Rub salt and dried sage together in small bowl. Place turkey in roasting pan; sprinkle all over with sage salt. Cover pan with plastic wrap; chill turkey overnight.
- Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 375°F. Pat turkey dry. Tuck wing tips under; tie legs together loosely. Stir butter and chopped sage in small saucepan over low heat until butter melts. Brush all over turkey; sprinkle with pepper.
- Roast turkey 1 hour; baste with any pan juices. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Roast turkey 45 minutes. Pour 3/4 cup apple cider over; turn pan around. Continue to roast turkey until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165°F, basting and turning pan occasionally for even cooking, about 1 1/4 hours longer. Transfer turkey to platter; tent loosely with foil and let rest 30 to 45 minutes (internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees).
- Pour all pan juices into large measuring cup. Spoon off fat that rises to surface. Transfer 2 tablespoons fat to heavy large saucepan; discard remaining fat. Place turkey roasting pan over 2 burners. Add 2 cups stock or broth and 3/4 cup cider. Bring to boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits. Boil liquid until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 6 minutes. Add mixture from roasting pan to degreased pan juices. If necessary, add enough stock to measure 3 1/2 cups stock mixture.
- Place saucepan with turkey fat over medium-high heat. Add flour; whisk 2 minutes. Whisk in stock mixture. Boil until gravy thickens enough to coat spoon thinly, about 6 minutes. Whisk in 2 tablespoons Calvados, or more to taste, and sage. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve turkey with gravy.
- Nutritional InformationOne serving contains the following: (Analysis is based on 16 servings)
Calories (kcal) 357.3
%Calories from Fat 44.2
Fat (g) 17.5
Saturated Fat (g) 6.1
Cholesterol (mg) 132.0
Carbohydrates (g) 3.6
Dietary Fiber (g) 0.2
Total Sugars (g) 1.2
Net Carbs (g) 3.4
Protein (g) 43.1
Arlene Ward's Corn Pudding* (28 minutes at high pressure, 7 minutes natural pressure release)
1 can of cream style corn (14 3/4 ounces)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sugarsalt and pepper to taste
3 extra large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Prepare 1 1/2 quart souffle dish by rubbing generously with butter. Cut a piece of aluminum foil 2 feet long by 1 foot wide and double it twice length wise to create a strip (cradle) for moving dish to and from the cooker. (See video for demonstration.) Set aside.
Mix together corn, flour, baking powder and sugar in a medium bowl. Add beaten eggs ,heavy cream, salt and pepper. Mix well but don't over mix.
Pour mixture into souffle dish. Butter large piece of aluminum foil and loosely place it over dish. Make a tent-like lid allowing for some expansion.
Put 2 cups of water in bottom of pressure cooker. Place a rack or a trivet in the bottom to elevate the bowl (I used a cake pan.) Lower dish with the aid of the foil strip into the pressure cooker.
Lock lid in place. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Adjust heat to maintain high pressure and cook for 28 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to drop naturally for 7 minutes. Quick release remaining pressure in pot.
Open lid, tilting it away form you to block any escaping steam. Using the tinfoil cradle, lift dish out of pot. Let stand for 2-3 minutes. Remove foil and preheat broiler to high.
Broil corn pudding for 5 minutes or so until top gets brown and crusty.
*See attached video for Ward's demonstration of using a tinfoil cradle.
Dorothy Fromm's Sweet Potato Casserole
Ingredients for filling:
2 cups (one large can) of sweet potatoes
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
3/4 stick butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Ingredients for Topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick melted butter
3/4 cup mashed graham crackers (if you're avoiding gluten, skip the graham crackers, The brown sugar and butter still make a nice topping.)
Set oven for 400 degrees.Mash sweet potatoes in food processor. Mix together sweet potatoes, butter, milk, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon. Grease a casserole dish and pour in filling. Cook for twenty minutes.
While casserole is cooking, make the topping. (If you don't want to use graham crackers, just mix the brown sugar with the butter and pour it on top of the casserole). Mix the graham crackers with butter and brown sugar, take casserole out of the oven and cook for 10 more minutes
Arlene Ward's Dried Fruit Compote
1 large orange
1 cinnamon stick (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
5 whole cloves (or a pinch ground cloves)
8 ounces dried apricots, cut in half lengthwise
4 ounces (1 cup) dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup fruity red wine, such as merlot (I used cabernet sauvignon)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Granny Smith or Romse apples or Bosc pears (I used Granny Smith), each one peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons dark rum
Grate zest from orange. Squeeze juice from orange into measuring cup and add enough water to measure 1/2 cup. Wrap cinnamon and clovers in rinsed of cheese cloth and tie into a sachet, or just add the ground spices.
Place dried apricots, cranberries, raisins, wine, orange juice mixture, brown sugar and orange zest in a 5- to 7-quart pressure cooker, and bury spice cachet in mixture (if you haven't added in ground spices.) Place apple wedges on top.
Look lid in place. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Adjust heat to maintain pressure. Cook for 1 minutes. Remove from heat and quick release pressure. Open lid, tilting away from you to block any escaping steam. Using a slotted spoon, remove fruit to a medium bowl. Remove cinnamon stick if you've used one.
Return uncovered pot to high heat and bring cooking liquid to boil. Boil until thickened and evaporated by half, 5 minutes or less. (This took me just a few seconds as there wasn't much liquid.) Stir in the rum. Pour over the fruit and cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
Arlene Ward's Chocolate Pots of Creme (makes 6 small servings)
1 cup heavy cream
2 extra large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces (use Lindt 70% cocoa smooth, dark bars, which are found in candy aisle. Each bar is 3.5 ounces. You can use two whole bars for a richer dessert.)
Use ramekins or pretty shot glasses to serve.
Bring heavy cream almost to a boil. In a small bowl, beat eggs and vanilla together. Place chocolate pieces in food processor or blender. When milks starts to come to a boil, pour egg through food processor tube and add hot milk. Mix well using the steel blade. Stop machine and scrape down little pieces of chocolate that didn't melt. Combine well.
Pour mixture into a 4-cup measuring cup. This will allow you to carefully pour the chocolate cream into small cups. (You will get 4-6 cups of cream out of this.) Cover each cup with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. When firm and ready to serve, top each cup with whipped cream.
Barbara Kafka's Corn Custard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups corn kernels (cut from 4 medium ears of corn, or from can)
1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup sliced scallion greens4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.Heat butter in large skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add corn, onion and scallions; stir until softened, about 4 minutes.
Scrape into a 11 X 8 X 2-inch baking dish.
Whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over corn mixture. Bake until edges are lightly browned and center is firm, about 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and heat broiler. Broil 5 inches from heat until top is golden brown, about 2 minutes.