Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. If you're a cook, it is the busiest cooking day of the year. Frenetic. Exhausting. But it is really rewarding to put together a meal of that magnitude.

I've been hosting Thanksgiving since 1984. Prior to that, my grandmother, Goldie, played host...but she suffered a stroke that year and I grabbed the baton.

I've cooked the turkey a million different ways. In the early days, I would use a cooking bag and use wine as the braising liquid. That made for a very moist bird, but I missed the beautiful golden skin that comes from roasting. There is a big divide in my family...some prefer white meat while others are strictly dark meat aficionados. So a few of times I just bought a couple of breasts and a plethora of legs. While that was functional, it lacked the aesthetics of a big, roasted turkey.

For the last few years, I've used convection roasting to cook my turkey. This year, I'm just going to roast it in the convection. I've always bought fresh turkey and I will do the same this year. I usually buy Butterball Turkeys at Costco because they sell them for a ridiculously low 88¢ per pound. But my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated, just did a big taste test of turkeys. Butterball came in dead last.

This year, I followed their advice and purchased an organic, free-range turkey. Every one knows you should brine a turkey, but it is just a giant pain in the ass. I really hate brining. And then on Monday I opened up the latest Williams Sonoma catalog....and be still my heart. They were selling fresh, pre-brined, organic, free-range turkeys. So my 25-pounder delivers next from the farm.

The turkey will spend 4 hours in my oven. The first hour it will be cooking upside down on a roasting rack at 425º. That allows the slower cooking dark meat to get a head start. After 1 hour, I will keep it upside down but reduce the temp to 325º. (Note: You should keep the turkey upside down the entire time if it weighs more than 18 pounds. This will keep the breast meat really moist. If it weighs less than 18 pounds, you should flip it breast-side up after the first hour.) To ensure that the skin does not stick to the rack, line your rack with non-stick foil and punch about 20 holes in it so the juices can drain.

After four hours, I will tent the bird with foil and let it rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes before carving. This allows all of the juices to retreat from the surface and, through the magic of osmosis, redistribute the juices so that every bite is a little, moist taste of heaven.

Two legs are insufficient to please the dark meat lovers, so I will also roast 6 drumsticks. I just coat them with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper...90 minutes at 350º will do the trick.

You can't have Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. I'll use 5 pounds of russets with the skin left on. After they are cooked, my son Patrick uses his weight-room enhanced biceps to mash them up while mixing them with melted butter, warm cream and chives. Becky is making a sweet potato casserole and scalloped oysters...both dishes are her family's favorites.

I'll also make my enhanced stuffing (never inside the bird). I love Pepperidge Farm Sage and Onion Stuffing. I make a couple of bags just following the directions. To that I add hot Italian sausage and a mixture of sautéed onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic.

Dessert is courtesy of my mother-in-law, Joan. She bakes both pumpkin and apple pies. My dad always has a slice of each because he has proclaimed them as the "best tasting pies ever". Joan likes to give me cooking advice, so I just have her go sit on a chair in the backyard until we are ready to eat.

I'm serving two different wines this year. White lovers will be sipping on Josh Chardonnay. Red lovers will get to drink what I think is one of the greatest value wines of the year, McManis Petite Sirah. Both wines are screw tops so that I don't have to spend half of the afternoon with a corkscrew in my hand. I'll also make some hot chocolate so that Joan doesn't get too cold in the backyard while waiting for her invitation to re-join us for the family feast.

Now, as we all know, turkey gravy is the most important element of the Thanksgiving meal. I used to make it the old fashioned way....using the drippings and creating a roux after the turkey came out of the oven. But that makes it a frenzied task just as the whole meal is supposed to be coming together. Well, here is my favorite recipe for making gravy a couple of days ahead of time. You still use the turkey drippings, but are just adding them to your pre-made gravy. Easy peasy.

1 stick of butter 
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
Turkey drippings


  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
  2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
  3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings to gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve.

Me and Goldie, 1956

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