Thanksgiving: The recipes

November 16, 2017

It occurred to me, after looking back at the annual pre-Thanksgiving post, that it would be a worthwhile endeavor if I were to post for you the canonical Thanksgiving dish recipes. Because, well, if you want to follow the canon, you need the instructions, yes?

I may, in fact, have posted these recipes previously (in the case of the cranberry salad and the rolls, I KNOW I have), but hey, repetition is not necessarily a bad thing, and besides, here they all are in one spot.

Without further ado:

My Ex-Husband’s Mama’s Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 pounds fresh sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavoring
  • 1 beaten egg

Boil the sweet potatoes in the skins (if you have an Instant Pot, it’s wonderful for this). Let them cool until you can handle them, then peel and chunk them in a bowl. Add the other stuff. Beat it all together. Transfer it to a baking dish. Top with:

  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 stick butter

Melt the butter, and mix everything else in. Crumble on top of sweet potatoes.

At this point, you can cover the dish with foil and refrigerate it for a day or two. This is a boon to make-ahead T’giving day prep. On the Big Day, I usually put this in after my dressing is partially done, after the bird comes out, so they’ll be finished around the same time as the dressing and I can bake the rolls last. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or so, until the brown sugar is all melty and the dish bubbles around the edges. I usually start it out covered in foil and take the foil off for the last few minutes.

For the love of God, either let your pan come to room temp first, or start this in a cold oven. Else you are liable to have a major mishap in your oven.

Cranberry salad

Another make-ahead, this should be made at least the night before, and up to four or five days before. Keeps for a a week or better in the fridge. Make extra. You’ll be glad you did.

  • 1 12-oz bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 large orange
  • 1 large red apple (I like Fiji, or Honeycrisp)
  • 1 large green apple (I like Granny Smith)
  • 1 small box raspberry jello
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

In the food processor, chop the cranberries. Core the apples, but don’t peel them; chop those too. Add to cranberries in bowl; add nuts. Zest orange and add the zest; peel orange, puree in food processor, and add that. Heat sugar and water until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat and whisk in Jell-O. Pour over fruit, and stir well. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate.

A half-cup of sugar makes for a fairly tart salad; a full cup, a fairly sweet one. I usually split the difference with 3/4 cup.

Don’t be hating on the Jell-O, here. This is NOT a congealed salad. The Jell-O, sugar and water make a sort of syrupy dressing for the fruit.

Mashed potatoes.

I hate to even post a recipe for mashed potatoes, because doesn’t everyone know how to make mashed potatoes? I don’t know; perhaps some people don’t. For those people, here you go.

  • About six good-sized potatoes (I prefer Yukon golds), peeled and cut in chunks
  • 1 tsp or so kosher salt

Boil potatoes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain. Add:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk, depending on how healthy you feel

Mash with a potato masher. Keep warm until serving time.

Giblet gravy (because, well, you’ve got to have something to put ON those potatoes)

  • Turkey neck and giblets (gizzard, liver, whatever other entrails they include)
  • 3 tbsp butter (or turkey drippings)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs

Boil the turkey neck and giblets in about three cups water with salt and pepper. Reserve broth. Throw neck away (or give it to the dog, who will love you). Dice up liver, gizzard, etc.

In a saucepan, melt butter, add flour, and make a light roux. Add two cups of stock from boiling parts. Whisk in roux until no lumps remain. Add chopped liver, gizzard, etc. Bring to a near-boil and turn down to medium low; cook until it starts to thicken. While it’s cooking, peel eggs, crumble yolks, and dice whites. When gravy starts to thicken, add them, stir well, and cover and set off heat and keep warm.

Note: If you have already roasted your turkey and have pan drippings, use them instead of the butter to make your roux. Your gravy will be better.

Roasting the bird

  • Get a farm-raised, local bird if it is humanly possible.
  • Take it out of the freezer on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Stick it in the fridge.
  • Sometime Tuesday, make a brine. I like Michael Ruhlman’s lemon-herb brine, recipe here. You’ll need to double or triple it, depending on the size of your turkey
  • Tuesday night, put the turkey in the brine. Weight it down to keep it submerged, and stash it in the fridge. If you do not have fridge room, make a bunch of extra brine; brine the turkey in a clean cooler, and twice a day, dip out some of the brine and replaced it with cold brine. You can also freeze half-gallon milk jugs of water and use them to keep the turkey and brine cold without diluting the brine.
  • Thursday morning, fish the turkey out of the brine and ditch the brine. Rinse the turkey off nicely, and dry him off a bit, inside and out.
  • Put him on a roasting pan and inside his cavity, place:
    • A quartered apple
    • A quartered orange
    • A half-stick of butter
  • Rub him outside with olive oil and sprinkle him lightly with salt and pepper
  • Roast him breast-down at 375, for an hour, then turn him over and roast until a meat thermometer in his thigh registers 165 degrees
  • Take him out, tent him loosely with foil, and let him rest for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) before carving

This will, I promise, be the best turkey you ever cooked.

Miss Mary Loyd’s Yeast Rolls

Purely and simply, these should be the only rolls you ever consider for Thanksgiving dinner. Or any other special occasion dinner, come to think of it.

  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (either White Lily or Pillsbury, Miss Mary Loyd contended), divided
  • 1 1/4 cups hot tap water
  • 3 tbsp softened butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 package instant yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Melted butter and sea salt to glaze (optional, but real tasty)

If you are using regular yeast instead of instant, take 1/2 cup of the water and 2 tbsp of the sugar, mix in a measuring cup, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for 10 minutes until it foams nicely.

Combine 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, butter, yeast and water. Stir, or mix in stand mixer, until nicely combined. Add egg and continue to mix. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time (you may not need all 2 1/2 cups) until you have a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Knead, either with the dough hook in the mixer or on a counter with as little added flour as possible, for just a couple of minutes. Transfer into oiled bowl and cover. Allow to rise until doubled.

Punch down and form into rolls. I make mine by pinching off 2-oz pieces of dough, rolling into a smooth ball, and putting them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. You can make them in muffin pans, or in a nine-inch cake pan so they all rise and crowd together, or you can form them into Parker house or cloverleaf shapes if you’re feeling fancy. Let them rise again for about 45 minutes. If desired, brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Or you can brush tops with melted butter after they’re baked.

Bake at 350 until they’re a light golden brown. Cool briefly on a rack, and transfer to a towel-lined bread basket to keep warm.

These dishes, with dressing (you’re on your own there; mine’s inconsistent, so I order it) will put you well on your way to a successful Thanksgiving dinner that will put your guests in a food coma and leave you with a helluva mess to clean up, but feeling very accomplished and satisfied. And your mama ‘n ’em will be proud of you. And so will I.



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