Out of all the holiday feasts, Thanksgiving Dinner is the one I tend to do most traditionally. I’m almost giddy just thinking about it. I’ve already gotten a start on the preparations. If you are just getting started, and looking for some new traditions at your house, I’m happy to share my favorites.
Thanksgiving Dinner: The Menu
I enjoy trying out new flavors and new recipes. Therefore, I don’t think it is critical to serve the same Thanksgiving Dinner that I enjoyed as a kid. For one thing, we have gluten allergies in our house, and that automatically requires some adjustments. Additionally, I love to show off my “gourmet” side on the holidays. So, our menu this year looks like this:
Before Dinner Munchies
- Veggie tray with dip
- Olives (green and black)
- Pickles (sweet & dill)
- Turkey (smoked outside if the weather’s nice enough)
- Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
- Sauteed Green Beans with prosciutto
- Whiskey Glazed Sweet Potatoes
- Pumpkin Pie
- Addition pie or dessert yet to be decided
The turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving Dinner. I’m treating my guests to a home grown turkey this year, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law in Minnesota. As the centerpiece, your turkey should be of the best quality you can get. If you are buying a frozen turkey from the grocery store, check to make sure that it hasn’t been injected with any kind of solutions to maintain moisture. These solutions add unnecessary salt to your turkey meat.
There are other options for getting fresh, or small farm raised turkey’s. If you are fortunate to live somewhere that has small chain grocery stores, like Sprouts Farmer’s Market, you can order fresh turkey’s that can be picked up on the day of your choosing. Other options for finding small farm raised turkeys could include your local Food Co-op, Farmer’s Market or Natural Food Stores. While, you probably won’t get your small farm raised turkey for 59 cents per pound, the extra you might have to pay is well worth it in taste and quality.
Ways To Cook The Turkey
The most common way to cook a turkey is in the oven, in a roaster. I prefer a roaster that has a lid, to help keep moisture in. I am aware that they can be hard to find. However, there are other ways to keep your turkey from drying out. You can put a little herbed butter between the skin and the breast meat, or even add a couple of slices of uncooked bacon. Most importantly, you need to baste the turkey, on a very regular basis, once the juices start flowing.
One of our favorite ways to cook the turkey is to smoke it. The smoky flavor is divine, plus it means that the cooking is done outside and I can use the oven for other things. Additionally, you could use a turkey fryer (please oh please do not burn anyone or anything!).
I have always made my own stuffing. I start with some dried bread (Gluten Free), add in a little presoaked wild rice, some cooked breakfast sausage, finely diced apple and celery, herbs, salt & pepper, melted butter and a little chicken stock to provide some moisture. If we cook the turkey in the oven, I like to cook the stuffing inside the bird. I think it gives the stuffing a more well rounded flavor. In return, the stuffing seems to help the turkey retain some of it’s moisture.
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
The tradition in our house has been to use boiled red potatoes, with the skins on. My son has become mashed potato connoisseur (aka snob). So, I leave the actual mashing up to him. He not only provides the muscle behind the potato masher, he also has the addition of butter and milk down to a science. His potatoes turn out perfectly smooth, even with the skins in, every time.
If we cook the turkey in the oven, I make gravy out of the drippings in the roaster. I transfer these into a large frying pan, heat them to a boil and add in a little corn starch (arrowroot starch also works well) mixed with cold water or broth. If we smoke the turkey, I don’t get any drippings, and will make the gravy out of chicken stock or broth. If I have to do it this way, I like to start by sauteing a little onion, garlic and herbs before adding in the chicken stock.
Sauteed Green Beans
We quit eating traditional green bean casserole a long time ago, when we quit eating cream of anything soup. This was never a huge favorite in our family, so I haven’t looked to recreate it. However, when we tried Nick Stellino’s Sauteed Green Beans we found our new family favorite. The original recipe also had small bits of prosciutto (thinly sliced, Italian ham) added to it. This recipe brings a bit of freshness to the table, perfect for an otherwise heavy dinner.
Whisky Glazed Sweet Potatoes
I love this recipe by Guy Fieri. These sweet potatoes bring a Wow Factor to the table. They are packed full of flavors, from the sweetness of honey (my substitution), heat from the cayenne and whisky, and a tartness from the apples. I make a 13×9 cake pan full, and we seldom have leftovers.
The recipe for homemade Cranberry Sauce is right on the bag of Ocean Spray Cranberries. It is really simple, and involves just boiling the cranberries until the burst and adding in a little bit of sugar. I like to take the leftovers, and serve them with some pancakes or waffles for breakfast the next day.
For my potato mashing son, I make homemade Pumpkin Pie. I have already bought, and cooked my pumpkin. Canned pumpkin works, too. I just enjoy doing things as homemade as possible. Although, I really don’t like to make GF pie crusts, and prefer to use a cookie based crust for the simplicity of it.
Pies are, by far, the most traditional desserts to serve with a Thanksgiving Dinner. I’ve made apple, cherry, mixed berry and others. They are best with a little homemade whipped cream. 🙂
Another dessert I’ve made in the past is Smoked Cheese Cake. We have an electric smoker, that you can pretty much set and forget. It is actually the perfect place to cook a cheese cake, which requires a long time in a low oven. The maple wood that we used in the smoking process gave the basic cheese cake a caramel flavor, which I mirrored in a maple caramel sauce served with it. I also use a cookie based crust for this recipe.
Putting the Plan Together
If you haven’t already sat down and made your Thanksgiving Dinner menu, now is the time. It’s not too late to order a great turkey, either. Stay tuned, as I will share with you some of my lessons learned in orchestrating a Holiday Feast, and maintaining your sanity.