Thanksgiving lessons: What did you learn this Thanksgiving that might interest others here? Any hidden gems (recipes) or tips to share?

Looking forward to your responses! (I'll share mine once the thread gets going.) ;o)



AntoniaJames December 10, 2015
One other lesson learned . . . that if you're going to make in advance a biscuit/scone dough based Chelsea bun for a holiday morning treat, it really works better to par-bake them until nearly done, and then freeze them, and then bake on the "day of." I did that last year and it worked really well. This year I rolled them up and then froze the logs, the way I do yeast-based sticky buns. They turned out okay - and in fact, I really liked the way the ones I baked in muffin tins turned out -- but pre-baking gives you a better rise in the oven, if you pop them in shortly after rolling and slicing. I sort of suspected that would be the case, but I just wanted to check . . . . ;o)

The buns in question are here:

and here: The photos were taken last year.
AntoniaJames December 8, 2015
Okay, here are some details on particular recipes, including two "hidden gems":

This Drunken Cider is marvelous after Thanksgiving dinner, as well as before: Save this one to your files, and make it soon. If you're lazy like me, you can buy pre-spiced cider (Trader Joe's is a tasty option) and just make up mugs of this stuff in the microwave on chilly weeknights.

My family raved about these sausage and cheese stuffed mushrooms: I prepped them in advance, baking them first thing when we returned from our hike. Highly recommend. We had extra filling, which I put on rounds of baguette and baked until melted and crispy on top.

Here's the Brussels sprouts recipe I mentioned in my other post: this year. It's a crowd pleaser, and not at all difficult to make. I used bacon instead of pancetta because that's what we had on hand.

Hidden Gems: We are rice people, as so many southerners are. (I didn't know that people ate mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, or any other time they served poultry, until I went away to college in New Hampshire.) My husband is particularly fond of wild rice for special-occasions, so I was happy to find this: I You could make it vegan-friendly by using a good mushroom stock. I used slivered toasted almonds, to avoid redundancy with our pecan tart (see below). I plan to make it again, as drafted, with toasted pecans. I added roasted bits of carrot for color. It's a bit uninteresting in appearance --- just tan and brown -- without them.

Here's a delightful alternative to the classic ooey-gooey pecan pie: I baked the shell the night before, and made the caramel filling early on Thanksgiving morning. I put down a layer of shaved dark chocolate, before pouring on the caramel filling. I was baking savory and sweet Chelsea buns for our pre-hike breakfast, so I put it together and had it baked within a half hour or so.

In the "I won't make that mistake again" category: Cookie crumb crusts should probably not be blind baked when they are also going to be baked for 45 minutes when filled. Even with a collar, which I put on while blind baking, I ended up with a top rim of burned crumbs. I should have known better really, from the photo posted with this recipe, and its tell-tale black top edge (that does not even look like a crust). Also, as I noted in the comments there, using a ginger snap crust dramatically affects the spice flavor profile. Let's just say that the preponderance of ginger may not be liked by all. I should note that this pie's flavor improves after a few days. The fact that there even was pie to taste "after a few days" should tell you something, however. ;o)
boulangere December 7, 2015
Me and my four-legged family!
boulangere December 7, 2015
I finally started asking people please not to feel sorry for me that I have no family here for times such as Thanksgiving. Around Halloween I begin planning how I'm going to spend the day. This year we'd just had a fresh snowfall, and though thanksgiving dawned cold (3 degrees), by late morning it warmed up to a toasty 7, so we persevered with our plans. My snowshoes were already in the truck, so I loaded the dogs and we set off for some small lakes northwest of here that are on the Pacific flyway of migratory waterfowl (I'm a birdwatcher). I packed treats for the dogs and a flask of hot tea, and we had a very fine time. I saw snow geese for the first time since I left Northern California, along with a large group,of tundra swans. When we got home, I took a luxurious nap, then made a dinner of chanterelle mushrooms braised in white wine and shallots, and had them over my favorite Lundberg (the nicest family ever!) wild rice blend in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine or two and episodes of Gray's Anatomy to catch up on. Both dogs and all the cats snuggled up to the fire. I love my solitary Thanksgivings, and look forward to it every year. Thank you for a lovely question, AJ.
AntoniaJames December 7, 2015
Wow, what a beautiful, memorable, satisfying day. Yes, you are fortunate indeed. I can understand why you look forward to Thanksgiving every year. ;o)
P.S. I agree, that Lundberg wild rice blend is excellent - a favorite, here, too.
SilverSage December 7, 2015
I learned that the only way I will ever cook turkey breast again is sous vide. It's truly the moistest, juiciest I've ever had, without the diluted wateriness of brining. Hands-down. The. Best. Ever. And so easy to slice in the kitchen.

Cranberries baked with brandy beat plain cranberries.

No matter how good it looks in Bon Appetit, bruleed top on a pumpkin pie doesn't add anything worthwhile.

AntoniaJames December 7, 2015
So many great ideas here. Thank you, everyone. I have quite a few recipe notes, which I'll share in a separate message, but for now I'll just mention:

It's not only possible, but also not that difficult, to go away on the weekend before Thanksgiving -- and then to get a nice Thanksgiving dinner on the table, starting at about 4 on Thanksgiving afternoon. We also take a challenging hike on Mt. Tam and then go down to Stinson Beach on Thanksgiving day, which is why I don't start until late.

This year, we decided at the last minute (7 days before T-Day) to go to one of our favorite hiking places leaving early on Saturday morning. I had to do a bit of shuffling on my project plan, but everything turned out fine. I was able to spend about 1.5 hours early on Monday through Wednesday mornings, and then a few hours each evening, to pull it off. Also, I had already made and frozen my pie crusts and turkey stock at that point. I did spend about 15 minutes each day, refining and updating my project plan, and an hour or so on Sunday night, doing easy prep tasks.

I made Paul Virant's outstanding Roast Turkey Breast with Smothered Gravy from his "Preservation Kitchen." You use the whole bird, broken down, using the back, neck and wings for a luscious stock, braising the legs, and brining / roasting the breast, all in advance. I made the gravy (into which you put bits of dark meat) an hour before dinner on Thanksgiving. I'm going to send the details and recipes to Kristen as a Genius suggestion, or for the Food52 staff to try next summer when they're working up their Thanksgiving content. This clever concept seems somehow to have been overlooked in the vast array of turkey options presented on Food52 last month.

Also, if you make a simple but bracing salad and plate it, and put it on the table at each place, it will be eaten and appreciated. We are post-entree salad people generally, appreciating a good salad as a palate cleanser. I usually don't make a Thanksgiving salad, however, because we always have other vegetables, good beet pickles and chutney-like cranberry dishes. This year, I decided to serve a simple butter lettuce + April Bloomfield lemon dressing, with grapes + roasted pine nuts for texture, and not to make a separate green vegetable. I found that I had enough time, and everything on hand, to make Merrill's Brussels Sprouts with pancetta and croutons, so at the last minute I decided to make those. I had the salad greens ready, and figured it would take all of five minutes to make the salad, so I did. Everyone enjoyed it.

You don't need four kinds of pickles on the table. One really good one + some sharp cranberry condiments will do nicely, thank you.

Frozen puff pastry + lots of leftover gravy (plus leftovers from Merrill's Brussels sprouts dish and turkey bits) make a wonderful pot pie for dinner a few nights later.

Later tonight, I'll post more details on a "hidden gem," plus some other noteworthy recipes.

tmblweed December 6, 2015
I had a google doc that which had a collection of recipes (most of these are things I'm new to), so I went back post thanksgiving and added additional notes - what worked, what didn't, how much people ate, what was not remaining.
bronxbaker December 5, 2015
Queen Sashy's Thanksgiving Osso Bucco is a delicious turkey dish that doesn't involve roasting a whole turkey and tastes much better (to me)!
702551 December 4, 2015
From a gustatory standpoint, roasted spatchcocked chicken au jus and homemade pasta blow doors on turkey, gravy and stuffing.

By miles.

I also missed fresh local Dungeness crab like you wouldn't believe.
Diana B. December 3, 2015
I discovered that the spiced pear upside-down cake made with pomegranate molasses from a recent issue of Bon Appetit blows pumpkin pie right out of the water.
Jeannine D. December 3, 2015
I added croissants to my stuffing mix. 1 part croissants to 3 parts regular bread. Added an extra buttery flavor
Jeannine D. December 3, 2015
Use croissants with the normal type of bread you use adds a great buttery taste to the stuffing. I used 1/4 croissants to 3/4 standard bread
Jeannine D. December 3, 2015
Oops, thought it didn't post
Cav December 3, 2015
Unfortunately what I learned was if someone offers me Turkey Tetrazzini to feign illness or allergies.
PhillipBrandon December 3, 2015
When you're overseas and they don't can't find fresh cranberries, you can make a really very good cranberry sauce with dried ones, cranberry sauce, and a bit of cornstarch.

Pre-roasting the fruit for a pie helps dramatically reduce the amount of liquid without adding starches.
Bevi December 2, 2015
Our hidden gem was Laurie Colwin's Nantucket Cranberry Pie (which is in fact a cake)!
We served with tart whipped cream. It was so good, in fact, that I am going to make mini loaves for Xmas gifts.
creamtea December 2, 2015
Someone will bring flowers. Get a vase or two ready.
Stephanie December 2, 2015
Also, previously frozen homemade stock is a lifesaver! Not a new lesson, but one of my go-to tricks for sure.
Stephanie December 2, 2015
I learned that, while it might be admirable to try to find recipes/adaptations for dietary restrictions on the fly, it's probably better to serve what you know will work. A peach pie turned into a soggy bottomed gluten-free peach, er, "crumble". Oh well, put some whipped cream on top to cover the mess and it tastes just fine!
ktr December 2, 2015
My mother in law made an einkorn pie crust. She says it was nearly impossible to roll out, but it turned out great. I didn't realize it wasn't a "regular" pie crust until she told me.
AntoniaJames December 2, 2015
So many great answers. So much wisdom here. I'm glad I asked this question and hope others will chime in. I will add my own insights / recipe finds as soon as I can - once various deadlines at the office are behind me. (Ah, Q4.) Thank you, everyone. ;o)
Loves F. December 2, 2015
1. The dry brined, spatchcocked turkey with herb butter from Serious Eats is THE BEST AND EASIEST TURKEY EVER.
2. Sweet potato casserole should always have bacon.
3. I delegated desserts to my guests. I love making pies, but delegating desserts gave my guests something to bring, and made my hosting and meal prep a breeze.
4. You can never have too much champagne!
5. The people around your table are more important than the decor and fancy food on your table!
lena November 22, 2016
this is completely off the original post topic. i have a question about the serious eats spatchcock turkey. is dry brine necessary if the turkey says its already injected or pre-brined?
ktr November 22, 2016
I would say no, but I am by no means a turkey cooking expert!

Voted the Best Reply!

C S. December 2, 2015
I learned that despite my fondness for cranberry sauces, 3 kinds is too many.

Salad, no matter how good, is hardly eaten. After all the other sides there is not much enthusiasm for fresh greens.

Making the gravy ahead and freezing it was a big help. Ditto the icebox rolls which were made on Monday and baked Thursday morning.

It is better to cook less and be more cheerful than to have too many different kinds of pie.
In the same vein, giving up some control and letting other people complete tasks makes everyone happier.
creamtea December 1, 2015
1) I can carve the turkey in the kitchen while the guests are still arriving. After arranging on a platter, I drizzled cooking juices over, covered loosely with foil, then put the whole thing in a warm oven till serving time.

2)I can cut off the legs with kitchen shears, bending them back to snap the joint just as with a chicken; I used the carving knife as an assist when necessary.

3) I sliced the breast meat on the carving board after cutting the breast meat off in one piece following the bone. After slicing, used a large, flexible pancake turner to neatly transfer the whole group of slices to the serving platter.

ktr December 1, 2015
I learned that einkorn sour dough bread makes an awesome, very filling stuffing. The sour dough flavor came through just enough to add a little something to the stuffing.
Recommended by Food52