Thanksgiving, Behind the Scenes

Let’s talk turkey, and, while we are at it, appetizers, soup, gravy, potatoes, side dishes, stuffing and dessert. Yes, Thanksgiving, the Superbowl of meals! Countless folks I know call it their favorite meal of the year—eagerly anticipated for months… But why wait an entire year to replicate it? The upcoming Winter holiday season is as good an excuse as any…

A few weeks ago I blogged about the benefits of dry-brining over a wet-brine, so I had to see for myself if the process was indeed superior. My research indicated most dry-brine methods call for putting the seasoned bird in the frig uncovered for at least part of the time, if not the entire time—generally 1-3 days.

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But the following recipe (which I chose because I liked the list of ingredients) instructs one to wrap your turkey tightly with plastic wrap after seasoning, which I was going to ignore. But then I started thinking about those other dry-brines and they used a 1/2 cup of kosher salt whereas this recipe only used 2 tablespoons. Maybe there was a reason to wrap it?

After a minor argument with myself, I decided to heed the instructions, and I prepped our 15-pounder on Wednesday morning, wrapped it with plastic wrap until Thursday morning when I removed the covering and left in the frig until one hour before roasting time. In essence, the bird experienced a bit of both worlds: wrapped and unwrapped—which is how I might have felt if I hadn’t created my to-do list ahead of time.

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Yes, call me anal, but this check list worked out real well, and I’m going to keep it as a template for other upcoming feasts. (Joining us for the food fest were Russ’s two sons Dan and Dave, and our long-time friends Barb and Brad.) Of course, the guests had to put in their two cents. Dan noted that I actually did some of the tasks ahead of time and I explained that was OK, as long as each step was started by the time noted on the schedule. And Brad devilishly asked if I included a “photo op” on the outline, then couldn’t believe that I had! The only problem was toward the end, when the turkey was not at temperature by 5:30.

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This was an odd turn of events because in previous years when cooking a fresh turkey it was always done ahead of time. And in an even odder twist, we had been getting phone calls and texts from daughter Julia who was cooking her first Thanksgiving meal down in Tennessee for her boyfriend’s family. She was a bit frantic that the breast was 30 degrees hotter than the legs and thighs. So dad and Dan provided the “Hartman Hotline” dispensing much needed advice and assurance throughout the afternoon.

Shortly after Julia’s crisis, wouldn’t you know we were experiencing the same flippin’ issue? Mr. Bird was finally to temp about 45 minutes late, but it was browned beautifully! And consensus was it tasted as good as it looked, made even better by the gravy which was chock full of flavor from the pan drippings and the homemade stock.

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However the mashed potatoes were a huge disappointment. I got the idea to keep them warm in a crockpot after Julia mentioned she was making hers in a slow cooker—which sounded strange because she wasn’t adding any liquid to start with. But then a light bulb went off—what a great concept to boil the potatoes ahead of time and just keep the mashed spuds warm in the crockpot on a low setting until dinner was ready. Bad idea. While they were perfectly creamy when I first prepared them, they were no longer soft and fluffy by the time we ate. Never again…

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David gets a lessen from Dad on the proper way to carve a turkey.

We had a few hours to kill before dinner and the aromas were causing stomachs to growl. Luckily Barb saved the day with her two appetizers of kielbasa with a fabulous doctored up horseradish sauce and a lovely baked brie.

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And what’s a feast without a dessert or two? Of all the guests, Russ was perhaps the only one who felt that you can’t have a Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie. His dilemma was what to do about the crust with his wheat intolerance? He found the answer with Bobby Flay’s Throwdown Pumpkin Pie with a graham cracker crust. Luckily he scored on buying some gluten-free graham crackers. I must admit, it did smell fabulous—and everyone was impressed with the Bourbon Whipped Cream topping!

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Pumpkin pie before the whipped cream topping.

Knowing the rest of the group wasn’t into pumpkin pie, I asked Barb to bring another dessert. She truly dazzled with her ginormous homemade NY Cheesecake with Chocolate Chips.

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Barb’s homemade cheesecake.

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The boys couldn’t choose so they had a slice of each.

Lemon and Fennel Rubbed Turkey with Honey-Sage Brown Butter

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LEMON AND FENNEL RUB

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, pressed or finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds, freshly ground, or 2 teaspoons ground
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, freshly ground, or 2 teaspoons ground
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

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I found using a spoontula made the task of loosening under the skin much easier.

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The rub is spread under and over the skin, plus in the cavity.

TURKEY

  • 1 fresh turkey (12 to 14 pounds) or frozen, thawed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, quartered

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Making the sage brown butter.

SAGE BROWN BUTTER

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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An hour and thirty minutes into roasting, the bird is basted again with the brown sage butter.

Directions:

  1. To prepare rub: In a medium bowl, combine garlic, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, 3 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried), fennel, pepper and sugar.
  2. To dry-brine turkey: Remove and reserve giblets and neck for making giblet stock for gravy if desired. Thoroughly pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels. Place on a platter and loosen the skin of the breast and legs. Spread about one-third of the rub mixture under the skin, one-third on the outside and the remaining third inside the cavity. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. When ready to roast the turkey: Remove turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Transfer the turkey to a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. Place onion, lemon and thyme sprigs in the cavity. Tuck the wings under the body and tie the legs together.
  4. Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 425 degrees.
  5. Meanwhile, make sage brown butter: In medium skillet, stir 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until it melts and turns nutty brown. Add sage and garlic and stir for about 1 minute.
  6. Pour butter into medium bowl and let cool. Add remaining 10 tablespoons butter to brown butter and blend well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place a few tablespoons of this butter under the skin.
  7. Roast the turkey until the skin starts to brown in spots, 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 1 hour more. Brush with more of the browned butter.
  9. Turn the roasting pan 180 degrees and tent the breast with foil. Brush again with more butter. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh without touching bone registers 165 degrees, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours more.
  10. Carefully tilt the turkey so the juices from the cavity flow into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a clean cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 40 minutes before carving. If desired, make gravy with pan drippings.

Adapted from Eating Well magazine, November/December 2016 issue.

Check out how to make homemade turkey stock for the bestest turkey gravy ever!

Silky Leek and Celery Root Soup

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We’ve made this soup in the past, and just love it! A perfect starter for any meal during the cooler months of the year. It’s topped with a swirl of crème fraîche, frizzled shallots and minced fresh chives.

Roasted Sweet and Spicy Acorn Squash

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Again, a dish we’ve made several times previously, only this time I cut the rounds in half which saved space when cooking on a baking sheet and plating on the dishes. Find the recipe here.

Julia Child’s Amended Stuffing

While I love the addition of the dried cranberries in the stuffing, the Hartman men not so much.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds hearty white sandwich bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 onions, chopped fine
  • 6 celery ribs, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup turkey stock
Directions
  1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread bread cubes in even layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets and bake until mostly dry and very lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally during baking. Transfer dried bread to large bowl. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in 12-inch nonstick oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add celery, remaining 2 tablespoons sage, thyme, and 1½ teaspoons pepper; continue to cook until celery is slightly softened, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to bowl with bread and wipe out skillet with paper towels.
  3. Add cranberries and eggs to bread mixture and toss to combine (mixture will be dry). Add in 1/2 to 3/4 cup turkey stock. Transfer stuffing to 16 by 13-inch roasting pan and, using rubber spatula, pat stuffing into level 12 by 10-inch rectangle.
  4. When Julia spatchcock’s the turkey, she places the legs and breasts over  the stuffing  before transferring the pan to the oven for 30 minutes. This year we didn’t spatchcock our bird, so we added some stock to enhance with the turkey flavor.

Dorie Greenspan’s Pancetta Green Beans

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 2 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and fill a bowl with ice cubes and cold water.  Toss the beans into the boiling water and cook just until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, transfer to the ice-water bath, and cool for 2 minutes; drain and pat dry.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until frizzled and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. Drain all but 1 tbsp of fat from the skillet.
  3. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the butter. When the fat is hot, toss in the beans and cook, stirring until heated through. Remove from heat and drizzle the beans with a little oil. Season with salt and pepper.

 

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