Thanksgiving: Downsize the Stress, Upsize the Flavor

Turkey Day dinner is not one of those quick throw together meals. It takes plenty of planning, shopping and cooking to make the meal come together, and on time. Hopefully, this posting will help you line up your game plan for the big day so that you’re not sweating it last minute.

How about a Thanksgiving turkey that has more flavor, is juicier, AND cooks in less time? Well, we’ve made this Cook’s Illustrated (CI) version several times and swear it’s the best. CI updated Julia Child’s Stuffed Turkey recipe from her 1989 cookbook, The Way to Cook.

In their version of T-Day turkey, CI brines the breast to keep it juicy and flavorful. Jump-starting the cooking of the breast at 425 degrees decreases the overall cooking time, which also helps the meat retain moisture. And to make even more stuffing, they increase the amount of bread, and swap the sausage for the brighter flavor of dried cranberries (although we omitted them altogether—not my idea.)

For the gravy, we pre-make turkey stock in a pressure cooker using 4 pounds of turkey parts (necks, backs, wings). We get the extra parts from the Amish Farmer ‘s Market where we preorder the fresh turkey. The Hubs procures the extra parts on Tuesday morning when the bird is picked up because those pieces can’t be pre-ordered.

Here’s a schedule I put together several years ago. In it, we made the turkey stock on the Sunday prior, but have since changed that to the Tuesday beforehand when we pick up the bird and the extra turkey parts at the Amish Market. The outline also describes timing details for soup, mashed potatoes, pre-dinner cocktails, squash and green bean sides and pumpkin pie.

You may find this overkill, but even a truncated version removes the guessing game worries and lets you enjoy the day and your company. Start backwards with the time you plan to sit at the dinner table, then work your way up.

One or two days before the big feast, roast the parts on a large rimmed baking sheet in a 450° oven for 35-40 minutes until nicely browned (not necessary to turn). Alternatively, you could brown them directly in the pressure cooker, but it would have to be done in batches because there is only so much room in the bottom of the pot. In the oven, you can spread the pieces out over a rimmed baking sheet, and also roast the veggies (onion, celery, carrot) on another baking sheet all at the same time.

Instead of adding 4 eggs to the stuffing mixture, we only included 3 eggs, but then added 3/4 cup of our turkey stock to ensure it would be moist enough. The amount of ingredients was altered a bit (4 onions instead of 3; 7 celery stalks instead of 6).

CI TIPS: This recipe calls for a natural, unenhanced turkey and requires brining the turkey breast in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours before cooking. • If using a self-basting turkey or a kosher turkey, do not brine in step 3 and omit the salt in step 2. • Remove any large pockets of fat from the neck cavity of the bird to ensure that the stuffing doesn’t become greasy. • The bottom of your roasting pan should be 7 to 8 inches from the top of the oven. • Leave the stuffing in a warm oven while the turkey rests. • If you need your oven during this time, you may opt to leave the stirred stuffing in the uncovered roasting pan at room temperature while the turkey rests and then reheat it in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes before reassembling your turkey.

Last year, son David and fiancée Vikki surprised us with a simple yet elegant and very tasty appetizer: Ricotta Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon. We savored every morsel while sipping a Knob Creek Ginger Sour.

Julia Child's Stuffed Turkey, Updated

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • (12- to 15-pound) turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for gravy
  • 1 tsp. plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4-6 small wooden or metal skewers (to close the deboned thighs)
  • 1 ½ pounds hearty white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, chopped fine
  • 7 celery ribs, minced
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup turkey stock for stuffing, more to make gravy
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper


  1. With turkey breast side up, using boning or paring knife, cut through skin around leg quarter where it attaches to breast. Bend leg back to pop leg bone out of socket. Cut through joint to separate leg quarter. Repeat to remove second leg quarter. Working with 1 leg quarter at a time and with skin side down, use tip of knife to cut along sides of thighbone to expose bone, then slide knife under bone to free meat. Without severing skin, cut joint between thigh and leg and remove thighbone. Reserve thighbones for gravy.
  2. Rub interior of each thigh with ½ teaspoon sage, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Truss each thigh closed using wooden skewers and kitchen twine. Place leg quarters on large plate, cover, and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.
  3. Using kitchen shears, cut through ribs following vertical line of fat where breast meets back, from tapered end of breast to wing joint. Using your hands, bend back away from breast to pop shoulder joint out of socket. Cut through joint between bones to separate back from breast. Reserve back for gravy. Trim excess fat from breast. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 6 quarts cold water in large container. Submerge breast in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.
  4. 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.
  5. While bread dries, remove breast from brine and pat dry with paper towels (leave leg quarters in refrigerator). Tuck wings behind back. Brush surface with 2 teaspoons oil. 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, 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. Place turkey breast skin side down in skillet and roast in oven for 30 minutes.
  6. While breast roasts, add eggs to bread mixture and toss to combine. Add parsley, thyme, turkey stock (preferably homemade), salt and pepper to bread mixture. Transfer stuffing to 16 by 13-inch roasting pan and, using rubber spatula, pat stuffing into level 12 by 10-inch rectangle.
  7. Remove breast from oven and, using 2 wads of paper towels, flip breast and place over two-thirds of stuffing. Arrange leg quarters over remaining stuffing and brush with remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Lightly season breast and leg quarters with salt. Tuck any large sections of exposed stuffing under bird so most of stuffing is covered by turkey. Transfer pan to oven and cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to roast until thickest part of breast registers 160 to 165 degrees and thickest part of thigh registers 175 to 180 degrees, 40 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes longer. (Ours took exactly 1 hour to come to temp at this stage.) Transfer breast and leg quarters to cutting board and let rest for 30 minutes. While turkey rests, using metal spatula, stir stuffing well, scraping up any browned bits. Redistribute stuffing over bottom of roasting pan, return to oven, and turn off oven.
  9. Meanwhile, make your gravy the way you like it using the turkey stock, and include any pan drippings to ramp up the flavor.
  10. Before serving, season stuffing with salt and pepper to taste. Mound stuffing in center of platter. Place breast on top of stuffing with point of breast resting on highest part of mound. Remove skewers and twine from leg quarters and place on each side of breast. Carve and serve.

Adapted from a recipe for Cook’s Illustrated “Julia Child’s Stuffed Turkey, Updated”

Dorie Greenspan’s Pancetta Green Beans

Another side dish we often make are these lovely green beans. They are simple, yet festive enough to adorn a holiday table. Blanching the beans a day or so ahead saves time on the big day. Usually, even the pickiest of eaters will eat green beans!

Pancetta Green Beans

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
  • 4 oz. pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil


  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.

We wish you and your family a very happy, healthy and successfully prepared dinner on Thanksgiving. CHEERS!!

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