Let’s Talk Turkey: Cliff’s Notes Version of a North Carolina Thanksgiving!

So, I’ve gotten into the very bad habit of posting late – and very sporadically – but for good reason.  I’m busy!  I started this blog back in April, at a time when work wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked and I was searching for an outlet.  This blog turned my personal passion into a professional opportunity when I was asked to write my first story for a POLITICO glossy in July.  Since then I’ve written three stories (the latest out tomorrow on politico.com!) and am working on a fourth.  My regular job has also gotten much more interesting, and demanding, which leave me less time than I’d like to make the yummy dishes you all have come to expect.  But rest assured I’m working on a new year’s resolution that moves this endeavor back toward the top of the to-do list.  You might even see a few healthier recipes and I consult my calorie-savvy friends and test out some of their favorites (because I love butter just a little too much).

For now though I thought I’d tell you about the wonderful Thanksgiving we celebrated last month at my parents’ house in North Carolina.  Like the OCD foodie I am, I planned the menu well in advance, wrote and re-wrote my grocery list, and had my mom running all over town to get every necessary ingredient.  Thankfully, I had plenty of help and it all turned out beautifully.  Andy’s mom even called it “one for the books.”  I’ll take that compliment!

Our wonderful table.  seen (from top left) andouille cornbread stuffing, whipped sweet potatoes with pecan topping, bourbon and honey  brined turkey, and German stuffing with apples.

Our wonderful table. seen (from top left) andouille cornbread stuffing, whipped sweet potatoes with pecan topping, bourbon and honey brined turkey, and German stuffing with apples.

So here was the menu.  I’ll admit, I might have overdone it.  Go figure.

Spinach and Apple Salad with Candied Pecans and Maple-Cider Vinaigrette

Bourbon and Honey Brined Turkey

Oatmeal Stout Gravy

Andouille Cornbread Dressing

German Stuffing with Apples

Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Shallots

Whipped Russet Potatoes

Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Pecan and Brown Sugar Topping

Creamed Cognac Onions

Balsamic Glazed Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

Homemade Sour Cream Pocketbook Rolls

Mom’s Cranberry Salad

Cranberry Parfaits with Whipped Meringue Topping

Grandma Meyer’s Pumpkin Pie

This post isn’t going to be one of those Thanksgiving anthologies that gives you too many recipes and leaves you not knowing what you want to pick for your feast next year.  Instead, I’ll just give you the highlights and recipes for a couple of dishes that are delicious for every day, not just Turkey day!

I was cooking up a storm in the kitchen, but maybe one day I'll give up chef duties and enjoy a day rocking on my great-grandparents' front porch.

I was cooking up a storm in the kitchen, but maybe one day I’ll give up chef duties and enjoy a day rocking on my great-grandparents’ front porch.

This year my mom not only ran around town for a week pickup up my groceries, she brought some heavy-hitters to the table:

Spinach and Apple Salad: This salad is actually one of our favorite recipes from Southern Living (I mean, who doesn’t have one or two of those?).  It can be found at myrecipes.com.

Cranberry Salad:  This recipe is one that my mom got from a woman at church long ago and it makes enough to feed a very large crowd.  We eat it for days.  It’s made with strawberry jello and is totally scrumptious, especially when served in mom’s pretty glass bowls.

Pumpkin Pie:  This is no ordinary pumpkin pie. It’s my great grandmother’s recipe and it should be noted that she’s probably still one of the best cooks to ever enter a dish into the Ashland County Fair in Marengo, Wisconsin.  He pie is darker, richer, and spicier than most pumpkin pies I’ve ever had.  It puts those still almost-orange pumpkin pies that you get from the grocery store to serious shame.  I’m sure I’ll be adding that recipe at some point in the future, so stay tuned.

Andy’s mom, Barb, also joined us this year for the first time and we had a blast cooking together for three straight days.  I couldn’t have done it without her.  In addition to making some of her family’s traditional Hungarian dishes on Friday, she also made a German stuffing with apples, dried fruit, and apple juice.  It’s super simple, made in one pan, and a great complement to turkey (not to mention an excellent vehicle to get gravy to your mouth.  If she’s willing to share the recipe, I’ll happily post it!

Now, onto the part where I actually tell you how to make something.  Let’s start with whipped potatoes (both regular and sweet)

Whipped Russets and Sweet Potatoes – The Light and Fluffy Method!

Making the lightest, fluffiest, whipped potatoes is literally the easiest thing you’ll ever do.  Follow this three-step process, don’t measure anything, and enjoy!

  1.  Steam peeled and diced potatoes until fork tender.
  2. Add them to a bowl with a pad of butter (or a stick if you’re making a lot).  It’s preferable to use a stand-mixer, but a hand mixer will do.  The hot potatoes will melt the butter.
  3. Pour in about ½ cup of half-n-half and start to whip with the mixer.  Continue to drizzle half-n-half until you achieve a light, fluffy potato mixture.  Season with salt and pepper and whip just a few seconds longer.

For Sweet Potato Variation:  Add freshly ground nutmeg to the seasonings, then scoop potatoes into a casserole dish. Make a topping with melted butter, chopped pecans, and brown sugar.  Scatter on top (cover the whole thing or just top it sparingly according to taste) and stick under the broiler for just a minute or two.

Honey Bourbon Turkey with Oatmeal Stout Gravy

Who cares if the bird is perfectly browned?  I care if it's juicy and delicious!

Who cares if the bird is perfectly browned? I care if it’s juicy and delicious!

For the turkey:  Make your favorite brine.  Depending on how long you’re planning to brine your turkey – and how big your turkey is, adjust the salt to water ratio accordingly (a shorter brine of 5-8 hours will have a higher salt content than a longer, 18-24 hour brine).  Add 2-3 cups of bourbon and at least one cup of honey.  Let your brine do it’s magic in the fridge, cooler, or a really cold garage.

Make a compound butter to rub under the skin of the turkey to add just another kick of flavor.  I like to use softened butter; honey, minced herbs like thyme, parsley and sage; salt and pepper (be sparing with the salt if you’ve brined your turkey); and just a little splash of bourbon.  Working from the end with the cavity opening, use your hands to separate the membranes between the breast meat and the skin.  Scoop the butter mixture into the pocket you’ve created and smoosh (yes, I said smoosh) around until it’s evenly distributed.  If you’re brave you can cut a slit in the skin between the leg/thigh and the body and do the same with the leg portions.

Truss your chicken so that the wings are tucked back behind the bird and the thigh/leg portions are held tightly against the body.  Sometimes this takes several pieces of string.  Place the bird into a roasting pan with a rack UPSIDE DOWN.  You’ll flip the bird after the first hour or so, but starting the cooking process with the bird upside down means that you’ll get really juicy breasts.  Yeah, I also said “juicy breasts”.  So sue me.

Tied up turkey!  He's ready to be flipped upside down!

Tied up turkey! He’s ready to be flipped upside down!

Roast your bird at whatever temp you like for as long as you’re supposed to for the weight.  There are lots of sites out there that will help you figure this out.  I like to start mine at 400 to really get it going, knock it down to 325, and then check it every so often with a meat thermometer until it hits 165.  I turn the turkey back to its right-side-up position after about an hour.

Carving up my gobble gobble friend.

Carving up my gobble gobble friend.

For the gravy:  Before I put the turkey in the oven I usually add some carrots, celery, and onions to the bottom of the pan, as well as a little chicken stock.  Then I take the turkey neck and put it in pot with some more chicken stock (homemade LINK) of course to fortify it with turkey-ness.

When your turkey comes out of the oven and is resting under a foil tent, just waiting to be consumed, you can strain the juices from the pan with a  mesh strainer and prepare your gravy.  You will need:

Butter, flour, turkey juices, fortified chicken stock, a large bottle (or 1 ½ to 2 regular bottles) of a stout beer, salt and pepper, and a big pot.

Follow these steps to make great, dark, sweet and savory gravy:

  1.  Make a roux.  Basically you want to combine equal parts butter and flour in a pan.  The mixture will get really thick at first and then thin out as the butter melts.  You want to cook it on medium-low heat and stir it constantly as the mixture starts to brown.  It might take a few minutes and some patience, but you’re looking for an almost copper-like color.  For a large turkey I recommend about a half stick of butter and equal flour – that’ll be perfect for all the turkey juices, beer, and some stock.
  2. Add liquid.  You want to make sure that you’re ready to whisk vigorously as you add the liquid.  Start with the beer (which will foam a lot), then add the turkey juices (test those and make sure they’re not too salty because of the brine), and then add some chicken stock if you need to thin it out or make more volume.
  3. Bring the mixture to a light simmer for a couple of minutes before serving.  If it still looks too light, add a teeny tiny bit of Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master.  A little goes a long way.
  4. Season as necessary with salt and pepper.  If you use juices from a turkey that has been brined then you might not need much, or any at all.

Note: If the gravy turns lumpy at any time, an immersion blender will be your best friend.  Just stick that thing in there and blend away until everything is silky smooth!

Creamed Cognac Onions

This is a recipe adapted from the pearl onions and mushrooms I use as a garnish for coq au vin.

1 ½ cups peeled pearl onions (frozen are fine as long as they are completely thawed, drained, and dried in a towel)

2-3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ – ¾ cup cognac

1-2 cups chicken stock

Sea salt and pepper

½ – ¾ cup half ‘n half

In a fairly large sauté pan (one big enough for all of the onions to cook in one layer) heat butter and olive oil together.  Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes.  Make sure to shake the pan regularly to turn the onions, but try to avoid using a spoon or spatula as the outer skins of the onions get soft quickly and you want them to retain their shape.

When the onions start to get golden, add the cognac a splash at a time, shaking the pan to coat, and let most of the liquid evaporate before adding some more.  Also resist the temptation to light the cognac on fire (though it’s really fun when you do it).  When the cognac has all been added start with the chicken stock – again adding a little bit at a time, shaking the pan, and letting it absorb into the onions.  When the onions are soft and tender (and really tasty) you can turn off the pan and let it sit for a bit if you’re not ready to serve.

When you’re ready to serve, turn the pan back on medium heat and add just a little more liquid to get everything nice and glossy again.  Then add ½ cup of half ‘n half and turn down the heat to low.  Let the onions simmer for 1-2 minutes (adding more if necessary) and then serve.  They’re little nuggets of tastiness!

Stay tuned and you just might get the recipe for this cranberry parfait!

Stay tuned and you just might get the recipe for this cranberry parfait!


3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Turkey: Cliff’s Notes Version of a North Carolina Thanksgiving!

  1. Elizabeth , this is simply outstanding, honey. Congratulations. How exciting to see how your passion for cooking is blessing so many . There isn’t a cooking or food magazine in existence that outshines you. What a feast. I love the photograpghy. Keep it up. You are simply amazing. So very proud of you. Blessings and love, Sue Corbett

  2. As one of the truely blessed people able to experience this meal first hand…”It was amazing!” I got to experience some of the preparation. Elizabeth made it seem effortless although I know it was not. There were several things she had to stop and explain to me. Oatmeal Stout?, Parsnips? Steamed mashed potatoes? The combination of these dishes was sooo yummy. My tastebuds were in heaven . She sent home a plethora of leftover cartons. My son TJ and I were eating leftover turkey straight from the carton later that day. Yes it was THAT good! Janices cranberry salad was wonderful too. I put it on several things. Barb gave us a lesson on Hungary traditions and a recipe I hope to try someday. Bottom line..this beautiful family included my family for this wonderful celebration. They made us feel as though we belonged to them and we love them all dearly. TJ especially! He has a bromance with Andy! He can do no wrong!

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