Thanksgiving Bleg

How about some recommendations for some tasty and interesting variations on Thanksgiving classics — with links, if possible?

The rules: (1) no food that is too fun to cook. In other words, no deep fried turkeys. (2) Only variations on classics. No strange shit.

Why am I so timid?

Well, it's not me. My lovely and much-smarter-than-I-am wife has a rule: if it ain't in Freedom from Want, we're not having it. Normally she permits me to cook adventurous things. Not on high holidays. This may be a form of PTSD remaining from our first Thanksgiving dinner together, eaten at my grandparents' stuffy and white-as-bone downtown club, where they served (among other things) lion, and where she was exposed to a is-she-good-enough-for-our-little-boy grilling from the relatives so severe that it makes Gitmo look like a spa day at the Plaza.

So if you have any recommended turkey brines and/or rubs, creative ways to do mashed potatoes, tasty gravies, etc., serve 'em up — I'm the chef on Thanksgiving.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    A teaspoon or so of horseradish in with the mashed potatoes as they get mashed will give them a really smooth texture as well as a little bit more flavor. Just remember, it is easy to add a little bit more horseradish, but really tough to undo adding too much.

    This tip came from the caterer who did our wedding.

  2. Skip Intro says

    This is the brine I use for a 14-pound turkey:

    * 1 cup kosher salt
    * 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    * 1 gallon vegetable stock
    * 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
    * 1 gallon heavily iced water
    * 1 onion, rough chopped
    * 1 tablespoon whole cloves

    This is my cranberry sauce:

    * 2 12-ounce bags cranberries
    * 1 1/2 cups sugar
    * 1 cup orange juice
    * 1 cup water
    * 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
    * 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    * 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) minced crystallized ginger

    Combine first 6 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until cranberries pop, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cool. Mix in crystallized ginger. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

    This is my stuffing:

    * 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
    * 2 large onions, chopped
    * 1 garlic clove, minced
    * 6 3/4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
    * 2 cups wild rice (about 13 ounces)
    * 2 cups long-grain brown rice
    * 2 cups dried cranberries
    * 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
    * 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
    * 1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted, coarsely chopped
    * 1 cup chopped green onions

    Melt 1/2 cup butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth. Bring to boil. Add wild rice. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Mix in brown rice; cover and simmer until rice is just tender and most liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes longer.

    Stir cranberries, parsley and thyme into rice. Cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes longer. Mix in hazelnuts and green onions. Season generously with salt and pepper.

    Bake stuffing in covered buttered baking dish for 40 mins or stuff in bird & cook that way.

    I also like a good dollop of dijon mustard or horseradish in my mashed potatoes, but others may not.

  3. says

    Try a 'heritage' turkey. If you don't have to feed a horde (they don't come in >20 lb sizes much), you might like the slightly gamier difference.

    Definitely agree with the horseradish in the mashed potatoes.

    You might try steamed and/or mashed rutabaga, too. Deeply traditional, good flavor, not found on every other Thanksgiving table. Oh, and pretty inexpensive, too.

  4. Patrick says

    Peel and boil six large sweet potatoes (yams, whatever you want to call them), adjusting the number for the number of guests attending. Add a half teaspoon of salt, which will dissolve in the water while boiling.

    While the sweet potatoes are boiling, peel and grate, very finely, one medium ginger root. Set the grated ginger aside.

    When the potatoes are soft, remove from the burner. Drain the water. Mash them finely by hand using a potato masher. Add one cup of cream, or half and half as preferred, and one stick of butter (adjusting for fat tolerance), during the mash. Near the end of the mash, add ginger (to taste), and one third to one half cup of orange or pineapple juice as a sweetener and for zing.

    This dish can be prepared in the morning and reheated if needed. In fact, the longer the ginger has time to suffuse the sweet potatoes (within reason), the better it will be. The combination of sugar from the sweet potatoes, a little sour from the citrus juice, and ginger is delicious in an "Asian" (for lack of a better term) way, but not so different from what your grandmother made that a traditionalist would retch.

  5. bill says

    I follow the Alton Brown method — brine and initial high heat — and it's always been perfect. Though for each publication that pays him, he alters the recipe. The Bon Appetit version is an overkill of detail and a pain in the ass layout, but is the simplest brine:

    pour in half a gallon of hot tap water, 2/3 cup sugar, and a pound of salt…Stir thoroughly to dissolve the crystals. Then stir in 8 pounds of ice (that's a gallon of water) and 16 cups (128 ounces) of vegetable broth.

    Start at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, then place an aluminum foil breastplate on top and finish roasting at 350.

    If you want to sneak in some fun, how about pie pops.

  6. Danimal says

    Awesome cranberry sauce:

    1 bag cranberries
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup port wine
    simmer until the berries pop.

  7. Al says

    Instead of aluminum foil for the breastplate I go with a length of butter and white wine soaked cheesecloth.

  8. kmc says

    Quite possibly out of the range of "classic", but one Thanksgiving, my mother forwent the turkey in favor of a Cornish hen for each guest. We had decided to do a Welsh cuisine-inspired Thanksgiving, so we had other similar-but-different dishes as well, but the hens in particular were lovely, tasty, and much simpler in the selection and preparation.

  9. bw says

    Choose your favorite spices, and make a wine infusion to internally marinate the turkey

    Everybody loves my mother in law's turkey with raisin stuffing, because the cinnamon and allspice in the stuffing infuse into the bird, but I like to deep fry turkey. I came up with a way to get the best of both worlds. A week before, I open a bottle of Merlot, pour out a few ounces (usually into my wife's waiting glass, and then throw in a LOT of cinnamon and allspice, crushed, then recork the bottle. After a week of sitting on the spices, the wine gets injected into the bird.

  10. lynnor says

    Spin on Sweet Potatoes:

    tired of the marshmallow/brown sugar junk that makes your teeth ache? Try this:
    Cube sweet potatoes and spread out onto cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Roast at about 375 until tender and slightly browned, stirring occasionally (check after 20 min, may take up to 45 min)

  11. Tom says

    This is my ORIGINAL recipe that won 1st place in the Misc. Dessert category last Saturday night in the Vardaman Sweet Potato Recipe contest. Vardaman, Mississippi, is the self proclaimed Sweet Potato Capital of the World. Also, Henry Lackey, recently retired Circuit Judge, of Scruggs bribery scandal fame was the speaker. Both the parfait and speaker were very good.

    Sweet Potato Parfait

    Ingredients and Directions:

    Sweet Potato Layer –
    2 cups cooked mashed sweet potato (about 3 medium sized)
    ¼ cup brown sugar
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ½ cup apple juice

    Mix ingredients together except apple juice until smooth. Add apple juice to mixture until it is loose and will flow.

    Cream Layer –
    1 pint heavy whipping cream
    ¼ cup white sugar
    1 can of whole berry cranberry sauce

    Whip cream and sugar with mixer until firm. Fold in whole berry cranberry sauce being careful not to deflate whipped cream.

    Assembly –
    In a clear tall glass spoon alternating layers of whipped cream and sweet potato.

    Chill. Serve. Relax. Enjoy.

  12. M. Nightingale says

    I tried this rustic stuffing on Sunday. I used a bag of baby spinach rather than chard. The combination of spinach, onions, spices, bread, and cheese was rich without being too heavy and reminded me of some of my favorite pasta dishes. I'd give it 10 out of 10.

  13. Linus says

    Ooh, I have had those Sweet Potatoes that Patrick describes and (a) do NOT be tempted to add more ginger. It's so easy to kill the balance, and (b) they are SO delicious.

  14. says


    Mirepoix – onion, carrot, celery – small dice, sauteed in butter, about 1/2 cup each.
    about half a cup of "Goldens and Cherries" from the raisin aisle.
    Any cubed stuffing or cubed toasted bread if you don't want to use packaged.
    Chicken or vegetable broth to moisten fully. (package amounts and directions are fine). put in an oven proof dish, dot with butter and bake until toast on top and center reaches 165°F. The tart cherries with the sweet raisins go really well with the mirepoix and the bread.

  15. says

    I BBQed (in the long, slow cook over charcoal and smoke sense) my turkey last year. Left the over free, and it was fantastic. It does require some specialized equipment though.

  16. Marie says

    Easiest cranberry dish ever (and the biggest hit ever with the kids):

    1. Pour cranberry juice (Ocean Spray, whatever) into ice cream maker* and let it run a couple minutes.
    2. Scoop yummy cranberry sorbet into sorbet dishes and serve immediately.

    *We have one of those ice cream makers where you keep the frozen canister in the freezer. I have no idea how long it would take in an ice-and-salt type machine.

  17. says

    A big hit for me is real green bean casserole. Use fresh beans, fresh mushroom, cream and sauteed onion. Awesome stuff. Pretty easy to make.

  18. Em says

    I use the same brine as Skip Intro (originally from Alton Brown, I believe) with one difference – use turkey stock instead of vegetable. Too late for this year, but if you make some stock with the turkey from thanksgiving (a great low-key activity for the day after), the stock can be frozen in ice cube trays or zip-top bags and used for a Christmas turkey (or the next time you make one).

    If brining, I recommend rinsing the turkey quickly before rubbing it so that you can use pan drippings for gravy. I also recommend going somewhat light on the salt when seasoning the skin for the same reason.

    To keep turkey juicy, use a programmable meat thermometer with alarm (wireless is really handy), and make sure you let it rest at least half an hour before carving. For serving, butcher it in the kitchen (remove breast & legs intact, then slice into reasonable portions and arrange on a platter in a vaguely turkey-shapped pattern. That way you're not working against the grain and the meat is much less stringy, and you reduce the impact of any carving-related-mishaps at the table.

    Make gravy while turkey rests. Remove turkey from pan, but leave in any bits that stick. Put pan on stove on medium (may require 2 burners depending on size of pan). Add heavy cream until the gravy takes on the colour of a medium camel (usually between 1-2 cups). Stir (nearly) constantly, making sure you pull up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of wine or beer (optional) and a dash of the hot sauce of your choice. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Taste. If not thick enough, dissolve some cornstarch in water and add to the mixture, continuing to stir. Gravy should be creamy, a bit tangy, a bit zippy, and very turkey-ish. Pour through a fine strainer/sieve (to get out the big lumps) into a thermos pitcher for serving- that keeps it hot throughout the meal. Refrigerates well, but does separate overnight – reheat in microwave and stir well.

    Mashed potatoes – caramelize a whole pile of sweet onions with lots of butter in a large pan (I put them on at the same time the potatoes go on to boil), throw the potatoes in with them once they're cooked. Mash until only slightly lumpy. Add a big pile of grated cheddar (around 1 lb for a 10lb bag of potatoes) and a small handful of finely cut/torn/chopped sage. Continue to mash & mix, adding milk/cream/butter to taste, until you reach the texture you like.

    I serve a savory cherry compote instead of cranberry sauce, and it always goes over well.

    For green beans, steam them lightly (<5 minutes – should still be bright green), toss with butter and sliced/slivered almonds, and sprinkle a bit of coarse salt overtop. Maybe squeeze on a bit of the other half of that lemon.