Back to the Kitchen: Thanksgiving Feast

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gwen-upper110x110BY GWEN KENNEALLY

Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday. What could be better than a celebration of amazing food and the celebration of gratitude? I will be spending the weekend in Northern California cooking away with my family and friends. My daughter Emma 13, and her cousins Claire ,14, and Ryan, 12, are in charge of the desserts and I can’t wait to see what my little bakers create. I love to share with them the funny family stories. I do recall a couple of Thanksgivings where for some crazy reason the Turkey was missing. Like when Uncle Pat cooked the turkey with the plastic wrap on it. Or when Auntie Jo didn’t know that you were actually supposed to defrost a Turkey before cooking it! Or what about my friends that bought a turkey too big to fit in their oven! We still all managed to leave full and happy. Here are some of my favorite holiday recipes and it is my joy to share with you. Some are traditional, some with a twist, but sure to become your family favorites. The best part of Thanksgiving is reflecting all the blessings we have to be grateful for and surrounding ourselves with those we love.


Thanksgiving Feast

Roasted Peppers with Fresh Mozzarella

12 large red bell peppers

1/4-cup olive oil

6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

Turn all gas burners on high. Place peppers directly on flame watching very carefully, Turn until the entire pepper is a burnt a bluish, black color. Place in plastic bag for 15 minutes. Meanwhile whisk together oil, garlic, basil and balsamic vinegar. Under cold water rub the skin off and slice into strips. Loosely layer in a bowl drizzling with oil mixture. Toss gently with mozzarella slices.

Mini Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2-teaspoon salt

1/2-cup butter (Grated and left frozen for 1/2 hour)

Up to 6 tablespoons ice water

1 Large loaf goat’s cheese

Caramelized Onion Mixture

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are the size of rice. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over part of the flour mixture and stir very gently with a fork, Push moistened dough to the side of the bowl. Repeat using 2 tablespoons of water (up to6) until all the dough is moistened. Divide dough in half. Form each into a ball and press into a disk. Wrap in plastic and let stand in the refrigerator for one hour. Roll out on a floured cutting board about 1/4 inch thick. Using a small circular cookie cutter cut the dough and place in sprayed mini muffin tins pushing them up the side. Bake in a pre heated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes until golden. Let cool. When ready to serve line mini tarts on a cookie sheet. Add about 1-teaspoon onion mixture and 1-teaspoon goat cheese to each tart and bake in a preheated 350 oven until cheese is melted. About 10 minutes.

Caramelized Onion Mixture

1 stick butter

2 tablespoons sugar

2 large onions, thinly sliced

In a large skillet melt the butter. Add the onions and sauté until incorporated with the butter. Sprinkle sugar over them and continue caramelizing until brown and tender about 15 minutes.

Carrot Ginger Soup

1-tablespoon olive oil

2 medium red onions, sliced

1 (4 inch) piece fresh ginger

8 cups vegetable stock

2 pounds carrots cut into 2-inch pieces

Pinch of kosher salt

1/2-teaspoon white pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat and sauté onions until they are translucent. Roughly chop the peeled ginger and add to the onions and sauté’ together for about 3 minutes. Increase heat and add the stock and carrots. Simmer over medium heat until the carrots are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Puree.

Mixed Greens with Pears, Gorgonzola and a Maple Syrup Vinaigrette

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon Maple Syrup

6-tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup Olive Oil

Fresh Ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

1 bag spinach

1 bag arugala

1 bag mache

(Or any mixture of harvest Greens)

Toss all lettuces together. Lightly toss with dressing.

3 ripe Asian pears, cored and sliced

6 ounces Gorgonzola

Arrange lettuces on platter. Place pears prettily on top and sprinkle with Gorgonzola and fresh ground pepper.

Baked Lentil Loaf with Country Gravy

1 cup dry lentils

1 bay leaf

3 cups water

1 small red onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic

1-tablespoon olive oil

3 carrots, finely chopped

3 celery stalks finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2-cup ketchup

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup raw cashews, chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1-teaspoon thyme

1-teaspoon rosemary

1/2-teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a medium saucepan cook the lentils and the bay leaf until soft about 45 minutes. Set aside. Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is translucent about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery red peppers, cashews and the spices and sauté about 15 minutes more. Let cool.

Add veggie mixture to lentil mixture mix well and then add the eggs, rolled oats and ketchup. Mix well and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 for about 45 minutes until firm. Serve warm with gravy.

Country Gravy

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 portabella mushrooms, slice 1/4 inch thick, then each slice in 4ths

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic

2 cups veggie stock

1/2-teaspoon thyme

1/2-teaspoon rosemary

Pinch salt and pepper

3 tablespoons flour

Fresh thyme and rosemary to float on the top

In a skillet heat 1 1/2-tablespoon olive oil. Add mushroom, garlic and onion and sauté for about 7 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked and the onions are translucent. Remove from skillet and set aside. Heat up remaining oil and add flour and whisk until smooth and cook 30 seconds. Add stock in a steady stream while continuing to whisk cook 5 minutes. Stir in reserve mushrooms, thyme and rosemary and cook 5 minutes more season with salt and pepper. Pour into gravy boat and serve with mashed potatoes and the baked lentil loaf.

Basic Roast Turkey

1 16 pound turkey Fresh or frozen, thawed

12 cups your version of Gwen’s stuffing

1 to 2 sticks butter, softened

Salt and pepper

Pre heat oven to 350. Remove neck and giblets (I use in the stuffing.) Wash inside and out and dry inside and out with a paper towel. . Loosely spoon some stuffing into the neck. (It looks like the boootie, but it is the neck!!!) Fold skin flaps back. Flip and loosely stuff the body. You can tie or clamp, but I just place the skin back. Place in a shallow baking ban with or without a roaster breast side up. Cover with one stick of softened butter. Roast 4 1/2 to 5 hours don’t open the oven for the first hour. After the first hour baste every half hour adding more butter half way through. About one hour before the turkey is done start checking for doneness. The turkey is done when the instant read thermometer reads 170 and the stuffing reads 165. Let it rest for 45 minutes and carve and serve.

Carving the bird

When your turkey is complete cover it in foil and let it sit for 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to flow back into the meat and make it eaiser to carve.I will admit that I never wanted to carve a turkey. Growing up it was my dad’s job. I cook I don’t carve. One year I threw a Thanksgiving orphans bash and there was not a man present that could carve the turkey! I called my dad in a panic and he talked me through it. Kind of a right of passage! I will still eagerly look for that man who has his own dad bonding moment and try and pass it off…. I do have to put the rest of the meal to put together. As pretty as the whole turkey looks on a platter it is much easier to cut on a cutting board and some china can be scratched. As well as I’ve seen more than one bird fly off onto the floor! Also keep in mind that it can get a little messy as you look for creative work surface. One year a friend used the top of the washing machine. The juices got into everything and it was a mess. I recommend that you carve one side of the turkey first and then the other. Use a very sharp knife and position the turkey facing you. Slice between the leg and breast and holding it with your hand snap it off. Hold the drumstick almost vertically and cut in diagonal slices. Slice the thigh meat. Working toward the center of the bird slice breast meat vertically about half an inch thick. Cut through wing joint and then snap it off. Arrange on a platter and serve with all the trimmings!

Mashed Potatoes

I do enjoy the trendy, nouveau-mashed potatoes, but again on Thanksgiving I wand good old fashioned, decadent spuds.

10 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 sticks butter, cut

1 cup half and half

Salt and white pepper to taste

In a large soup pot bring salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender. Drain into a colander. Return to pot and add butter half and half and beat with electric mixer. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pan Gravy

1 cup white wine

4 cups chicken or turkey stock

1 sprig thyme

2 sprigs parsley

1/2 stick butter, cut into 4 slices



Freshly ground black pepper

Tilt the roasting pan and, with a large basting spoon, skim as much fat as possible off the juices. Place the pan on 2 burners on top of the stove, set to medium heat. Add the white wine to the pan and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Continue boiling until the liquid has reduced in half, 7 to 10 minutes. Add Stock, thyme, and parsley. Bring to a boil and strain into a saucepan. Bring back to a boil, skim, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Using a fork dip one of the butter pieces heavily in flour. Blend in until well incorporated and continue to add butter/flour mixture until the gravy has thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cornbread Stuffing with Dried Cranberries and Pine Nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, coarsely chopped

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic

4 cups Corn bread (either homemade, day old and cut into quarter inch pieces or boxed unseasoned cornbread for stuffing)

1 1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 cups pine nuts, roasted

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped sage

4 cups Vegetable stock

In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté garlic, onions, carrots and celery for about 7 minutes until tender. Add stock and bring to a boil. In a large bowls mix cornbread, cranberries, pine nuts, parsley and sage. Toss with stock mixture to coat evenly and place in a shallow baking dish. Bake at 350 covered with foil for 1/2 hour and uncover and cook for 15 minutes more until golden brown on top.

Gingered Snow Peas

1-pound snow peas, destemed

2 tablespoons each, butter and olive oil

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3-tablespoon soy sauce

In a skillet or en electric wok (high heat) heat oil, add snow peas and ginger and sauté for about 3 minutes, until tender. Place in a bowl and toss with soy sauce. Serve at once.

Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 cups unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2-teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces

1 cup, toasted coconut

Fresh cilantro

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until tender. Add coconut milk, sugar and pepper flakes and cook until sugar is dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil; add squash. Simmer until fork tender about 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove squash from the pan and place in a serving bowl. Boil remaining liquid until thick, stirring constantly. Toss with the squash and garnish with toasted coconut and fresh cilantro!

Green Beans with Ginger, Garlic and Red Pepper

2 pounds green beans, cleaned & trimmed

2 red peppers, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and ginger, sautéing quickly until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the red peppers and green beans and sauté until tender about 8 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Rainbow Roasted Yams and potatoes with Thyme

3 pounds mixture of new, white, purple, sweet potatoes and yams, quartered

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl toss together. Bake in a pre heated 400-degree oven. Bake until golden about 40 minutes.

Roasted Beets With Horseradish and Goat Cheese

1 pound beets, washed, steams trimmed 1/2 inch above beetroot

1-tablespoon horse radish (or to taste)

1/4-teaspoon thyme

Pinch salt and pepper

8 ounces goat cheese

Place beet in a tightly covered casserole dish. Pour enough water to cover 1/2 inch at the bottom. Roast at 350 for 2 1/2 hours. It is cooked when the skin is slightly wrinkled and removes easily with your fingers. Remove from oven and as soon as they are cool enough to touch, remove skin and cut into about 8 1/4 inch pieces. While still warm mix well with horseradish, thyme, salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead, just add cheese right before serving.) Mix well again. Add the crumbled goat cheese. Mix and serve.

Cranberry-Chipolte Compote

(Makes about 1 quart)

1-tablespoon olive oil

3 med. Fuji apples

3 med Asian pears

(Both peeled and cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

1-pound fresh cranberries

4-oz chipolte peppers (canned in adobo) chopped fine

3-tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2-cup sugar

1/2-cup dark brown sugar

Zest from one orange

1/2-cup fresh orange juice

1-teaspoon nutmeg

1/4-cup Grand Mariner

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté pears, apples & dried cranberries until soft. (3-5 minuets)

Add Grand Mariner and sauté until the grand mariner is reduced in half. Add fresh cranberries, chipolatas, cimmamon, sugars, zest and O.J. Stir and simmer for 40-45 min (until it begins to thicken.

Add nutmeg and Grand mariner; mix well

Refrigerate for 24 hours.

24-Karat Cake

2 cups sifted flour

1 tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. Baking soda

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. Cinnamon

2 tsp. Pumpkin pie spice

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups cooking oil

2 cups grated carrot

8 1/2-oz. Crushed pineapple, drained

1 1/2 cup chopped nuts

To flour, add salt, baking soda, sugar and cinnamon. Mix. Add eggs and cooking oil and mix well. Add carrot, pineapple and nuts. Put in 9×13 greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.


Beat the following ingredients until smooth.

1/2 cup butter

8 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 pound powder sugar

Cranberry-Chocolate Tart

1 9- inch piecrust

Follow basic piecrust directions. Pre heat oven to 375. Roll out dough to fill a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Fold overhang in and form sides that extend 1/4 inch above the top of pan. Pierce all over with a fork and bake for about 30 minutes until a light golden brown. (Watch closely and if crusts fall in, press back up with a fork.) Cool on rack.


3/4-cup heavy cream

12 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped

1-teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan bring cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and add chocolate with a whisk. Whisk in vanilla. Pour into crust and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.


2 cups cranberries

1-cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a jellyroll pan with bakers joy. In a small bowl gently toss the cranberries with the sugar. Spread evenly in pan. Bake 10 minutes. Using a spatula gently turn the berries and bake for about 10 minutes longer until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Pour berries over filling and drizzle with syrup from the sheet. Chill at least one hour before serving.

Sweet potatoes pie with cinnamon whip cream

3 cups sweet potato flesh

(Bake 4 large sweet potatoes for 1 1/2 hours at 400. When cool enough to handle scoop out 3 cups of flesh.)

1-cup heavy cream

1/2-cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/4-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped

1- 9 inch pie crust, baked to pale golden

1 cup whipping cream

3 teaspoons sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a food processor puree the sweet potatoes, cream, sugar, eggs, salt, spice and ginger until smooth. Pour into pie shell and bake in a 350 pre-heated oven for about one hour until pie is firm. Chill at least 4 hours (overnight) when ready to serve, beat the cream with the cinnamon-sugar until stiff. You can decorate the pie with the cream or you can slice and serve the pie with a dollop of cream.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. Check out her website and blog and

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • Jackie Houchin

    Oh, my gosh! What a feast you’ve prepared for us – and the photo is so gorgeous. (Wish you were serving my Thanksgiving meal!) I love the variety you have… and am thinking of trying the Sweet Potatoes Pie, and the Greens, Pear and Gorgonzola salad. (The Pear-Gorgonzola pizza at California Pizza Kitchen used to be my FAVORITE until the discontinued it! ) :o (
    Thanks again, Gwen for inspiring us to stay in the kitchen.

  • Dan Frischman

    Wow, thank you! This will be my template for my party of eight. I’ll know who to blame on Friday — for being stuffed! Dan

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