Back to the Kitchen: Thanksgiving Part I — Traditional Recipes

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I  just spoke with a girlfriend who said she won’t start to panic about Thanksgiving  until next week!  She joked the thought made her happy because in the past she had been in a state of panic for a month.  Actually, there is absolutely no reason to stress at all. This is a time to express gratitude, celebrate the people you love in your life, and create a beautiful meal or share in a potluck where everyone can bring his or her greatest dishes.

Below is  a traditional Thanksgiving menu. Next week,  I will share more current and trendy Thanksgivings recipes.  I am happy to answer any questions that you may have. My goal is to help you have a magical supper that is created with ease and grace!




Roasted Peppers with Fresh Mozzarella

Very similar to a tomato caprese, but this version uses roasted peppers.

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.

Pumpkin Soup

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1-tablespoon flour

4 cups chicken stock

1 15 oz can of pumpkin (or two cups fresh pumpkin puree)

1-tablespoon brown sugar

1/4-teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4-teaspoon nutmeg

1/4-teaspoon cinnamon

1-cup heavy cream

In a soup pot, sauté onion in butter until tender. Remove from heat and stir in flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually stir in stock, pumpkin, brown sugar, cayenne, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the cream and cook for 5 more minutes. Sprinkle a little more cinnamon on top and serve.

Mixed Green Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette


1/2-cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4-cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

2 cup olive oil


10 cups assorted mixed greens

1 cup dried cranberries

8 oz goat cheese

1 cup toasted pine nuts

In a food processor process vinegar, Dijon, orange juice and peel with the cranberries until they are finely chopped. In a steady stream add the olive oil. Meanwhile in a large salad bowl mix greens, cranberries, goat cheese and pine nuts. Immediately before serving dress lightly. (You will not use all the dressing. You can save for another use.)

Basic Roast Turkey

All of my family and my daughter enjoy turkey. I sometimes even cook one just for the heck of it the summer! You may laugh, but think about it — it’s a few dinners, sandwiches and soup! It is fabulous.

This is a turkey that I have been making for years. I have seen many trends including placing slices of grapefruit under the skin, injecting it with a whole bottle Bernstein’s Italian dressing, and every other fusion trend in the book. While I do enjoy a deep fried turkey and some of these other clever ways to prepare the bird, on Thanksgiving I want a traditional butter roasted turkey.

My friends tease me by calling me the “butterball hotline” — they are always calling me for tips, menu ideas and for quick problem solving. After a few times you’ll see just how easy and pleasurable preparing this meal can be. Many people fuss with ties and pins and clamps and all kind of goofy gadgets. I say less is more. The only thing that I really recommend is a baster.

For larger crowds if you have the oven space two smaller turkeys will be a bit more tender than one large one. While I prefer a fresh bird, many times I have cooked a frozen one with huge success. I always say never turn down a free turkey, so if the markets or work gives you one it’s great!

To thaw the most effective way is the refrigerate method. (1 day per 5 pounds.) The other is the sink method. Cover the turkey with cold water and change the water every few hours. It takes a full day.

For that beautiful brown, crisp skin cook uncovered. Place the oven rack on the lowest possible position. I am including this basic guide for the amount of time to cook a turkey, but an instant-read meat thermometer is going to be your best indicator in another culinary debate is to stuff or not to stuff. I always do. It just adds so many flavors to the stuffing. I place the stuffing that does not fit in the bird in a shallow baking dish so that it gets that crisp top and then I mix them up. Don’t forget to allow enough time for the turkey to sit out before cutting (45 minutes so that and that are done in enough time to heat any sides that are necessary.

1 16 pound turkey fresh or frozen, thawed

12 cups 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 booty, 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

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 who could carve the turkey! I called my dad in a panic and he talked me through it. Kind of a right of passage! I 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. Also, 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 want 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.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

8 sweet potatoes or yams

1 stick butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 /2 cup dark molasses

In a large soup pot (or 2) place whole sweet potatoes and cover with water. Cook over high heat until fork tender about 40 minutes. Drain in colander and when cool enough to handle remove skin. Slice in quarters and Layer with the butter, brown sugar and molass in a roasting pan. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes mixing halfway through.

Cloverleaf Rolls

I was trying to explain these to a friend one day and was surprised that she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about! I don’t think a holiday is complete without them, however most of you did just fine with out them! A really pretty and most delicious taste treat and not really hard at all. (Don’t let the yeast fool you…these are really easy!)

2 yeast cakes or 2 packages dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup warm milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter

5- 5 1/2 cup flour

2 eggs

Melted butter for brushing top

In the bowl of an electric mixer sprinkle or crumble yeast over the top. Add 1-tablespoon sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, milk, salt and butter. Mix in 2 cups flour beat for 5 minutes until smooth ands elastic. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix in 2 more cups of flour to make soft dough. Sprinkle remaining flour on a board and turn dough. Knead until dough is smooth and bubbly. (8-10 minutes) or about 3 minutes if you use a Kitchen Aid fitted with a dough hook.) Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic and a towel. Let rise in a warm place for about one hour until double in size. Punch dough down. Knead into a small ball and cover with towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Pinch off pieces of dough and shape into 1- inch balls. Dip into melted butter and place 3 balls into each cup of a sprayed muffin tin. Cover with towel and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400. Bake 15 minutes until golden brown. You can remove from pan and let cool on a pastry rack, but it’s much better served right out of the oven.

Layered Pecan and Pumpkin Pie

1/4 cup cold water

1 package unflavored gelatin

1 can (16 ounces) pumpkin

1/2 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons for whipping cream +2 tablespoons for egg whites

1/2 cup milk

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipping cream

1 9 inch pie shell, baked and cooled (page )

In a large saucepan combine water and gelatin let stand for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in pumpkin, 1/2-cup sugar, milk, lightly beaten egg yolks, spices and salt. Heat until just boiling stirring constantly. Turn heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cool. Chill until mixture thickens (a couple of hours) Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff. Fold into pumpkin mixture along with chopped pecans. Beat whipping cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until very stiff. Put half pumpkin mixture into the shell and spread level. Top with 3/4 of the whip cream and spread level. Spoon remaining pumpkin mixture. Decorate with the remaining whip cream. Chill at least 4 hours before serving or overnight.

Sweet Potato 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. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies.  Check out her websites and  Her Sweet and Savory Cookbook is available through AMAZON .

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.