By Jill Wendholt Silva
Knight Ridder Newspapers
It's T-minus 5 and counting ...
Take a deep breath and wink knowingly at those placid Norman Rockwell paintings. From the Ocean Spray Web site to the Butterball Talk-Line, this year's buzzword is stress-free.
Still, whether it's the first time or the 50th, most cooks approach Thanksgiving with a certain amount of dread. Let's face it. We're all time-pressed and stressed out. Martha Stewart Living, the Food Network and Target ads have conspired to make us think we can never live up to the American dream.
So here's some free advice. Downscale and make it do-able. Refuse to stress out over what my husband refers to as "the big chicken" and put family, friends and your own sanity first. If your family likes Pepperidge Farm stuffing from the box, then serve it - without the guilt.
Here are shortcuts and tips gathered by The Kansas City Star's food and home experts. We've mapped out a game plan for a memorable meal with the minimum of muss and fuss by including a shopping list and a step-by-step countdown and testing the recipes for you.
If you have time (or you're short on time) we've suggested takeout goodies. There's also a lists of inexpensive wines, quick-and-easy table decorations made from things you can find around the house and more.
Can't resist the urge to push the feast over-the-top?
OK. Buy a dandy All-Clad roasting pan, but don't forget an aluminum foil roaster at the supermarket will also get the job done. And you can pitch it at the end of the meal, which means no one is arguing about who does the dishes.
Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque
Herbed Turkey with Roasted Garlic Gravy
Cranberry Sauce with Apple Cider
Party Mashed Potatoes
Parmesan Green Beans
Pumpkin Mousse Pie
Day 5: (Sunday)
-Buy turkey. Check to make sure your roasting pan is large enough to fit the bird. Put bird in the refrigerator to defrost.
-Shop for ingredients. (See shopping list.)
Day 4: (Monday)
-Make cranberry sauce.
-Make a crumb crust.
-Make dessert topping.
Day 3: (Tuesday)
-Make mashed potatoes.
Day 2: (Wednesday)
-Make pumpkin mousse.
-Prepare ingredients for stuffing.
-Assemble stuffing and bake.
-Make green beans.
-Warm soup and mashed potatoes.
Don't fuss with matching wines to a course. With the decanters on the table, diners can choose whichever wine they wish, when they wish. To take the stress out of wine-pairing, we asked Dan Meiner, owner of the Meiner's Sun Fresh markets, for suggestions.
1. Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling ($9.99). Timing is everything with this bright white. Sip while chopping and dicing, but not when serving the cranberry sauce. Serve slightly chilled, not refrigerator cold to truly savor the floral richness.
2. Real Roses are cool, not Kool-Aid. The La Genestiere Tavel Rose ($11.49), cuvee Raphael from France, is a new entry in Kansas City's wine market. It has all those must-have attributes: structure, balance, finish.
3. For a Pinot Noir that pours richer then its price tag implies, try Oregon's Firesteed ($10.99). The ultimate food wine, this Pinot has those coveted lush, velvety, leathery, full-throated flavors.
4. You say So-Bun; I say So-Bonn. Either way you say it, try the 2000 Sobon Estate Zinfandel ($11.99) made with organically grown grapes from 100-year-old vines. The Amador County winery makes several fabulous but pricier single-vineyard zins. Introduce yourself to their wines for a few dollars less.
5. And for apres turkey, consider splurging on the Niepoort Tawny Port ($19.99) to pair with that pumpkin or pecan pie. Better yet, forget the pie.
5 TABLE DECOR IDEAS
The very last thing you should be spending money and effort on this Thanksgiving is table decor. You can set a great looking - and unique - table using found objects from your home and yard.
1. Natural beauty: Send the kids to pluck the last colored leaves from the trees, then place the showiest ones upside-down in small glass vases - one per vase, with the stem sticking out. Lay others flat on the tablecloth and top with protective panes of glass borrowed from photo frames or the medicine cabinet. Fill plain glass containers (martini glasses, compotes) with rose hips, acorns or hedge apples.
2. Linens 'n' lace: Any textile is fair game to cover the table - a velvet curtain, a moire tree skirt, a damask sheet. Crocheted doilies, mismatched linen napkins, even silk scarves can go under trivets, vases and candlesticks.
3. Porcelain on parade: Use your own dishes if you have enough for the whole gang. Otherwise, ask each invited guest to bring one china plate (their own or borrowed) for a festive eclectic table. Solicit stemware as well, to complement your own - the more ornate the better.
4. Sparkle, sparkle: Nothing says special occasion like refracted light. To maximize the magic of late-afternoon sunlight, wash your windows. Then fill the sill (or a table in front of the window) with crystal vases, bowls or candlesticks. Scatter cut-glass creamers, sugar bowls and salt and pepper shakers around the table, then drop a tea light in each for instant pizzazz. Votives inside carnival glass vases add colorful drama to a buffet.
5. Edible decor: The produce aisle is full of potential decorations. Look for saturated colors and pair them in bold ways: Limes with persimmons, lemons with pomegranates or lychees with chestnuts are good candidates for hurricane lamp shades or clear punch bowls. For a twist on last year's ubiquitous cranberries in water, float kumquats instead.
Staples: Milk, Butter, Eggs, Granulated sugar, Brown sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Vanilla, Flour, Maple syrup, Cooking spray, Vegetable oil, Vinegar, Onions, shallots, Chicken broth or stock, Bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Salt and pepper.
Fresh meats and produce:
1 (15-pound) turkey
6 pounds butternut squash
4 Golden Delicious apples
1 ½ pounds fresh green beans
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 (½-ounce) package each: fresh sage leaves, rosemary leaves and thyme
2 heads garlic
5 pounds baking potatoes
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 quart heavy cream
1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 (1-pound) box ginger snap cookies
½ cup chopped pecans
5 Ways To Use Leftovers
Leftover turkey comes in many disguises. The most obvious are sandwiches and soups. Here are a few reheated ideas, plus what we're calling the Critic's Choice.
1. Critic's choice: Believe it or not, the Kansas City Star's restaurant critic Lauren Chapin can tire of the overly rich food routinely served at top restaurants. The day after Thanksgiving, she's ready for her mom's leftover turkey casserole.
"It's not fancy. The bread makes it ooey, gooey and squishy," she says, "but it's good."
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking dish (8- by 8-inch or 9- by 13-inch) with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the dish with plain white bread (trimmed crusts optional!). Lay leftover turkey slices over the bread, then add slices of cheese (Velveeta or sliced American is what she remembers most). Top turkey and cheese with another layer of bread. Pour 1 can of cream of mushroom soup that has been reconstituted with milk over the bread. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with crushed chips or breadcrumbs. Let casserole sit up to 1 hour so bread soaks up the moisture. Bake until filling is bubbly and edges browned.
2. Turkey quesadillas - Place an 8-inch flour tortilla in a skillet coated with cooking spray. Cover the tortilla with grated cheddar cheese and well-drained black beans. Scatter bits of chopped leftover turkey. Cook over high heat until cheese is bubbly and the tortilla just begins to brown. Dip the quesadilla in leftover cranberry sauce, gourmet raspberry salsa or mole sauce.
3. Curried turkey salad - In a small bowl, whisk ½ cup mayo with 1 tablespoon curry powder. Pour the mixture over 1 ½ cups diced cooked turkey, cups halved seedless red grapes and a handful of your favorite toasted nuts. Serve on a lettuce leaf, or use as a sandwich filling served on rosemary focaccia bread.
4. Turkey stir-fry - In a wok or deep skillet on high heat, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil and saute contents of a vegetable stir-fry mix. When the vegetables are warm, push them to the side and add diced leftover turkey to reheat. Combine turkey and vegetables with a bottled peanut sauce. Serve over rice.
5. Cranberry granita - We couldn't resist this clever recipe for cranberries. Sure, you can save the excess in your freezer for up to a year, or you can have cranberry granita, a recipe from Rick Rodgers' nifty guidebook, "Thanksgiving 101" (Broadway Books).
In a non-reactive pan, bring 4 cups water, 1 (12-ounce) bag of cranberries and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar to boil over high heat, stirring often to dissolve sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes, or until cranberries burst. Pour mixture through a wire sieve, pressing gently on the cranberries to extract their juice but being careful not to force solids through. Stir in 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Refrigerate, uncovered, until completely cool, 2 hours.
Place a metal 9- by 13-inch baking pan in the freezer to chill. Pour cranberry liquid into pan. Freeze until mixture freezes around the edges, about 1 hour. Mix the frozen edges to the center. Freeze again, repeating the stirring process about every 30 minutes until slushy. Serve in well-chilled glasses.
5 COOL WEB SITES
-www.butterball.com - Give me the facts. Just the facts ma'am. If it's turkey tips you need, Butterball is one of the best. The site includes recipes, online videos, a turkey-and-stuffing calculator, Butterball University courses and e-mail newsletter.
If you're not feeling tech-savvy, you can talk to a live person at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at (800) 288-8372, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (bilingual assistance available, automated assistance after hours).
-www.eatturkey.com - The National Turkey Federation offers loads of turkey recipes and tips, but it's the 30 "virtual chef" cooking demos by famous restaurant chefs such as Todd English and the Too Hot Tamales that are the real draw.
-www.oceanspray.com - With its goofy, gosh-golly retro look, a contemporary Thanksgiving dinner is but a click away. Includes recipes, first-timer's guide, ingredient substitution list, measurement guide, table place setting map, leftover ideas, a kid's corner and, of course, cranberry fun facts. Did you know cranberries bounce?
-www.weber.com - Who needs deep-fried turkey? The Weber grillmeisters offer, ahem, grilling recipes for the bird, plus side dishes, appetizers and desserts. Click on "Cookbook" and "Weber Recipes" to scroll through seasonal and non-seasonal recipes.
-www.landolakes.com - Christmas cookies, anyone? A serious Web site with loads of recipes and baking tips. Includes an American Heritage Thanksgiving Dinner menu.
5 BACK-OF-THE-BOX RECIPES
If your family loves it, go ahead and make it.
There's no shame in cooking off the back of a box or can or bag. You're in good company, according to Rick Rodgers, professional cook and author of "Thanksgiving 101" (Broadway Books). These time-tested recipes have been showing up on family tables across America for years.
1. Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie. Libby's has perfected pumpkin puree. (Say that three times fast.) Ask professional chefs, and chances are they'll admit it's every bit as good as roasting your own pumpkin. If you want to make the classic recipe even easier, try Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix. Just add eggs and evaporated milk. And let's just assume you're going to pour it into a ready-made crumb crust.
2. Green Bean Casserole. Now here's a classic, and a masterful bit of cross promotion. The back of the 6-ounce French's Original French Fried Onions canister gives the recipe, which includes another American icon of pop art and convenience, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.
3. Fresh Cranberry Orange Relish. If your family has graduated from canned cranberry sauce with the little indentations to fresh berries, chances are they got their first sweet-tart taste of the real thing from the recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray package. (You know, the one with oranges.) Americans consume more than 5 million gallons of cranberry sauce every holiday season.
4. Spiced Cranberry-Orange Jell-O Mold. Everybody loves Jell-O because it jiggles precariously but never falls down - like Aunt Ethel's beehive hairdo. We found this classic recipe on the back of cranberry-flavored Jell-O carton.
5. Whipped Sweet Potato Bake. Popeye says, "I yam what I yam." But we prefer sweet potatoes. Yet another American classic, available on the back of the 1-pound bag of Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallows.
5 THANKSGIVING-THEMED GUIDEBOOKS
"Thanksgiving 101" (Broadway, 1998) - Rick Rodgers is known as "Mr. Thanksgiving" or "The Turkey Meister" and with good reason. As a cooking teacher and the author of "Thanksgiving 101," he has traveled the country teaching countless home cooks how to talk turkey. The clever guide includes plenty of menus, recipes, tips and trivia about America's favorite feast. If you're hungry for trade secrets, gobble this one up.
"Best Stuffings & Dressings" (Broadway, 1997) - Stuffing is an intensely personal thing. Most people usually make what Mom or Grandma made - even if that means something from the box. But if you're feeling creative, this is an excellent book for recipes by, yes, the Turkey Meister himself. Corn bread, oysters, chorizo, spinach and goat cheese - it's all here.
"50 Best Mashed Potatoes" (Broadway, 1997) - Mashed potatoes, smashed potatoes. Mix 'em with mushrooms, arugula and rutabagas. This collection, by Sarah Reynolds, includes recipes for every occasion. There's even a chapter titled "Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes."
Cook's Illustrated (December 2002) - If you haven't experienced this extraordinary magazine, pick up a December issue. It's the perfect source for a cook who wants to know the whys and hows of food preparation. "Roasting the Big One" tells how to roast a 20-plus-pound bird for your holiday company. There's also a rating of good canned gravies (sorry, there aren't any!) and techniques for preparing the roasting rack.
"The Thanksgiving Table: Recipes and Ideas to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition" (Chronicle Books, 2001) - Diana Morgan, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, has put together a lovely tome for the all-American feast. It includes rich photos on how-to's for the bird, centerpieces for the table and craft ideas. Recipes showcase seasonal foods. There's also a chapter devoted to vegetarian fare.
The turkey is done when the breast reaches 170 degrees and the thigh is 180 degrees on a meat thermometer, which can be left in the turkey while it is roasting.
If you're using an instant-read thermometer, do not leave it in the turkey while roasting. Figure on 1 to 1 ½ pounds turkey per person.
Set the oven at 325 degrees.
8 to 12 pounds, 2 ¾ to 3 hours unstuffed, 3 to 3 ½ hours stuffed
12 to 14 pounds, 3 to 3 ¾ hours unstuffed, 3 ½ to 4 stuffed
14 to 18 pounds, 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours unstuffed, 4 to 4 ¼ stuffed
18 to 20 pounds, 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours unstuffed, 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ stuffed
20 to 24 pounds, 4 ½ to 5 hours unstuffed, 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours stuffed
24 to 30 pounds, 5 to 5 ¼ hours unstuffed, 5 ¼ to 6 ¼ hours stuffed
-Source: The National Turkey Federation
© 2002, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.