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Make a Thanksgiving meal to savor
Do-it-yourself spread begins with preparation
Food WEB 1
Brining a turkey is the best way to keep its meat from getting too dry. - photo by Autumn Vetter

The menu

• Herb-roasted turkey with white wine pan gravy

• Glazed acorn squash

• Dressing with pomegranates and herbs

• Make-ahead mashed potatoes

• Glazed sweet potatoes

• Brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan

• Cranberry sauce

• Rolls

• Pumpkin pie

The great thing about this menu is that everything except the turkey can be prepared ahead of time.

The pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and rolls can be prepared several days early.

The mashed potatoes can be put together the night before, after brining the turkey.

The acorn squash, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts can be prepared throughout the day and just reheated (or served warm) during the day.

When the turkey is done and is resting, begin heating everything up.

Don’t forget to garnish the platter that holds the carved turkey. Everything can benefit with a final garnish.

The countdown to Thanksgiving Day has begun.

In less than two weeks, families all over America will be sitting down to the biggest meal of the year.

Don’t be one of those frantic people calling a turkey company hotline. Get ready for some help organizing and gearing up for the big day.

Basic brining 101

If you are rolling your eyes because I am suggesting one more task for an already crazy schedule, please consider trying this anyway.

Every year I write about the benefits of brining a bird, and every year I hear from first time “briners” about how they cooked their best bird ever.

You will be amazed at how juicy and tender the meat is. Best of all, it’s seasoned all the way through.

The main component in brine is salt. I like to use sea salt since it tastes clean and dissolves quickly.

I add about ¾ of a cup of salt, ½ a cup of sugar, a handful of peppercorns, a teaspoon of whole cloves, a few cinnamon sticks, some bay leaves and an apple or pear.

There is no hard and fast amount, so feel free to add other things such as fresh herbs, a cut up lemon or orange, etc.

Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. I buy a fresh one instead of having to worry about thawing.

Mix the brine with cold water until salt and sugar are completely dissolved.

Make sure to have a pot or container that is big enough to hold the bird. Let the turkey brine overnight in the refrigerator or at least for four hours.

When ready to roast, remove turkey from brine and drain well.

Place turkey on a plastic cutting board and using paper towels, pat until completely dry. Proceed with that favorite roast turkey recipe.

Herb-roasted turkey with white wine pan gravy

• 1 turkey, preferably fresh and brined (12 to 14 pounds)

• 1 onion, cut into chunks

• 2 stalks celery, cut into chunks

• Bunch of fresh thyme sprigs

• 3 sprigs fresh rosemary sprigs

• 1 lemon, juiced and cut in half

• Salt and pepper

• 4 tablespoons butter, melted

• 4 cups chicken stock

• 2 cups dry white wine

• 5 tablespoons flour

• 1/2 cup heavy cream

• 1/3 cup Italian parsley, minced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush turkey with melted butter and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Stuff the cavity of the bird with onion, celery, thyme, rosemary, lemon and lemon juice.

Lightly truss turkey with kitchen twine, just to hold it together and keep the “stuffing” inside the bird.

Cover the breast of the turkey with aluminum foil.

Pour ½ cup of chicken stock and ½ cup of wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.

In microwave, melt 3 tablespoons butter with 2 cups chicken stock and set aside as a basting sauce.

Roast turkey for 30 minutes, then baste with butter and stock mixture.

Lower temperature to 325 degrees, basting every half hour or so with the butter/stock mixture until thermometer registers 180 degrees when inserted in thickest part of the thigh.

Uncover the breast after about 1 ½ hours of cooking, but watch carefully if it begins to get too brown, replace foil.

Remove turkey from oven and tent with foil. Do not wrap tightly with foil. Allow turkey to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Pour turkey drippings into a fat separator or a glass bowl. Place roasting pan over two burners.

Add some of the fat from the turkey drippings to the pan, along with enough butter to measure about 4 or 5 tablespoons.

Melt butter and then sprinkle on the flour.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

Turn the heat up a bit and carefully add the remaining 1 ½ cups of dry white wine and ½ cup of chicken stock.

Add ½ cup or so of heavy cream and boil for 5 to 10 minutes, tasting for seasoning. Stir in parsley.

Dressing with dried pomegranates and herbs

• 2 tablespoons butter

• 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped

• 2 stalks celery, chopped

• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

• 8 to 10 cups dried stuffing cubes or dry toasted French bread cubes

• 3/4 cup dried pomegranates

• 1/3 cup parsley, minced

• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

• 1 teaspoon rubbed sage

• 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon pepper

• 2 eggs, lightly beaten

• 2 cups chicken stock

In large pot, heat butter over medium heat.

Add onion and celery and cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic and cook another minute.

Pour in chicken stock and pomegranates and bring to a boil.

Add parsley, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in dried stuffing cubes and eggs.

Add more stock if stuffing seems dry.

Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes until hot.

Glazed acorn squash

• 2 acorn squash

• 4 tablespoons butter

• 4 tablespoons brown sugar

• 4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

• Pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut squash in half and scoop out and discard seeds and pulp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In microwave, melt together butter, brown sugar and maple syrup.

Pour glaze over squash, filling their cavities.

Bake squash for an hour, until fork tender.

Serve as is, or slice and spoon glaze over slices.

Make-ahead mashed potatoes

• 5 pounds russet potatoes

• 6 ounces cream cheese

• 1 cup sour cream

• 2/3 cup whole milk or half and half, heated until hot but not boiling

• 4 tablespoons butter, softened

• Salt and pepper

• 1/4 cup chives thinly sliced

Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks that are relatively the same size so they will cook evenly.

Put potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and add a few teaspoons of salt.

Reduce heat and partially cover and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 40 minutes or so. Drain thoroughly.

In a large bowl, mash potatoes with cream cheese. Whisk in sour cream and about half of the hot milk.

Add two tablespoons softened butter. Add a little more hot milk until potatoes are smooth and creamy.

Pour into a lightly buttered casserole dish, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Bring to room temperature before baking casserole.

When ready to bake, dot with remaining butter and bake uncovered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

If casserole begins to brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Sprinkle with minced chives before serving.

Brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan

• 6 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Salt and pepper

• Shaved parmesan

Steam Brussels sprouts just until fork tender and still bright green.

Drain well and pat dry.

In serving bowl, toss with melted butter, salt, pepper and shaved parmesan.

Glazed sweet potatoes

• 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into planks or slices

• 3 tablespoons butter

• 3 tablespoons brown sugar

• 3 tablespoons maple syrup

Melt butter and stir in brown sugar and maple syrup.

Place sweet potatoes in dish and pour glaze over.

Cover and bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.