Thanksgiving: An A-to-Z guide

Dry-brined bird: This 20-pound turkey was rubbed with salt and placed in a refrigerator for two days before being roasted. The dry-brine technique creates a golden-brown skin and juicy, flavorful meat.
Dry-brined bird: This 20-pound turkey was rubbed with salt and placed in a refrigerator for two days before being roasted. The dry-brine technique creates a golden-brown skin and juicy, flavorful meat. St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS

Whether it’s your first time cooking Thanksgiving or your 20th, we all could use a few fresh ideas to make the feast a success. Here, we’ve compiled an alphabetical rundown of the essentials you need to know.

Aperitif: Have a signature cocktail ready to welcome your guests. Keep in the spirit of the holiday by using fresh cranberries to garnish a big bowl of punch.

Brining: The experts favor dry brines over wet brines for flavorful, moist turkey meat and brown, crispy skin. Essentially, you salt the bird in your fridge two days before cooking. Keep reading for a step-by-step recipe.

Cauliflower: You can make the versatile vegetable dozens of ways (like this no-carb mash). Your oven will be busy enough, so use the stovetop for this quick side of garlicky braised cauliflower with capers, from the Los Angeles Times: Warm several anchovies in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. Add cauliflower florets and a little water. Cover tightly and cook on medium-low until the florets are slightly tender. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high and cook until the water evaporates. Add capers and parsley, and warm through.

Dips: Don’t focus all your energy on the meal’s main attraction at the expense of appetizers. Artichoke, spinach, hummus — they’re low-fuss, high-reward noshes.

Espresso: Strong-brewed coffee serves double duty on this holiday. Yes, it’s a good night cap to send your visitors home alert and sober. But it also amps up the flavor of chocolate desserts: Try a shot in place of water or other liquid in your favorite recipe for chocolate cake or cookies.

Fennel: For a salad, nothing beats the crunch and cool refreshment of fennel. Slice a bulb as thin as you can, arrange it on a platter, then top it with grapefruit segments and cubed avocado. Dress it with a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, honey, minced shallot and a pinch of salt.

Gravy: Do yourself a favor and make it ahead of time, using turkey legs and thighs from a bird other than the one you’ll be serving on the big day. Gravy keeps well in the freezer, and making it early will bring your Thanksgiving Day stress level down a notch.

Ham: The other white meat cannot and should not be ignored. Miami Smokers is selling 10- to 20-pound candied hams from its new shop in Little Havana (306 NW 27th Ave.). Order by Friday for pickup next week: 786-520-5420.

Ice cream: You can go fancy with pints of Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake or other fun flavors. But, really, just get vanilla. Everyone wants vanilla on their pie.

Jam: As in music. A mellow but uptempo playlist is key to any good dinner party, Thanksgiving included.

Knife: You don’t need an expensive Japanese blade or even the biggest knife in your kitchen to properly carve a turkey. Just make sure whatever you use is sharp and well-honed to ensure clean, even cuts.

Leftovers: Save everything you like. Next Thursday, we’ll show you how to use it.

Meat thermometer: Even veteran chefs can’t eyeball the doneness of a turkey. Invest in a meat thermometer and take out the guesswork.

Nutmeg: A key ingredient in many spiced desserts, including apple pie and gingerbread, as well as savory dishes like sautéed spinach and béchamel sauce. Buy whole nutmeg and grind or grate it yourself as needed.

Organic: As with so much else in supermarkets these days, turkey may be labeled as “natural” or “heritage” or “free-range” or “organic” and other buzzwords. If you are willing to pony up the extra money for a hormone-free, humanely raised bird, ignore the ones marked “natural” (a marketing term, really) and pick one that is USDA-certified organic; the real deal.

Pie: Make it pumpkin. And spike it with bourbon. And bacon. See the recipe that follows.

Quince: A cousin of pear, quince is especially tasty when cooked down to a red-hued paste. Find it in your local supermarket, and serve it as part of a cheese platter with manchego, chevre, gouda and crackers.

Roasted Potatoes: With rosemary and garlic. Cut in half 2 pounds new red potatoes. Toss potatoes in a bowl with 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Arrange on a baking sheet and roast in 375 degree oven about 45-55 minutes, turning occasionally with a spatula, until deep golden-brown.

Spatchcock: A funny term for a brilliant cooking method. To spatchcock a turkey, remove its backbone with kitchen shears (or ask a butcher to do it for you), flip it over and press it flat on a cutting board before seasoning and roasting. This reduces cooking time and helps promote even cooking, so your bird’s breasts won’t dry out waiting for the dark meat to cook.

Tomatoes: Kidding! T is for Turkey, of course. How big of a bird to buy? Figure on 1 1/2 pounds per guest; you’ll have leftovers.

Umami: Known as the fifth flavor that humans can taste (along with salty, sweet, sour and bitter), umami is essentially a savory, pleasant flavor found in some of our favorite foods: parmesan, mushrooms, beef broth, tomatoes, soy sauce. If you can sneak any of these into your recipes, your end result will be packed with umami.

Vinturi: You know how wine snobs like to decant their bottles for hours before imbibing, and then talk about how letting it “breathe” opens up the flavors? Well, they’re kinda right. But you can simplify and expedite the process with Vinturi, a line of products that aerates wine as you pour. It pretty much can make a $10 bottle taste like a $20 bottle.

Walnut: Add walnuts to your stuffing or salads or sides (they’re great with green bean casserole) for an extra crunch and flavor that’s very of-the-season.

Xérès: Admittedly, X is a tough one. But Xérès, or Spanish sherry, the fortified wine commonly sipped after dinner, is a winner. Pick up a bottle of Osborne Pedro Ximenez ($25), and impress your guests with its notes of raisin, toffee and chocolate.

Yams: Cook them however you like, and top them with all the brown sugar and marshmallow you want, then impress your family with this fun fact: Real yams — starchier, drier than and unrelated to sweet potatoes — are mostly grown in Africa and the Caribbean. What you find in U.S. grocery stores and farmers markets labeled as yams are really a variety of sweet potatoes.

Zest: You’ll be amazed at how much the finely grated outer peel of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit can brighten a dish’s aroma and flavor. Add zest as a final garnish to the fennel salad, potatoes, cauliflower or pretty much any savory dish on your Thanksgiving table.

Evan S. Benn is Miami Herald food editor and restaurants editor. Follow him on Twitter: @EvanBenn.

Main dish


Yield: 12 to 16 servings

1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey

3 to 4 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

10 fresh thyme sprigs

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 small onions, halved

2 small apples, cored and halved

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups water or white wine, divided

Two days before serving, rinse the turkey and pat dry. Rub all over with the salt, slipping salt under the skin where possible and rubbing some into the cavities; use about 1 tablespoon per every 4 pounds of bird. Put the bird in a large plastic bag and refrigerate. On the second night, turn the turkey over.

One hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the bag and pat dry. Put in a roasting pan and allow to warm up a bit. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle half the pepper into the main cavity of the turkey and add the thyme, parsley, half the onions and half the apples. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Put the remaining apples and onions in the neck opening and tuck the neck skin under the bird. Rub the butter under the breast skin and over the thigh meat. Sprinkle the bird with the remaining pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

Remove the turkey from the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Cover the breast of the bird and the wing tips with foil. Add 1 1/2 cups of the water (or white wine) to the roasting pan and roast the bird for another 2 hours or so, depending on size; figure on 10 minutes a pound for an unstuffed bird. Remove the foil from the breast in the last half hour so it browns.

When the turkey has roasted for 2 hours, begin to test for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer (digital is best) into two different places in the thigh, making sure not to touch bone; it should be about 165 degrees. When it is done, tip the turkey so the interior juices run into the pan. Remove the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet or a serving platter, cover with foil and then a damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the fat and drippings from the pan into a measuring cup. Add the 1/2 cup white wine (or broth) to the pan, stirring to deglaze it, and pour that into the same measuring cup. The fat and drippings can then be used to make gravy.

Per serving: 449 calories, 16 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 261 mg cholesterol, 69 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 1,604 g sodium.

Source: Adapted from Kim Severson of The New York Times.

Side dish


Yield: 12 to 14 servings

1 pound loaf pumpernickel or black bread with raisins, cut into 1-inch pieces

10 ounces French baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds mild Italian sausage, removed from casing

4 ounces smoky bacon, cut into small dice

1 large sweet onion, diced

4 ribs celery, diced

1 bunch green onions, trimmed, diced

3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

2 tablespoons rubbed sage

About 5 cups turkey or chicken broth

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon each: thyme, pepper

Salt to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heavily butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Spread bread pieces in a single layer on two baking sheets. Bake, turning once or twice, until lightly crisped, about 20 minutes. Cool. (Wrap cooled bread in foil up to 1 day in advance.) Meanwhile, cook sausage, bacon and sweet onion in very large skillet over medium heat, chopping sausage into small bits and stirring until sausage is cooked through and golden, about 30 minutes. Cool.

Mix celery, green onions, garlic, raisins or cranberries, and sage in bottom of a large bowl. Stir in cooled sausage mixture. Add bread cubes; mix well. Stir in broth to nicely moisten everything. Stir in parsley, thyme and pepper. Taste and season with salt. Transfer the mixture to the buttered pan. Let stand at room temperature up to 1 hour or refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until heated through and edges are crispy, 50 to 60 minutes (slightly longer if mixture was refrigerated). Serve hot.

Per serving: 282 calories, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 38 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 4 g fiber, 1,049 mg sodium.



Pie shell:

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons cold bacon grease or shortening, cut into 3 pieces

5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons cold bourbon

2 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

To make the dough using a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the bacon grease and pulse until incorporated (the dough will look like moist sand). Add the butter and pulse just until the butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the bourbon and water over the mixture, and pulse once or twice until incorporated. Remove the crumbly mixture to a large bowl and gently press the mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or the palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold the dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover the disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

To make the dough by hand, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the bacon grease and incorporate using a pastry cutter or fork (the dough will look like moist sand). Cut in the butter just until it is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the bourbon and water over the mixture, and stir together just until incorporated. Gently press the crumbly mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or the palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold the dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover the disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a round roughly 13 inches in diameter. Place in a 9-inch baking dish, crimping the edges as desired. Freeze the formed shell for 20 to 30 minutes before filling and baking.

Note: Refrigerate the dough at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, to give the dough sufficient time to relax; otherwise, it may toughen and shrink while baking. If using shortening instead of the bacon grease, increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon (to 3/4 teaspoon). For a nice sheen, brush the crust with egg white before baking.

Pumpkin Pie:

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups half-and-half

4 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine pumpkin, brown and granulated sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in mixing bowl. Beat until well-blended. Add half-and-half, eggs and butter, and stir to combine. Pour filling into the prepared pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature or chill before serving.

Per serving: 273 calories, 6 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 21 g sugar, 281 mg sodium.

Side dish

Mashed potatoes

Yield: 4 servings

6 baking potatoes


1/2 to 3/4 cup hot milk, evaporated milk, half-and-half or whipping cream

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened


Cream, optional

Cook potatoes by either boiling or steaming:

To boil, in heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid, cook potatoes in about 1 inch boiling, salted water until fork-tender. If whole, cook 30 to 40 minutes; if cut up, 20 to 25 minutes. If the lid doesn’t fit tightly, water may boil away. Check occasionally and add more water if necessary.

To steam, place wire rack on bottom of kettle or large saucepan and add water to just below level of rack. Bring water to boil, add potatoes and cook, tightly covered, until fork-tender. If whole, cook 30 to 45 minutes; if cut up, 20 to 30 minutes. If the lid is not tight-fitting, check occasionally to see if water should be added.

Peel potatoes (this can also be done before cooking). Use a potato masher, electric mixer or ricer to mash potatoes. With a potato masher, press tool into potatoes in downward motion, forcing potatoes through cutting grid. With an electric mixer, begin by mashing potatoes slightly with stationary beaters. Turn the mixer on low speed and whip to desired consistency. With a ricer, place boiled potatoes in a perforated cylinder, then squeeze long handles together to force contents through ricer holes. Let rice-like pieces mound in serving dish.

Beating with a mixer or wooden spoon, gradually add heated milk, evaporated milk, half-and-half or whipping cream, according to taste, until light and fluffy. Potatoes will be creamier and thinner if more liquid is used. Finish with softened butter or margarine to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately or spoon into greased casserole and smooth light film of cream over top. Keep warm in oven heated to 250 degrees. Cover with towel to absorb steam.

Per serving: 250 calories, 12 g fat, 32 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 33 mg cholesterol, 0.73 g fiber, 216 mg sodium.

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