Thanksgiving doesn't exactly lend itself to edible innovation. The turkey is non-negotiable; tofu hasn't turned that around. Sacred "sides?" For some it's the Brussels sprouts; others are attached to the creamed pearl onions. The power of Proustian association argues against reinventing the annual turnip dish. Chipotle chilis in the sweet potatoes? Sacrilege.
Tried and true has its advantages. But even tradition needs an occasional tweak - and the recipes below suggest myriad delicious ways to do that. Will Uncle Charlie squawk because there are roasted lemons in the stuffing? Not when he tastes it. Will Aunt Julie convert from her canned cranberry to Eric Warnstedt's concoction with pinot noir? There's only one way to find out.
Chef and co-owner of Hen of the Wood in Waterbury
Smoke-Roasted Misty Knoll Farms Turkey & Pinot Noir Sauce with Vermont Cranberries
For the Turkey:
With the exception of our local beef, we brine almost everything at Hen of the Wood. For the experienced cook, the brine makes a well-prepared dish reach new levels of flavor and texture. For the average home cook, it allows for a good amount of error yet still results in an extremely flavorful and moist piece of meat, especially when poultry is involved. This is our basic brine that we would use for turkey and pork. It may also be used for chicken if you omit the maple syrup.
We use 5-gallon buckets when brining large cuts of meat such as whole turkeys and pork shoulders.
1 cup kosher salt per gal. water
1 cup of maple syrup per gal. water
Handful of thyme sprigs
1 T. fennel seeds
1 T. whole coriander seeds
1 fresh bay leaf
1 8-to-10-pound turkey
Put everything but the turkey in a large pot and bring to a boil. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature and then add the turkey. We usually brine turkeys for 24 hours in a refrigerator. When I do this at home I leave it outside, covered in a cooler of ice, since it won't fit in an average refrigerator.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Dry the turkey with paper towels and season liberally with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt. Drizzle with olive oil to coat.
10 thick-cut pieces of bacon
2 onions cut up into large pieces
2 celery stalks cut into large pieces
2 carrots cut into large pieces
Several sprigs each of parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
1 cup of hardwood chips, ground in your blender to a small, dusty "powder"
Stuff the cavity of the turkey with the onions, celery, carrots and herbs.
Roast the turkey. After 60 minutes, pull the turkey out and lay the bacon slices on top of the breast. This adds flavor and slows the cooking down on the breast section of the bird. Take a temperature reading at this point to see how far along you are, since all ovens are different. Roast the turkey for 1½ hours total, or until the bird reaches 160 degrees.
At any point in the cooking, set a small sauté pan on high heat. When the pan starts to smoke, add the wood-chip powder and set on the bottom of your oven rack. It might smoke out your house a little bit, but the remaining scent will only increase your appetite and cause you settle in for a long evening of indulgence.
Pinot Noir Sauce with Vermont Cranberries
Bring to a boil:
2 cups inexpensive California Pinot Noir
1½ cups of brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 tsp. fennel seeds
Pinch of ground cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
Pass the wine mixture through a fine strainer. Bring to a boil again.
Add ½ pound Vermont Cranberry Co. Cranberries (fresh or frozen).
When the cranberries begin to burst, pull from the heat and stir for several moments to help open more cranberries. Squeeze in the juice of 1 orange to thin the sauce slightly. Serve warm or chilled.
Sweet Onion & Sage Gravy
This is a fairly basic gravy with a small twist. I don't recommend using all of the grease from the turkey trimming if you're performing this in an apartment kitchen where space is limited and you're trying to maneuver a large roasting pan full of hot fat. If you are comfortable in your kitchen, then by all means try to separate the grease from the flavorful jus.
You will need to have a nice chicken stock on hand, though, for this recipe.
6 cups chicken stock plus any of the jus from the roasting pan
1 cup white wine (whatever is available)
2 sweet onions, sliced very thin
1 fresh bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
6 sage leaves finely chopped
2 T. soft, unsalted butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
With your hands, combine the butter and flour in small bowl until thoroughly mixed. Set aside.
Set a pot on medium-high heat.
Add oil to the pan and a pat of butter. Immediately add the sliced onions, stirring often. You may need to turn the heat down and allow the onions to slowly caramelize until they are nicely browned, probably about 5-10 minutes.
Add ½ T. salt. Add the white wine, wait a moment, then add the stock, bay leaf and thyme.
Turn the heat back to high and reduce the chicken stock to 3 cups or by half.
Strain the sauce into another pot, turn the heat to high, bring back to a boil, and whisk in half the butter-flour mixture. As soon as it starts to boil, you will notice the sauce immediately thicken. Turn the heat down and allow to cook for another moment. Taste the gravy - it may need more salt. If the gravy isn't thick enough for your liking, add another chunk of the butter-flour and turn the heat up again. Once the temperature is hot enough, the butter-flour will go into action and thicken more.
When you get the desired consistency, add the chopped sage and some fresh-ground pepper and serve. You can keep the gravy warm on the stove, but keep the heat way down.
Williston-based cookbook author and educator
This is kind of a new recipe for me and I just really like it. Stuffing tends to get overlooked; it's considered a side dish to the turkey. This one could be a stand-alone - forget the turkey. That's where I come from with it. Roasted lemons are something I just can't stop using - they're sort of wonderful and fresh-tasting with all this other heavy stuff.
Fennel, Pine Nut and Roasted Lemon Stuffing
1½-lb. loaf country bread (Use a mild sourdough bread for best flavor.)
2 tsp. olive oil
10 T. (1 1/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped (about 4 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seed, lightly crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth
Trim the bottom crust and any other exceptionally hard crust from the bread. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes (you should have about 12 cups). Pile the cubes onto a baking sheet or tray and leave, uncovered, for two days to stale. (If you don't have two days, put the bread on two bak ing sheets and dry them at 350 degrees, turning once or twice, for about 12 minutes.) Set aside.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Cut the ends off the lemons and discard. Cut lengthwise into quarters. Remove any seeds, and then cut crosswise into quarter-inch slices. Put the lemons on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Roast, turning once or twice with a spatula, until browned in spots and fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and chop coarsely. Set aside, reserving any juices.
Generously butter a 3- to 3 1/2-quart baking dish with 1 T. butter. Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, garlic, thyme, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Cook, covered, until the vegetables are soft, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the bread, parsley, pine nuts and roasted lemon. Toss to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Spread in the baking dish. The stuffing may be made ahead to this point, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. To bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the broth over the stuffing. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes (45 minutes if refrigerated). Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes until the top is crusty and brown. Serve warm.
Vergennes-based contributor to Gourmet magazine
These bright-green little babies have turned many a die-hard sprout hater (i.e., my teenage daughter) into a convert. Browning them in butter and administering a last-minute drizzle of maple syrup balance the vegetable's more assertive flavors with a rich, sweet complexity.
You'll Hear Shouts for These Sprouts
Serves 4 to 6.
½ lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half from the stem ends to the tops
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large, flat-bottomed skillet. Put in the sprouts, cut sides down, and sauté over medium heat until the butter is absorbed and the bottoms of the sprouts begin to brown.
Add water to the pan (watch for steam and splattering) until the sprouts are half covered. Simmer, partially covered, until sprouts are just tender.
Transfer to a serving bowl, add salt and pepper, drizzle with syrup, and toss.
Co-owner of Vermont Cranberry Company
I love to cook, and we always have cranberries around - fresh during the fall, and about two tons of frozen berries the rest of the year. Since we have cranberries and I love their unique tartness, I toss them into a lot of sauces and vegetable dishes. Once I was making delicata squash chips and I added a handful of cranberries at the end of the broiling. This is now a standard Sunday-dinner side with roast chicken or duck.
Squash Chips and Cranberries
Two delicata squash sliced quite thin. No need to peel.
Core the squash. In other words, cut the seeds out, leaving a ring of squash.
Toss with olive oil and salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
Broil till crispy. You may want to turn once.
While the squash is broiling, slice a big handful of cranberries.
About 5 minutes from the end of the squash broil, before it is crispy, add the cranberries, toss, and cook till the berries soften.
Serve as a side, or as a vegetarian sandwich.
Pete's Farm Radicchio Salad with Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese, Pomegranate Seeds & Toasted Walnuts
5 cups of radicchio (about two small heads, cores removed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces)
4 T. pomegranate seeds
15-20 toasted walnuts
Blue Cheese-Buttermilk Vinaigrette
2 T. cider vinegar
2 T. lemon juice
½ small shallot finely minced
½ cup buttermilk
1/3 fresh aioli or store-bought mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream
2 T. extra virgin oil
½ cup crumbled Jasper Hill Farm Bailey Hazen Blue Cheese
1 large pinch of kosher salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients with a whisk. Drizzle in the oil while slowly whisking. Add the blue cheese, salt and pepper.
Combine the salad leaves and enough vinaigrette to coat the leaves to your taste. Mound the salad onto 4 cold plates and garnish with the seeds and warm walnuts. We like to add some more large chunks of blue cheese right over the top and a few grinds of fresh pepper. For added texture and color, add some Belgian endive leaves or frisée lettuce.
BREADS & SWEET STUFF
Vergennes-based cookbook editor for Houghton Mifflin
At our house, these are known as simply "Elviken," as in, "You are making Elviken, right?" The recipe is closely adapted from one that originally appeared in the incomparable Bentley Farm Cookbook by Virginia Williams Bentley, who lived in Danville, Vermont (Houghton Mifflin, 1974), and, much later, in Sweet Maple (Chapters Publishing). "Strong men have been known to weep for joy when first biting into one of these," she wrote.
I, too, weep annually at the difficulties of orchestrating fresh Elvikens and turkey and pies out of the oven at the same time. You have to get up early in the morning to make these whispery light rolls (they rise twice), but the results are so, so worth it. We wouldn't think of having Thanksgiving without them.
Gladys Elviken's Potato Rolls
Makes 4 dozen rolls.
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 package active, dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2/3 cup maple syrup (preferably B grade)
16 T. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, well beaten
2 tsp. salt
About 6 cups all-purpose white flour
Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the potato water. Mash the potatoes in a small bowl. Cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, the cooled mashed potatoes, the potato water and the maple syrup. Let stand in a warm place until spongy, about 1/2 hour.
With a wooden spoon, stir the butter, eggs and salt into the yeast sponge. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough. Mix thoroughly, turning out the dough onto the counter and mixing it with your hands. Wash out the bowl, dry it, and butter it lightly. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly, adding a little more flour, until it is no longer sticky. The less flour you use, the lighter your rolls will be; the dough should be soft. Roll the dough out about 1 inch thick and cut into rounds with a 2 1/2-inch cutter or the rim of an inverted glass. Place the rolls on the baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, with rack in the upper third of the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops are pale golden brown. Watch carefully, because the bottoms burn easily. They're best hot and fresh, but you can reheat them.
Pastry chef and co-owner of Mirabelles in Burlington
The recipe came from one of our employees - he brought it to us. I don't know what else to say, except they're delicious. They're better than pumpkin pie; they just melt in your mouth.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
1½ cups pumpkin puree (canned)
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 T. molasses
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
To make the pies, mix together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil, molasses, salt, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, sift together the baking powder, soda and flour.
Mix flour mixture into the pumpkin mix. Scoop onto parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of your scoop. Let cool.
To make the filling, blend sweetened whipped cream with a little bit of ginger powder or crystalized ginger.
To assemble each whoopie pie, flip over one pie and spread with a dollop of filling. Take a second pie and dip it into a glaze of maple syrup and powdered sugar. Then place it flat-side down on top of the filling to make a sandwich.
Bartender at 38 Main Street Pub in Winooski
This recipe was inspired by my mom, Sally Tipson - affectionately known as "Aunt Sally" by everyone in the pub. She is the owner of Sally's Flower Shop, a mother to us all, and she organizes the city's pumpkin festival, among other seasonal decorations. Hence the martini.
Pumpkin Pie Martini
1 can Libby's Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix (the kind that includes the spices)
half and half
Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
In a blender, puree 1 can of pumpkin-pie mix with enough half and half to make the consistency of a shake. Add a small amount of sugar to taste.
Put in a shaker:
1.5 shots Liquor 43
1 shot Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
Top this off with your blended pumpkin pie mixture - just enough to fill the shaker
Shake hard with ice and strain into a martini glass rimmed with crushed graham crackers. Top with small amount of whipped cream and a light dusting of nutmeg.