Whether your family is gathering Thursday or any other day for its Thanksgiving celebration, there will be a meal shared and most likely it will contain those foods that your loved ones have come to expect and enjoy.
It seems every person has a favorite dish and while turkey is king on the table, it is ironic that most people don’t call it their favorite dish of the meal.
It’s all the other side dishes that accompany the bird that make our mouths water. The bird seems to shine brighter when it comes to leftovers.
So what are families eating this holiday? With a quick random survey, here appears to be a collective menu.
Turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes in some form, green beans or green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, scalloped oysters, cranberries either out of a can or freshly prepared, rolls and desserts – pumpkin and pecan pie appear to be favorites.
We’ll talk turkey here and visit a few traditional sides. A word of caution to the novice cook: It takes three to four days, depending on weight, to thaw a turkey and it must be done in the refrigerator. If you are going to brine, an effective one takes six to 12 hours.
Roasted versus fried, whole turkeys versus turkey breast, Tom vs. hen or young turkey, brand names versus store brands – the options abound.
My sister doesn’t do a lot of cooking, but when it comes to Thanksgiving I will put her roasted turkey up against any – her secret, a large brown paper bag.
She buys a fresh turkey and has at times purchased organically grown ones, but repeatedly was not impressed. Our mom believed in Honeysuckle brand frozen turkeys and did not like a Tom, but Peggy prefers a fresh turkey.
Peggy does not brine her turkey, like mom. She washes it well, dries it, coats it in butter, salt and pepper and puts it into a large brown paper bag and then into a roasting pan.
It is always golden brown and moist. And that is what everyone seeks whatever their method, a juicy, succulent golden bird.
For those who have worked with him or are among his circle of friends, long-time school teacher and former County Judge Executive Bob Roach is a magnificent cook. His food is legendary among many and Bob does not mince words about cooking. He is as open and honest in his cooking as he was a Frankfort City Commissioner and judge exec.
Bob and I both agree good food does not have to be difficult to be good. It does require attention to detail.
When it comes to Thanksgiving Bob says his family demands the same menu every year – no deviations. I turned to Bob for his dressing and gravy recipes.
As exacting as he was of his students in the classroom, when Bob delivered these recipes last November he had had me repeat each ingredient. And for those who may remember I did get an ingredient wrong. There went my “A.” But this year, I’m hoping for a better score.
There are hundreds of opinions on what constitutes a good dressing – that’s what we call it.
Truthfully dressing is cooked as a side dish; stuffing is placed in the bird while it cooks. And according to a “Good Eats” segment I saw with Alton Brown it was actually during Queen Victoria’s time that the name stuffing was changed to dressing because the English thought the word stuffing was vulgar. Go figure.
At its base is bread – whether a loaf of dried white bread, Challah, French bread, day-old biscuits, cornbread or bread cubes in a bag from the grocery.
The additions to the bread include sausage, onion, celery, apple, craisins, dried cherries, chestnuts, walnuts, mushrooms, oysters – you get the idea.
Then there are the herbs and spices – fresh or dried sage, salt (kosher, sea, table), pepper (cracked, finely ground), fresh or dried parsley, thyme (fresh or dried) and poultry seasoning to name a few.
Liquid gets a little easier. Broth from a cooked turkey, broth from the cooked giblets, chicken broth, white wine, melted butter, eggs.
Bob Roach’s Dressing
Cornbread – you must make your own
Mix dry ingredients together
1 ½ cups Wiesenberger white cornmeal
1 tsp. soda, baking powder, salt
½ tsp. sugar
1 egg beaten
2 cups buttermilk
Mix wet and dry ingredients together, but not until you are ready to put it in a skillet.
Fry in flapjack style in skillet; should give you about nine pieces.
Crumble cornbread into large bowl
Add 8 pieces of good white bread like Pepperidge Farm – he doesn’t like a white bread that turns to mush when moistened. He also says there is no need to crumble the white bread as it will break down as you make the dressing.
In a skillet, place butter and sauté just until opaque, add 1 cup diced celery and ¾ cup chopped onion.
Add to bread and then add:
½ tsp. of salt and pepper
2 beaten eggs
1- 2 tsp. dried sage
Add enough chicken stock to moisten well, but since Bob’s family wants dressing balls, the mixture needs to form together. Bob says he normally has homemade chicken broth on hand – of course he does.
Mix with hands. It’s the only way Bob says he knows when the mixture is the correct consistency.
Place parchment paper inside a baking pan.
Form dressing balls. (This can be done day ahead, covered and refrigerated. This fact alone should make a cook happy.)
When you are ready to cook, place it in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
Bob says while he likes the mixture to be on the moist side when he forms the balls, his family likes the dressing balls crispy to absorb the gravy.
He also says his dressing can be doubled or tripled following the same proportions.
Now for that marvelous crowning touch, there is flavorful gravy. Bob says he likes gravy on the thin side and again our cook starts from scratch making his giblet broth.
Making the giblet broth
In a pan put three cups of water, the gizzard and the neck bone. If you double or triple this recipe, do the same with the water, but buy a package of extra turkey pieces like wings, gizzards or necks.
3 cups water
Gizzard and neck of turkey
Couple of ribs of celery
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for three hours.
Strain and retain broth; save gizzards and neck meat for gravy.
Bob says if you use the liver only add it the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Gravy – basic for the three cups of giblet broth
Mix one-fourth cup of flour into 1/3 cup of the turkey drippings as though you were beginning to make a roux.
Place the pan on medium low and let begin to warm to remove the flour flavor.
Whisk in the three cups of giblet broth and turn up heat, bringing the gravy to a boil. Add diced giblets and neck meat, if desired.
For thinner gravy, which Bob likes, merely let the mixture boil for a couple of minutes until the flavors are incorporated.
If you desire thicker gravy, add more flour in the beginning and allow to cook a bit longer.
Serve hot – a must, says Bob.
Helen’s Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a time-honored favorite of children and adults, but we always say we are making it because of the kids.
Helen Carter, of Millville, who turns 81 in January, knows about cooking. She came from a family of nine children, had four of her own and now has 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
At one point in her life she was a cook at Millville Elementary – at a time when the cafeteria actually fully prepared meals including homemade yeast rolls.
She is still cooking Thanksgiving dinner and her macaroni and cheese draws rave reviews from a friend of mine who follows her recipe.
Helen is as exacting in her recipe as is Bob. Good cooks just know when something is right.
16 ounce box of Creamette elbow macaroni, cooked
(Helen cautions the success of the recipe lies in not overcooking the macaroni. “Don’t let it get mushy. And if it does, throw it out.”)
Once you have drained the macaroni, place it in a large bowl and put in ½ stick butter – don’t use margarine – Helen’s orders.
Add a couple of cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
Add one can of Carnation milk or use whole milk, but don’t use two percent, again her orders. Also, once it is all mixed together, you will probably need to add more milk to keep it from drying out, remember you are seeking a creamy consistency.
Add one pound of Velveeta cheese cut into chunks. Can add more if you want or a different cheese. (“One time I used five different cheeses,” she said.)
Pour mixture into a buttered 9x13.
Helen reminds that her idea and apparently the idea of folks who eat her mac and cheese is that it be creamy. She admits many folks mix an egg or two with the milk for a binder, but again she goes for a creamy texture, not a custard one.
Put the dish covered into a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Then remove cover, reduce heat to 350 and sprinkle a handful of cheese over top and perhaps some paprika, she says.
Bake for another 10 minutes until cheese has melted and the dish is bubbly.
Having eaten at Helen’s table on many occasions, I can attest to the goodness of anything she prepares. On several occasions I have even gone to Helen’s early Thanksgiving morning and picked up a tray of her homemade rolls. And since she always began cooking very early, I would taste my way through her kitchen.
Now it’s time for dessert and a delicious pecan pie.
The late Jack Penn was a sheriff in Franklin County and later worked for the state department of parks. Perhaps unknown, he was a great cook.
But for those who remember him, he is best known for his sense of humor and quick quips.
I love hand-written recipes. Thanks to Jack’s daughter, Penny who lives in Oklahoma, his recipe for pecan pie is evidence that he was a good cook. But more importantly it reflects his humor when he wrote this recipe for his late nephew, H.L. (Harvey) Gaines in Florida, who was a martini drinker. Jack added some special instructions for him.
Kentucky Pecan Pie
(Jack added the Kentucky for Harvey)
1 cup white corn syrup
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs beaten
1 heaping cup of whole pecans
Combine and mix well:
Syrup, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla
Add beaten eggs and mix well
Pour into 9-inch unbaked pie shell
Sprinkle pecans over pie
Bake in a 350-degree oven for approximately 45 minutes.
(Jack’s note to Harvey: It will take three martinis getting all the ingredients together; two martinis to mix the pie; and two martinis to bake. Let cool and go feed a pup or two.)
I’ll have to admit I was stumped by the last sentence, but Penny tells me Jack had a brother who when he wanted a drink in a non-drinking household would head outside where he kept his bottle, saying he was going to feed his pup.
If Harvey followed Jack’s directions, I can’t imagine what that pie would taste like. My advice would be to make the pie and then have a martini.
Whatever, wherever and whenever your meal this Thanksgiving, it appears we relish tradition above all when it comes to this particular meal.
You may want to put something new on the table, but just be sure not to omit anything you have previously prepared. You most likely will hear about it for the next year!