Last Thanksgiving, Scott Heimendinger strapped on a pair safety goggles, told his family to stand back, and plunged his deconstructed turkey into a roasting pan of smoking hot oil.
“We had a long-time tradition of making a turducken, but we’d do it from scratch, bone all the birds ourselves,” says the 29-year-old director of applied research for modernist cuisine guru Nathan Myhrvold.
Instead of turducken — a duck inside a chicken inside a turkey — this year, Heimendinger cut his turkey into pieces, injected it with brine and cooked it in the water bath known as sous vide. The goggles and safety perimeter were for protection as he afterward seared the skin in a roasting pan of smoking hot oil. “The whole family was unanimous that this was the best turkey they’d ever had,” he says. “I fully intend to do that this year.”
Thanksgiving can be an adventurous cook’s bonanza, offering myriad ways to riff on familiar themes and traditions. New York chef Marc Forgione has been known to bone the turkey and roll it up with the stuffing inside, or to stuff the bird under the skin. And Heimendinger probably isn’t the only one cooking his turkey sous vide.
On this holiday of eating, turkey tricks and extravagant foods are all sure to impress. But chefs and cookbook writers say bowling over your guests may be easier than you think. And that it goes way beyond the cooking.
“Your table setting has to wow them,” says Rick Rodgers, author of “Thanksgiving 101” (William Morrow, 2007). “Every year I do a different table setting. … Now my guests walk in and go ‘We have to see the table!’ People take photos, and they’re Facebooking it all over.”
Rogers might use an antique ceramic turkey as the centerpiece, or gourds and pumpkins jumbled with votive candles. Half-burnt tapers in autumnal colors like orange and cream make an elegant table, just as kitschy Pilgrim candles create a festive atmosphere. Sometimes Rodgers puts a foil-covered chocolate turkey at each place, or does something as small as tying up the napkins with raffia.
“It takes two seconds and people think you’re an entertaining god,” he says.
Offering a house cocktail is another easy way to score big with little effort. Artisan hard cider with a cinnamon-stick stirrer has the fizz of Champagne but the taste of the season. Spiked punch, a cranberry kir, or a drink made with bourbon — an American spirit — can all set the mood.
“Something like that is a nice touch,” Forgione says. “Whenever you start the day or evening with a nice cocktail it lets you know this is going to be a party.”
And opulent treats don’t have to be complicated. A cocktail of colossal shrimp makes a gorgeous appetizer, Rodgers says, and a dish of caviar adds class. For the green bean salad, Forgione says, go the extra mile and boil some fresh beans.
“Always think of things you know people don’t have a lot of,” Rodgers says. “Wild mushrooms. Truffle oil. Anything that says ‘I’ve taken extra care for you.’”
Of course, if you’re a food geek like Heimendinger, you’ll want to carry the show through the end of the meal, maybe preparing a dessert in the style of the restaurant Alinea, Chicago’s mecca of modernist cuisine, where the course is plated directly on the silicon table cloth, and finished with a dramatic shattering of edible vases filled with cotton candy and other treasures.
“If you really wanted to do drama that’s what you could do,” Heimendinger says. “But even the idea of eating dessert without plates would be very cool.”
Others believe the most impressive element of the meal is something far more mundane.
“This is going to sound like such a simple thing, but don’t overcook your turkey,” Forgione says. “The turkey roulade and stuffing under the skin, we do that at the restaurant because people are coming and they’re spending a lot of money. We like to fancy it up. But if I’m at home and there are 12 or 15 people at the table, if you cook a perfectly roasted turkey, there’s something very satisfying about that.”
A dessert this great is worth the wait. A rich, creamy custard with caramelized sugar is topped with sugared rolled oats and dried cranberries that take a long bath in apple brandy.
Though the recipe comes together easily, the first step begins the day before. Just dump the dried cranberries in a bowl with the Calvados, then go on with your life.
By the time the cranberries are ready the next day, you’ve got just an hour of work left. Just be sure to let the flans cool completely before trying to unmold; they slip out of the ramekins more easily when cool.
GINGER FLAN WITH CARAMELIZED OATS AND CALVADOS CRANBERRIES
Start to finish: 24 hours (1 hour active)
For the Calvados cranberries:
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
For the caramelized oats:
3/4 cup extra-thick rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sliced fresh ginger
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
12-ounce can evaporated milk
Pinch of salt
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
In a small bowl, combine the cranberries and Calvados. Cover and let soak overnight.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium skillet over the medium-high heat, toast the oats, stirring often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and the salt, then stir until the sugar melts and turns golden brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the butter. Spoon onto the prepared baking sheet and set aside to cool.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with a kitchen towel. Have ready eight 4-ounce ramekins that will fit in the pan.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and ginger. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat off and cover. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to a near boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, salt, whole eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch.
When the cream has finished steeping, strain it into the egg mixture, discard the ginger. Stir together the eggs and cream.
In another small pan over medium, heat the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Pour a small amount of the caramel into the bottom of each ramekin, swirling to coat the bottom. Divide the custard mixture between the ramekins, then place the filled ramekins into the towel-lined pan.
Place the pan in the oven and carefully pour enough hot water from the kettle around the ramekins to come halfway up the sides, being careful not to get any water in the custards. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the custards are just set. Remove from the pan of water and let sit at room temperature until the ramekins are cool enough to handle. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, run a paring knife around the edges of the ramekins. Place a dessert plate over the top of a ramekin and invert. Lift the ramekin off the plate, allowing the custard to slide out. Spoon some of the soaked cranberries onto the plate around the custard, then top with the caramelized oats.
Nutrition information per serving: 560 calories; 200 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 23 g fat (13 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 195 mg cholesterol; 73 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 64 g sugar; 11 g protein; 150 mg sodium.
And you thought there were only two ways to cook stuffing — roasted in the bird or baked in a casserole dish.
The problem with both of those methods is that only some of the stuffing gets deliciously crisp; the rest tends to be mushy. Our solution? Don’t cook it in the oven at all.
Instead, we mix together a basic brioche, cranberry and pancetta stuffing. But instead of cooking it right away, we refrigerate it until it is firm and is easily cut. We then fry those cut pieces of stuffing on the stovetop with a bit of butter. The result is that every serving of stuffing is crisp outside and tender inside.
PAN-FRIED CRANBERRY PANCETTA STUFFING
Start to finish: 2 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
6 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped capers
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
8 cups cubed brioche
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
3 tablespoons butter, divided
Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment or waxed paper, leaving an overhang on the edges of the pan.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crispy, about 8 minutes. Add the capers and sage and continue to cook until crispy and lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the brioche and cook until lightly toasted. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a small bowl, whisk together the broth and the eggs. Stir the broth mixture and the cranberries into the brioche mixture. Spoon into the prepared pan. Press the brioche mixture to create an even layer. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Using the overhanging paper as handles, lift the stuffing in a single block from the pan and set on a cutting board. Cut the stuffing into 16 pieces.
In a large skillet over medium-high, melt half of the butter. Set 8 of the stuffing pieces into the pan and fry for 3 minutes per side, or until golden and crispy. Transfer to a plate, then repeat with remaining butter and stuffing. Finished stuffing can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven.
Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories; 140 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 120 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 17 g protein; 850 mg sodium.
These simple, yet elegant individual tarts are at once surprisingly sweet and satisfyingly savory. It’s thanks to the wonderful interplay between the naturally sweet carrots and lemon juice, and the herby thyme and sage.
The tarts also are a wonderfully refreshing way to serve carrots, which too often end up just steamed and buttered. And because these tarts are delicious warm or at room temperature, they are an easy do-ahead item. If you’d like to save a little time, you could use purchased pastry dough.
LEMON-HERB CARROT TARTS
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut up
For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and ground black pepper
2 egg yolks
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 8 individual tart pans with baking spray.
To make the crust, in a food processor combine the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to mix, then add the egg and water and pulse until incorporated. Add the butter and pulse just until a dough comes together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut circles from the dough sized to fit your tart pans. Press the circles into each pan, trimming the edges as needed. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet and set in the freezer while you make the filling.
To prepare the filling, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and boil until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the carrots, then transfer to the food processor. Add the butter and process until smooth.
Allow the carrots to cool slightly, then stir in the thyme, sage and lemon zest and juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then mix in the egg yolks. Spoon the carrot mixture into the prepared tart shells and bake, leaving the tarts on the baking sheet for ease, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden and the filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories; 140 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 115 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 6 g protein; 320 mg sodium.
A recipe can impress with its flavors without requiring endless hours of prep. This simple dish of blanched asparagus and haricots verts is a great example. The vegetables get nothing but a quick blanching in boiling water, then are dressed on a platter with olive oil, golden raisins and goat cheese. That’s it.
ASPARAGUS AND HARICOTS VERTS WITH GOAT CHEESE AND PINE NUTS
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 pound haricots verts, trimmed
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed of woody ends, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup chopped golden raisins
1/2 cup grated firm goat cheese
In a medium skillet over medium, heat the 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add the pine nuts and cook just until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the coriander and season with salt. Set aside.
Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Blanch the haricots verts in the boiling water until bright green and just tender, about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to immediately remove them to the ice water. Repeat the process with the asparagus, cooking it for 4 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks.
Drain and pat dry the vegetables, then arrange them on a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil, then top with the pine nuts, raisins and goat cheese.
Nutrition information per serving: 180 calories; 90 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 17 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 6 g protein; 160 mg sodium.
Want to truly elevate your mashed potatoes? Make them with your own butter and buttermilk.
The process is ridiculously simple. After culturing heavy cream, you run it through a food processor for several minutes until it separates into the solid fat (the butter) and the liquid (the buttermilk). If you have excess buttermilk, refrigerate it and use it to make pancakes the next day.
HANDMADE MUSTARD BUTTER AND BUTTERMILK MASHED POTATOES
Start to finish: 25 hours (1 hour active)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh buttermilk with live cultures
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
4 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and halved
In a clean 2-cup liquid measuring cup, combine the cream and buttermilk. Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
To make the butter and buttermilk, place the cream mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Process on high. The mixture will initially thicken into a whipped cream, then it will separate into a liquid and solid. This process can take several minutes of processing, so be patient.
Once the mixture has separated into a solid (the butter) and a white liquid (the buttermilk), set a strainer over a bowl and pour the mixture through it. Set aside the bowl of buttermilk.
Fill a medium bowl with ice water and place the butter in it. Use your hands to gently knead the mixture together to create a large lump of butter. Remove the butter from the water and add fresh ice water to the bowl. Repeat the kneading process until the water is clear. Remove the butter from the water and set aside in a clean, dry bowl.
With a mortar and pestle, crust the brown and yellow mustard seeds. Stir the crushed seeds into the butter. Taste and season the butter with salt. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the potatoes in a large pot, then add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Salt the water, then bring to a boil. Cook until tender when pierced with a fork, then drain and transfer to a sheet pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
Using a food mill or a ricer, process the potatoes into a large bowl. Stir in 3/4 cup of the reserved buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the mustard butter and salt, to taste. Serve with additional mustard butter on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 390 calories; 210 calories from fat (54 percent of total calories); 23 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 85 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 7 g protein; 270 mg sodium.
In many ways, turkey is a bit of a blank slate when it comes to flavor. And that means you pretty much get out of it what you put in it.
So we decided to stack the deck in favor of flavor with this recipe. We combined a potent blend of savory ingredients to add tons of flavor to the turkey, but won’t require tons of work. Using a spice grinder, we pulverize a blend of dried porcini mushrooms, thyme, smoked paprika and black pepper to create a delicious dry rub.
But before we add the dry rub, first we douse the bird with savory, salty soy sauce. This not only helps flavor the bird, it also gives it a wonderful bronze color.
PORCINI-SOY TURKEY WITH SHALLOT-TRUFFLE GRAVY
Start to finish: 2 1/2 to 3 hours
Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus extra
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 medium carrots, roughly chopped
4 large onions, roughly chopped
12- to 14-pound turkey
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1/2 cup white wine
2 medium shallots, chopped
2 cups no-salt turkey stock
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Truffle oil, to taste
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a spice grinder, combine the dried porcini, thyme, paprika and black pepper. Grind until finely powdered, then set aside,
In a large roasting pan, arrange the celery, carrots and onions in an even layer. Use paper towels to pat dry the turkey, then set it over the vegetables in the pan. Pour the soy sauce all over the turkey, being sure to coat both sides and pour some into the cavity. Reserve 1/4 cup of the porcini seasoning mixture, then rub the remainder all over the turkey.
Turn the turkey so it is breast side down on the vegetables. Roast for 1 1/2 hours, then turn the turkey over to be breast side up. Sprinkle the reserved porcini seasoning over the turkey, then return it to the oven and roast for another 30 to 60 minutes, or until the thigh meat reaches 170 degrees and the breast reaches 160 degrees. If the turkey begins to brown more than desired, tent the top with foil.
When the turkey is cooked, transfer it to a serving platter. Cover it with foil and several bath towels to keep it warm.
Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the vegetables from the roasting pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Once the juices in the pan begin to simmer, add the wine and scrape any browned bits up from the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and cook until tender.
In a small bowl, whisk together the turkey stock and flour until smooth. While whisking continuously, add the flour-stock mixture to the roasting pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper and a bit of truffle oil. Serve the gravy alongside the turkey.
Nutrition information per serving: 440 calories; 170 calories from fat (39 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 185 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 58 g protein; 760 mg sodium.