Dieselboy is a veteran DJ and seasoned world traveler who has a healthy obsession with food, cocktails, and cooking. Track his globe-trotting food adventures here at First We Feast, and follow him on Twitter: @DJDieselboy.
For most people, preparing and cooking the Thanksgiving meal is something better left in the capable hands of mothers and grandmothers. It can be a daunting task, especially considering that lots of people tend to show up, and you usually need to prepare more individual dishes than you’re used to. But the reality is, it isn’t that difficult to prepare a mouth-watering menu that people want to eat.
For the last five years, I have taken on the role of “Thanksgiving Chef” and it has been a rewarding experience. Full disclosure: I like to cook. But even if you have only a basic understanding of cooking, creating a great Thanksgiving experience isn’t that difficult. This year I tried to step up my game by planning out my menu with some creative tweaks. Below is what I am planning on making, and how I was inspired to create these dishes. So without further ado, let me pull back the curtain and reveal my “secrets”…
- Relish Tray
- Parsnip + Pear Soup with Vanilla Almond Oil
While you’re busy in the kitchen, your guests will want something to snack on. A relish tray or cheese-and-meat selection is an easy play because it requires no cooking. I am adding a soup this year because I want to offer a hot option and because, frankly, this soup looks pretty baller. I saw the recipe in last week’s New York Magazine and looked it up online. Thank you, chef Daniel Humm, for this one.
- Herb-Butter Turkey
- Honey Baked Ham with Red Pepper Jelly
Turkey can fuck up your game, as I have learned on more than one occasion—don’t let it fuck up yours. I spent some time online this week doing my homework on sites like Serious Eats, Food Network, Food & Wine, Epicurious, etc. Everyone has an opinion on how to cook a turkey. I saw an article on Serious Eats from Kenji Alt-Lopez, one of my favorite food writers. This guy scientifically figures out the best ways to cook stuff. Last week, he posted an article claiming that salting your turkey the night before Thanksgiving is better than brining (letting the turkey soak in a solution of water, salt, sugar, and seasonings). I then dug around and found a recipe from Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame that had high reviews. So now I am going to do what I always do—combine two ideas from two different recipes to make a new version. I am going to salt my turkey and then use Tom’s recipe to cook the bird. The recipe is not difficult; it’s just a matter of following directions. (I cook turkey once a year so I need all the help I can get.)
For the ham, I am having my cousin grab one from Honey Baked Ham. The red-pepper jelly is from a recipe in the new issue of Food & Wine magazine. That’s a big tip right there: Either pick up the Thanksgiving issues of food magazines for ideas or, if you’re cheap, head over to the magazine’s websites and look around for inspiration recipes. There are plenty.
Hit the next page to get your condiment and sides game strong…
Condiments and sides
- Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Sauce
I got my recipe watching Bobby Flay cook on a Thanksgiving episode of Iron Chef America three or four years ago. There was no recipe posted, I just eyeballed what he was doing. Recently, I saw Michael Symon make what looked suspiciously like a version of that same sauce on a cooking show. I am co-opting his recipe that I found online and adding maple syrup and jalapeño to match the Bobby Flay version.
- Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
I saw this recipe in Food & Wine a few years ago. I Googled “brown butter mashed potatoes” and found it again.
- Apple Cider Gravy
I once saw Anne Burrell cook this on cooking show. Once again, Google to the rescue.
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Rum Dulce De Leche and Hot Pecans
Roasting sweet potatoes is as easy as peeling and cutting them up, and then tossing them with oil and putting them in a hot oven for 45 minutes. This year I wanted to kick it up a notch and instead of going the marshmallow route, I am making my own dulce de leche. It’s dead easy to make with a little help from Google. I’ll heat it up on the stove and add rum for extra excitement. Then I’ll toss some pecans with sugar, spices, and cayenne pepper and toast that all in the oven. I think the combination of the hot pecans and the dulce de leche will make an awesome dish.
- Thyme-Roasted Carrots with Honey Crème Fraîche
Roasting carrots is as easy as roasting sweet potatoes, you just cook them for less time. Throw in a few thyme sprigs. Honey always works with carrots and crème fraîche adds a nice tang (plus, it looks fancy on a menu). I saw a recipe for whipped bourbon crème fraîche, and I am going to borrow the “whipped” idea from it.
- Brussel Sprouts with Apples and Walnut Vinaigrette
Here is an example of something I do all the time with my cooking. I take elements or ideas from different recipes and form them like Voltron to make something more “unique.” I recently saw an article on Serious Eats from Kenji-Alt Lopez about frying Brussels sprouts. It’s supposed to be extra delicious so I am going to try them this way and use his basic recipe. Adding apples is a good way to bring some holiday flavor to the dish, and it’s as easy as dicing up a few and cooking them briefly with brown sugar and butter. I saw Michael Symon prepare Brussels sprouts with a walnut vinaigrette, bacon, and mustard on his TV show, Symon’s Suppers. Figured I would jack the walnut vinaigrette for my dish. My bad.
- Roasted Asparagus with Spicy Breadcrumbs
Roasting asparagus is as easy as roasting the carrots and sweet potatoes. Cook them until they look done (15–20 minutes). To be honest, I’m not sure what the breadcrumbs will taste like—I saw a recipe in the new issue of Food & Wine for broccoli with spicy breadcrumbs, so I thought I would use that idea for asparagus. A few days ago I had a beet dish in a restaurant that came with grated horseradish. So now I’m thinking I might do a grated horseradish with toasted panko breadcrumbs sort of thing. Inspiration always seems to come from everywhere.
Stuffings, salad, and bread
- Sourdough Bread, Cherries, Goat Cheese, Toasted Hazlenuts, and Rosemary
- Pumpkin Cornbread, Sausage, Wild Rice, Chestnut, and Chile
More recipe remixing: I saw Michael Symon make a dressing that was cornbread, sausage, wild rice, and some other stuff. I am using his base recipe for both dressings but adding ingredients that I think will taste good together. I also saw a recipe for pumpkin cornbread on Serious Eats a couple days ago, so I figured I would use it in this dressing. It sounds awesome. I got the idea for the sourdough dressing flavors from an old article in some food magazine. I ended up adding a few of my own flavors.
- Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Dried Cranberry, and Pecorino
My girl ate this salad somewhere and lifted the idea.
- Parker House Rolls with Old Bay and Smoked Cheddar
I saw a recipe in the new issue of Bon Appétit for Parker House rolls. They looked damn good and I was planning on making them. Then I saw this recipe in the December issue of Food & Wine and knew I had to step my game up. Big up my boy Jonathan Sawyer at Greenhouse Tavern for this one.
- Caramel Popcorn + White Chocolate + Pear Cheesecake Trifle
- Salt Chocolate Pecan Pie
- Blueberry + Pineapple Gelee with Homemade Vanilla Crema
- Glazed Ginger Cake
Ah, dessert. This year I wanted to think outside the box and not do the typical pumpkin pie/apple pie thing. So again, I turned to recent issues of food magazines and found the trifle and pie. I am going to use the original recipe for the pie untouched, but for the trifle I am adding my own flourishes with melted white chocolate and a garnish of caramel popcorn. The gelee is my attempt to update my mom’s classic dessert of canned fruit, Jello, vanilla extract, and sour cream. This time we are going to upgrade to fresh fruit, fresh juice, vanilla bean, and home made crema. Still super easy to make. The glazed ginger cake was a last minute addition from a recipe I saw on the blog Ideas In Food yesterday. The picture looked good, so why the hell not?
So there you have it. Most of the ideas and recipes here came from looking at food magazines and major food websites, or just thinking about what would taste good, Googling some basic recipes, and adding to them. Nothing in here is really all that challenging, cooking-wise. As long as you take a little bit of time to get your recipes together and figure out when you need to start cooking each dish, a dinner of this caliber isn’t impossible. The only thing to remember is that the more dishes you want to make, the more room you will need to have in the kitchen and the more time it will take to prep everything. Personally, I have no qualms about getting my mom and other family members to help out with the menial stuff. It’s the holidays after all.