Of all the things that taste better the next day — Grandma Jody’s chicken, pasta with Bolognese — I think maybe Shepherd’s Pie is right up there on my list. At least part of the reason for this is because some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in front of my best friend’s fridge, eating forkfuls of the pie’s spice-spiked meat straight from the dish. But most of the reason? Well, what’s there not to love about something smothered in a crust of mashed potatoes? (Boy I’m picking up a theme this week.) I’ve never actually made a real Shepherd’s Pie — the closest I’ve come are these miniature cheater’s version, cobbled together from everything left over on Thanksgiving. (Of course Shepherd’s Pie was invented to use up leftovers, like all the best recipes, so technically it’s in fact the opposite of cheating.) I heat up a little shallot in olive oil then add whatever I’ve got stored the tupperware bins (including those bacon bits hangin’ around the brussels sprouts). Once the filling is heated through, I spoon it into ramekins and spread reheated mashed potatoes on top. I don’t even bother baking the pies, but if you’re after a more crusty topping, skip the reheating of the potatoes and bake at 375° for about 20 minutes, sprinkled with some shredded cheese if you’re feeling decadent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the kids for Friday lunch.
Is there anything better than leftovers? Man, I could eat this screen right now. What leftover moves do you have in your Thanksgiving arsenals? Would love to know.
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One night last week, Jenny and I were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, and Phoebe was sitting at the table, finishing her homework, surrounded by the contents of her scoliosis-inducing backpack. As Jenny checked Instagram and I scrubbed a pan of rice, talk turned to Thanksgiving — and our total lack of planning for it thus far. The way it usually works around here, Thanksgiving-wise, is that Jenny’s mom provides the turkey and the Jell-O chocolate pudding pie, and we are (happily) responsible for everything else: i.e., pan-roasted Brussels, cauliflower with anchovy breadcrumbs, three pepper cornbread stuffing, and mashed potatoes. “I assume we’re just making the usual?” I said.
“Actually,” Jenny said, “I was kind of thinking we should try scalloped potatoes this year instead of mashed.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s radical.”
“I’ve had a total craving ever since Todd mentioned that he made them recently. How good are scalloped potatoes?”
At this point, Phoebe’s pencil stopped moving. You should have seen the look on her face. It was like she’d just overheard us say we we’re going to give the dog away. “Wait, wait, wait,” she said. “You guys are joking, right?”
Phoebe, it should be noted, is a true creature of comfort. The stuff she likes, she really likes. Her bed, for instance, with its disintegrating quilt. Her house. Her little chair in her reading nook. Her Tintin collection. Her water-damaged Timex watch. Her pair of jeggings with the hole in the right knee. Her mashed potatoes. God, the kid loves mashed potatoes.
“Please,” she said. “It’s Thanksgiving. How can we not have mashed potatoes?”
Fast forward to the next day. I am at work and, in my building, there is an hour-long panel talk going on between Sam Sifton (author of Thanksgving: How to Cook it Well) and Gabrielle Hamilton, superstar chef and author of Prune. They talk about the beauty (and difficulty) of the three-ingredient recipe, the perfect temperature of butter when smeared on fresh radishes (waxy, never oily, and sprinkled with sea salt), and how they feed their kids (at this stage, Gabrielle says, her goal is simply caloric intake), and when they’re done, they take questions from the audience. First question: How do you guys feel about a traditional Thanksgiving? Pro or con?
Sam, after pointing out that felt obligated to answer first since, as he noted, he “literally wrote the book on Thanksgiving,” said he believed in tradition, and in Thanksgiving as the Great American Secular Holiday — it was pretty stirring, I have to say — and one that should be properly celebrated as such. How many times a year, he asked, do you eat a turkey? Are you sick of turkey or something? Gabrielle agreed, and launched into this beautiful paean to the familiar smells and tastes of the Thanksgiving table, and talked about how there is no night she looks forward to more at the restaurant — where, after the place clears out and the customers have all gone home, the staff gathers for their “family meal,” with all the fixings. The point was, however you celebrate it, and whoever you celebrate it with, tradition matters.
So it was decided. We would make the scalloped potatoes this weekend, when the stakes were low, and Phoebe would make the call: yea or nay. And this is what she sent me, via text, upon being asked her where she stood, when all was said and done: “Though your new potato dish is good,” she wrote, “in no way does it live up to the greatness of mashed potatoes, and I DO NOT permit you to serve these potatoes in mashed potatoes’ stead. The end.” So we’ll be eating these again soon, but not for Thanksgiving. At least not this year. – Andy
Scalloped Potatoes for Thanksgiving or Otherwise
From Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, by Sam Sifton
Note: I baked them in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, so upped the quantity on the milk/cream mixture a bit. The important thing is the instruction to make sure the milk comes “almost to the top” of the layered potatoes.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 large garlic clove, peeled, smashed, and minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and ground white pepper, or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, sliced thin, and kept in a bowl of cold water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 425. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan and bring to almost a boil. Remove from heat and add garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Lightly butter a 9-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch casserole with half the butter. Drain the potatoes and dry them lightly, then layer half of them in the dish so that they overlap slightly. Add half the milk, pouring it all over the potatoes. Layer the remainder of the potatoes in the dish, then add the rest of the milk so that it comes almost to their top.
Top with dots of the rest of the butter and place in the upper third of the oven until the potatoes are browned and the milk has been absorbed, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve in its container.
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Last year, we devoted a lot of blog space to Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton. And since we’re editors and writers, supposedly on the pulse of what the lastest, greatest, trendiest everything is, we should probably be featuring this year’s of-the-moment holiday cookbook. But here’s the thing: “trendy” and “of-the-moment” are not words that should EVER EVER EVER be in the same sentence as “Thanksgiving,” and we stand by our claim that Sam Sifton’s timeless, authoritative, delicious guide to our country’s greatest holiday is The Only Thanksgiving Recipe Collection You Will Ever Need. (Outside of your grandmother’s recipe box, of course — we don’t want to get anyone in trouble here). As such, we launch our “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” with a bountiful giveaway: In the next 48 hours, five readers are eligible to win a free copy of Sifton’s Thanksgiving, and five more are eligible to have a free copy sent to whoever is cooking/hosting the feast… as a little pre-holiday pump-up and thank-you-in-advance. That’s TEN COPIES WE ARE GIVING AWAY. All you have to do is leave a comment below (we wouldn’t complain if this comment included a Thanksgiving tip) and tell me which one you are: #Host or #Guest.
Update: All winners have been notified. Congrats Josh, Betsy, Candice, Eva, Molly, Susan, Colleen F, L, Divya, Memegirl and to everyone else thanks for playing!
Related: Sam Sifton’s 1o Laws of Thanksgiving.
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As you might have gathered from Monday’s post, Sam Sifton is a man with opinions. (If you couldn’t already tell that from the subtitle of his book.) When it comes to food, opinions are good — but smart opinions are even better. We think Sam has smart opinions, and he was kind enough to take some time to share some of them with us. Here is Part One of his interview. (Part Two will appear next week: Three things you can do ahead of time to make the big day a lot less stressful.)
Andy: What is your policy on appetizers before the big meal? Do they belong, and if so, when should they appear?
Sam: I did not sit in my kitchen on Saturday night making lists, and deal with brining a bird on Monday night, and bake pies on Tuesday night, and spend all of Thursday cooking turkey, sides and gravy, then set a table appropriate to presidents and kings, so that you could come into my house and eat a pound and a half of nuts and guacamole before sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast.
I am an absolutist on this front. There is no place for an appetizer course in a proper Thanksgiving meal. You can serve oysters, because as Liebling knew, oysters don’t take up any space in the stomach. And you can serve a bisque because my father did, or you can serve whatever dish it is that you have always served in your family in advance of the meal. I am not here to tell you your traditions are wrong. They are never wrong. But really there is no need to serve an appetizer course. The scent of a roasting turkey is a good appetizer. On Thanksgiving, it is the best appetizer of all. But nuts? Cheese? A wee salad with dried cranberries and goat cheese? No. These waste valuable stomach space, not to mention forks and plates. They should be avoided.
What’s the single most important culinary element of the meal?
Bounty. That bird should be bigger than you need. There should be at least three, and ideally five, side dishes. There should be rivers of gravy and mountains of dressing. Pies should be visible in the distance, on sideboards, many of them. Bounty is at the essence of of cooking Thanksgiving well.
How do you add soul, or meaning, to the meal? I often find that, by the time we all sit down, with the kids and the dogs and all the chaos, with the food going cold, we never find that moment to stop and give thanks. How do you make that happen?
You stop the meal. You can’t surrender to chaos. You have to punch up through it and settle everyone down. Soul won’t just show up, after all. Meaning is not inherent to turkey, or yams. It needs to be summoned. Just wait for the moment when everyone, finally, is settling into their seats, and the dogs finding their place under the table. Stand up and tap a glass with a knife or simply raise a glass in your hand and keep it up there until everyone notices and stops talking. And then say, simply and with no apology, that you would like to give thanks.
I’ve been at Thanksgivings where everyone at the table has to stand and offer thanks for something that has happened over the course of the year. You do not need to do that. (In fact, please don’t.) But the host — or the person who has brought you all together — really should acknowledge, however briefly, the real purpose of the day. It is why you are here.
To whom or to what you give thanks is a personal choice. It might be a higher power, or the fact of the harvest. It could be simply the presence of your family and friends. It could be health or safety in the wake of this horrifying storm the east coast has just been through. It could be to those who made you, or made you possible. But to whomever or whatever, give thanks. Simply by its utterance, Thanksgiving provides the meal with a moment of grace. Look around the table now, into the eyes of everyone assembled. You see? That is what we’re looking for in this feast, ultimately: A moment of grace, born of Thanksgiving. Don’t forget that. It matters.
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This has already been quite a month for Sam Sifton. In addition to being the national editor of The New York Times – and helping run the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy, and the presidential election, and whatever other ever-changing, constantly-unfolding news story that pops up in the meantime – he is also a food columnist for the Sunday Magazine, the newspaper’s former restaurant critic, a recovered short-order cook, a husband, a father of two young girls… and, luckily for us, the author of a just-published book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of editing this book, which means I had the pleasure of reading it several times and, best of all, cooking from it last year, as it was taking shape. Jenny and I love this book (in Jenny’s words – and you can trust her on this stuff – “This feels like the only Thanksgiving book I’ll ever need.”). We love the simplicity of it (130 pages, 50 traditional recipes), the authority of it (do this, not that), the timelessness of it (real cornbread stuffing, butternut squash with sage). It’s so beautifully written, too. If I lived in Glasgow, had never laid eyes on a turkey, and cared not two whits about Thanksgiving, I could pick this up and enjoy myself. Most of all, we love the message buried within: Thanksgiving does not have to be a source of stress. We should cherish it, and aim to make it great. There aren’t many national secular holidays, after all, so let’s get a big group together and dig in, American-style. In Sam’s honor, DALS hereby dedicates this week to his book, beginning here with ten inviolable rules for the big day. We’ll follow it with more advice and a recipe or two, so stay tuned. And give thanks! – Andy
10 Laws of Thanksgiving Dinner
by Sam Sifton
1. Let me speak plainly: you are going to need a lot of butter. Thanksgiving is not a day for diets, or for worrying about your cholesterol. It is a day on which we celebrate the delicious. And there is precious little on a Thanksgiving menu that is not made more delicious by butter. (Note: It should be unsalted butter. There is something magical about a piece of toast with salted butter. But for Thanksgiving, you want the unsalted variety, so that it is you, and not the butter maker, who is in control of the saltiness of your cooking. Figure at least two pounds for the day.)
2. Thanksgiving is a holiday that anchors itself in tradition. Which means: You should make turkey. Turkey is why you are here.
3. I’ll risk starting a brushfire by saying with great confidence that the two most important factors in any credible Thanksgiving feast are the cranberry sauce and the gravy. Debate that all you like. But they tie every element on the plate together, acting as frame and foundation alike. Cranberry sauce only enhances what is already excellent, and good gravy can cure almost any Thanksgiving ill.
4. You can make mashed potatoes lumpy with a fork or a masher device, or smooth with a food mill or stand mixer. And of course you can make them without peeling the potatoes, if your scrub the skins well. This makes for an attractive, rustic-looking dish. Indeed, the only trouble that should ever present itself when the subject comes to mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving is should someone demand that garlic or basil be added to the mix. Your response to this heresy should be brief and unequivocal: No. There is no place in the holiday for a mixture of garlic and potatoes, much less basil and potatoes. The flavors clash with the turkey and other sides. No.
5. Start serving drinks the minutes your guests arrive, no matter the hour. Thanksgiving is not a time to judge.
6. When hosting, do not be afraid to delegate.
7. Dessert need not be extravagant. It absolutely should not be experimental or overly cute. It must not involve individual tartlets or parfaits, nor marshmallows in any form. Save the chocolate for nights of depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same. These represent Thanksgiving’s highest achievement. They are an explanation of American exceptionalism, in pastry form.
8. There is no “right” wine for Thanksgiving, no must-have grape or vintage, cocktail or spirit. Nor is there a “wrong” one, though I’d stay away from the low-end fortified stuff unless you are in a boxcar, hurtling west. What you want is a variety of grapes and vintages. Encourage guests to bring wines that interest them, wines that they would like others to try. Additionally, lay in some specialty items: beer for your uncle who only drinks Bud; nonalcoholic sparkling cider for the children; and plenty of Diet Cokes and ashtrays for those who no longer drink.
9. If you find yourself as a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving, there is no finer gift to bring than a pie and a bottle of brown liquor.
10. As everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention, and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. It is the point of the entire exercise. William Jennings Bryan wrote, “On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” I think that’s just about right.
Illustrations by Sarah Rutherford.
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Proposed Chocolate Pudding Pie (From Scratch)*
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 packages honey graham crackers (total: 2 1/4 cups) until they resemble fine crumbs. Add 5 tablespoons sugar and 10 tablespoons melted butter (unsalted) and pulse to combine. Using your fingers, press the mixture into a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Make this chocolate pudding, then pour into prepared crust. Chill for at least 3 hours (and up to 24) and top with freshly whipped cream.
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Tags:chocolate pudding pie·thanksgiving·thanksgiving politics·thanksgiving tradition
Sometimes it feels like all I accomplish in a single day is quenching my childrens’ thirst. Is it like this in your house? Is it a national emergency when you forget a freshly filled Sigg bottle for the hour-long road trip? Do you find yourself filling and refilling sippy cups and drinking glasses and thermoses all day long to the earsplitting chorus of Mom! I’m Thirsty!? Unless it’s mealtime, at which point I always forget (always!) to set out the drinks or have one of the kids do it for us until the moment I collapse my tired body into a dinner table chair. My friend Lori, with whom I worked on the Real Simple Dinner Doula story, said that the single best piece of advice I ever gave her about family dinner was to get the kids’ drinks on the table before doing any cooking. The task was just annoying and afterthought-y enough to set the wrong tone for the meal she worked so hard to get on the table. I will take this so-stupid-it’s-smart tip one step further: When you are entertaining, fill the water glasses and sippy cups before the first doorbell ringing. Then you won’t have to root around matching lids to cups for the 2-year-old at the very moment the sauce is treading the fine line between deglazing and disappearing.
Speaking of thirsty guests. I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a few wine suggestions for the grown-ups. These come from Andy, who doesn’t claim to know much about wine, but enjoys drinking it*. Probably best to go with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a hardier Rose — if you are serving traditional Thanksgiving fare. Prices are approximate and based mostly on current prices at wine.com and our local wine store.
Louis Jadot ($15); La Crema ($19), Norton Ridge ($20), Simi ($22); Talley ($25-$30), Neyers ($25-$30); Off-the-Chain Options: Ramey ($40+), Kistler ($50+)
Castle Rock ($12), Norton Ridge ($19), Veranda ($15-$20); Bouchaine ($25-$30); Off-the-Chain Option: Schoolhouse ($65+), Paul Hobbs ($75+)
Muga ($15-$20), Tavel Chateau De Trinquevedel ($18-20)
Illustration is by Jessica Zadnik, who also drew the cool pix for the cookbook, and the DALS’ official Picky Eater Taxonomy.
*Andy actually does know a lot about wine. He logged into this post when I wasn’t looking and added that sentence thinking I might not notice.
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Tags:cocktails·drinking in front of kids·thanksgiving·thanksgiving wine
Growing up, the stuffing of choice at our Thanksgiving table was always Stovetop. I remember looking at a forkful of it when I was in high school and wondering “What is stuffing? What is in there?” But it tasted so salty and herby, that I certainly didn’t question it for more than a second. (Plus, this is the 80s we’re talking about here, so in general no one was really questioning anything about the food they were putting in their mouths — at least not in my corner of the world.) But once I was a grown-up and responsible for things like mortgage payments and Thanksgiving side dishes, it occurred to me that stuffing was maybe something I could try to make from scratch, so I went in search of a recipe that could deliver on my (admittedly modest) Stovetop-ian expectations. I found it two Thanksgivings ago with this Martha Stewart recipe. It was the perfect Starter Stuffing. Basic, easy, nothing fancy, seemingly begging for personalizing and riffing. I am throwing apples and sausage in it this year and hoping for the best.
Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat half a stick of butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 2 small onions (chopped), 6 stalks celery (chopped), salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Add 1 pound assorted mushrooms (quartered). Cover and cook until they release their liquid, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and cook another 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. While it cools, cook 2 links sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) in the same skillet over medium heat, breaking up meat with a fork.
Once meat is cooked, add to the onion mixture in the bowl, along with 2 loaves of Italian bread (in pieces, about 12-16 cups total), a 15-ounce can of chicken or vegetable broth, 1 bunch parsely (chopped), 3 eggs (lightly beaten), and 1 apple (peeled, chopped into chunks). Add mixture to a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil; bake until golden, about 20 more minutes.
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Tags:holiday side dishes·sausage and apple stuffing recipe·thanksgiving·thanksgiving sides