Two new cookbooks offer to hold your hand for the Thanksgiving holiday

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Thanksgiving is a big holiday, involving food, family (maybe new in-laws), sometimes football and -- always -- sky-high expectations.

There also can be drama and disaster. Pies can slip off counters. Turkeys can still be frozen as they're poised to go into the oven. Power can go out. Family and guests won't stay out of the kitchen. While these mishaps may make the holiday unforgettable, they are not the memories the meal-maker may desire.

I think we all need a little help to successfully pull off a beautifully organized, delicious meal. Assistance is on the way in the form of two slender new cookbooks with the holiday as their theme.

From The New York Times' national news editor and former food critic we have Sam Sifton's "Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well." From Fine Cooking magazine's editors and contributors, there is the "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook: Recipes for Turkey and All the Trimmings."

Both books begin by acknowledging that the holiday is a big job that requires planning and good old-fashioned hard work. Their aim is to get you through it in style. And, hopefully, in good cheer.

"Thanksgiving is not easy," Mr. Sifton writes. "I can help."

The best way to get to know a cookbook is to take it into the kitchen for a test drive. I've cooked with both of these and I have my quibbles and questions. Besides the similar subject, they are quite different. Mr. Sifton's book is personal, opinionated, funny and more limited in recipes than the "Fine Cooking" volume, which includes a collection of stellar recipes from the magazine and helpful text. It won't make you chuckle as much, but the advice is solid.

Mr. Sifton is promoting a classic all-American Thanksgiving. He maintains that this is not the time for hot new recipes, the latest trend, radically different ideas or things like edible flowers. Or salad. Or a little anything to munch on before the meal. As he puts it, "appetizers take up valuable stomach space."

He feels strongly that Thanksgiving is too important a meal to cut corners. No pre-made gravy or ready-rolled pie crusts. At Thanksgiving, he writes, "We are simply going to cook."

I like his voice and his confidence. I like his firm stance on using seasonal vegetables for sides (squash and tubers). I applaud his mashed potatoes soapbox -- no garlic, no basil, "The flavors clash with the turkey and the other sides." I think I would have liked his Fresh Bread Dressing more if I'd used a better-quality, firmer bread.

I loved his pumpkin pie recipe, which for various reasons (don't freeze canned pumpkin, and why does dry mustard look just like ground ginger?), I ended up making (deliciously) with roast Hubbard squash. But I don't understand why his recipes have no yields and I would prefer a few make-ahead tips. I do second his ideas about making a traditional dessert ("Focus on the proper execution of the American classics: apple pie, for instance, with a mound of whipped cream, or pumpkin pie with same."), except I would also make Fine Cooking's Espresso Gingerbread Cake. It's one great cake.

Fine Cooking's recipe collection spans a wider range of items and each recipe includes a very useful make-ahead tip, which I feel is essential to help cooks pull off the feast. The book also includes the dreaded (to Mr. Sifton) appetizers. I agree that you really don't want to serve anything beforehand. But people do and it's their choice and this book gives a lovely selection.

Both books explain what it means when a turkey is labeled kosher, free-range, heritage or organic. Both love gravy and both offer different turkey cooking techniques and recipes. And advice. From Sam Sifton: If you're frying a turkey, please wear shoes.

I was intrigued by Fine Cooking's Smoked Paprika and Fennel Seed Roast Turkey with Onion Gravy. I plan to make Fine Cooking contributor Molly Steven's Sauerkraut and Rye Bread Stuffing, but I think I'd like it with sausages. And I agree with both these books that really, sometimes, the best parts of Thanksgiving are the leftovers. Especially that turkey frame. Don't throw it out. It's the backbone (literally) of many a fine dish.

Fine Cooking contributor Jennifer McLagan offers a Roasted Turkey Stock made with the turkey frame. She transforms the roasted stock into a light soothing soup with ginger, lemon and mint. In his leftover section, Mr. Sifton includes A Proper Turkey Sandwich, spread with leftover cranberry sauce and mayonnaise -- yum -- along with Turkey a la King.

My vote goes to the Turkey Gumbo in "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well." The recipe is based on one from Pableux Johnson, a New Orleans food writer. On the day after Thanksgiving, he drives around collecting friend's leftover turkey bones and then invites the neighborhood for his gumbo. I bet it's great with leftover pumpkin pie.

Classic Roasted Potatoes

PG tested

The editors advise that this recipe easily can be doubled, but divide the potatoes into 2 pans. You could roast them a couple hours before serving, leaving for the last minute the lemon juice and tender herbs. Keep them at room temperature, loosely wrapped with foil. Reheat in a 375-degree oven, maybe drizzling with a bit more oil so they don't dry out. Finish with the lemon and herbs. The potatoes won't be quite as crisp, but they'll still be delicious.

-- Miriam Rubin

  • 2 pounds waxy potatoes, left whole if very small, halved or cut into chunks if large
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, melted butter or duck fat
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh tender herbs (choose from parsley, chives, chervil, dill and mint)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (I used half a very juicy large lemon)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread potatoes in single layer in medium roasting pan or on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, season with thyme or rosemary, salt and pepper; toss to coat well. Roast, tossing with metal spatula a few times to prevent sticking, until potatoes are very tender throughout and skins are somewhat shriveled and crisp, 50 to 60 minutes.

Toss potatoes with chopped tender herbs and drizzle with lemon juice. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook: Recipes for Turkey and All the Trimmings" by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, 2012, $12.95)

Creamed Brussels Sprouts

PG tested

"Thanksgiving is not a day to consider healthful eating," writes Sam Sifton. "This dish explains why, in a pool of thick milk and cream that is used as a kind of braising liquid and glaze combined, with bacon providing a hit of salt and smoke against the sweet of the sprouts."

-- Miriam Rubin

  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed, with X scored in bottom (cut larger ones in half)
  • 3 thick slices slab bacon or guanciale, diced
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add sprouts and cook, uncovered, 5 to 7 minutes, until nearly tender. Drain and run under cold water or place in large ice bath.

Heat large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon or guanciale and allow fat to render, stirring often. In separate small saucepan (or microwave) heat cream, adding to it the salt (use smaller amount first, depending on saltiness of bacon), pepper and nutmeg.

When meat is almost crispy, add sprouts and toss to coat with fat. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, then add seasoned cream. Reduce heat and cook a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until sauce is slightly thickened. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-- Adapted from "Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well" by Sam Sifton (Random House, 2012, $18)

Cranberry Sauce with Orange and Rosemary

PG tested

Make a day or two ahead. Since I love tart things, I found this a touch sweet. When I make it again, I would use 2 tablespoons less sugar. Don't let that deter you. This recipe is a winner, with bright flavors and a twist of rosemary.

-- Miriam Rubin

  • 12-ounce bag cranberries, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I would use a bit less)
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Stir cranberries, sugar, orange juice and rosemary in large heavy saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 1 minute. (Some berries will have popped and some will remain whole.) Remove from heat and stir in zest. Cover and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 6 to 8 servings, about 2 1/2 cups.

-- Adapted from "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook: Recipes for Turkey and All the Trimmings" by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, 2012, $12.95)

Espresso Gingerbread Cake

PG tested

This was outstanding. Bake it up to a week ahead but don't glaze it. Keep it well wrapped at room temp or in the freezer. Glaze the cake the day you plan to serve it.

-- Miriam Rubin

  • 1/2 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/2 cup very strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled just to warm
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • Espresso Glaze (below)

Position one rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan. Tap out excess flour

In liquid measuring cup, whisk molasses and coffee. In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, espresso powder and spices.

In electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until creamy and smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. One at a time, beat in whole eggs and yolks, stopping to scrape bowl after each. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour and coffee mixtures, beginning and ending with flour. Stop mixer at least one last time to scrape bowl, then beat batter at medium speed until smooth, about 20 seconds.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly with rubber spatula. Tap pan lightly on counter to remove air pockets. Bake until cake just starts to shrink from sides and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes. Loosen sides and turn out cake onto rack. Cool until just warm, then drizzle with Espresso Glaze (recipe below), using a fork or spoon. Cool before serving.

Espresso Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dark rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brewed espresso (or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water)

In medium bowl, whisk confectioners' sugar and rum (if using). Gradually whisk in espresso until smooth. If needed, add more espresso or water to thin the glaze.

Makes about 12 servings.

-- Adapted from "Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook: Recipes for Turkey and All the Trimmings" by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, 2012, $12.95)

Mashed and Slightly Spicy Sweet Potatoes

PG tested

Fabulous. Mr. Sifton writes: "This is my take on an old Bobby Flay recipe, presumably based in part on the color of his hair."

You can make these sweet potatoes a day in advance, or in the morning, and keep well covered in the fridge, otherwise the baking ties up the oven for about an hour. Reheat in the microwave or in a covered dish in the oven. You'll never miss the marshmallows.

-- Miriam Rubin

  • 5 pounds (about 10 medium or 5 large) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/3 cup best-quality maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 teaspoons sauce from canned chipotles
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put potatoes on large baking sheet and bake until soft, 35 to 40 minutes for medium, up to 1 hour for large. Meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk together syrup, sour cream, chipotle sauce, cinnamon and salt.

Cut potatoes in half and scoop out flesh into potato ricer, food mill or stand mixer and process into a puree. Add other ingredients and stir to combine. Potatoes should be light and fluffy. Taste for seasoning and serve in warmed bowl.

Makes 8 or more servings.

-- Adapted from "Thanksgiving: How To Cook it Well" by Sam Sifton (Random House, 2012, $18)

food - recipes - bookreviews

Miriam Rubin: First Published November 15, 2012 5:00 AM


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