"The New Thanksgiving Table"

Pittsburgh native's new cookbook offers some fresh ideas for the holiday

"The New Thanksgiving Table" is a lovely new cookbook by a Pittsburgh native that -- well, let's cut to the chase. It could be very controversial with many Western Pennsylvania readers.

Author Diane Morgan does NOT include a recipe for Green Bean Casserole.

You know: The classic holiday casserole of canned or frozen beans baked with canned cream of mushroom soup and topped with canned fried onions?

"The recipe is out there," Ms. Morgan says with a laugh over the phone from her home in Portland, Ore.

Her latest book instead presents recipes for Green Beans with Lemon-Butter Bread Crumbs and Toasted Almonds and Southwest Simmered Green Beans with Garlic and Onions.

"It's fresher," she says of her panko-topped fresh bean dish, but she could just as well be talking about her creative cookbook.

Published earlier this year by Chronicle at a list price of $24.95, "The New Thanksgiving Table" is subtitled "An American Celebration of Family, Friends, and Food."

It has all the traditional stuff -- from turkey to pumpkin pie -- but often with a twist. Turkey variations range from juniper-brined to hickory grill-roasted to spatchcocked -- that is, butterflied. Her Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie has Pecan Pastry Crust.

The book hits about seven years after her "Thanksgiving Table: Recipes and Ideas to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition," which she'd thought was the definitive cookbook for the day of thanks. But as that propelled her across the country teaching Thanksgiving cooking classes, she learned more about regional and ethnic variations on the traditional American feast.

And so those are the meat of this new book, into which she's snuck only a couple recipes from the first book, such as Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel, a "too-good" personal favorite.

Others she's pulled or adapted from other people's traditions, such as the Southwestern-inspired Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato Spears with Lime. From a friend's family's Mexican Thanksgiving menu, she shares a Fresh Cranberry Salsa with a jalapeno chili in it. She even developed, for a local Asian family, a Pan-Asian Rice Dressing that contains mushrooms, ginger, water chestnuts and Chinese pork sausage. They wanted to do Thanksgiving, complete with a turkey, she says, but "they couldn't cross over completely to stuffing -- that was too foreign."

She also includes a recipe named for her onetime vegetarian daughter, Molly's Pumpkin-and-Sage Lasagna.

When she was growing up in Squirrel Hill -- surrounded, she says, by a family of good Jewish cooks -- her family went "over the river and through the woods" to her grandparents' house in New Kensington. They always had candied yams, either with marshmallows or orange, but not mashed potatoes. "I can picture the meat grinder" for making the cranberry-orange relish. Her grandpa pickled his own vegetables for the relish tray.

Little did she know, as a girl with black olives on her fingers, that Thanksgiving would become a big part of her career.

It was while she was at Portland's Reed College studying math that she started to work in restaurants and get interested in cooking. She studied that in Chicago with the Sun-Times food editor-turned-cooking instructor, Alma Lach, for whom she was an assistant for five years. She also worked as a chef in an executive dining room before moving back to Portland, teaching her own cooking classes and writing about food.

Twenty years later she's written 15 cookbooks, most published by Chronicle, including "The Christmas Table" that came out last year. But she's best known for the Thanksgiving ones.

As with the first one, testing recipes for this book meant subjecting her family and friends to a series of Thanksgiving meals in spring and summer, something they don't seem to have minded.

They did it again this August, for how-to videos they shot for her Web site, dianemorgancooks.com. As she writes there, "I'm grateful my husband has an endless appetite for leftovers."

She still has a lot of relatives in Western Pennsylvania, but her two college-aged children are coming home to Portland from New York. She plans to make for them their old favorites and also a few new recipes from the new book, including a Southern-twanged Buttermilk Brined Roast Turkey. She also plans to make Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy, a recipe that fits right in with the continued interest in local and seasonal ingredients.

From her classes -- and she just hit the road last week for Berkeley, Calif., and then five stops at Central Markets in Texas -- she's learned that while people love to maintain their traditions, many also like to add a new recipe or two. Young people and others who've never before made their own Thanksgiving are more of a blank slate.

Her book also includes brief primers on "foods of the season" and "holiday equipment and tools," as well as turkey and meal planning tips and four regional Thanksgiving menus with timetables: New England, Heartland, Southern and Pacific Northwest.

No Western Pennsylvania one.

She leaves that up to you.

Roast Turkey Breast for a Small Gathering

PG tested

"Roasting a turkey breast is a practical solution for a small Thanksgiving gathering," Diane Morgan writes. "It's quick, makes a lovely presentation, and there will be a manageable amount of leftovers. If the die-hard, dark-meat lovers grumble, just offer them an extra piece of pie. This turkey breast will be moist, beautifully browned, and brightly flavored with lemon juice and fresh herbs."

  • 1 whole (double) bone-in turkey breast (4 1/2 to 5 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

Position a rack on the second-lowest level in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Trim any visible fat from the turkey breast, and save the neck, if included, for making gravy. Pat the turkey breast dry with paper towels. Place a rack in a roasting pan and set the turkey breast on the rack.

In a 2-cup glass measure, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary and thyme. At the top of the breast, slide your fingers back and forth under the skin to separate it from the breast meat, creating a pocket over the entire breast. Pour half the mixture inside this pocket, and the rest over the turkey breast, coating it well. Season the turkey with salt and pepper to taste. Set the turkey breast on the rack, skin side up.

Roast the turkey breast, basting every 30 minutes, until the juices run clear when a sharp knife is inserted into the thickest part of the breast, or when an instant-read thermometer, inserted in the same spot and not touching bone, registers 165 degrees, about 11/4 to 11/2 hours. Transfer the turkey breast to a carving board and cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil. Allow the turkey breast to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving to let the juices set.

While the turkey is resting, make a quick gravy. In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix together the flour and 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock. Place the roasting pan over medium heat, add the remaining stock to the pan, and bring to a simmer. Using a wooden spoon, scrape and loosen any brown bits sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan. Shake the flour mixture again and add to the stock in the pan. Stir until the gravy is smooth and thickened. Transfer to a warmed gravy boat or small bowl. Carve the turkey breast. Serve, accompanied by the gravy.

Serves 6.

-- "The New Thanksgiving Table" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle, 2009, $24.95)

Hazelnut and Fresh Herb Popovers

PG tested

"You are probably reading this recipe and thinking -- how could I possibly pull off popovers at Thanksgiving?" Diane Morgan writes. "The trick is to have the batter made, the butter melted, and the pan ready. As soon after the turkey comes out of the oven the muffin tin gets heated, buttered, and the popovers go in. The burst of heat makes them puff and crisp-with a golden, nutty exterior and a soft, hollow interior. They're divine."

She notes, "The batter can be made up to 2 hours in advance."

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, or preferably a 4-cup glass measuring cup, combine the flour, hazelnuts, pepper, and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Whisk in the eggs and then add the parsley and chives. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Let the batter stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Whisk before using.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Have ready a standard 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick.

Place the muffin pan in the oven for about 10 minutes until hot. Remove the hot muffin pan from the oven. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the muffin cups with the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups. Without opening the oven door at any time, bake the popovers for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and continue to bake the popovers for 7 to 10 minutes longer until puffy and golden brown. Turn the popovers out of the pan, loosening them with the edge of a paring knife, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 popovers.

-- "The New Thanksgiving Table" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle, 2009, $24.95)

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

PG tested

"The native, or American, persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is considered a real delicacy by southern Indiana residents, and is eaten both fresh and cooked in dishes such as this classic pudding. This wasn't a tradition in my family growing up, but once I made the pudding for Thanksgiving, my family became totally hooked," writes Diane Morgan. Of the varieties available in stores now, "Use the Hachiya variety for this recipe. The fruit needs to be exceedingly ripe -- so soft to the touch that it would land with a splat if dropped on the ground."

  • 1 tablespoon butter at room temperature for buttering pan
  • 2 cups persimmon pulp (about 8)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cut the persimmons in half crosswise and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, discarding the stem and skins. Use the back of a spoon to press the flesh into a soft pulp. Measure out 2 cups (refrigerate or freeze the rest and reserve for another use). Combine the 2 cups pulp, the granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the persimmon mixture, 1/3 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the buttermilk, cream and melted butter. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes until nicely browned and slightly puffed at the edges. Serve warm or rewarm just before serving, dusted with the confectioners' sugar.

Serves 12 to 16.

-- "The New Thanksgiving Table" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle, 2009, $24.95)

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930.


Hot Topic