I love to cook for Thanksgiving! I often tell people that cooking for Thanksgiving is as much about timing and organization as it is about the cooking. I think of this gracious holiday like a trip to bountiful with a bit of a practice run for those of us who cook as we move full steam ahead into the holiday season with all of its family traditions. Thanksgiving in our family is all about the BIRD and of course PIE! Pie is as much of a requirement as the turkey.
Like all those bountiful Thanksgiving traditions we have come to expect, it is hard to imagine just one pie—so we have to include pecan and apple along with the pumpkin. Sometimes I take the time to cut little pastry leaves to decorate the top of the pie crust or to Brulee’ the top of the pumpkin pie! (It was a good reason to purchase a culinary torch so I could do that without burning the pastry itself under the broiler in the oven.)
Despite all this planning for turkey day and all the pumpkin pies I’ve made over the years, my husband insists I need more practice. Just let the leaves start to turn and he starts reminding me that I need to brush up on my pumpkin pie making skills! You would think by now he would have a little more confidence in my pie baking skills. (The truth is pumpkin pie is his favorite.) The filling is so easy and if you made the crust ahead and kept it in the freezer baking the pie can be baked fresh on Thanksgiving morning.
Of course, you can bake apple or pecan pies the day before, but in my kitchen, it would be necessary to find a special hiding place to avoid certain pie lovers deciding to “test” whether any or all of the pies worthy of Thanksgiving. When it comes to the pecan pie, I’ve been making Pecan Tassies or tiny Pecan Cups for years. You can make these several days ahead and they are just a little less rich than eating a whole piece of pecan pie. They are perfect to enjoy with a turkey sandwich later in the day. Again, I have to keep them hidden away.
I love cranberry season and especially cranberry-orange relish like my grandmother made. It is so simple with a navel orange and cranberries sweetened to taste. It is much easier, and certainly less sticky, these days using a food processor than back in grandmother’s day with the crank-by hand grinder that was attached to her kitchen table. Over time I have modified the simple mixture in different ways to stretch the basic mixture. Chopped pecans, or even a bit of crushed pineapple, can expand the mixture if needed.
I’ve simplified the candied sweet potato recipe over time: Peel then cut inch-thick slices of the potatoes. Place the slices in a plastic bag, toss with a little olive oil, and chopped fresh rosemary. Sprinkle with a little Kosher salt the roast on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes until softened.
Thanksgiving just calls for homemade rolls, but your favorite grocery will be stocking up on plenty of alternatives if your time is limited. Speaking of time—be sure and check game times unless you don’t mind guests jumping up to see if their team caught that winning pass. You will also want to have different types of bread on hand for sandwiches and make sure you have a sufficient supply of mayo and mustard as well. Maybe it’s time to start a running list to get ready for the big day?
Depending on the size and variety of turkey you want, give some thought to ordering ahead or making sure you allow enough thawing time. I like to brine the turkey and keep a small ice chest on hand to accomplish this task. You can find plenty of methods online. I use a combination of water, salt, and sugar. It just seems to make for a juicier, more flavorful turkey. On occasion, I have put the frozen turkey in the ice chest and covered it with the brine. It thaws overnight and is ready to bake the next day.
So, if you are the chief cook this year my best advice is to plan, plan, and plan some more and start that grocery list. Depending on how many folks are showing up and how many ovens you can manage on Thanksgiving day, you may want to ENLIST some of those guests to bring a dish to the dinner. The folks at Corks would be happy to help you pick out a bottle of wine or just pick up some non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider for something special. I’m HUNGRY already!
Recipe: Pecan Cups “Tassies”
These tiny miniature pecan tarts are just the right amount to satisfy a pecan pie craving post-Thanksgiving feast! These Pecan Cups have been a “Stir-Ups” favorite for almost 40 years. In the South, they are affectionately known as “Pecan Tassies.”
This recipe makes 48 to 60 Tassies depending on the size of dough balls and muffin baking pans.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 and 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 and 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Shells: Beat butter and cream cheese together with salt until light and fluffy. Add flour and mix just until well incorporated. (Not too long after the flour has been added as this can cause a loss of tenderness in the shell.) Place the dough in the refrigerator until it is firm enough to handle. Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to portion the dough. Dust your hands with a bit of flour and roll each ball in your hands then press into small buttered muffin or tart pans.
For Filling: Beat eggs and incorporate remaining ingredients. Mix well to coat pecans and spoon into formed shells. Careful not to overfill. Place in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on rack before removing from pan. They are a great make ahead treat for the holidays or just as a little sweet after lunch or dinner.
Cooking note: This filling recipe works well with only 1 cup of sugar if desired. It is adapted from the Pecan Cups recipe in the Stir-Ups Cookbook.