Thanksgiving Menus: Choose Simple or Breathtaking Recipes for Your Holiday Meal

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Thanksgiving is the country’s biggest food festival. As we face our second such vacation in the midst of a pandemic, we may find ourselves in one of two camps: Eager to go all out, reinvigorate holiday traditions, or, perhaps, to find ways of crossing with less noise and more relaxation. To that end, we at The Post wanted to give readers options on how to feed their family and friends with the vibes they want: fancy or simple.

Some are looking for a project to give a sense of normalcy in these (shivers to type that) unprecedented times. That means recipes that take a little more preparation and planning, and a menu that gives guests a reason to dress a little and maybe even put on some tough pants. If this sounds like you, grab a tablecloth, pull out the right dishes, and take a look at Aaron’s chic holiday menu.

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Others of us can’t imagine tackling something close to the traditional Thanksgiving menu, but still want to find a way to express our gratitude. In this case, Becky’s simple and heartwarming Thanksgiving recipes are exactly what the doctor ordered. These recipes are designed to be easy to use, easy to lift, and packed with tips to make cooking as stress-free as possible – a perfect holiday meal for stretch pants and a quiet day.

If you find yourself somewhere in between, you can mix and match as you see fit. Aaron’s turkey and dessert with Becky’s focaccia and vegetables? It sounds like a winning combination for us. Want to grab one of these recipes to add it to your regular menu? In the words of Tabitha Brown, “That’s your business.” Because no matter what you cook, we want it to be satisfying and stress free.

Roasted turkey with tarragon butter (butterfly)

Aaron: I’ve always wanted to brine a turkey, but as someone who usually travels on Thanksgiving, this has always been out of reach. The time has come. A simple dry brine with just salt and a few days in the refrigerator results in tastier meat and incredibly crispy skin. A butter composed of fresh tarragon, garlic, lemon zest and black pepper is rubbed under and over the skin to infuse the turkey with flavor as it cooks. Spatchcocking, which is the removal of the spine and flattening of the bird, and a hot oven allows the turkey to cook in a fraction of the time compared to a whole turkey, which l ‘helps to stay moist. (A probe thermometer that stays in the turkey while it roasts is great for monitoring the cooking without having to constantly open the oven.) Last but not the least: use up those delicious pan juices and make some gravy.

Cider-Braised Turkey Thighs with Potatoes and Apples

Becky: For my turkey, I wanted something that was mostly hands-off (at least after the initial preparation), a dish that could hang out in the oven, making the house smell amazing while I spent time with my family or tackled some of my other simple dishes. Inspired by my recipes for wine-braised chicken thighs and pan-roasted turkey thighs, I set out to make these braised turkey thighs. To channel the fall, I use hard cider as the braising liquid. Accented with apple cider vinegar and thyme leaves, the liquid tenderizes and perfumes a bed of potatoes, carrots and apples. On top of that, rest four succulent big turkey thighs that are pan-seared before brazing, which means they’ll even retain a bit of crisp after cooking. Sealed in a large Dutch oven (the lid comes off halfway), the dark meat becomes tender and the braising liquid becomes a golden elixir that eliminates the need for a separate sauce. Bring the pot to the table for a warm and welcoming presentation that invites people to gather and help each other.

Mushroom and leek dressing with cornbread

Aaron: The cornbread dressing is a must on my Thanksgiving table. The version my family usually cooks includes celery, onions, peppers, chicken and / or turkey broth, sometimes a few pieces of turkey meat mixed in and a handful of spices and herbs. This is a vegetarian version of this standard version. Use your choice of mushrooms to add earthy meat to the dressing, while leeks add a subtle onion flavor. Tarragon and garlic are included in this mix as a nod to the compound butter used with turkey. For an easier vacation, bake the cornbread one day, assemble the dressing the next, then put it in the oven just before serving and bake until golden on top.

Focaccia without kneading with sausage, apple and shallots

Becky: Stuffing and dressing is often mostly bread anyway, so I wondered if I could channel these flavors into real bread. Answer: Yes. Best of all, this no-knead focaccia is based on a pre-made dough that will last up to two weeks in the fridge. It uses the dough and concept of our popular Fast Focaccia from Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg’s “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” team, but instead of round buns, you get the value of a whole plate. In keeping with the stuffing / dressing theme, I incorporated signature elements into the dough. (The beauty of this recipe is that you can use just about any filling.) The end result is an eye-catching focaccia that’s thick, chewy, and big enough to serve a crowd and have plenty of extras for leftover sandwiches. beloved. Of course, it’s great for absorbing the braising liquid from my turkey and can be cooked along with my broccolini below, if you like.

Vegan braised green cabbage leaves with miso and smoked paprika

Aaron: Braised collard greens are a staple in black kitchens and are usually seasoned with pieces of smoked pork or turkey to imbue greens and the potlikker with tons of flavor. Reflecting on my own evolving awareness regarding meat consumption, I wanted to make a vegan version with a similar flavor profile. Enter these braised cabbage greens. Miso, the most popular fermented seasoning in Japanese cuisine, provides umami that would otherwise have come from meat. There are countless varieties of miso, and all of them can be used in this recipe, but I generally prefer a darker, tastier red miso. The smoked paprika gives a smoky side reminiscent of the version of the dish I grew up eating.

Roasted Broccolini with Lemon and Chili Flakes

Becky: With most of my work focused on my other dishes, I knew my end had to be quick and easy. Ideally, this would also be a lighter, brighter, and leaner counterpoint to some of the heavier, richer courses. Step into this quick roasted, lemony broccolini. I designed this mouth-watering green dish to slip into the oven along with the focaccia, with the high heat creating wonderfully crispy edges – the best part, in my opinion. My favorite little innovation, however, could be the mixture of lemon zest and salt sprinkled on the stems before and after cooking. Save the lemon wedges for serving. This juice and a touch of pepper flakes add a kick that makes it a memorable side.

Cranberry Pie with Gingersnap Cookie Crust

Aaron: As a nod to the canned cranberry sauce that usually graces my Thanksgiving table, I present to you this cranberry pie that ends the meal with a dramatic twist. Its bright red garnish is surrounded by almost iridescent golden and orange dried fruit for a mind-blowing dessert. Yet it is completely accessible. To save you the smoothness of the pie crust, I use a pressed cookie crust with ginger, cinnamon, allspice and molasses – all the flavors of a ginger cookie. Orange and (plus) ginger add flavor to the tangy cranberry filling. (And when I say pie, I mean pie, which can be a refreshing way to end a hearty meal.) Diced candied ginger and candied orange zest – which look like tiny jewels – mixed with cookies. Crushed ginger makes a wonderful crumble to garnish the dessert (if you wish). Otherwise, a dollop of whipped cream would do the trick for a simple adornment and can help sweeten it up a bit, if that’s more your thing.

No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake

Becky: I’m with Aaron on pie crusts. They can be such a source of stress for so many people, including myself, that I decided to just kick the pastry and go in a completely different direction. This direction led me straight to the graham cracker crusts on the grocery store shelf. It’s a shortcut I can take entirely, and it makes my pre-made pumpkin pie cheesecake an even lower lift, but no less delicious. You start by cooking the pumpkin puree in the microwave until it turns dark and nutty. I found this to be the key to helping it fit into a creamy, chewy blend of cream cheese and whipped cream. Half cheesecake, half pie, half mousse, this is an irresistible dessert that won’t weigh you down and probably leave you wanting more.

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Photos by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post, food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post, props by Limonata Creative for The Washington Post, photo editing by Jennifer Beeson Gregory, design and art direction by Lizzie Hart, development by Leo Dominguez. Editing by Joe Yonan, Ann Maloney, Matt Brooks, Jim Webster and Olga Massov.

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