Budgets are tight this year and there isn’t a lot of room for those “splurge” items, but that doesn’t mean taste buds have to suffer as you plan for Thanksgiving. Large-scale gatherings of families and friends need not suffer either. Don’t be overwhelmed. Stew Leonard’s Executive Chef George Llorens offers a wide menu of holiday tips to help ensure a delicious, relaxing, and festive Thanksgiving.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING GUESTS
- Planning tips: There are many things a host can do the day before, like preparing the stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato mousse and gravy – these items are great when re-heated, better flavor! Items like Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, mashed potatoes need to be made the same day. Chef George also recommends maximizing your oven’s capacity. Put the turkey in first thing in the morning on the first shelf of the oven; on the bottom shelf, put all the things that take time to cook (sweet potatoes, stuffing).
- How to choose a menu: Most people will stick with a traditional Thanksgiving meal (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc) but others want Filet Mignon, Prime Rib, etc., so make sure you get any preferences from your guests well in advance. Also, when cooking, make sure there are no vegetarians before you decide which recipes to choose. It is important to be sensitive to different dietary preferences and restrictions.
- Presentation tips: Always remember that your guests eat with their eyes! The turkey has to be nice and gold and the platter should be decorated with either a carrot rosette or kale. And always use your best china.
- How to choose the perfect turkey: Never use a frozen turkey. Look for a free range, fresh turkey; you should ask where the turkey comes from and what kind of food it has been eating. Excellent quality turkey meat is never dry!
- If you’re the guest: When attending a Thanksgiving dinner in someone else’s home, make sure you bring along a gift that shows you are thankful to share such a special day with them. A bottle of wine is always nice, but try offering to bring a dish! Potluck is all the rage, so take along a cranberry bread or pudding – something that goes well with a traditional Thanksgiving meal – to thank your gracious hosts.
- Making a Match: If you are worried about making the perfect match at your Thanksgiving dinner, don’t fret! Chances are that most of the people at your table are not wine aficionados, not to mention, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is so varied in flavors that a complex wine isn’t necessarily your best bet. So this year, keep it simple and understated for a perfect pairing.
White: White Rieslings from Germany are always crowd-pleasers as they appeal to less experienced wine drinkers because many are sweet; however, more experienced wine drinkers also enjoy them because they are nuanced.
Red: Look to the Gamay grape from the Beaujolais region of France for a good red to pair with your Turkey Day feast. Just a bit pricier in the $13 realm, cru Beaujolais, like Morgon and Fleurie, are better than the ubiquitous Beaujolais Nouveau that one might typically find at a holiday meal – a great choice that your guests are sure to love!
- Sparkling Sensation: A good bubbly is always a fun change of pace, and Champagne is always a good pick – festive, complex and hedonistic as well as decadent and classic – however, the least expensive Champagne is about $30. So for a more budget-friendly bubbly, the sparkling wine Prosecco from Northeast Italy is a great alternative. Less complex and more subtle than Champagne, Prosecco is fresh and fruity with peach and toasted hazelnut aromas and flavors, and at about $10 a bottle, you can drink this every day!
- Bang for Your Buck:The best wine isn’t always the priciest! Look to some savory wine selections that will impress your guests without emptying your wallet.
- Savory Splurge: When looking to splurge on some fabulous fruit of the vine, California Cabernet Sauvignons are always a great choice. The Opus One, for about $200, is always a popular preference for the holiday season. For a classic splurge item, invest in a Vintage Champagne like a Dom Perignon or Cristal – timeless taste to be thankful for.
- And for Dessert… Choosing a dessert wine can be tricky, but Ports are the perfect winter wonder-treat – Fonseca and Dow’s are some choice picks. Non-vintage Ports run the price gamut, ranging from $15 to $50, and if you really want to try something special, check out a vintage Port, in which case, the bottle is aged. Get ready to pull out the wallet for a vintage Port though, as they are usually $100 and above.
- A Gift for the Host: Whenever attending a dinner party, a small gift – a simple token of appreciation for handling all the duties of hosting – is a polite, and in many cases, welcomed gesture. For a dinner party, especially a holiday meal, with all the demands of cooking for a large audience, a bottle of wine is a perfect gift. An appropriate price range for a gift is about $15 to $25. While it always helps if you know your host’s palette, you may not, in which case, a sparkling wine is always nice and pairs with most foods. Besides, nothing screams celebration quite like Champagne!
THANKSGIVING DAY MEAL QUESTIONS
BUYING THE TURKEY
How many pounds of turkey do I need to feed my family? We recommend 1 1/2 pounds per person, 2 pounds if you want leftovers. So a 20 pound bird will feed 10 people with some leftovers.
When should I buy my Thanksgiving turkey? Buy your turkey the Sunday or Monday before the holiday. Place your fresh turkey in a roasting pan and store in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf, in the back. Your turkey can remain refrigerated until the use/freeze by date printed on the label.
Why does my fresh turkey feel frozen? Fresh Turkeys by law have to be kept at 30 degrees.
My family prefers the white meat – should I buy a second turkey? You can also buy a separate turkey breast.
COOKING YOUR TURKEY
How long should I cook my turkey? All of our turkeys at Stew Leonard’s have cooking directions on them and come with a pop up timer. We recommend approx. 12 – 15 minutes per pound or when an internal temperature of 165-175° is reached (place a thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey, usually where the thigh meets the breast.).
Estimated cook times are:
Cooking Times at 325°F
2 3/4 to 3 hours
3 to 3 3/4 hours
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
4 1/2 to 5 hours
Should I stuff my turkey? We do not recommend that you stuff the turkey for both safety and quality reasons. The stuffing takes heat away from cooking the turkey, making it less likely that the turkey will be cooked to a safe temperature. In addition, by the time the inside is cooked to the proper temperature, the outside meat will be dry. Our recommendation is to cook your stuffing separately. However, we do recommend using aromatics as an alternative to stuffing when cooking your turkey.
What are “Aromatics?” Aromatics are what we use at Stew’s to help perfume the meat and increase the flavor. Our Aromatics mixture, which consists of: Oranges, Apples, Celery, Red Onion, Garlic, Marsala Wine, Bay Leaves, Salt and Pepper, can be put right inside the turkey cavity.
- How much gravy do I need for my turkey? For a medium turkey we recommend one quart; for a large turkey, get two quarts. And don’t forget extra for leftovers.
- How many side dishes should I serve? We recommend 3 – 5 side dishes depending on how many people and what kinds of appetites they have. Chaildreen and seniors have smaller appetites; football players are hungrier.
- What is the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Technically, yams and sweet potatoes are unrelated plants. But in the United States the names are used interchangeable for the same thing. In the South they are called sweet potatoes. In the North they are called yams. We carry the Beauregard variety grown in Louisiana.
- Which potato is good for baking and which is good for mashing? Burbank Russet (Idaho) is a drier potato and is good for baking. Yukon gold is good for mashing – it’s light, moist, and fluffy.
- What is the difference between a green been and a French Bean (Haricot Verts)? A French Bean is a special variety that is younger and more tender than a traditional green bean.
FIXING YOUR FEAST
- Portion Control: Proper portion control definitely eases stress on the waistline, saving you from the ominous post-holiday meal food coma, leaving you to enjoy the company of those around you. Thanksgiving is all about “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.” Between all of the condiments, stuffing, gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, there are so many things to choose from! Focus on white meat turkey breast and fresh vegetables, and then indulge in smaller sides like potatoes and stuffing.
- Ornate Desserts – Easy on the Wallet: Bread pudding is pennies to make! It can be labor intensive, but is very inexpensive, and check out Stew Leonard’s recipe for a delicious bread pudding that will “WOW” your guests.
Chef George’s Knockout Bread Pudding
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons raisins
12 thin slices of French bread (baguette or other type of bread), buttered
2 egg whites
3 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2 Sprinkle the raisins over the bottom of a 11/2- to 2-quart ovenproof
casserole. Arrange the bread slices over the raisins, slightly overlapping (if you need more bread slices add them). Dust with sugar.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, vanilla, and sugar until they turn yellow. In a medium-sized pot, bring the milk to a boil. Very gradually whisk the milk into the egg mixture.
4. Ladle the egg mixture over the bread slices. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
5. Place the casserole dish in a water bath (a larger dish filled with several inches of water). Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, lower heat to 350 and cook another 25 minutes. The pudding should be firm to the touch.
George Llorens is executive chef for Stew Leonard’s, a family-owned and operated fresh food store founded in 1969, with four stores in Norwalk, Danbury, and Newington, Conn., and Yonkers, N.Y. For more information, visit Stew Leonard’s website at www.stewleonards.com.