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Thanksgiving: Our 4 best basics

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  • Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

    5 pounds russet, Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes

    Salt

    1 (8-ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese

    1 (8-ounce) container reduced-fat sour cream

    1 to 1 1/2 cups skim milk

    Freshly ground black or white pepper

    2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces

    Paprika

    PEEL potatoes and cut into chunks, dropping into a pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

    BEAT in cream cheese with electric mixer. (Work in batches if necessary, using half the potatoes and cream cheese, then combine.) Beat in sour cream and milk until potatoes are fluffy. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper or ground white pepper.

    SPRAY a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread potatoes evenly in dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. If making in advance, cool completely, cover tightly and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

    PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Uncover potatoes and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until heated through and brown in spots.

    YIELD: 8 to 12 servings.


  • No-Cook Cranberry-Orange Relish

    We've tried endless versions of cranberry sauce, but we always come back to this one. It's simple, you can make it in advance, it looks great in a relish bowl, and the bright flavor cuts through all the other flavors on the table.

    1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed

    2 small, thin-skinned oranges

    1 1/2 cups sugar

    1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

    WASH and drain cranberries. Pick out any stems or squished berries. Wash skins of oranges. Cut off both ends of the oranges and discard. Cut the oranges into quarters, leaving the peels on. Pick out any seeds and cut away any large white stems from the middle.

    PUT half the berries and orange pieces in a food processor. Pulse until ground. Scrape into a bowl. Place the remaining orange pieces in the food processor and pulse until ground. Add remaining berries and pulse a couple of times, so there are still whole berries. Add to the pureed fruit.

    STIR in sugar and pecans. Taste and add more sugar if necessary. (Flavor should be a bit tart.) Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made 24 hours in advance.

    YIELD: About 3 cups.


  • Sourdough Dressing With Apples and Pecans

    1-pound loaf sourdough bread

    4 tablespoons butter

    1 medium onion, peeled and diced

    2 stalks celery, diced, including some leafy tops

    2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced (leave peeling on)

    1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, rinsed well and chopped

    1 teaspoon dried sage

    1 to 2 teaspoons salt

    1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted

    2 to 3 cups chicken broth

    2 large eggs, lightly beaten

    CUT bread into slices 1/2- to 1-inch thick, then cut each slice into small dices. Spread on two baking sheets and place in a low oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring, until crisp and dry. Place in a large mixing bowl.

    MELT butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook slowly until softened, about 10 minutes. Add apple and cook about 5 minutes longer, until apple is just softened. Add onion mixture to bread.

    ADD parsley, sage, salt and pecans and stir to combine. Add broth and eggs, stirring to make a mixture that is moist but not soupy.

    COAT 2 (1-quart) casserole dishes with nonstick spray. Divide dressing between the dishes. Cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

    REMOVE covers and continue to bake about 30 minutes, until top is crusty but inside is still moist. Add more broth if it seems to be drying out.

    YIELD: 2 (1-quart) casseroles, enough for 8 to 12 people with leftovers.


  • Creole Roasted Turkey Gravy

    Adapted from Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen's Restaurant, New Orleans. If you want almost-instant gravy on Thanksgiving, make the roux and the stock in advance. The roux will keep several days at room temperature, or can be refrigerated or frozen even longer. You can make the stock several days before Thanksgiving and refrigerate, or make it farther in advance and freeze it.

    Stock:

    3 pounds turkey wings

    3 pounds turkey necks, if available (if not, use more turkey wings)

    2 cups diced carrot

    2 cups diced celery

    4 cups diced yellow onions

    24 cups cold water

    Prepared roux (see below)

    PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Place turkey wings and necks, if using, in a sturdy roasting pan with carrots, celery and onion. Roast for 2 hours.

    PLACE roasting pan on top of stove over medium-high heat. Add 4 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, scraping the bottoms and sides of the pan with a metal spatula to stir up browned bits.

    TRANSFER the turkey parts and pan drippings to a large stockpot. Add the remaining 20 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. Strain, reserving the liquid and the meat. When the turkey parts are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the wings and necks. Chill the stock and the meat separately. Refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze longer.

    MAKE the roux according to the directions below and set aside.

    TO FINISH: While turkey is roasting, place 12 cups turkey stock in a large saucepan and boil 15 to 20 minutes, until reduced about a third, to 8 cups. When turkey comes out of the oven, set it aside to rest before carving. Skim off excess fat from the pan drippings or use a fat-separating cup. Strain the drippings and add to the turkey stock. Continue boiling to reduce. Add reserved cooked turkey wing and neck meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper (about 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper).

    POUR off excess oil from top of the roux and discard. Slowly and carefully whisk the roux into the boiling broth a little at a time. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Skim off excess fat that rises to the top and discard.

    ROUX:

    1. Heat 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in 1 cup all-purpose flour, stirring constantly with a fork or a whisk.

    2. Reduce the heat to medium and cook slowly for 10 to 20 minutes. As it begins to brown, stir it constantly and steadily. It will foam up in the beginning, but that will stop as it cooks.

    3. Watch the color carefully. Cook it until it is about the color of peanut butter. For an easy color check, keep a few pennies nearby: It should be about the color of an old penny, not a shiny new one.

    4. Remove from heat and pour into a heatproof container with a lid. Set aside at room temperature for up to 3 days. (If you're going to keep it much longer, refrigerate or freeze it.) Before using, carefully pour off any oil that has risen to the top.

    YIELD: 10 to 12 servings.



Every family is a little different in their Thanksgiving menu. Still, there are a few dishes that are on almost everyone’s table.

Over the years, these have become our four stalwarts, the ones readers ask for over and over, and the ones we’ve used out at our own table. Keep them handy in case you need them to fill out your menu this year.

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