The Great Thanksgiving Recipe Hunt, Part I

Confession time: I’ve had a lot of fun planning the menu for Thanksgiving dinner.  One of my favorite things about cooking is researching recipes and putting together just the right combination to be perfect for the occasion.  So now you get the benefit of my obsessive researching skillz because I am going to share the Thanksgiving menu, recipes and how I got to them.

Photo by massmatt

Unless I’m looking for something very specialized, I begin a recipe hunt at one of my two favorite recipe websites–Epicurious (recipes from Bon AppetitGourmet) and My Recipes (recipes from Cooking LightSouthern LivingFood and WineSunset).  Then I look for recipes with a good number of reviews and, ideally, an approval rating over 90%.  Always always read the reviews–they will often give you the idea for a crucial tweak to the recipe that will make it great.

The parameters for this meal: 14-18 people, eating around 7 pm, with several hours for pre-dinner snacking.  I am making all the food but I’m working every day until Thursday, so we need some dishes that I can make ahead of time.

First up, the pre-dinner snack time.  I don’t want anything too heavy that will ruin everyone’s appetite but we will definitely need some nibbles that will not be too labor-intensive and that can be made ahead.  I first considered a relish tray with marinated vegetables but decided to go all the way to an antipasto platter.


Photo from Cooking Light

This recipe fit the bill for the antipasto.  I went with it pretty much as written, although I did substitute pickled cherry peppers for the peperoncini.  It is currently marinating in my fridge and it smells utterly fantastic.  The antipasto will be served with sliced baguette and the Blue Cheese and Chive Straws from the December issue of Cooking Light.

Now we’re on to dinner.  I was very very tempted to serve the Butternut Squash, Potato and Leek Soup I love so much but after pondering the logistics of serving soup to 16 people I nixed that idea. Here’s the breakdown for the star Thanksgiving performers: turkey, gravy, stuffing and dressing.  The rest of the meal will be discussed in Part II.


We will be serving a 18 lb. heritage turkey from our Falling Sky Farm meat CSA.  My husband is smoking the turkey, so that made the recipe hunt pretty easy, since I was really just looking for brine ideas that would be compatible with a smoke flavor.  I found this one and this one and decided to take elements of both brine recipes and combine them.  Ours will have the bourbon and maple syrup from the first recipe but will have the smaller maple syrup ratio from the second recipe.  If you are new to brining a turkey, this site has a great discussion of why and how to brine. Make ahead report: we are mid-thaw on the turkey and plan to brine for 24 hours before smoking it Thursday morning.


Since we’re smoking the turkey and will have no pan drippings, I need to make the gravy from a very flavorful stock.  After looking at approximately 8 million gravy recipes, I decided to go with this one, with flavor based on this roasted stock, which will be more intense than a stock that just simmered.  I also decided to use Alton Brown’s method for making a roux using the fat skimmed off the stock, described here.  Make ahead: I made the stock and the roux yesterday and it’s in the fridge awaiting showtime.

From Southern Living

Cornbread Dressing

As I understand it, it is against the law to have Thanksgiving dinner in the South without serving cornbread dressing.  If you don’t have a recipe from Grandma, this one from Southern Living is a good choice.  I will make the cornbread tomorrow to allow it to dry out a bit before using it in the dressing.

Sourdough Bread Stuffing

As a reformed Yankee, I like a fruity, sausage-y, sourdough bread stuffing.  I have tried many different recipes and, so far, none of them have been quite right.  This, from Epicurious, is the contender for this year.  The reviews are rapturous, the ingredients are perfect and I think my trouble with other recipes may have been that they were too dry.  This one should be moist inside and crispy on top and I have high hopes for its success.  I will cube the bread Wednesday to let it dry out but the rest will be done Thursday.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the rest of the side dishes and the most important part of dinner: desserts.