By Jenny Stauffer

Ahh, Thanksgiving is here, y’all! What a special holiday. I often hear people say that they love Thanksgiving more than the Christmas season, because it is one day of quiet, peaceful, family-oriented time, with so little hustle and bustle. It’s just a nice, (sorta) simple day to spend with those you love. If I think back, my favorite memories were during Thanksgiving, really. I loved my grandma kneading her yeast rolls by hand when we were lucky enough to have her with us at Thanksgiving. I remember mom’s perfect turkey. She sure slaved away all day long! From the turkey to the pumpkin and pecan pies, to the sides and appetizers, it did take her alone to pull off the entire meal! And she sure did it well!

I hope your memories of family and friends carry you through this Thanksgiving, as well. Enjoy this special time of thankfulness and fellowship.

My Mom’s Perfect Turkey

One day, when I am all grown up and must cook the turkey, this is the recipe I will use. Mom tinkered for years with the perfect turkey. When the Martha Stewart show debuted in the 90’s, this is the recipe she tried. I am so glad she did!! It is so perfect. So good. The gravy is to die for. Try it! If you are lucky enough to have turkey duty, that is! Serves 12 to 14

If your roasting pan only fits sideways in the oven, turn the pan every hour so the turkey cooks and browns evenly. For step-by-step photos, see Martha’s Roast Turkey and Gravy feature.

~ One 20- to 21-pound fresh whole turkey, giblets and neck removed from cavity and reserved
~ 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
~ One 750-ml bottle dry white wine
~ 2 teaspoons salt
~ 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
~ 1 cup white wine, for gravy

Rinse turkey with cool water, and dry with paper towels. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature. Place rack on lowest level in oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine melted butter and white wine in a bowl. Fold a large piece of cheesecloth into quarters and cut it into a 17-inch, 4-layer square. Immerse cheesecloth in the butter and wine; let soak. Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a heavy metal roasting pan. If the turkey comes with a pop-up timer, remove it; an instant-read thermometer is a much more accurate indication of doneness. Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey. Tie legs together loosely with kitchen string (a bow will be easy to untie later). Fold neck flap under, and secure with toothpicks. Rub turkey with the softened butter, and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper.

Lift cheesecloth out of liquid, and squeeze it slightly, leaving it very damp. Spread it evenly over the breast and about halfway down the sides of the turkey; it can cover some of the leg area. Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Using a pastry brush, baste cheesecloth and exposed parts of turkey with butter and wine. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 2 1/2 more hours, basting every 30 minutes and watching pan juices; if the pan gets too full, spoon out juices, reserving them for gravy.

After this third hour of cooking, carefully remove and discard cheesecloth. Turn roasting pan so that the breast is facing the back of the oven. Baste turkey with pan juices. If there are not enough juices, continue to use butter and wine. The skin gets fragile as it browns, so baste carefully. Cook 1 more hour, basting after 30 minutes.

After this fourth hour of cooking, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Do not poke into a bone. The temperature should reach 180 degrees (stuffing should be between 140 degrees and 160 degrees) and the turkey should be golden brown. The breast does not need to be checked for temperature. If legs are not yet fully cooked, baste turkey, return to oven, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.

When fully cooked, transfer turkey to a serving platter, and let rest for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pour all the pan juices into a glass measuring cup. Let stand until grease rises to the surface, about 10 minutes, then skim it off. Meanwhile, place roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup white wine, or water, to the pan. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the pan until liquid boils and all the crisp bits are unstuck from pan. Cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the defatted pan juices, and cook over medium-high heat 10 minutes more. You will have about 2 1/2 cups of gravy. Season to taste, strain into a warm gravy boat, and serve with turkey.

**Rinse the cheesecloth first well.

**This recipe is for a stuffed turkey. I omitted that part of the recipe. Living in the South, my family does not stuff our turkey. We make cornbread dressing. So adjust time some as needed. Your thermometer will guide you here. Keep basting as recommended.

Cooking Light’s Sweet Potato Casserole

My own mom used to make a richer version of this that was always my very favorite part of Thanksgiving. I never understood the allure of pineapple and marshmallows in my sweet potatoes when this decadent version was much more delicious (to me, anyways!). Once I began to cook, I shyed away from making the same recipe since it used so much butter and sugar. Then lo and behold, Cooking Light published a version that tastes just the same, but is much healthier. It is so good with turkey. I could not detect a difference, and it was nice to have some comfort at last for Thanksgiving!

~ 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
~ 3/4 cup granulated sugar
~1/4 cup evaporated low-fat milk
~ 3 tablespoons butter, melted
~1/2 teaspoon salt
~ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
~ 2 large eggs
~ Cooking spray

~ 1.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/3 cup)
~ 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
~ 1/8 teaspoon salt
~ 2 tablespoons melted butter
~ 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare potatoes, place potatoes in a Dutch oven; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender; drain. Cool 5 minutes.

Place potatoes in a large bowl; add granulated sugar, evaporated milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs; beat well. Pour potato mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray.

To prepare topping, weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, brown sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt; stir with a whisk. Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over potato mixture; arrange pecans evenly over top. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or just until golden.

Preheat broiler (remove casserole from oven). Broil casserole 45 seconds or until topping is bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

I really came upon this recipe out of necessity. When I married Tom, we traveled to his extended family’s home for Thanksgiving. And the one thing missing from my usual Thanksgiving carbohydrate line-up was….. Mashed Potatoes. This recipe was a great help, as there is messy peeling and so on in your own kitchen, ahead of time, but it is neatly reheated the day of Thanksgiving, with the same taste as freshly mashed potatoes. It’s the best recipe I have! I have used it every year since. Serves 8 to 12


~ 5 pounds russet, Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes
~ 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.

**Use milk as needed. I add a little at a time, sometimes more, until the perfect fluffy, yet thick enough consistency is achieved. Likewise, I usually add more salt than I think I need. I keep tasting until they taste just right.

A Side Note

With all of the hoopla going on with the debut of Trader Joe’s, here are some little pick-ups/apps that might help you through the holidays that I have tried and looove. Don’t forget the wine while you’re at it! These comments are my opinion only.

*Reduced-Guilt Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip
Yum! This tastes just like the cold spinach dip from days ago. Serve before Thanksgiving dinner with some veggies or chips for dipping.

*Wild Mushroom and and Black Truffle Flatbread with Mozzerella Cheese
No words here. Just decadent. Small enough for a nice-sized appetizer once cut into squares.

*Parmesan Pastry Pups
Just FYI for a future gathering! Tell yourself they are for the kids, but don’t forget to sneak a few yourself! Perfect for kids and adults, alike.