Planning Your Thanksgiving Feast

I learned something important about cooking Thanksgiving dinner the first time I did so for a large crowd five years ago: be realistic and plan ahead. Deciding on a whim to make homemade eggnog the day of may not be the best idea, for instance. Want to brine your turkey? First make sure you have an appropriate container in which to do so. But with more than a week to go there is plenty of time to get on track for a delicious, stress free meal.

If you haven’t already, finalize your menu and recipes this week. Keep in mind what you can find at the farmers market or co-op over the weekend. There is an impressive, beautiful selection of produce, desserts, wines, breads and more available right here in our county. Take advantage of these foods and producers; I’ve learned while traveling and cooking at the holidays that you can’t find such quality and freshness everywhere.

Once you have your menu, recipe and ingredients set, you’re halfway there. Now, just do a little prep each day leading up to the big dinner to avoid a mad scramble on turkey day.


Make a list of the tasks and recipes you might be able to prepare over the course of the next few days. Post the list in a visible spot in the kitchen so you can cross each item off as you go and see what still needs to get done.



Today, chop veggies. Look at your recipes and see what you’re going to need. Divide them into resealable plastic bags based on each dish. While you chop, cook your cranberry sauce, which will do fine in the fridge for the next few days.

Cranberry Orange Sauce 

Makes 2 cups

1 pound cranberries
½ cup sugar or maple syrup
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of cloves, salt and pepper

Combine everything in a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the cranberries start to pop, lower the heat, cook another 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.



Focus on the stuffing – which if you ask me, is the next best dish after pumpkin pie. I don’t stuff my bird, but rather divide it up into muffin tins for easy to serve, realistic portions. Check your favorite bakery for day old or even pre-cubed bread.

Apple and Onion Stuffing

Makes 10-12 servings

1 stick unsalted butter
4 ribs celery, chopped or 1 large celery root
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and sage or poultry seasoning
About 12 cups stale bread, cubed
3 cups broth
½ cup dried cranberries
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the celery, onion, apple, a pinch of salt and herbs or poultry seasoning. Cook about 5 minutes, until veggies have softened. Pour in broth and toss in the bread and cranberries. Cook another 5 minutes then stir in the egg and parsley. Divide among lightly oiled muffin tins. If preparing ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. When ready, bake covered with foil, for 20 minutes in a 375F preheated oven then another 20 minutes uncovered. They’re done when browned and crispy.



If you’re planning to serve turkey tomorrow, get that set now. Clean the bird, season and stuff with aromatics as you like, season the skin, tie it up and set in the roasting pan in the fridge. You want it ready to go in the oven without worrying about details tomorrow.

Then, if you have any sides you could prepare now, do so.

Turnip and Potato Purée

Makes 4-6 servings

1 ½ lbs turnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 ½ lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup milk
Kosher salt
Butter (optional)

Cover the turnips, garlic and potatoes in a medium pot over high heat with the milk and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until veggies are tender. Drain and with an immersion blender or food processor, purée until smooth. Alternatively, you could mash. Mix in thyme leaves to your liking and melted butter, if you choose. This reheats well in the oven.



The big day. Your bird should be the priority at this point. Be sure to let it come to room temperature before getting in the oven – this will reduce roasting time and help ensure even cooking. Plan to take it out of the oven at least an hour before guests arrive – giving it time to rest and you time to make gravy, heat up prepared dishes in the oven, and carve the bird. Finish off any quick cooking dishes today as well.

Sautéed Brussels sprouts

Serves 4

2 cups Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped herbs

Over medium high heat, sauté the Brussels sprouts in the olive oil. Cook until just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add ½ cup water to the pan with the lemon zest. Cook until the water has evaporated. Toss in the cheese and herbs.

Originally published in our Harvest Watch column in The Rutland Herald on November 19, 2013.

Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts

This is the recipe – and cooking technique – that will change minds about Brussels sprouts. At Thanksgiving dinner it won over my girlfriend’s mother, who previously insisted that the mini cabbage-like vegetable was gross. A short roast in the oven beautifully caramelizes the sprouts while locking in flavor and nutrition – unlike boiling, or even steaming. You don’t want to miss out on the multitude of vitamins here. I also find that with roasting they’re less likely to turn to mush and bring back unpleasant childhood vegetable memories.

Farmers sell Brussels sprouts either right on the stalk – which is kind of fun to take home – or already sliced off. Either way, you’ll want to give them a trim off the bottom and if they look like they need it, a peeling of the outer layers. A quick rinse isn’t a bad idea either. Personally, when I’m just making these at home, I don’t go too crazy with cleaning and trimming. Do what makes sense to you.

What really makes this dish work though is that it has all five of the basic tastes at work. Sourness from the vinegar, sweetness from the sugar, umami from the Worcestershire, saltiness from the soy sauce and bitterness from the sprouts themselves.

A good flavor profile and a smart cooking technique will help make just about anything taste great. Try these sprouts as a side at your next holiday dinner.


Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 6-8 servings, as a side


  • 2 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise, if you’d like
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes


  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Toss Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet with 3 tablespoons of the oil and salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Roast, 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through, until softened, browned and caramelized.
  4. Whisk vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and remaining oil in a large bowl.
  5. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Transfer to a platter, top with rosemary, the pumpkin seeds and crushed red pepper. Serve warm or at room temp.

Sautéing Brussels Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts.  These mini-cabbage like sprouts grow on tall stalks and are full of Vitamins A and C, fiber and folic acid. They’ve been all over the farmers markets lately and that makes them a perfect side dish for any gathering this time of year.

And there are several ways to cook them. I usually like to roast them in the oven, but then again I could roast just about any vegetable and be happy. Many, however, like to sauté hers in a quick, effortless fashion.

Tara’s Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

First, clean the Brussels sprouts by soaking in water, chopping off the stems and removing the outer leaves. Then, cut the sprouts in half.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium high. When hot, add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds, then toss in the sprouts. Cook, until caramelized, about 8 – 10 minutes, stirring frequently. If the pan becomes too dry, add in 1/4 cup water. Serve hot, sprinkled with lemon juice.

Brussels Sprout, Parsnip, and Leek Au Gratin

Add this dish to your localvore holiday!  Thanks to the Domestic Diva for sharing this tasty recipe with us. Ingredients • 5 parsnips, peeled, halved and cut into half moons • 2 large leeks, halved, cleaned,sliced into half moons • 1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut in half, quartered • 1 cup cream or dairy cream substitute • 2 cloves of garlic, minced • 1/2 half white onion or 1 shallot diced, finely • 2 tbs corn starch (if using all local ingredients, use a local flour–but add it slowly to prevent lumps) • 1/4 stalk fresh rosemary • 1 stalk fresh thyme • 1/4 to 1 cup of cheddar cheese, grated • 1/2 to 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (if using all local ingredients, try an aged Vermont goat cheese in lieu of Parmesan) • 1/2 to 1 cup of Panko bread crumbs, optional

Directions Saute leeks and parsnips in oil, butter, or bacon fat until tender. Place in medium oven-safe dish.  Saute brussel sprouts until browned and outer leaves become tender.  Season with salt and white pepper.  Add brussel sprouts to parsnips and leeks in the oven-safe dish.

In a sauce pan combine cream, garlic, and onion. Heat until hot.  Add corn starch. Whisk until smooth or puree in food processor.  Add rosemary and thyme and cook until warm and thick.  Add cheddar cheese, let melt. Taste, season with salt and pepper.  Remove rosemary and thyme stalks. For thicker sauce add more corn starch, whisking until smooth.

Pour sauce over vegetables and toss until well coated.  Bake in oven at 350F until thick, bubbly, and sprouts are tender, NOT mushy. Top with parmesan cheese and panko crumbs and bake until golden brown.

If traveling with this dish, pre-bake until warm and bubbly. Reheat at destination with parmesan and panko.