By Ann Cipperly
With Thanksgiving a couple of weeks away and Auburn having three home games in a row this month, take time to plan menus and get organized to enjoy spending time with family and friends. Getting organized and preparing some dishes ahead will prevent being stuck in the kitchen with a stack of pots and pans while everyone else is having a good time.
While the holidays can be happy times for some, there are many in our community with broken hearts from losing loved ones and others who are trying to rebuild their homes from the tornadoes. Plan ahead to prepare extra to share with those who are hurting this season to show that we are thinking of them, praying and love them.
To get organized, go through your recipes and select family favorites to prepare and make a detailed grocery list. Pick some recipes that can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. I know this can be difficult when you work, but try making a dish to freeze while preparing dinner or pick a weekend afternoon to cook and freeze dishes.
Casseroles, breads, dressing and cake layers freeze well. Be sure they are properly wrapped. Wait until the dish is cool or chill first. Once the dish is cold, cover the top with plastic wrap and then completely cover the dish, top and bottom with heavy duty foil, sealing the ends tightly.
I find it is easy to double recipes to have one with dinner and the other one for the freezer. Include a spinach, corn or sweet potato casserole on your dinner menu. Double the recipe and freeze the other one for Thanksgiving or to share. Sometimes I will bake a pan of sweet potatoes to serve with dinner and use the leftovers to assemble a casserole to freeze.
Years ago when my parents were living, I would have the entire family for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was about 36 or more people. I would prepare the cornbread dressing, vegetable casseroles, breads and some desserts ahead and freeze. Other desserts would be made a day or two ahead.
I would have everything cooked ahead except for the turkey. I got tired of making the gravy at the last minute, so I started baking a smaller turkey the day before. I made gravy with the drippings and stock made from boiling the giblets with onions and celery. On Thanksgiving, the gravy was ready and just needed to be reheated.
This also assured there would be plenty of meat if the 20 pound plus turkey was not enough. Leftovers are always great for sandwiches too.
The Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes will save a lot of last minute preparation. The potatoes can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Friends have told me that it freezes well.
Along with the turkey, southern cornbread dressing is a star attraction at the Thanksgiving dinner.
While some families prepare their grandmother’s dressing recipe, Dee Dee Harper’s grandmother Nonnie’s recipe for cornbread dressing was lost among hundreds of her handwritten family recipes. Some of the recipes call for proportions such as “fresh churned butter the size of a hen’s egg.”
Dee Dee’s friend Jill Haisten developed a recipe close to Nonnie’s that is moist and delicious. “Jill has been coming to our house for Thanksgiving for over 30 years,” she says, “and for several years, she has been making this fabulous dressing while the Macy’s Parade plays in the background. It is a cherished tradition.”
Dee Dee is sharing the recipe and the various options for making the dressing, as well as her recipe for Rosemary Turkey.
To assure a roast turkey is moist, let it rest 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size, before carving. Otherwise, all the juices will run out making it dry.
Green beans are a popular side for Thanksgiving. When Janet Bartlett was church hostess at Trinity United Methodist Church, one of her most popular dishes was her Sweet and Sour Green Beans. They are embellished with bacon and onions and slowly roasted for an hour, then refrigerated overnight and reheated when ready to serve.
Along with having menus, grocery lists and recipes together, get dishes and table linens ready. Polish silver if you are using any. Don’t forget to check spices to be sure they are not outdated. Organize the pantry to have ingredients easy to find, and be sure you are not running low on sugar, flour, baking powder (use aluminum free), baking soda and other staples.
When planning centerpieces, look to the autumn landscape in glorious hues of gold, orange and crimson. Gather an array of natural materials along with pumpkins, pears, apples, nuts and other seasonal elements for creating a stunning Thanksgiving table. Provide a soft glow for dining with an assortment of candles in hurricane shades and votives in sparkling crystal holders.
Following are recipes from some of the area’s good cooks. You may want to select a few of these tried and true favorite recipes for your menu this year.
With so many heartbreaking losses in our community, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and set priorities for spending more time with family, as we realize every day is a gift. What is on the menu is not as important as being with family and friends around the table, holding hands while giving thanks.
Baked Cheese Torta
Three 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1½ cups grated Cheddar cheese
4 oz. can chopped green chilies, drained
1 cup sour cream
Chopped yellow, orange or red pepper
Sliced green onions
Sliced ripe olive
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat cream cheese and eggs at medium speed until well blended. Mix in shredded cheese and chilies. Pour into a greased spring-form pan. Bake 40 minutes or until top is puffed.
Spread sour cream over top. When cool, loosen torta from rim of pan and refrigerate. Top with assorted toppings; chill until ready to serve with crackers or in wedges.
Nonnie’s Cornbread Dressing
Reinvented by Jill Haisten
Dee Dee Harper
Can prepare day ahead.
½ cup fat (bacon drippings are the old southern way, but real butter or vegetable oil will work)
2 cups plain cornmeal
½ cup flour
½ Tbsp. sugar
½ Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Preheat oven to 450. Put fat into seasoned 9-inch cast iron skillet; place in oven. Heat until oil is very hot but not smoking; remove pan from oven.
In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in the eggs. Gradually add buttermilk by ½ cup until consistency of thick cake batter.
Add half of fat from skillet, stirring only until just mixed. Pour batter into hot skillet (with fat) and return to oven.
Reduce temperature to 400. Bake until golden brown. A toothpick inserted into center will come out clean. Invert cornbread onto a large plate.
9 or 10-inch cast iron pan of Southern Cornbread or can use pkg. mix
½ loaf white bread
1-2 large sweet onions, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped (use tops too)
Butter or chicken fat
Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear cornbread into bite sized pieces; cube and lightly toast white bread and add to cornbread. Sauté onions and celery in a small amount of butter or chicken fat until limp and add to bread mixture.
Add chicken stock and stir until liquid is absorbed but not mushy. Add salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to taste.
Bake in open roaster for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring often. Dressing is done when top is lightly toasted and all liquid absorbed. Serves at least 12 hungry guests.
Add one pint of shucked oysters and liquid the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
Jill’s Dressing Options:
½-1 lb. roll sausage, fried and thoroughly drained
1-2 cored apples, chopped
½ cup golden raisins
Add into mixture before baking any or all of the options but not with oysters.
Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
5 lbs. potatoes (Yukon Gold are great)
1 cup sour cream
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. salt or to taste
Black pepper or white pepper to taste, optional
½ stick or more butter
Peel and cook potatoes; drain well. While potatoes are cooking, beat sour cream and cream cheese until fluffy.
Mash potatoes with butter and then gradually add hot mashed potatoes to cream mixture; beat until fluffy. Add seasonings to taste.
Spoon into greased casserole dish. Store in refrigerator until ready to bake. Can be made a day or two ahead. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until thoroughly hot.
Sweet and Sour Green Beans
Popular dish from former church hostess Janet Bartlett
3 cans cut green beans, drained
Chopped onion to taste
Bacon (to taste), fried crisp and crumbled
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. bacon fat*
Layer beans with onions and bacon (in amounts desired); repeat layers. Pour sauce over beans. Cover and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight and reheat to serve. Easy to double or triple.
*If you have health concerns, vegetable or olive oil can be substituted.
Fresh Cranberry Relish
1 large orange, quartered with peel
1 lb. cranberries
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup apricot preserves
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Finely chop orange in a food processor. Combine cranberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes.
Transfer cranberries to a bowl; add apricot preserves and mix until melted. Stir in pineapple, lemon juice and chopped orange.
Chill until ready to serve.
Dee Dee Harper
Whole, fresh hen turkey
1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 melted
8-10 fresh clipped sprigs of rosemary, about 4-inches long
Salt and pepper
Wash and prep turkey, saving giblets for gravy and dressing. Pat very dry.
With very sharp paring knife, cut slits between skin and meat. Make 2 incisions in each thigh, 3 on each side of the breast, and elsewhere as you like. Incisions should be only as wide as the width of your knife, about 3 inches long under skin.
Slide in a sprig of rosemary as far as possible and ½ pat of butter into each incision. Salt and pepper the outside of the turkey and cavity thoroughly.
Place bird in roasting pan on rack. Drizzle melted butter over bird, especially breast. (Butter will likely congeal on contact.) Roast breast side up. Insert thermometer in meatiest part of breast or thigh and roast based on weight, according to wrapping directions.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes or longer, depending on size, before slicing to allow juices to set.
15-16 oz. can solid pack pumpkin
1½ cups sugar
12 oz. can evaporated milk
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp. salt
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of 9 x 13 pan. Combine pumpkin, eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a large bowl. Pour into pan. Sprinkle cake mix evenly over top. Top with pecans. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until golden. Serve with whipped topping.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
Joan King Dilworth
6 cups cooked fresh sweet potatoes
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
½ cup milk
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
Miniature or regular marshmallows
Beat warm sweet potatoes and remaining ingredients except marshmallows until smooth. Pour into greased 3-quart baking dish. May prepare ahead and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; add marshmallows and bake an additional five minutes.
Autumn Salad with Pears, Pecans and Apple Cider Dressing
4 cups apple cider
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. grated onion
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Two 5 oz. bags mixed salad greens
12 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
1½ cups pecans or walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries
Fresh pear slices
Boil apple cider in heavy, large saucepan until reduced to ½ cup, about 25 minutes (watch closely as it will burn quickly just before it is ready). It will be thick and syrupy. Transfer to medium bowl and chill until cold. Add vinegar, onion, mustard and poppy seeds. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss greens, cheese, pecans, and fruits in bowl with enough dressing to coat.
Dressing makes enough for several salads and keeps well in refrigerator.
Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Icing
Sara Jane Tatum
1 cup cooking oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
2 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups chopped, peeled Red Delicious apples
1 cup chopped pecans
Cream the oil, sugar, and eggs well. Add vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and blend into creamed mixture. Fold in pecans and apples. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan and bake at 3250 for 45 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool. Ice with Brown Sugar Icing.
Brown Sugar Icing
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat immediately and stir in vanilla. Beat with a spoon until the icing is cool. Pour over the cake.
Joan King Dilworth
6 to 8 large red sweet potatoes, baked slowly 2-3 hours
Grease a 3-quart casserole. Slice peeled sweet potatoes in a single layer in pan; slice butter to put on top of potatoes and sprinkle with generous amount of sugar. Repeat with a second layer using plenty of butter and sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, basting with melted syrup every 10 minutes.
Chocolate Pecan Pies
Mary Barnes Newman
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
4 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp. bourbon, optional
6 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
Two 9-inch piecrusts
Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup, eggs and bourbon. Divide chocolate chips and pecans between the two piecrusts. Pour filling into piecrusts. Bake at 350 degrees in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes.