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Thanksgiving menu: Simple holiday favorites

Thanksgiving is a holiday of excess, but that doesn’t mean you have to go overboard with elaborate ingredients and kitchen techniques. You can’t go wrong with these simple, sure-thing dishes.

More Thanksgiving menus: Make ahead | Last minute | With a twist | Americana | Cooking for two | Vegetarian | Vegan | Calorie conscious | WaPo Favorites

Celery, Walnut, Pecorino Salad

The secret behind the salad simply billed on Etto’s menu as “Celery, Celery, Celery and Walnut” is the use of Chinese celery, which has thinner ribs and a stronger flavor and is not traditionally eaten raw. Look for Chinese celery at a good Asian supermarket such as Lotte Plaza or H Mart.

  • 6 to 8 ribs green celery, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup pale celery leaves (from inside a bunch of green celery)
  • 10 ribs Chinese celery, thinly sliced (about 1 cup; see headnote)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark green Chinese celery leaves
  • 2 ounces aged pecorino Romano cheese, shaved into thin curls
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and coarsely chopped (see NOTE)
  • 1/3 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss together the celery and leaves, cheese, walnuts, oil, lemon and orange juices, salt and pepper in a bowl. Divide among individual plates. Serve right away.

NOTE: Toast the nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan to avoid scorching, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

Basic Mashed Potatoes

  • 4 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • Salt
  • 2/3 to 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
  • 6 to 12 tablespoons butter , at room temperature
  • Freshly ground black or white pepper

Place the potatoes in a large pan or pot and add enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Place over low heat, shaking the pot frequently, until any remaining moisture evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a small pan over low heat, heat the cream, half-and-half or milk.

Using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, coarsely mash the potatoes. Add about 6 tablespoons of butter and 2/3 cup of cream (if using half-and-half or milk, start with 1/2 cup of liquid) and salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined. Taste and, if desired, add additional butter and/or cream (you will need slightly less liquid if you use half-and-half or milk than if you use cream). Serve immediately.

Green Beans With Lemon Zest

  • 2 pounds green beans or French green beans (haricots verts), trimmed if desired
  • 4 tablespoons oil, approximately
  • Lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons, grated or minced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the beans are bright green and no longer crisp but not completely tender, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately transfer them to the ice water for a few minutes to stop the cooking and retain the vibrant color. Drain the beans and transfer them to a clean towel to dry.

Transfer the beans to a large bowl, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with lemon zest and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces cranberries, rinsed and stemmed

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low or low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, with the mixture barely bubbling at the edges.

Strain the hot mixture through a fine-mesh strainer suspended over a medium mixing bowl, mashing the berries with a spoon or flexible spatula and scraping the underside of the strainer as needed (the mixture will already start to thicken). Discard the skins and any pulp left in the strainer; transfer the strained sauce to a small container and cool completely, then cover tightly, refrigerate and allow to set for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.

Pam Ginsberg’s No-Fuss Roast Turkey

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 bunches celery, pulled apart
  • Water
  • One 14-pound turkey, giblets removed; but leave in the plastic truss
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 large onion, cut into quarters
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic (peeled)
  • Handful fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and/or sage, for the cavity

For the pan: Combine the salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried sage, spreading it in the bottom of the roasting pan. Arrange the celery ribs so they cover the bottom of the pan; they will serve as a rack for the bird. Add enough water to cover the celery completely.

For the turkey: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Season the bird inside and out (to taste) with the salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried sage. Place the onion, garlic cloves and fresh herbs inside the turkey cavity, then seat the bird on top of the celery.

Roast for about 2 hours, using the liquid in the pan to baste both the turkey cavity and the exterior a total of 3 times. After the last basting, tip out any liquid from the turkey cavity to ensure crispness. The interior temperature of the meat, taken near the thigh and away from the bone, should register 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Strain the pan juices (jus) through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving only the garlic for mashing into potatoes, if desired. (Discard the celery and the herbs and onion that were inside the turkey.) Pass the jus at the table.

Pumpkin Pots With Pie Crust Leaves

  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Pie Crust Leaves (optional; can use store-bought pie crust dough)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready eight 4-ounce ramekins, 16 ovenproof egg cups (not usually used for baking, but they work fine) or several other small ovenproof dishes.

Using a whisk or electric mixer on medium speed, mix the pumpkin puree and eggs until combined. Add the granulated and brown sugars and mix until combined. Add the pumpkin pie spice, salt, milk and cream and mix until combined. Divide the pumpkin mixture among the ramekins and bake until the top is dry and lightly browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out almost completely clean, 30 to 35 minutes for 4-ounce ramekins, less for eggcups. (The timing will vary dramatically according to the size of the ramekin.) Set aside to cool slightly. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate overnight and serve chilled. Garnish each pot with Pie Crust Leaves sticking out of the custard.

Pie Crust Leaves: On a floured surface, roll out frozen or refrigerated pie dough crust to a thickness of a little less than 1/4 inch. Using a paring knife or small cookie cutter, cut out leaf shapes. If desired, use the tip of the knife to draw the leaf spine on the dough, inserting the knife about halfway into the dough. Brush each leaf lightly with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees till golden brown. Store in an airtight container.

NOTE: For the prepared pumpkin spice, you can substitute equal parts of ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace and cloves.