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Thanksgiving menu: Washington Post Food favorites

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Everyone has a favorite recipe or two that they’re happy to make year after year. These are some of ours, ranging from simple Jell-O molds to complex deconstructed turkey.

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

Thanksgiving Jell-O

As far back as Jane Touzalin can remember, this dish was a constant on her family’s holiday table, including Christmas. To save time, her mom would chill a single recipe’s worth in a 9-inch square baking pan and slice it into squares to serve.

  • 3 ounces (1 box, small) lemon-flavored Jell-O
  • 2 cups cold, fresh, unsweetened apple cider
  • Pinch pinch kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery
  • 1 to 2 red apples
  • Mayonnaise, for serving (optional)

Empty the packet of Jell-O into a medium mixing bowl. Heat 1 cup of the cider in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the cider begins to boil, pour it into the Jell-O in the bowl and stir until all granules have dissolved. Add the salt, lemon juice and the remaining 1 cup of cold cider, stirring to combine. Refrigerate for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Cut enough of the celery into 1/4-inch dice to yield about 1 cup. Use the large holes of a box grater to grate enough of the apples, including the peel, to yield about 1 cup.

Begin checking the refrigerated gelatin after 1 hour. When it is thick but has not set, stir in the apples and celery, mixing to distribute them evenly. The gelatin should be just firm enough so that the apples and celery don’t sink to the bottom.

Spray an 8- or 9-inch square pan with cooking oil spray. Transfer the mixture to the pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Serve cold, with a small dollop of mayonnaise, if desired.

NOTE: To double the recipe for molding, dissolve 2 packets of Jell-O in 2 cups of boiling cider, then add 1 3/4 cups of cold cider; the gelatin will be sturdier and will hold its shape better after unmolding. Spray the mold with cooking oil spray before fillng. To unmold, use a moistened fingertip to gently pull the gelatin away from the side of the filled mold. Dip the mold into warm water up to the rim for 10 seconds. Wipe the mold dry and give it a shake to loosen. Moisten a cold serving plate and invert it over the open end of the mold; hold plate and mold together firmly, and invert both so that the Jell-O plops satisfyingly onto the plate.

Cranberry Sauce Mold

Becky Krystal’s family has been serving variations of this cranberry-sauce-and-Jell-O mashup for decades. The original recipe came from a Long Island “ladies’ cookbook” owned by her grandmother. If you don’t have a Bundt pan or want to use a mold, make sure it has a capacity of at least 7 cups.

  • 14 ounces canned jellied cranberry sauce
  • 14 ounces canned whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 ounces (1 box with 6 ounces or 2 boxes with 3 ounces) strawberry gelatin, such as Jell-O brand
  • 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped into smaller than bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 15 ounces crushed pineapple, drained (optional)
  • Neutral-flavored oil, such as canola, for the pan

Use a fork or potato masher to break up the cranberry sauce in a mixing bowl; it’s okay if some chunks remain.

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat; whisk in the gelatin, then immediately pour the hot gelatin mixture over the mashed cranberry sauce, stirring to combine. Refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Stir the chopped apples, walnuts and crushed pineapple, if using, into the gelatin mixture.

Brush a Bundt pan with the oil, pouring off any excess that pools at the bottom of the pan. Transfer the gelatin mixture to the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the mold is well set, ideally overnight. It will be soft, but sturdy enough to hold its shape.

When ready to serve, place the pan in a few inches of warm water for a minute or two. Invert onto a serving dish; cut into wedges.

Fifteen-Layer Potato Gratin

This is not your everyday potato gratin. It’s a prep-heavy, restaurant-style one — perfect for the holidays, when you want to impress the family. The key is to slice the potatoes paper thin, as thin as you can on a mandoline. Toss out any slices thicker than 1/16th of an inch.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 to 5 large russet potatoes (4 pounds total)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Use the butter to grease the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, preferably Pyrex (to better see the layers). Combine the cream and garlic in a bowl.

Peel 4 of the potatoes, submerging each one in a bowl of cool water as you finish peeling it.

Dry one potato at a time, then carefully use a mandoline to slice it very thinly. Create two thin layers of slices in the baking dish, then sprinkle with a small pinch each of the salt (or to taste) and the pepper. Drizzle a tablespoon of the cream-garlic mixture over the top. Repeat with another double layer of potato, then sprinkle evenly with a pinch of the nutmeg and about 2 tablespoons of the cheese.

Repeat the alternate slicing/layering steps until the baking dish is filled within 1/2 inch of the top; press down on the layers as you work to make sure you build as many layers as possible. Peel and use the remaining potato as needed.

Drizzle the last of the cream-garlic mixture and sprinkle the last of the cheese over the top of the final potato layer. Let the dish rest while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dish on a baking sheet, if desired; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the gratin meets no resistance. The top of the gratin should be browned and bubbling. (If it isn’t, you can use a culinary torch to brown the top.)

Wait for 10 to 15 minutes before serving; that will make it easier to cut into portions.

Balsamic Pearl Onions

These are worth 20 minutes of peeling time. The end result is piquant with a bit of heat, and therefore a nice counterpoint to the holiday’s turkey and mashed potatoes. Serve just a few on each plate.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 30 ounces white pearl onions and red pearl onions, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • Pinch ancho chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook for 10 minutes, or until onions have softened slightly. Add the salt to taste and the chili powder, cocoa powder and balsamic vinegar, stirring to combine. Cover, reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and cook for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onions to a container to cool. Reserve the reduced balsamic vinegar in a separate container. At this point, the onions and balsamic reduction may be covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. To serve, in a small saucepan on a medium-low setting, heat the reserved balsamic vinegar with the heavy cream, if desired. Add the onions and stir until warmed through. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in a warmed, lidded dish.

Hazelnut and Sausage Stuffing

Savory lamb sausage makes the best pairing for the hazelnuts used in this stuffing, but pork, veal or even turkey sausage seasoned with sage works, too.

SERVINGS: 10 – 12
  • 1 pound lamb sausage links, casings removed
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 medium white or yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 4 cups)
  • 5 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped sage leaves (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled)
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see headnote and NOTE)
  • 3 cups dried seasoned stuffing, preferably Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing (crush 1 cup of it into a finer crumb)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten

Line a medium bowl with paper towels.

Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring to break up any clumps, for 8 to 10 minutes, until no pink remains. Use a slotted spatula to transfer to the paper towel-lined bowl and let cool.

Wipe out the skillet and add the butter; melt over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and sage and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Place the cooled sausage and the skinned hazelnuts in a food processor; pulse 3 or 4 times until coarsely chopped, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of the seasoned stuffing, the parsley and the cooled onion-celery mixture and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, the mixture can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, or if baking only some of the stuffing, lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Add the eggs and the cup of crushed seasoned stuffing; mix well to combine. Fill the turkey cavity loosely and/or place in a baking dish. If all the stuffing is to be baked outside the turkey, cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Julia and Jacques’ Deconstructed Turkey With Corn Bread Stuffing and Gravy

This bird is a project; no two ways about it. But the results are worth it because the turkey is in great shape and a cinch to carve when it comes to the table.



  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Neck, bones and meaty trimmings from the (uncooked) deconstructed turkey, plus any giblets for making gravy later
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch chunks (1 cup)
  • 8 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 ounces pork sausage meat, preferably flavored with sage (no casings)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • Leaves from 1 ounce (or 1 clamshell pack) sage, minced (3 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
  • 8 cups homemade or store-bought unsweetened corn bread (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes


  • 12-pound fresh turkey, giblets, gizzard, backbone and neckbone removed (used for rich turkey broth and gravy; use kitchen shears to remove the backbone)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil


  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider, preferably fresh
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 3 cups Rich Turkey Stock (see above)
  • Pan drippings and vegetables from the roasted whole turkey breast
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch or arrowroot
  • 2 tablespoons tawny port, or more as needed

For the rich turkey stock: Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the turkey neck, bones and any meaty trimmings; sear on all sides until nicely browned. This can take about 15 minutes total. Transfer to a plate, then add the onion, carrot and celery, stirring to coat in the pan fat. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, until browned at the edges. At this point, the giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) can be added and sauteed until lightly browned, if desired. Transfer the contents of the pot to a plate; reserve for later use.

Use paper towels to wipe out any fat from the pot. Place it over medium-high heat; when it is quite hot, add the broth and use a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits in the bottom of the pot. Add the bones, trimmings and vegetables, stirring to combine, then add the bay leaves and thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Once the liquid starts to bubble at the edges, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and cook for 30 minutes, occasionally skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the top. Then cover and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, during which time you can add the heart and gizzard to cook for 15 minutes and 45 minutes, respectively, then remove to cool and reserve for later use, if desired.

Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into an 8-cup container, discarding the solids. You should have about 6 cups. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate so that any remaining fat rises to the top and can be discarded.

For the stuffing: Line a bowl with a few layers of paper towels.

Heat a teaspoon or two of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage meat in several pinches/pieces. Cook for about 5 minutes, until it is no longer pink (but not fully browned), stirring often to break up the meat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the paper towel-lined bowl to drain.

Add the remaining oil and the butter to the skillet; increase the heat to medium-high and add the onion, celery, mushrooms, sage, salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have slightly softened. Return the drained sausage to the skillet, then add the broth and cook for about 1 minute, stirring.

While the vegetables are cooking, place the cornbread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooked vegetables and sausage, and toss to combine, crumbling some of the cornbread to form a stuffing that is moist yet loose. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the turkey: Discard any pieces of fat or excess skin and any pop-up plastic timer. Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry, and place it on a large clean cutting board.

Use a sharp knife to dislodge and remove the wishbone. Use the shears to snip off the nubbins and smaller parts of the wings. Use a large butcher’s knife to carefully cut off the ends of the drumsticks bone; discard the nubs. Use a sharp knife to cut the leg-thigh section from the bird, keeping them together as one large piece. Use a small sharp knife, preferably a fish knife, to cut the flesh away from the bone in each thigh, then snap the bone at the joint and remove it (save for stock).

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Have a two large roasting pans ready, one with a flat rack that fits inside it.

Season the inside of each boned thigh-leg piece with salt and pepper, then use about 1/2 cup of the cooled stuffing to to fill it. Close the flaps of meat and skin over the stuffing, using toothpicks to secure the flesh. Use the oil to lightly coat the stuffed leg pieces; place them seam side up on the rack inside the roasting pan.

Use the remaining stuffing to form a large mound at the center of the remaining roasting pan. Drape the backbone-less turkey over the stuffing, so that it covers the stuffing completely and creates a kind of turkey tent. Grease the skin with a little of the oil, then season with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste. Add the diced onion, carrots and celery around the turkey. Place the roasting pan with the stuffed legs on the upper rack and the pan with the whole turkey breast/stuffing on the lower rack. Roast for 30 minutes.

While the turkey parts are roasting, combine the cider, hot pepper sauce and salt in a liquid measuring cup.

Remove the pan of stuffed legs from the oven; turn them seam side down on the rack, then use a pastry brush to baste them with half of the cider mixture. Return them to the oven and roast for about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the drumstick meat registers 170 degrees. The legs should be browned and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes.

As soon as you have returned the stuffed and basted legs to the oven, remove the pan with the turkey breast/stuffing. Use the remaining cider mixture to baste the skin, then return the pan to the oven and roast for 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the breast meat (close to the bone) registers 155 to 160 degrees. Transfer the whole turkey breast to a serving platter, and transfer the stuffing to a serving bowl; cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Pour any drippings from the roasting pan with the rack into the roasting pan with the vegetables. Place the filled roasting pan over medium heat (2 burners if needed). Carefully add the vermouth, using a wooden spatula to dislodge any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add 3 cups of the rich turkey stock until heated through. Remove from the heat; strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium saucepan, discarding any solids.

Place the saucepan over medium heat so the strained mixture heats through. Add the roasted giblets or gizzard, if desired, and allow to heat through. Then use an immersion (stick) blender to puree them in the liquid.

Whisk together the potato starch or arrowroot and the port in a small measuring cup. Add to the saucepan, whisking, and cook until the liquid in the pan thickens slightly to form a gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat and keep warm on the lowest setting.

When ready to serve, discard the toothpicks in the stuffed legs, then, if desired, use needlenose pliers to carefully dislodge and remove any white tendons that should now be visible on the drumsticks. Arrange the legs in natural positions on either side of the turkey breast; if desired, spoon some of the warm gravy over the turkey pieces before taking the platter and the bowl of warm stuffing to the table. Pour the remaining gravy into a warmed gravy boat.

To serve, cut the stuffed thighs crosswise into 1/2- or 3/4-inch slices that show stuffing at their center. Carve the remaining turkey at the table; pass the gravy at the table.

Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie

Inspired by fruit pies with beautifully arranged layers, this dessert requires you to thinly slice the sweet potatoes. The trade-off is that it’s otherwise so easy: no preboiling or roasting of the sweet potatoes, no making of a pureed, custardy filling. Instead, the slices soak up a brushed-on combination of butter, sugar and Persian spices as they bake and cool.


Yield: Makes one 9-inch pie

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) frozen unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, plus more for the pie plate
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes of similar size, peeled

For the crust: Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse briefly, just until the pieces are pea size. Add 1 tablespoon of the water at a time and pulse, adding water until you can pinch the dough and it barely sticks together. Transfer to a work surface, gather it up and form it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Grease a 9-inch pie plate with a little butter.

Roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap to a width of 12 inches, making sure to turn the dough over often and to lift the plastic frequently so that it doesn’t roll into the dough and form creases. Trim off the overhang, crimp the dough’s edges, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it foams, add the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper and coriander. The spices will bubble and bloom for a few seconds; stir to prevent burning. Stir in the rose water (to taste) and the brown sugar; cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the mixture is blended. (The sugar will not fully dissolve; that’s okay.) Cool slightly in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to cut the pieces into 1/8-inch half moons.

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Arrange the sweet potato slices in the crust, standing them with the curved side up and the straight edge down, overlapping them tightly around the edges of the crust and continuing to work your way around until the crust is filled. You might have some sweet potato slices left over; feel free to artfully tuck them in here and there, or reserve them for another use.

Spoon the butter-sugar mixture over the sweet potatoes, using your fingers to make sure the potatoes are evenly coated. Bake until the sweet potatoes are very tender and the crust has browned, about 1 hour. (If the crust browns before the sweet potatoes soften, loosely tent the pie with aluminum foil or cover the crust edges with foil, and continue baking.)

Cool the pie completely; if any of the butter had pooled around the potato slices in the oven, it will be absorbed as the pie cools.

Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts

These two-bite tarts offer cream cheese pastry, the sweet crunch of topping and a surprise of tartness inside. Never be tempted to put more than three cranberries in each one cup; one berry too many can force a tiny fruit eruption during baking.

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces regular or low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped walnuts
  • 72 (3 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Have ready a nonstick mini-muffin pan that will accommodate 24 tarts.

In a bowl, using a food processor or your fingertips, combine 8 tablespoons of butter, the cream cheese and flour until a ball of dough forms. The dough should be fairly moist and come together easily.

Cut it into 24 pieces and place each piece into a mini-muffin tin pan. Using your fingertips, press the dough over the bottom and all the way up the sides of each cup.

For the filling: In a bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the egg, sugar, butter and vanilla and mix well. Stir in the nuts.

Place 3 cranberries in each cup and spread some of the nut mixture over the cranberries, filling each cup so the cranberries are covered.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until well browned. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool slightly. Run the tip of a knife around the edge of each tart to loosen, then slip the tarts out of the pan.