Kathy Gunst's Guide To A Low-Stress Thanksgiving

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(Jesse Costa/Here & Now)
(Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

When you read food magazines and watch TV shows they use anxiety-provoking words like "Thanksgiving readiness," "game plan strategy" and "attack plan."

This is not war. This is a meal, a feast, a time to give thanks and celebrate family and friends and the people we love. It's about good food, but it's not about warfare.

So keeping that in mind, here’s a guide to help make the great American feast a bit easier and less stressful. Keeping stress out of the kitchen is always a good idea.

Kathy also has four recipes to share: Pie Crust; Cranberry Sauce with Orange, Ginger, Pineapple and Pecans; Creamed Spinach with Yogurt and Nutmeg; and Orange-Scented Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

She also answered many listeners' Thanksgiving cooking questions in a live web chat on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Here are other great Thanksgiving recipes and tips from Kathy:

____Kathy's Turkey Day Timeline:____

About A Week Ahead Of The Big Day

A snapshot of some of Kathy's desserts at Thanksgiving 2011. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
A snapshot of some of Kathy's desserts at Thanksgiving 2011. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
  • Order turkey - fresh, frozen, local, organic?
  • Order the pies, cakes and breads you are not making.
  • Make grocery list including flowers, napkins, drinks, cider and sparking cider for kids and non-drinkers
  • Tell guests what you would like them to bring. Unless you have a private chef or someone catering your meal (in which case you don't need this list at all) you should ask for help. I always ask the really good bakers for dessert, and the ones who have a wonderful old family favorite to bring it so everyone feels part of the action.
  • Clean out freezer and refrigerator to make room for all the Thanksgiving food. You will need way more room than normal.
  • Think about how you are going to serve the meal: buffet or passed platters? Make room at the side of the table or somewhere in the kitchen for the food.
  • Buy a meat thermometer. Knowing the internal temperature of the bird is the single best way to know when it is properly cooked. You want an inexpensive instant read meat thermometer. You want the internal temperature of the turkey to be around 165 degrees. You will take it out of the oven, cover it loosely in foil, and it will stay warm and keep cooking.

Weekend Before The Big Day

  • Defrost the turkey if frozen. A frozen bird will defrost about 4 pound per day. So if you have a 15-pound bird it will take 4 to 5 days to fully thaw. PLAN AHEAD!
  • Make pie crust. Roll it out and place in a pie pan and freeze it well covered in plastic wrap and then foil. Make an extra batch of pie dough just in case. Always good to have on hand and it will keep for up to 6 months.
  • Stock: take the turkey neck and giblets and place in a medium saucepan and cover with lots of cold water. Add 2 chopped onions, 2 ribs celery, 2 carrots, a handful of fresh chopped parsley, 6 peppercorns, and salt and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 to 3 hours, or more until reduced and flavorful. Strain and freeze. Label everything.
  • Make cranberry sauce (recipe below) and place in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerate for up to 10 days or freeze.
  • Make sure your roasting pan is big enough for your turkey and make sure it fits in the oven. No surprises, thank you.
  • Set out plates and platters and serving spoons and forks. Know what you will serve everything on and put it aside so you don't wake up on Thanksgiving morning only to learn you only have one serving plate.
  • Order flowers.

Two Days Before The Big Day

Kathy Gunst snapped this photo of the apple galette at her Thanksgiving last year.
Kathy Gunst snapped this photo of the apple galette at her Thanksgiving last year.
  • Start collecting bread (old bread and bread "heels" - the ends of bread - are perfect) for the stuffing. Buy bread and cube it and set it out, to dry for stuffing.
  • Where you will cook everything? When the turkey is in the oven - which it will be for most of the day - you will have very little or no room in the oven. What can be cooked on the stovetop? How many burners do you have and can you sauté a dish rather than bake it? You will take the turkey out of the oven about 45 minutes to an hour before you eat (to let it rest and then to carve) so you will have the oven for at least 45 minutes just before you eat. Plan it all out. Neurotic as it may sound, you won't be sorry.
  • Defrost pie crust, stocks, breads, etc. and place in refrigerator overnight to thaw.
  • Buy perishables, fresh greens for salad, spinach for creamed spinach, sweet potatoes. You don’t want to be doing this shopping on Wednesday afternoon!

One Day Before The Big Day

  • Bake pies and cakes and breads
  • Clean salad greens and make salad dressing
  • Brine turkey, if you must.
  • Chill wine, beer and drinks.
  • Toss bread for stuffing so it really dries out before THE BIG DAY.
  • Some people like to make their side dishes the day before. I never make mashed potatoes until the day I am serving them, but you can make casseroles (like creamed spinach or sweet potatoes, or roasted Brussels sprouts). You can trim green beans and get other dishes partially ready. Always be sure to slightly undercook side dishes so that you can heat them up until really hot without fear of overcooking.
  • Set the table. Yes, for real. Plates, fork, spoon knives. Tablecloth and napkins (whoops, they need ironing), flowers, candles, chairs. Get it all ready and you don't need to think about it tomorrow.

The Big Day

  • Prepare stuffing. Don't stuff the turkey until its ready to go in oven. Place excess turkey in a lightly greased casserole.
  • While turkey roasts, prepare side dishes, finish off desserts, etc.
  • Wow, look how organized you are.
  • Keep food warm until you are ready to eat.
  • Sit. Give thanks. Feast. Enjoy. Give thanks again. Ask relatives to wash dishes. Put away food for delicious leftovers in the days to come.

____Recipes from Kathy Gunst:____

Pie Crust

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Kathy's Note
This is a basic pie crust that will work well for pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple, or any of your favorite pies. Make sure to leave enough time to chill the crust.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
About 3 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water

You can make the crust in a food processor or by hand. Here are both methods:

To prepare the crust by hand: mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter or your hands, break the butter up into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the 3 tablespoon of the water, adding more if needed, until the dough begins to come together and there is no excess flour in the bottom of the bowl. Add another tablespoon or two of water if needed.

To prepare the crust using a food processor: add the flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of the processor and blend to mix. Add the butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the water, a few tablespoons at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Mound the dough into a round, flat disc, and wrap in a large piece of plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour, or up to 48 hours.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Remove the chilled dough circles and roll it out to a circle about 11 inches across. Place the circle into a 9-inch pie plate, allowing the edges to fall over the sides of the pie plate. Place your filling inside the dough and proceed with your recipe.

You will have some extra dough - it can be used for a small tart or for making a lattice topping.

Cranberry Sauce with Orange, Ginger, Pineapple and Pecans

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From "Notes from a Maine Kitchen" by Kathy Gunst (Down East Books, 2011)
Serve with Thanksgiving turkey or on turkey sandwiches, but this sauce is also delicious served with a cheese platter, or as a dessert sauce with butter cookies, pound cake or pie.

1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 pound fresh cranberries (if frozen, do not defrost)
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup very thinly sliced orange rind
1 cup finely chopped pineapple
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (rind)1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped candied or crystallized ginger, optional
1 cup pecans, or your favorite nut, coarsely chopped

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 15 minutes, or until the sugar syrup begins to turn a pale amber color. Add the maple syrup and the cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop. Add the orange juice, orange rind, and the orange zest and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Add the pineapple and the fresh and crystallized ginger and cook 2 minutes. The sauce should be full of flavor and slightly thickened. (If the sauce still seems thin — and remember, it will thicken as it chills— remove the cranberries with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Boil the liquid in the pot over moderate to high heat until it is thickened slightly, about 10 minutes, if needed. Place the cranberries back in the slightly thickened sauce.)

Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts. Let cool completely. Place in a clean glass jar and refrigerate for up to 10 days, or freeze up to 6 months.

Makes about 6 cups.

____Creamed Spinach with Yogurt and Nutmeg

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From "Notes from a Maine Kitchen" by Kathy Gunst (Down East Books, 2011)
This has been a family favorite for years, beginning with my father who never loved vegetables but adored cream spinach. During the holidays we make it with heavy cream and freshly ground nutmeg but over the years I’ve lightened it up a bit. Instead of heavy cream I substitute local yogurt, or a thick Greek-style yogurt. If you don’t have either of those you can take plain yogurt and place it in a tightly meshed sieve for an hour or so until much of the liquid is released and drained and you’re left with a thick, delicious yogurt mixture. Also try to buy whole nutmeg and a little nutmeg grater (or you can use the very tiny holes on a box cheese grater); it makes a huge difference.

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh spinach or baby spinach, washed and thoroughly dried
2 to 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg*
About 1/2 cup yogurt, see head note, or heavy cream
*You can also all kinds of different spices: add a dash of cardamom, allspice, chile flakes, or cayenne.

In a large skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Add half the spinach and cook, stirring, for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted but not necessarily cooked through. Remove to a chopping board. Add another tablespoon of oil and sauté the remaining spinach in the same manner; remove to the chopping board.

Chop the spinach (some like it finely chopped and others coarsely chopped).

Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 10 seconds. Add the chopped spinach, salt, pepper, and nutmeg stirring well and cook 1 minute. Add the yogurt (or cream), stirring it into the spinach, and let cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened and hot. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, or nutmeg if needed. (The spinach can be served hot from the skillet or placed in a small casserole and refrigerated for several hours. Reheat in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until bubbling and hot throughout).

Serves 4.

____Orange-Scented Mashed Sweet Potatoes

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From "Stonewall Kitchen Winter Celebrations" by Kathy Gunst, Jim Stott, and Jonathan King (Chronicle Books, 2009)
A nice twist on mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (or squash) are pureed with orange zest and juice for a deliciously sweet, light side dish.

2 pounds peeled sweet potatoes, or butternut or other winter squash, seeded, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon honey

Fill a large soup pot with 2 inches of lightly salted water and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the sweet potatoes, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork or small, sharp knife.

Drain the potatoes, and transfer to the work bowl of a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining ingredients, and puree until smooth. Season again to taste.

The sweet potatoes can be prepared ahead. Place finished potatoes in a casserole dish. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. To reheat, place in a 350 degree oven, covered, for 30 minutes, or until warmed through

Serves 4.

Holiday Variations:

  • Try substituting acorn squash, or your favorite winter squash for the sweet potatoes.
  • Add a peeled, chopped apple or ripe pear to the puree.
  • Layer the top of the sweet potato puree with tiny sweet tangerine sections and heat in the casserole.
  • Add a large, peeled, chopped carrot to the pot with the potatoes.
  • Add a dash of ground nutmeg, allspice, or cinnamon to the puree.

Want more Kathy Gunst recipes and cooking tips? Check out Kathy's page on our website.

This segment aired on November 16, 2012.


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