cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

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The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

maple pumpkin pots de creme

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The last few times I’ve made pots de crème, in any flavor, I’ve concluded that crème brûlée in that flavor would be far superior. Because what’s better than a dish full of sinfully rich baked pudding? Sinfully rich baked pudding topped with caramel.

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These custards are almost like pumpkin pie without the crust, and come to think of it, while I love flaky pie crusts on summery fruit pies, I think I could do without it for pumpkin pie. I love being able to focus on just the silky custard – or being able to snap through a layer of crackly sugar to the custard.

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I have a feeling I won’t be able to get away with skipping the crust on everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert, but I wonder how people would feel about me torching the entire top of the pie? It’s tempting, but I suspect brûléeing is usually reserved for individual servings for good reason. Perhaps I’d better stick with whipped cream on top of pie and make individual pumpkin pots de crème when I want a crackly burnt sugar topping.

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Two years ago: Vegetarian Lasagna
Three years ago: Stuffed Sandwich Rolls

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Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Serves 6

7 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup canned solid-pack pumpkin

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a 9 by 13 inch Pyrex pan with a dish towel. Arrange six 5-ounce ramekins in the pan. Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

2. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the cream, milk, syrup, and pumpkin; bring just to a simmer over moderate heat. Add the hot pumpkin mixture to the yolks in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup, then divide the custard among the ramekins (you may have some custard left over, depending on the size of cups).

3. Pour the boiling water into the towel-lined pan, coming about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and being careful not to splash water into the custards. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the custard just barely jiggles when shaken, a knife inserted in center of a custard comes out clean, and an instant-read thermometer registers 170 to 175 degrees from the center of a ramekin, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the custards to a rack to cool completely, then chill, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream. (To brûlée the pots de creme, pat the custard dry, then top each ramekin with a light coating of demerara, turbinado, or a mixture of brown and granulated sugar. Use a kitchen torch to melt and brown the sugar.)

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alsatian apple tart

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I recently congratulated myself on having become more practical now that I’m older and then almost immediately had to call my own BS. I tried to think of one example of having taken the more practical route lately and came up blank. My tendency to go overboard nearly always wins.

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Just to prove that I can, indeed, tone things down, I kept myself from perfecting the edges of my pastry cloth that always get crinkled after washing. Also, I only rearranged the apple slices on this tart once when they didn’t look the way I’d hoped. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, and I had at least a third of the apple slices leftover, but I had to move on with my evening.

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In the end, I think the tart came out very nicely. It’s pretty and it’s tasty. But. I think with the rest of the apples, it would have been even better – a little more tart to balance the sweet custard, and the apple slice design would have stood out more. I have to admit though, the difference isn’t so significant to make the time it would have taken to perfect it worthwhile. Sometimes, good enough is just fine.

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Jessica chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. The recipe indicates that the tart will need to bake for 50-55 minutes, but mine was done around 35 minutes. The shorter time could be because it wasn’t as full, or it’s possible that I should have left it in the oven until the custard started to brown.

Two years ago: Alice Water’s Apple Tart
Three years ago: Basic Mashed Potatoes

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cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients of canned jellied cranberries? They’re exactly the same as homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, water. The first time I made homemade cranberry sauce, I eagerly took my first bite and then…huh. It tastes exactly like the canned kind. Don’t bother making cranberry sauce from scratch if it’s because you’re expecting it to taste better than it is from the can.

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But there are other reasons to make it from scratch. The first is that it’s fun. Raw cranberries are neat, pucker-inducing and hard and dry. Then when you cook them, they pop. It only takes 15 minutes and can be done up to a week in advance, so why not spend a few minutes playing with your food?

The other reason is that you can play around with flavors, personalizing the sauce. Orange is the most common addition and after doing that for several years, I was ready for more experimentation. Sweet port wine and balsamic vinegar seemed like they would complement the tart cranberries perfectly.

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Even with all of the extra flavors in this – port, balsamic vinegar, figs, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon – it didn’t taste so different from the stuff in the can. It had a warmer tone to it, and I liked the crunch of the fig seeds. But everyone would have been just fine with the canned stuff too. And that’s okay, because the few minutes I spent making this cranberry sauce were well spent just for the fun of it.

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Two years ago: African Pineapple Peanut Stew
Three years ago: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli

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Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

At first, I served this as you see it here, but for the leftovers, I put the sauce through a food mill to separate the skins, and I much prefer the smoother version.

1½ cups ruby Port
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine the port, vinegar, brown sugar, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary and cinnamon. Mix in the cranberries and granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl; chill until cold. (Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

yukon gold and sweet potato gratin

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This is not the potato dish I made for my big Thanksgiving meal last year. Last year, I made a potato and wild mushroom gratin, which followed my goal of including more vegetables in the meal. This gratin doesn’t fit that theme.

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Here’s the thing though: I cannot remember anything about that dish. I don’t remember it being bad, at least, but I don’t remember how good it was. Maybe there were too many mushrooms? I don’t know.

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I only made this Yukon gold and sweet potato gratin last week, but even if it had been last year, I know I would remember it. Potatoes baked in herby cream sauce and topped with nutty cheese are usually a hit, but adding sweet potatoes to the mixture makes it even better. I can’t guarantee the same thing for adding wild mushrooms to potato gratin.

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One year ago: Green Chile Mayonnaise
Two years ago: Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions, Feta, and Lentils
Three years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions

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Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

8 servings

1½ pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced ⅛-inch thick
1½ pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
1¼ cups (5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyére cheese

2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, butter, and garlic; bring to simmer. Remove from the heat.

2. Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Evenly spread half of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the thyme, salt, pepper, and cheese. Repeat the layering with the remaining potatoes, salt, pepper, and cheese. Pour the cream mixture over the gratin, pressing lightly to submerge the potato mixture as much as possible. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Remove plastic wrap before baking.)

3. Cover the gratin tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top of the gratin is golden and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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roasted root vegetable stuffing

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When I was creating my Thanksgiving menu last year, it occurred to me that most of the traditional Thanksgiving courses are based on carbs – stuffing, potatoes, rolls. The only traditional non-carb sides are the green bean casserole that nobody likes and the sugar-laden cranberries. I have nothing against carbs, and I know all about splurging for a holiday, but I actually like vegetables. Plus, if you include lower calorie food in the menu, you can eat more before filling up!

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I would go so far as to almost call this healthy, although it depends on the cornbread you use. It’s mostly vegetables – vegetables whose natural sugars are intensified through roasting. The sweet earthy root vegetables meld perfectly with similarly flavored cornbread.

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Beyond the parsnips and rutabaga, it’s a typical dressing recipe with eggs and broth binding the ingredients together before the mixture is baked until it’s crisp on top (but maybe not dry and burned like mine). The result is a dressing that’s almost too good to be topped with white wine gravy.

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Two years ago: Glazed Lemon Cookies
Three years ago: Wheatmeal Shortbread Cookies

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Cornbread Dressing with Roasted Root Vegetables (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 6

6 ounces shallots, peeled, halved if small, quartered if large
8 ounces carrots, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
8 ounces parsnips, sliced ¼-inch thick on diagonal
8 ounces rutabaga, cut into ½-inch cubes
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
2 cups ½-inch cubes of cornbread
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup low-salt chicken broth (or Golden Turkey Stock)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the shallots, carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and browned around the edges. Add the garlic during last 15 minutes. Set the roasted garlic aside; transfer the other vegetables to a large bowl.

2. Spread the cornbread cubes over the now-empty baking sheet. Bake until dry, 10-15 minutes, stirring about halfway through the cooking time.

3. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray. Mince the garlic; add it to the vegetables along with the herbs and cornbread cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the broth and butter; pour the egg mixture over the vegetable mixture and gently fold to combine.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Cover the pan with foil; bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes longer.

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butternut squash pie

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The winter squashes are a multifaceted group. Pumpkin is obviously perfect with sweet flavors and can be used in custards, pies, cakes, quick breads, cookiesthe whole dessert (or breakfast!) spectrum. Pumpkin does take well to savory dishes, but it’s more common that you’ll see butternut squash used in dinner instead – despite their very similar flavor.

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Furthermore, pumpkin in desserts is nearly always pureed. Squash in dinner is often diced, sometimes pureed. This pie, with its diced butternut squash, did not follow the rules.

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My brain had some trouble deciding if this was dessert or dinner, is what I’m saying. The pears and raisins were obviously sweet, but the big chunks of squash had a strong earthy tone. I think with more sugar and smaller chunks of squash, they would blend into the other pie ingredients, and the whole thing would seem more dessert-like. It isn’t bad as it is, but, perhaps, a little confusing.

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Valerie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Instead of steaming the squash, I roasted all of the filling ingredients except the orange juice in the oven until the squash was softened, mostly because my oven was already on but also to potentially get some delicious caramelization.  Because roasting drove off some liquid, I didn’t feel I needed to add the breadcrumbs to the filling.

Two years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Three years ago: Gallitos (Costa Rican Breakfast Tacos)

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white wine gravy

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Here’s why this gravy is so good:

First, homemade turkey stock. I know, I go overboard, and while you aren’t wrong, keep in mind that this is not a difficult step. You throw turkey wings – they’re not expensive – in the oven, caramelize vegetables in a stockpot, and then mix the two with water and leave it alone for a few hours while it simmers away. Oh, and deglaze the roasting pan the turkey wings were in. That’s where the good stuff is.

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Second, a medium-dark roux. You aren’t just cooking the raw flavor out of the flour here, you want the flour itself to contribute a nutty flavor. It loses some of its thickening power when you do this, but you didn’t want gloppy gravy anyway, did you?

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Third, wine. You might be doing this already, but if not, what the heck? Deglaze that roasting pan after your turkey roasts with wine. If you want flavor, and why wouldn’t you, water isn’t enough.

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The first time I made gravy like this, I poured it over everything on the plate, and that’s the thing about gravy – it affects the turkey, the stuffing, and the potatoes. That’s half the Thanksgiving plate, which means that gravy shouldn’t be an afterthought. This gravy was so good I ate the leftovers with a spoon. The method isn’t so different from any other gravy, so why not follow these simple tricks for such a payoff?

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One year ago: Prosciutto-Wrapped Neufchatel-Stuffed Jalapenos
Two years ago: Pumpkin Scones
Three years ago: Gratin Dauphinois (Potatoes au Gratin)

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White Wine Gravy (adapted from Emeril and Cook’s Illustrated)

4 cups Golden Turkey Stock (recipe below)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small saucepan, bring the turkey broth to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low; cover to keep warm.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour just starts to smell nutty and become caramel-colored, 6-8 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, whisking often. Turn off the heat and cover.

3. After the turkey has roasted, strain the pan juices through a fine-mesh strainer into a glass-measuring cup; skim or pour off the fat from the strained liquid. Discard the solids in the strainer.

4. Place the roasting pan on 2 stovetop burners over medium heat; add the wine and defatted pan juices to the pan, bring to a simmer, and scrape to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the liquids from the deglazed roasting pan to the broth mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper if necessary.

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Golden Turkey Stock (from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Makes about 7 cups

If you’re roasting a salted or brined turkey, don’t add salt to the broth, because the gravy might end up too salty.

4½ pounds turkey wings, cut in half
1 large onion, chopped coarse
1 large carrot, chopped coarse
1 large celery stalk, chopped coarse
6 fresh Italian parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the turkey wings in a large roasting pan; roast until deep brown, turning once, about 2 hours total.

2. Transfer the wings to a large bowl. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the turkey fat from the roasting pan into a large pot (reserve roasting pan). Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot. Sauté over medium-high heat until the vegetables are golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan; place the pan over 2 burners and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits. Add the liquid from the roasting pan to the pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the turkey wings, herbs, and enough cold water to cover the wings by 1 inch.

4. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until the stock is very flavorful and reduced to 7½ to 8 cups, about 2½ hours. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Cool 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled. Can also be made and frozen 2 weeks ahead.) Spoon off the fat from the surface before using.

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salted herbed roast turkey

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I don’t like brining turkey. The first time I tried it, I disinfected a cooler, carefully monitored the ice quantity throughout the soaking period, then disinfected the cooler again after removing the turkey. The second time, I stuck the turkey and brine in a stockpot, but couldn’t quite fit the lid on the pot, plus there was no way I could fit that in my fridge, so I stuck it outside overnight and hoped it was cold enough out there to prevent my turkey from turning into bacteria food. Brining turkey sucks.

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Salting turkey isn’t a picnic, but it’s a heck of a lot more straightforward than brining. Just mix up some salt and herbs and sprinkle it inside the turkey’s cavities, over the skin, and under the skin. The salt draws moisture out of the turkey at first, where the liquid mixes with the salt and then flows back into the turkey, now with flavor. While you’re not actually adding moisture like you are with brining, you’re adding flavor and helping the turkey hold onto its natural moisture. And you don’t have to disinfect a cooler or buy a separate fridge.

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And, more importantly, this was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t bloated like brined turkey can be, but it was juicy throughout. It also had crisper skin than brined birds do. You can’t argue with a method that is not only easier, but produces even better results.

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Two years ago: Buttermilk Scones
Three year ago: Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

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Salted Roast Turkey with Herbs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Roast Salted Turkey)

Cook’s Illustrated explains that there are two main brands of kosher salt; Morton’s is denser than Diamond. Use the larger amount of salt called for in the recipe if you’re using Diamond Crystal; if you’re using Morton’s, use only 4 tablespoons of salt.

Don’t salt a kosher or self-basting turkey (like a frozen Butterball)!  Those are already salted and will end up way too salty if you add any additional salt.

8-12 servings

Herbed Salt:
6 tablespoons coarse kosher salt (4 tablespoons if finer-grained kosher salt)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 small bay leaves, coarsely torn
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Turkey:
1 14- to 16-pound turkey (neck, heart, and gizzard removed)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 whole lemon, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (or more) unsalted chicken broth or Golden Turkey Stock

1. For the herbed salt: Combine the salt, herbs, and pepper. (Can be made 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.) Stir in the lemon peel just before using.

2. For the turkey: Rinse the turkey inside and out (do not pat dry). Pull any fat pads from the main cavity and the neck cavity. Rub about half of the salt mixture over the outside of the turkey. Rub half of the remaining salt mixture in the cavities. Use your fingers to loosen the skin over the breasts and thighs. Rub the last portion of herbed salt under the skin. Transfer the turkey to a large bowl or plate, cover tightly, and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position; heat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the turkey inside and out; pat very dry. Combine the chopped onion, celery, lemon, and herbs; divide the onion mixture between the main and neck cavities. Fold the neck skin under and secure with a skewer. Use kitchen twine to loosely tie the legs together. Place the turkey, breast-side down, on a roasting rack set in a large roasting pan. Spread the butter all over the turkey. Pour two cups of stock or broth into the bottom of the roasting pan.

4. Roast the turkey for 45 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven; lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Using wads of paper towels, turn the turkey breast-side up. Continue to roast until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 to 170 degrees, 1½ to 2 hours longer.

5. Transfer the turkey, still on the roasting rack, to a rimmed baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and let rest 30 to 45 minutes before carving and serving.

glazed pecans

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One of the hardest parts of making a full Thanksgiving dinner for two is dealing with the ridiculous amounts of food. Probably I could have made a course or two less than what people make for a huge group, right? But that would be too easy. I have to go the other direction and make every single course I would make for a crowd.

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If family and friends were coming over, I would want casual snacks set out to munch on while people sip their wine and wait for the appetizers to cool. With only the two of us, these little pecans were supposed to hold us over between breakfast and the big eating part of the day, but instead they became irresistible little nibbles whenever the pecan bowl was in sight.

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I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed these, because pecans aren’t one of my favorite nuts. I think of them as bitter, but once they were coated in a sweet herby glaze, the nut itself seemed almost meaty. Now I know that sharing them with a crowd is actually a bad idea – because I want them all for myself.

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Two years ago: Cranberry Orange Scones
Three years ago: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad

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Rosemary and Thyme Candied Pecans (adapted from Seven Spoons)

Makes 8 servings

I bought demerara sugar just for this recipe and have found other uses for it, but if you don’t want to buy it, I’m sure brown sugar would work just fine.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
¾ teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pecan halves

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the maple syrup and the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, spices, and salt. Add the pecans to the butter mixture; stir to coat. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan.

3. Bake, turning occasionally, until the nuts are glazed, shiny, and deep golden, around 15 minutes.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

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