Pros: Delightful range of wonderful recipes; incredible feast of tips and tricks
Cons: None that we could find
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of The Taunton Press.
Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition for my husband and I. Normally we don’t worry that much about holidays, but when we lived in Boston it was fun to collect up those friends who couldn’t make it home for “turkey day” and feed them at our apartment. We tended to bring together about 5-10 people and made waaay too much food, but that was kind of the point. Now we might not have the huge numbers of people to feed, but we still enjoy finding creative ways to enjoy turkey and the trimmings. Only this year, we’re trying out the latest book to cross our field of vision a bit early, so you’ll be able to pick it up in time for your own feasting if you like the sound of it. It’s a great sacrifice, dear readers, but we’re prepared to make it—for your sakes.
I’m totally failing at sounding serious, aren’t I? Ah well, I never did have a good poker face! Read on for the details of our pre-Thanksgiving experiment with How to Cook a Turkey: And All the Other Trimmings from the editors & contributors of Fine Cooking.
I’ve read plenty of books that included tips for planning a large dinner, or hints for cooking a turkey, etc. This is the first book I’ve found that has been this thorough. There are tips in here I haven’t seen anywhere else (except maybe in a couple of the online articles we posted a few years back)—I certainly haven’t seen all of this information collected in one place before. Whether you need to know how much turkey to buy for your number of guests, or how long to cook a given turkey, or how to ensure that your serving day will be as relaxed and reliable as possible, it’s in here. If you make a tradition out of any kind of recurring large dinners, I highly recommend reading through the materials in this book.
Since we’ve made a ton of turkeys and have pretty much got that down pat (barring unexpected oddities—everyone has an off year), we had to try something new. Thus we ended up making the turkey that’s roasted with bacon strips on top, glazed with maple syrup, stuffed with a cornbread, cranberry, pear, and wild rice stuffing, and served with pan gravy (which, of course, includes cider, pear, and maple/bacon drippings). When you make something like this, you know one of two things will happen: either you’re going to be disappointed, or you’re going to be very, very happy. With those kinds of ingredients there isn’t much room for a middle ground. Let’s just say we were definitely not disappointed! We both love the savory/sweet combination of flavors, and this recipe delivered.
The “ultimate fluffy mashed potatoes” were surprisingly so. They included tips to help you avoid gluey or gummy potatoes, and they included a couple of surprising ingredients (lemon zest? Who knew?!).
The cookbook is great about trying to avoid providing too many oven-based recipes, since oven space will be at a premium, particularly when you’re roasting. We tried a “slow-cooked” broccoli, pancetta, and garlic stovetop recipe that came out particularly well. Despite the minimal amount of effort & ingredients, it was incredibly flavorful.
By far my favorite dish, however, was the cranberry-pear salsa. I was dubious about a cranberry relish-type recipe that used raw cranberries, not to mention bell pepper and hot pepper. But it’s sweet-tart and divine, using both honey and sugar to bring the flavors together! In fact, we might have to make another batch. Hmm…
There are of course some recipes in here for what you might do with turkey leftovers. We decided to try a recipe for turkey cakes with a roasted tomato salsa, because it seemed quite different from the usual fare of faux-Mexican food or soups. What impressed me most about it is that it used flavors and textures that are radically different from the ones you’ll typically find in your Thanksgiving dinner, so it’ll seem new and different after several nights of leftovers.
But dessert—dessert was absolutely the star of the show. Believe it or not, the white chocolate* souffle cakes with chocolate raspberry sauce were surprisingly easy to make. And because they can be refrigerated for up to two days before baking, you just pop them in the oven at the last minute! They form a delicate, divine cakey-puddingy white chocolate dessert, with a tart bittersweet chocolate-raspberry sauce on the bottom. I think I might have died and gone to heaven when I had the first one.
The book is filled with tips and a plethora of creative recipes, and we didn’t have any problems with any of it. The tips are far more thorough than those in other books I’ve tried, the layout is easy to read and make sense of, and beautiful photographs help you through some of the recipe steps.
Add to that the absolutely delightful results, and I don’t think you can go wrong with this one!
*I highly recommend Green & Black’s organic vanilla-flavored white chocolate for ANY recipe calling for white chocolate. We’ve tried a wide variety of white chocolates, and it’s the only one I’ve found that doesn’t taste at least a little bit chalky. However, you might have to reduce any vanilla extract in any recipe you use it in. It also makes awesome “hot chocolate”: Microwave a cup and a half of half-and-half and whole milk until almost boiling; whisk a bar of chopped up G&B white chocolate in until it dissolves; add a tablespoon or two of your favorite liqueur if desired. Serves 2.
[Hey FTC---this is my own opinion. The cookbook is a review cookbook, but this isn't an endorsement, and I've never gotten anything from G&B. I just adore their chocolate.]