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10 Tips from the ACA to Make Your Thanksgiving Feast Fabulous

November 25, 2008

Chef Kelly McClay, dean of the Academy of Culinary Arts, shares 10 tips for a fabulous Thanksgiving feast:

1. Turkey Safety

Turkey, like all poultry, is highly susceptible to salmonella and should be handled with care. If your turkey is frozen, allow two to three days to thaw in the refrigerator. If you forget, or if it is still semi-frozen, run the turkey under cold water (70 degrees), but the water must remain running. This could take several hours if you have a 16-pound turkey, so plan ahead. You can cook a turkey frozen, but it makes it hard to get the giblets out.

Most of us know the dangers of cooking the stuffing in the bird. This traditional favorite can lead to a serious belly ache, or worse. To be safe, never stuff the bird until it is ready to go in the oven. Make sure you cook any protein additives like sausage, oysters or egg before you mix it in to your breading. After the bird is cooked, remove all the stuffing before serving.

2. Sweet Potato Soufflé

Once you peel, dice and cook your sweet potatoes (you can use canned), mash them and season. I like to use brown sugar and a little maple syrup. Whip some egg whites, 2 per pound of potatoes, until a soft peak forms and fold them into your sweet potatoes. Place them in a lightly buttered casserole and bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Top with marshmallows and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Serve immediately. The sweet potatoes can be prepared a day ahead, saving some work on the holiday.

3. Vegetables

Tired of the same green bean casserole? A broccoli salad adds a nice texture change from the usual soft choices. Cut broccoli in small pieces, you can use some of the stem, but make sure it is cut small. Blanch the broccoli in boiling salt water until al dente. Cool immediately and set aside. You have two choices for the dressing, a vinaigrette or mayonnaise based. Garnish with toasted nuts and dried fruit or shredded carrot.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Have you ever thought of adding sour cream and chives to your mashed? How about cheddar or goat cheese? Why not try a Yukon Gold mashed? Potatoes are one of the most versatile foods. You can enhance the finished product with almost any garnish, but be careful not to over work the potatoes; it will make them "gummy."

5. Deep fried, in the bag or traditional?

You have several things to consider when choosing how to cook your Thanksgiving turkey. First is the stuffing. With deep frying, the stuffing must be made separately. With the bag, your turkey will be moist but your stuffing may be too moist. If you are committed to stuffing the bird, the traditional method is your best choice.

Also consider your equipment.  We all know the traditional method requires a large roasting pan and enough space in the oven (a hard thing to come by on Thanksgiving Day). The bag method also will use extra space in the oven, but the deep frying method requires specialty equipment. You will need a specially designed deep fryer and outdoor space for cooking. You will also need a large amount of frying oil, enough to cover the bird. 

The third thing you must consider is timing. The traditional method is slow, a necessity to retain the turkey's moisture. The bag method is faster, and the frying method is quick by turkey standards.

Lastly think about flavor. When deep frying, you can inject the turkey with almost any liquid flavoring ingredient, marinades, hot sauce or bourbon but it must be injected properly. You will need a needle designed for this purpose. Even with the bag and traditional methods you can enhance the flavor with rubs and seasonings placed inside, on the skin or under the skin. Whatever your choice, remember patience produces the best results. Enjoy!

6. Dessert

Cranberry upside down cake is a lovely seasonal alternative to pumpkin or apple pie. 

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Yield: 14 to 16 servings                   

For the topping:

8          Tbsp.   Butter

1 ½      Cups    Sugar

2          Tbsp.   Water

1          tsp.       Cinnamon

12        oz.        Cranberries, cleaned and picked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

I love to make this recipe in a cast iron skillet, but a cake pan will do. If using a cake pan, the first step needs to be done in a sauté pan. If you use a skillet, then the first step can be dine right in the pan.

Add sugar, butter, water and cinnamon. Cook over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Stir in cranberries, making sure they are coated with sugar-butter mixture, then pour into pan and set aside. 

For the cake:

1 ½      Cups    Flour

2          tsp.       Baking Powder

½         tsp.       Salt

8          Tbsp.   Butter

½         Cup      Granulated Sugar

1          Cup      Milk

2          ea.        Eggs

1          tsp.       Vanilla Extract

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside.

2. Melt butter and remove from heat. Cool slightly, add the egg and milk and set aside.

3. Combine milk mixture and flour and whisk until smooth. Pour batter in pan covering the cranberry mixture.

4. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, edges begin to pull away from the side of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean-about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around edge to loosen cake. Invert onto serving plate. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!

7. Dessert Toppings

Dress up any dessert by serving an eye appealing sauce. To flavor whipped cream, add cocoa powder when you are adding your sugar to the cream and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

For caramel sauce, melt a ½ cup sugar with 2 tablespoons of water over low heat, stirring continuously until it reaches the correct color (you may need to add an additional teaspoon of water if it starts to brown too quickly).  Remove from heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of room temperature butter.

Any fruit can be made into a lovely sauce. Cook fruit with a little water and sugar if it is not sweet enough. When fruit is very soft, place in a blender and puree. Allow to cool before serving.

8. Pumpkin Soup with Crisp Pancetta

This soup makes a wonderful addition to your holiday menu. Be prepared, it will take you at least an hour and a half to make. You can prepare the day ahead and reheat if necessary.


2          ea.        Butternut Squash

2          Tbsp.   Coriander

2          ea.        Dried Chilies

1          ea.        Onion, finely diced

3          Tbsp.   Olive Oil

6          oz.        Pancetta, diced small

2          Tbsp.   Fresh Sage, chopped

1/3       Cup      Chestnuts, chopped

48        oz.        Chicken Stock

4          Tbsp.   Sour Cream

Method of Preparation:

  1. Season the split seeded squash with ground chilies and coriander. Drizzle with oil and place in a 400-degree oven and cook until soft. Scoop out the pulp and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, sauté pancetta until crisp, and retain all the fat. Remove half of the bacon and hold for garnish.
  3. Add onions, sage and chestnuts to the pan and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add squash and simmer for fifteen minutes.
  4. Remove half of the soup and puree in a blender or food processer and return to pot. 
  5. Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream and crisp pancetta.

9. Fennel Orange and Cranberry Salad


3          ea.        Bulbs of Fennel (tops removed)

3          ea.        Navel Oranges

1          Cup      Plumped Cranberries

Method of Preparation:

  1. Remove core from fennel and slice thinly.
  2. Segment oranges by removing peel and pith and separating between the veins, (this will give you a nice clean tender segment).
  3. Plump cranberries in a small amount of simmering water with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Drain and cool.


4          Tbsp.   Honey

¼         Cup      Champagne or White Vinegar

1/3       Cup      Orange Juice

Chopped Fresh Parsley

Salt and Pepper

Method of Preparation:

  1. Place honey in a mixing bowl. Slowly add liquid ingredients by whisking.
  2. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

10. Turkey Roulade

A nice make-ahead option to the traditional turkey dinner.


½         Cup      Margarine or Butter

1          Cup      Celery, sliced

1          Cup      Onions, chopped

1          lb.        Herb Seasoned Stuffing Mix

¾         Cup      Sweetened Dried Cranberries

2          Cups    Chicken Stock

2          Tbsp.   Fresh Sage, chopped

½         tsp.       Salt

5          lb.        Turkey Breast, boned and butterflied

Method of Preparation:

  1. Melt margarine in a large skillet. Add onion and celery. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Combine celery mixture, stuffing mix and cranberries in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Combine chicken stock with stuffing mixture; stir until moistened. Set aside.
  4. Open the butterflied turkey breast and place skin-side down on a work surface. The long side should be parallel with edge of work surface. Slide six 12-inch pieces of cooking string under the breast at 2-inch intervals.
  5. Spread the stuffing over the turkey breast, sprinkle with sage. Starting at the long side, roll the breast tightly. Tie strings to secure. Tuck in excess skin.
  6. Turn roll over and place in roasting pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Uncover for the last 20 minutes of cooking time.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for about two hours, until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F.
  8. Cut into 1-inch slices.
  9. Serve with pan gravy.

Yield: 8 servings.