By Toni Lapp

 

Thanksgiving is all about gathering with friends and family to celebrate the bounty of fall. Noco Style asked the pros for their tips for creating a spread so you can focus on the fellowship of the holiday.

Ginger Graham’s first Thanksgiving in Colorado was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was 22 years ago, and she and her husband, Jack, had recently moved to Boulder as newlyweds. They invited nearly 30 guests for dinner.

“I bought a giant turkey and made these huge 9 by 13 inch pans of dressing,” she recalls. “But the turkey was still raw after five hours! Talk about a downer, when everything’s ready but the turkey isn’t.”

Panicked, she cut apart the bird and cranked up the heat in a frantic effort to speed things up, but it was still a late dinner.

She has learned from her mistakes, she says with a laugh. She has also learned from her successes. Graham went on to start up the culinary hub, Ginger and Baker in Fort Collins, which features a teaching kitchen that offers classes. She advises home cooks to begin Thanksgiving preparations several days in advance. Many side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, can be made a day ahead and heated up in time for dinner. The piecrusts that Ginger and Baker is famous for are best prepared with day-old dough, she adds.

Nick Chase, owner of Friendly Nick’s Butcher | Photo by Ben Bradley.

TALKING TURKEY
Given Colorado’s arid climate, Graham recommends brining the bird in saltwater for 24 hours beforehand to ensure a moist result. If roasting, she advises using a convection oven, which circulates airflow, for best results.

These days, Jack grills the bird while she focuses on other tasks—baking rolls, making the dressing, and warming up and plating side dishes. Jack uses a rotisserie attachment, and cooks until the bird reaches 165F degrees. They will baste (with a mixture of white wine, chicken stock, sage, thyme, salt and pepper) at half-hour intervals to ensure moist, flavorful meat.

They still have large gatherings for the feast, but rather than getting a large bird, they opt for two 10- to 12-pound turkeys. That way, there are twice the number of drumsticks, which are Jack’s favorite, Ginger says. “He feels like it’s the perfect hero’s moment.”

Fort Collins butcher Nick Chase, owner of Friendly Nick’s Butcher, recommends smaller birds for another reason: They tend to be younger than larger birds, and therefore, are less muscular and more tender. The rule of thumb is to buy a pound of turkey for each person, says Chase.

He, too, brines beforehand, for up to two days, using a solution of salt and sugar. The sugar, he says, helps with the browning of the skin.

Last year, his shop offered a turkey enhanced with truffle butter and stuffed with oranges and leeks. The butter, which is pressed beneath the skin, creates a crispy skin and tender meat. “The aroma as it roasts is awesome,” says Chase.

He starts off cooking at 500F degrees for 30 minutes, and then turns down the heat. “High heat lets the fat start browning before it melts off the bird,” he explains.

He cooks until a meat thermometer registers 155F to 160F degrees, and lets the bird rest for a half hour after cooking, during which the temperature rises to reach the target 165F degrees. “The worst thing you can do is overcook it,” he says. After all, an undercooked bird can always go back in the oven.

FOR THE VEGETARIANS
For vegetarian and vegan diners, side dishes used to be the mainstay of the Thanksgiving feast. Lucky’s Market in Fort Collins offers a packaged plant-based “roast” for the holidays. They will also have prepared vegan offerings in the culinary case such as stuffed portobello mushrooms, harvest stuffed squash, stuffed sweet potatoes, vegan mushroom gravy and potato rolls.

Nowadays, vegetarian cooks have a choice of proteins that can serve as a main dish, says Tania Ellis, store director. Tofurky is a tofu-based product with a firm consistency, and Field Roast is a lentil-based product. Either can be the basis for creating a savory loaf, says Ellis.

The loaves can be seasoned with herbs such as sage and thyme, and bolstered with garlic, celery and onion, to create a centerpiece that plays well with the same side dishes—cranberries, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, etc.—that would accompany a turkey.

All this is to say that when it comes to your holiday feast, the options are endless. Both Graham and Chase say that the holiday is less about the food than about giving thanks for family and friendships. The main course has always been about fellowship, which holds true still.

Nick Chase’s Truffle-Marinated Turkey Recipe

1. Brine turkey overnight in 2 gallons water, 1 cup kosher salt,
½ cup sugar.

2. Preheat oven to 500°F.

3. Sip bourbon.

4. Run your hand gently between the skin and the meat on the breasts and legs.

5. Slide pads of cold truffle butter and thinly sliced black truffles under the skin all around the bird. (Truffle butter/truffles can
be purchased at Friendly Nick’s Butcher or other gourmet
grocery stores.)

6. Stuff the inside of the turkey with chopped leeks, quartered
oranges and shallots, all tossed in salt and white pepper.

7. Season the outside of the turkey with salt and white pepper.

8. Roast for 30 minutes.

9. Sip bourbon.

10. Cover breasts with foil.

11. Reduce heat to 350°F.

12. Sip bourbon.

13. Cook to 160°F (usually 20 minutes per pound).

14. Remove from oven and rest 20 to 30 minutes with loosely
covered with foil.

15. Sip bourbon.

16. Scoop out stuffing and use with drippings and champagne
to make gravy.

17. Sip champagne.