A buffet for the big Thanksgiving meal is an excellent, even playful, way to give supporting dishes a chance to share some of the spotlight with the star of the show.
A buffet offers the space and height for the artful arrangement of colorful plates, shapely platters and beautiful bowls. You can even sprinkle sprigs of greenery and fresh cranberries between -- without worries about them getting in the way of elbows and silverware on the table.
If you decide on a buffet, even if it's just a partial one to hold the turkey and some sides (with basics like rolls, butter and other small items on the main table), here is some strategic and clever advice from Bed, Bath & Beyond:
The day before the meal: Set your buffet with all the serving pieces, then label each with a sticky note so you know what food goes in which. That way you won't be scrambling for a bowl, plate or platter -- or a place to put it -- as you're getting ready to serve. Also make sure you have a serving utensil for each.
Starting line: Begin with a big stack of plates to provide visual cue of where to start the buffet line. (Set silverware, napkins and drinks already at the table so hands are free for serving and you have more room.)
Add height: Elevate certain dishes and add varying heights for visual impact. Chafing dishes accomplish this, but so do footed cake plates that can hold a salad bowl or a side dish. Three-tiered serving trays can hold appetizers and dinner rolls. Turn wide bowls or square/rectangular casserole pans upside down and they too can be used to elevate items. Disguise them by covering with a pretty kitchen towel, linen napkin or tablecloth.
Position strategically: Place food you have a limited supply of at the end of the line. Guests will be less tempted to take a giant scoop if their plate is nearly full.
Give some support: Place empty saucers throughout the buffet so guest will have a spot to rest those messy serving spoons.
Set the drinks away from the food: Use the far end of a buffet line, or a separate area, so guests refilling a glass won't interfere with those who are filling a plate.
Time to begin. The turkey is the star, so keep it simple. This recipe is from the Associated Press' food writer Alison Ladman and is meant for the beginner. But, an long-time turkey roaster can find some ways to add some additional flavors to this bird.
12- to 14-pound turkey
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
Salt and ground black pepper
2 large heavy-duty disposable roasting pans
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey cavity, if present. Rub the bird all over with the butter, then sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
Stack the disposable roasting pans one inside the other (for greater stability). Arrange the turkey in the roasting pan, breast side up. Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Baste with juices, if desired. The temperature of the breast should reach 160 degrees and the thigh should reach 170 degrees. If the turkey begins to darken too much, place foil over the top.
Remove the turkey from the oven and cover with foil, if not already covered. Place several towels over the foil to keep the turkey warm. Let the turkey rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Serves 12, each with 450 calories, 24 grams fat , 200 mg cholesterol, 55 grams protein, 360 mg sodium.
He's an outdoor bird, big time
According to the latest numbers released by the National Turkey Federation, an estimated 46 million turkeys will be served for Thanksgiving dinner.
The way turkey has been prepared has changed dramatically in recent years, most recently in the past decade by cooking outdoors.
In a survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), more than half of consumers -- 53 percent -- said they plan to cook their turkey outdoors on grills, barbecues or smokers this year.
Napoleon Gourmet Grills offers several tips for those planning to prepare their bird that way:
Purchase a turkey that is broad and flat to fit underneath the covered grill top.
Make sure there is at least 1 inch of space between the turkey and the grill lid.
Apply a thin coating of non-stick vegetable cooking oil to the unheated rack and brush the outer surface of the turkey with cooking oil.
Do not tie the legs together when grilling a whole bird. The turkey will cook more evenly if hot air circulates to all areas of the bird.
Allow for two to three hours of indirect cooking time for an 8 to 12 pound turkey and three to four hours for a 12 to 16 pound turkey.
Never on the sidelines
Try some variations on classic themes with these side-dish recipe.
You saucy thing, you
Homemade cranberry sauce is wildly better than anything you can buy and it takes little time or effort to make. Plus, it's easy to take a basic cranberry sauce and doctor it up in so many delicious ways.
To help you along on your journey from can to greatness, we offer a base recipe, plus four ways of taking the flavor in crazy delicious directions. Don't want to use our base recipe? Don't. Use what's written on the bag of fresh cranberries, then use our flavorings.
CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH VARIATIONS
12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
Pinch of salt
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the cranberries, brown sugar, orange juice and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Servings: 8.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and select one of the flavor combinations below:
CHIPOTLE -- Add 1 minced chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo). Allow to cool, then stir in 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro.
SWEET-AND-SMOKY -- Stir in 1/2 cup crumbled well-cooked bacon, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and an extra 1/2 cup brown sugar.
LEMON-TARRAGON -- Stir in 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon and the zest and juice of 1 lemon.
GINGER-MISO -- Stir in 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger and 2 tablespoons sweet white miso.
Doctor that stuffing
Prepare a basic stuffing recipe, from a box, if you like, then customize with your favorite ingredients. Such as:
Holiday: Add 6 slices cooked, crumbled bacon, 1/2 cup golden raisins and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.
Elegant: Add 6 slices of cooked crumbled bacon, 1 chopped pear, and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons maple syrup.
Thanksgiving Special: Add 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.
Winter Apple-Pecan: Add 1/3 cup chopped Gala apple and 1/4 cup chopped pecans.
Give sweet potato casserole a kick
Ho hum. The sweet potato casserole can be icky sweet, gummy and full of marshmallow topping. Here are a handful of ways to do it so much better:
New Sweet Potato Casseroles
4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1/4 cup milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
Stir-ins and/or toppers (see below)
1. In a Dutch oven, cook potatoes, covered, in enough boiling salted water to cover for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender; drain and return to pan.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slightly mash potatoes with a potato masher. Stir in sugar, butter, milk, eggs, lemon juice, and, if desired, one of the stir-ins; stir until well combined. Transfer sweet potato mixture to a greased 3-quart rectangular baking dish. If desired, top with one of the toppings.
3. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through.
Makes 8 to 12 servings, each (based on 8) with 377 calories, 15 grams fat, 139 mg cholesterol, 57 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 34 grams sugar, 6 grams protein, 156 mg sodium.
Suit your taste
Choose a stir-in for your sweet potato casserole, then choose a topper -- they all work together or any one can be used alone.
PEANUT BUTTER: For creaminess, add 1/2 cup.
ORANGE PEEL: For tart flavor, add 2 tablespoons.
RED CURRY PASTE: Add Indian spice and heat with 2 to 4 teaspoons.
PUMPKIN OR APPLE PIE SPICE: For harvest flavor, add 4 teaspoons spice plus 1 teaspoon ground black pepper.
PEANUTS AND COCONUT: Impart Far-Eastern flair with shredded coconut and chopped peanuts.
BACON AND ROSEMARY: Add smoky depth with crumbled cooked bacon tossed with snipped fresh rosemary.
ONION AND GARLIC: For earthy flavor
Bleu CHEESE: Top with 1 cup pineapple chunks and 1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles.
Better Homes & Gardens
One less thing to do on Thanksgiving
Make this gravy up to 3 days in advance. You also can enhance it with pan drippings from your roast turkey.
MAKE-AHEAD TURKEY GRAVY
4 turkey wings (about 3 to 4 pounds)
2 medium sweet onions, peeled, cut up
1 cup water
8 cups less-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, divided
1 large chopped carrot
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a roasting pan, place the turkey wings; scatter onions on top. Roast 1 1/4 hours or until wings are golden brown.
Put wings and onions in a large stock pot. Add water to roasting pan; stir to scrape up any brown bits on bottom and add all to the pot. Add 6 cups broth (refrigerate remaining 2 cups), the carrot and thyme if desired.
Simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours. Remove the wings and cool.
Remove and discard skin, reserve meat for another ruse. Strain broth into fat separator or into a bowl. Let sit 10 minutes until fat rises to the top. Pour defatted broth into a saucepan.
Whisk flour into remaining 2 cups broth until well blended and smooth. Bring broth in saucepan to a gentle boil. Whisk in flour mixture and cook 5 minutes to thicken gravy and cook out the raw flour taste. Stir in butter and season with pepper.
Cook's note: Freeze the gravy up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat. You can add fat-skimmed drippings from a freshly roasted turkey.
Adapted from several recipes. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
Makes: About 8 cups, with each 1/4 cup with 26 calories, 1 gram fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 258 mg sodium, 2 mg cholesterol,
Detroit Free Press
Not one to make homemade rolls? Then add some embellishments to refrigerator crescent rolls.
Crescent Herb Swirls
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cans (8 ounces each )refrigerated crescent dinner rolls or 2 cans (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent seamless dough sheet
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8 muffin cups.
In small bowl, mix oil, Italian seasoning, onion powder and garlic powder.
2. If using crescent rolls: Unroll 1 can of dough; firmly press perforations to seal. Press to form 13-by-7-inch rectangle. Brush with herb mixture. Unroll second can of dough; press perforations to seal. Place over herb filling; seal dough edges.
If using dough sheets: Unroll 1 can of dough. Press to form the same rectangle. Brush with herb mixture. Unroll second can of dough. Place over herb filling; seal dough edges.
3 Cut into eight 13-inch strips. Twist each strip 5 to 6 times; shape each into a coil. Place in muffin cups.
4 Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan. Serve warm.
Tired of the standard green bean casserole? Try this recipe, which can easily hold in its slow cooker crock while being served.
Smoky Green Bean Casserole
1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen thin green beans or haricots verts, trimmed and halved crosswise
6 cups sliced cremini or button mushrooms (16 ounces)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese or Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 cup roasted red sweet pepper strips
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 2.8 ounce can french-fried onions
In a 4-quart Dutch oven, cook green beans in lightly salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain beans and pour into a very large bowl of ice water. Drain again. Transfer to a very large bowl.
2. In a large saucepan cook and stir mushrooms and garlic in hot oil over medium to medium-high heat until soft and beginning to brown. Stir in soup, cheese, milk and mustard until combined. Add to bowl with beans. Add red pepper and water chestnuts. Toss to combine.
3. Spoon half of the bean mixture into a 4-quart slow cooker. Top with half of the french-fried onions. Repeat layers.
4. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours.
To make ahead: Prepare as directed through Step 2. Cover; chill mixture for up to 24 hours. Continue as directed in Step 3.
Makes 12 servings, each with 149 calories, 8 grams fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 437 mg sodium.
Better Homes & Gardens
Sweetie pies ... and other treats
Thanksgiving Turkey Cookies
1 roll (16.5 ounces) refrigerated sugar cookies or homemade sugar cookies baked and cooled
1 container (16 ounces) chocolate creamy frosting
Orange decorating icing
1. Bake cookies as directed on roll or package. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.
2. Spoon chocolate frosting into 1-quart storage bag with a zip top and seal bag. Cut off tiny bottom corner of bag.
On each cookie, pipe frosting on outer edge of half of cookie. Arrange candy corn over frosting for feathers.
3. Pipe orange icing onto each cookie to resemble turkey face and feet.
Use orange icing to attach baking bits to turkey face for eyes. Pipe black gel on baking bits for centers of eyes.
EASY APPLE PIE POCKETS
1 (14.1-ounce) package rolled pie crusts (contains 2 crusts)
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
Sugar, for sprinkling
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment paper.
Cut each pie crust into quarters.
In a medium bowl, toss together the apple slices, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Divide the apple mixture between the 8 pieces of dough, heaping them in the center.
In a small bowl, beat the egg white with the water until frothy.
Brush the edges of the dough with the egg white, then gather the edges up over the apple filling and pinch to seal together to form little bundles.
Brush the outside of the bundles with more egg white, then sprinkle with sugar.
Arrange the pie pockets on the prepared baking sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.
Servings: 8, each with 260 calories, 13 grams fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 34 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams sugar, 2 grams protein, 190 mg sodium.
1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
3/4 cup canned dulce de leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk)
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
Sweetened whipped cream, if desired
Toffee bits, if desired
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place pie crust in 9 1/2-inch glass deep-dish pie plate as directed on box for one-crust filled pie.
2. Spoon dollops of dulce de leche into crust, spreading to edges. Place in refrigerator.
3. In medium bowl, beat eggs, pumpkin, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with whisk until smooth. Beat in evaporated milk. Pour filling over dulce de leche in crust.
4. Bake on lower oven rack 48 to 50 minutes, or until pie is just set (center will still jiggle slightly). Cool completely on cooling rack, about 2 hours. Garnish with whipped cream and toffee bits.
Makes 8 servings, each with 382 calories, 13 grams fat, 381 mg sodium, 61 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 8 grams protein. Exchanges: 1 starch; 3 other carbohydrate; 1/2 high-fat meat; 1 1/2 fat. Carbohydrate choices: 4.