Tips for better Thanksgiving dishes

Make this holiday the best yet

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We’ve all experienced a dried out turkey or gloopy mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. But with a few easy tips from the pros, it’s easy to make better Thanksgiving dishes that your family will truly be grateful for.

Making your Thanksgiving standbys even better doesn't have to mean extra work or additional mess. With a little planning and some TLC, the best Thanksgiving meal ever is at your fingertips.

Brine

Chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis says "I think brining is the key to a moist turkey. I would never not brine my turkey." Her instructions: To brine the turkey, combine the 2 gallons water, 1 cup Diamond brand coarse Kosher salt, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large, nonreactive bucket or stockpot, if storing in the refrigerator, or in an insulated cooler, if not. Two gallons of water will be sufficient for most birds; larger birds may require three. Submerge a 12-14 pound turkey in the brine and refrigerate for up to 14 hours. If using a cooler, add ice or freezer packs to keep the bird very cold. Remove the bird from the liquid and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine. Proceed with recipe.

Skip the stuffing

Chef Charlie Ayers, executive chef and owner of Calafia Café and Market A Go Go in Silicon Valley, says that despite popular tradition, "Cooking your dressed stuffing inside the turkey is a bad idea for several reasons. Due to the shape of the cavity, the stuffing may not cook evenly, and except for the small amount that sticks out of the end, it doesn't get all browned and crusty…Even more importantly, by the time the center of the stuffing is cooked to a safe temperature, parts of the turkey will be overcooked and dry."

Did you know? Although the original Thanksgiving was in 1621, it didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared a day of thanks in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.

Low and slow

Ayers also recommends roasting your turkeyat 325F for 15-20 minutes per pound, until a thermometer registers 165F at the thickest part of the thigh meat. His directions for a perfect bird, after brining: "Leave the turkey out for one hour before roasting to take the chill off. Cut two carrots, two ribs of celery, and an onion into large chunks. Place on the bottom of your roasting pan. Place the turkey, breast side up on top of the vegetables. Fill the cavity with one apple cut into quarters, one orange cut in quarters, one cinnamon stick [optional], a bunch of thyme and sage, a couple crushed cloves of garlic. Add about a half-inch of liquid (water or stock) to the roasting pan. This will keep the oven moist, and the turkey juicy. This aromatic liquid can be used to baste the turkey while it cooks, this will create and amazing basting liquid. Also, the pan drippings will be even more flavorful if you're planning to make gravy. "

Yogurt

Chef and winner of Bravo's Top Chef All-Stars Richard Blais is a big fan of using Dannon Oikos Greek yogurt to make holiday dishes both richer and healthier. "With its creamy, rich texture, fresh taste, and at least 80% less fat than regular mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese," Blais uses Greek yogurt to make creamier mashed potatoes, healthier casseroles, more nutritious dips, and tenderizing marinades.

Perfect sides

Cookbook author and registered dietician Jill Nussinow of The Veggie Queen says that she recommends simple and seasonal herb roasted vegetables as the perfect side. "You can add any root vegetables," she says, "including carrots, purple potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, winter, squash, garlic, onions and more plus rosemary and thyme as sprigs or dried. The key is not use too much oil to coat the vegetables, to cook them until they are well cooked and to make sure that there is plenty of room on your sheet pans when you cook them so that they roast and don't just steam."

Did you know? Many of the foods we eat today for Thanksgiving were served at the first Thanksgiving as well. Their feast lasted for three days and fed over 100 people with fish and seafood, wild fowl (including turkey), vegetables (including pumpkin) and grains.

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Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer. In addition to writing for Fabulous Foods, Katherine also contributes to various sections of SheKnows She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Savory Recipes to Start Your Morning (Hang Time Press, 2012). Katherine writes about her adventures in food at KatherineMartinelli.com.