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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving - our annual, national holiday to celebrate the harvest and the blessings of the year. I can’t think of a more appropriate holiday for those of us who shop at a farmers market. Our time to pause and reflect upon how truly thankful we are for all of the hard physical work, time and money OUR farmers - the farmers we purchase from each week at our local markets - have put into the food that feeds us. Because of their efforts we have eaten well this year. From peaches and blueberries to bread, pie, potatoes, squash, peppers and meat, we have derived much joy and nutrition from their labors. A farmers market is truly a place where neighbors take care of eachother. Our farmers are doing great things for the soil, our environment and the beauty of this gorgeous area of the world we get to call home.

So let’s talk turkey! I’m not one to do culinary somersaults with techniques. I don’t deep fry (because it is extraordinarily dangerous) or inject flavor with a needle. I do one simple thing - I start with a local, pasture raised turkey and cook it gently. That provides all of the flavor and amazing results needed. Always bring your turkey out of the fridge an hour before putting it in the oven to get the refrigerator chill off of it. This is true for any meat that you are cooking and usually 30 minutes will suffice for a whole chicken, chicken pieces, pork or beef. But for a large bird like turkey, an hour is needed. I cook it low and slow - 325 degrees, unstuffed, for about 14 minutes per pound. If you are feeding a crowd and need to cook two turkeys, my suggestion is to separate the white meat and the dark meat. Cook all of the white meat together in one pan and the dark meat together in another pan. Everything will get done at the same time and the white meat will not get overcooked.

If you’re only making one turkey, start by roasting your bird breast down. The dark meat always takes longer to cook when the bird is left whole and then the white meat is overcooked and dry. Starting the roasting breast down allows the dark meat to get cooking faster. About two thirds of the way through cooking, flip the bird breast side up so it will brown, get crispy and pretty, while staying moist. Always let your cooked turkey rest for 30 minutes after cooking before cutting it, so the juices can settle back into the meat.

We can’t talk turkey without talking about the gravy. In my family, there is a “dispute” about the thickness or thinness of the gravy. I like mine on the thinner side, while others prefer it super thick. So thick you could eat it with a fork. Either way, the most flavorful gravy comes from a few key things. First, start with the giblets. I put them into a soup pot filled with water and add a bouquet garni, which is a fresh herb bundle tied with kitchen string (usually consisting of rosemary, thyme, 2 bay leaves and some tarragon - because except for the bay leaves, I grow all of these herbs in my container garden), 4 stalks of celery, 2 whole carrots and an onion, halved. I add some salt and pepper and bring the whole mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook it for about two hours. By this time it has also reduced. Then I remove all of the vegetables and bouquet garni, add some wine and a buerre mani to thicken it. Buerre mani is a French term that means “butter by hand” and is equal parts flour and soft butter mixed together to form a paste. I bring the gravy to a boil again and grab some of the buerre mani with my whisk and whisk it into the boiling gravy. I let it boil for a few minutes and add more only if I feel it needs to be thicker. Then I adjust the seasonings, add some chopped celery leaves and finely chopped parsley and voila! Deeply rich yet bright and herby gravy, that’s not too thick. You can of course continue to simmer the gravy to reduce it and therefore thicken it more, if need be. Like when my Mom lifts the lid and says, did you thicken this gravy yet? She’s one who likes her gravy super thick.

If you love cranberry sauce, as I do, I strongly urge you to make your own. It couldn’t be easier! Just follow the recipe on the back of the bag. One bag of cranberries plus 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. That’s it!!!! And the flavor payoff is huge. You can get fancy with it and add orange zest, spices or even wine. But I always make it the simple way because I love the pure flavor of the cranberry. Did you know that cranberries are a superfood? “Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, A, and beta carotene. They are packed with antioxidants and rate very high on the ORAC scale making it an ideal anti-aging and memory enhancing food. Cranberries have amazing anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and are a vital food and supplement for anyone struggling with any chronic illness or disease. They are known to significantly boost the immune system and have a natural antibiotic effect in the body.” according to Anthony William in his book Life Changing Foods. Grab a few extra bags of fresh New Jersey cranberries to put in the freezer to help you through the Winter cold and flu season. Anthony William also suggests making cranberry water by pureeing a handful of raw cranberries with 16ozs of water in a blender to drink. I like to add some local honey to mine as the cranberries are quite tart! I love making cranberry water to drink when I’m not feeling well. It is an excellent pick me up combined with a good night’s sleep. Whatever was ailing me is gone the next day.

I hope sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mashed potatoes, whole wheat bread or freshly made yeast rolls will all be part of your celebration. In addition to the recipes I’ve just described, I’m sharing some of my favorite family Thanksgiving recipes in my special Complete Thanksgiving Menu Guide on the WDVR website, plus I’m also providing a link to Bon Appetit’s 69 Best Thanksgiving Recipes. A compendium of holiday deliciousness that has something for everyone.

I sincerely hope you are able to gather this Thanksgiving with more family and friends than last year. Whatever you decide to put on your table this year, as long as it’s made with farmers market ingredients and lots of love, everything will turn out well.

Even if you’re just cooking for yourself this year, be sure to celebrate - for yourself, for our farmers. Comfort yourself with the bounty of the harvest and count your many blessings. Happiest Thanksgiving wishes to you all, my foodie friends!

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