Thanksgiving 101


Thanksgiving is my favorite. It is the most American of holidays, celebrated by citizens of all faiths. It is the one day when everyone can sit down at the table with family and friends and truly give thanks for what they have. With thousands of fellow Americans displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and thousands still without power in Florida due to the effects of Wilma, now is especially the time to recognize and give thanks for the good in life.

A most traditional holiday, I don’t like to tamper with Thanksgiving, trying to come up with an unusual dish or nixing the turkey. For the past 22 years, I have set a menu and rarely strayed. My family and I feel comforting reassurance as we pass my Mushroom Stuffing, sweet potato soufflé, Braised Brussels Sprouts and so forth. One year, I made chestnut stuffing and my sister Sandy would not touch it.

We always begin dinner with a fish course. In the past, I have made a cold fish pate or salmon mousse. I soon discovered Shrimp Cocktail is a far better choice. Everyone loves Shrimp Cocktail and it does not take long to prepare. The shrimp are cooked the day before and kept in the refrigerator.

I called this column "Thanksgiving 101" because I know a number of people who have never cooked a traditional turkey dinner. Next week, I will give you more traditional recipes for an easy-to-prepare, yet delicious feast. Thanksgiving Day week, I will tell you what to do with all those leftovers.

Here are recipes for a traditional Thanksgiving meal:

Shrimp Cocktail


3 pounds jumbo shrimp
Chili sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Horseradish, to taste


Place the shrimp in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover with cold water and place over high heat. Cook the shrimp just until they turn color and the water bubbles a bit, about three to five minutes. Immediately drain in a colander and run under cold water. Drain well and cool to room temperature. When cool, place in a container and cover with a lid. Refrigerate overnight.

To make the sauce, whisk the remaining ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Taste and correct for lemon juice and horseradish.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: Some people have a bowl of ice water ready to plunge the shrimp into the minute they turn color. I like to serve Shrimp Cocktail in oversized martini glasses, placing them along the rim. It is an eye-appealing presentation.

Mushroom Stuffing


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as white button, cremini and shiitake, wiped clean and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (16-ounce) bag crushed herb stuffing mix
1 (15-ounce) can chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to tast


Melt the butter and oil over medium-high in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they give up their liquid, about 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about five minutes.

Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl. Add the sautéed mushrooms, onion, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. The stuffing should be moist. If it feels dry, add about 1 cup more chicken stock. Cool completely.

Cover the stuffing with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, bring the stuffing to room temperature. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place the stuffing in the dish and cook for about 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven. This can be done while the turkey rests. Or, the stuffing can be microwaved on high for about five minutes or so.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: I chop the mushrooms and onion in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. I pulse on and off until it’s a slightly chunky consistency. Add two stalks of sliced, sautéed celery to the stuffing, if you wish.

Braised Brussels Sprouts


1 pound Brussels sprouts, the smallest available
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Trim the end of each Brussels sprout. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Drain in a colander and run under cold water.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallot and sauté over medium until translucent, about three to five minutes. Add the sprouts and heat through, stirring thoroughly with a large plastic or wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

When ready to serve, reheat the Brussels sprouts, stirring to blend well.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: The Brussels sprouts can be precooked a few hours before the turkey is done. This is a marvelous free-form recipe, including adding some cooked chestnuts, which can be found in gourmet shops packed in jars. I always buy my Brussels sprouts from farmer Ben Kauffman at the Reading Terminal Market. Each sprout is the size of a baby’s thumbnail and never bitter.

Creamed Onions


1 (1-pound) jar white onions packed in water or 1 (1-pound) bag frozen white onions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Place the onions in a colander and rinse well. If you are using the frozen variety, defrost and drain well. Set aside.

In a 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium. Add the flour and, using a wooden or plastic spoon, blend well until it is a blonde roux. Slowly add the milk and blend well to make a white sauce. The sauce should slightly thicken.

Add the onions and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The onions can be prepared an hour before the turkey is done.

When ready to serve, gently reheat.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: Creamed Onions is a classic Southern Thanksgiving side dish. Until I discovered the jarred and frozen variety, I went through the lengthy process of boiling several pints of pearl onions and peeling them. The jarred and frozen varieties are fine substitutes.