Giving thanks deliciously

Cranberry muffin surprises. Photos by Dan Kacvinski

Whether you call it Thanksgiving or Turkey Day, the holiday is a festive time for American Jewish families to enjoy the best of both heritages — hearty American food and an occasion to give thanks for blessings.

When it comes to the Thanksgiving menu, I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food with a few innovative ideas. Begin your dinner with an espresso-size cup of Pumpkin Soup garnished with a sprinkling of pumpkin or pomegranate seeds. Serve muffins with cranberry sauce in the center — it will be a surprise when your guests break them open.

Everyone enjoys a handsome, golden-brown, roasted turkey. If my family had to choose the stuffing for the turkey, it would be Grandma Mollie’s Vegetable Stuffing. My mother was proud of her stuffing and used it with chicken as well as turkey. She did not cook the ingredients separately, but mixed everything together and placed it in the bird. I have found that sautéing the vegetables first allows them to cook more evenly and gives the flavors a chance to blend. I have added raisins for a sweeter taste that’s especially festive for the holiday.

Red Cabbage With Apples adds a sweet and tangy flavor to the meal, and its purple color is the first thing you notice. Adding a splash of something acidic — vinegar, red wine or lemon juice — helps maintain the purple color, which often disappears during cooking.

The baking and much of the rest of the menu can be started days in advance to allow time to arrange the table with festive Thanksgiving decorations. They can be as simple as autumn leaves in a vase; an assortment of pumpkins and squash; or a cornucopia of polished apples, grapes and nuts.

We pour cider for the children and a light red wine for the grownups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast.

For the perfect ending to your dinner, serve an assortment of desserts, including Chocolate Raspberry Brownies and a Cranberry Meringue Tart.


Pumpkin soup

3 tablespoons unsalted margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced pumpkin (if not available, use banana squash or Hubbard squash)
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds or pomegranate seeds

In a heavy saucepan, heat the margarine and sauté the onion, leek and garlic until tender. Add the apple and pumpkin slices and sauté for 3 minutes or until tender. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the pumpkin mixture into a food processor. Process the mixture, slowly adding the broth 1 cup at a time, until puréed. Return the puréed mixture to the saucepan and simmer briskly for 10 minutes, or until the soup thickens. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Ladle into heated cappuccino cups or soup bowls and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds or pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted margarine, melted and cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup orange juice, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg
1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; blend well.

In a medium bowl, mix margarine, orange juice, molasses and egg with a wire whisk until well blended. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until combined.

Spoon one heaping tablespoonful of batter into each of the prepared muffin cups. Make a small indentation in the batter with your finger or the handle of a wooden spoon. Carefully fill each indentation with about a measuring teaspoon of cranberry sauce, making sure the sauce is in the center of the batter and not touching the sides of the cups. Gently spoon on the remaining batter, trying not to disturb the sauce.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, or serve while hot.

Makes 12 muffins.


1 turkey (15 to 20 pounds)
Grandma Mollie’s Vegetable Stuffing (recipe follows)
1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil
1 cup apricot preserves
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 325 F.

Clean the fully thawed turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Spoon the cooled stuffing into both cavities and close with a needle and thread or skewers. Rub the outside of the turkey with the oil and apricot preserves and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grease the inside (unprinted side) of a large brown paper bag, or use a large plastic baking bag. Place the turkey, neck first and breast down, inside the bag. For a paper bag, fold the open ends and seal it with paper clips or staples; if using a plastic baking bag, tie it with plastic ties supplied in the package. Place the turkey on a large rack inside a roasting pan lined with heavy-duty foil. Roast in preheated oven for 3 hours or more, depending on the size of the turkey. (See suggested cooking times below.)

About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, make a slit in the bag under the turkey and let the liquid drain into a saucepan. When all the juices are poured off, remove the bag and turn the turkey over, breast side up. Return the turkey to the oven to brown for the remaining cooking time. Skim the fat that forms from the juices, discard fat, and heat the juices. Remove the stuffing and transfer to a heated bowl. Carve the turkey and arrange the slices, legs and wings on a large platter. Serve the juices in a gravy boat.

Suggested Cooking Time for Stuffed Turkeys:

10 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 1/2 hours
14 to 16 pounds: 4 to 5 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 5 to 6 hours


1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated
1 parsnip, peeled and grated
2 large zucchinis, grated
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 to 1 cup golden raisins, plumped in water, sweet wine or apple juice, and drained
8 to 10 mushrooms, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked quick or old-fashioned oats
2 to 3 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1/4 cup dry red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until transparent. Add celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini; toss well. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add parsley, raisins and mushrooms; mix thoroughly. Simmer 5 minutes. Blend in 1 tablespoon at a time of the oats, flour and bread crumbs, until the mixture holds together. Add wine and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


1 large red cabbage (2 1/2 pounds)
2/3 cup wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine
2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 whole onion, peeled and pierced with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf, crushed
5 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons dry red wine
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash cabbage under cold water and cut into quarters. Cut into 1/8-inch shreds. Drop into a large bowl and sprinkle with vinegar, sugar and salt. Toss with a wooden spoon.

In a large (5-quart) saucepan, melt the margarine and sauté the apple slices and chopped onion for 5 minutes or until the apple slices are lightly browned. Add cabbage, whole onion and bay leaf. Stir thoroughly and pour in the boiling water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook, partially covered, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until cabbage is just tender, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Remove the whole onion and bay leaf. Stir in the wine and currant jelly and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


1/4 pound unsalted margarine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
Powdered sugar (optional)
Toasted pecan halves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend the margarine and granulated sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add preserves and melted chocolate; mix well. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; blend into the margarine-egg mixture until smooth. Fold in chopped pecans.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Top with powdered sugar and garnish with toasted pecan halves.

Makes about 16 brownies.


Cranberry meringue tart

The secret of making a crisp tart is to cook the filling first, then cool it, and spoon it into a prebaked, cooled tart shell. Then top with meringue, place under the broiler or bake in the oven until toasted. If the crust browns too quickly, simply cut a round of foil to fit the tart, cutting a large hole in the center to expose the filling. This keeps the crust from burning.


4 cups fresh cranberries
2/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 cups light brown sugar


3 egg whites
Pinch salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (11-inch) prebaked Sweet Pastry Tart Shell (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 F.

To make filling: In a large, heavy skillet, combine cranberries, orange juice, orange peel and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until brown sugar dissolves, and simmer, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cranberries will pop and become very soft. Blend in remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and continue cooking 5 minutes longer. Cool. Spoon into prebaked Sweet Pastry Tart Shell.

To make meringue: In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Add granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating well until stiff peaks form.

Fit a pastry tube with a decorative tip; fill the bag with the meringue.

Cover the cranberry filling completely with meringue rosettes, including the edge of the crust.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or place under the broiler, watching carefully, until meringue is lightly toasted.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons water or milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the margarine until the mixture is crumbly. Blend in the water or milk just until the dough begins to come together. Do not over-mix.

Knead the dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper, and chill for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Roll pastry out, between 2 large sheets of floured waxed paper, to a round large enough to cover and overlap an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. For easier handling, fold pastry in half before transferring it to the pan. (The waxed paper prevents the pastry from sticking together.)

Lift the pastry from the bottom sheet of waxed paper and place on half of the tart pan. Unfold the pastry and remove the other sheet of waxed paper that covers it. (At this point, the pastry can be covered with plastic wrap and foil and stored in the refrigerator, or freezer for several days.)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Bring the pastry to room temperature. Spread a light coating of margarine on a sheet of waxed paper and place it, coated side down, inside of the pastry, overlapping around the outside. Cover with another sheet of waxed paper, with the cut ends in the opposite direction. Fill the center of the waxed-paper-lined tart shell with uncooked rice or pie weights. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the pastry begin to brown. Carefully remove the waxed paper with the rice or pie weights and continue baking until the bottom of the pastry is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely before filling.

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