Get Cooking: Best Thanksgiving Tips

Local foodies give us the dish on how to nosh next week

Whether you’re heading home for the holiday or you’re hosting your gay family next Thursday, we talked to a few of our favorite foodies about their delicious dishes, the best way to cook a turkey and how vegetarians can get in on the act.

Courtesy of “Josh Can’t Cook”

Josh Schoenwolf is the host of “Josh Can’t Cook,” a web-based series that follows the South Philadelphian’s sometimes messy and always hilarious kitchen escapades. Since we last spoke with him, he’s won several web awards and has even auditioned for TV spots.

What’s the best advice for cooking a turkey?

Schoenwolf: The best way to not overcook the turkey is to not drink alcohol while it’s cooking. Kidding! Pay attention to it. There is nothing to fear, because the turkey is already dead. I’ve heard from some actual good cooks that it’s best to cook it on its back, and so it’s easier to gauge whether or not it’s cooking properly. It’s best to pay attention to the big ‘ole thing in your oven, because without putting your best cooking foot forward, you’re going to have a sad family that you cooked for.

Is there a side dish that you swear by for the ultimate Thanksgiving feast?

Schoenwolf: For someone who cannot cook, I have an amazing side dish for you. A few people that I know have tried my recipe, and it’s always a hit: Truffled Brussel Sprouts. Chop up the brussel sprouts and then mince mushrooms. Don’t forget to salt and pepper them, but instead of normal salt, buy truffled salt. Throw it all in a wok, and bada-bing! No one will think you’re a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Crystal Fox

Crystal Fox, one of G Philly‘s “New Who’s Who,” is the chef at Giorgio on Pine, an Italian BYOB nestled in the Gayborhood on Pine Street.

As someone who cooks for a living, what will your Thanksgiving dinner entail?

Fox: I’m aware that when one envisions Thanksgiving – bird is the word. But not for me, I crave the sides. I’m a “sides-whore,” if you will. My first helping of food will always consist of the bird, but my second (and let’s be honest here, my third helping, too) will almost always be a full plate of the sides. I can’t help my pure traditionalist love of buttery corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, the green bean casseroles, biscuits.

Have you added any new dishes to the mix?

Fox: If I were to take that leap into the neo-Thanksgiving-post-Food-Network-pimping-of-everything food, I would choose to bring out the big guns and tackle the traditional mashed potato with Winter Squash Smash. But be forewarned. I do not give exact measurements. Food is feeling, so when I say “to taste,” I mean to your taste.

How do we make Winter Squash Smash?

Fox: You’ll need five Idaho potatoes (diced) and three to four medium-sized butternut squash (also diced). Get one cup of whole milk ready – or skim for the twinks claiming to be on a diet during the holiday – liars! – as well as butter, one white onion, five strips of bacon, salt, pepper, parsley and cinnamon. In a large pot, cover the diced potatoes and squash with fresh salted and cold water. Cover it and bring it to a boil. Never throw raw potatoes into already hot and/or boiling water. The extreme heat shocks the potato and only cooks the outer portions of the potato without actually penetrating the center. And I did say penetrate? Boil until potatoes and squash can be pierced easily with a fork for about eight to 10 minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling, dice the onion and bacon and then saute the onion with a little bit of olive oil until it softens and add the bacon and continue cooking until the onions are golden in color and the bacon is crisp. Onions, at this state, will give your squash smash that touch of sweetness and the crisp bacon will give the textural variation your mouth will begin to crave after a few bites.

When potatoes and squash are done, drain the pot, reserving the cooking liquid on the side. Throw the potatoes and squash back into the pot and, using your hand mixer and a little bit of the cooking liquid to help move things along, begin blending. While mashing the mix, add milk and a little bit of butter. If the smash isn’t creamy enough for you…add more cooking liquid, milk, and butter. Next, fold in your bacon and onion. Taste it. Is it buttery enough? Salty enough? Adjust your seasoning and sprinkle with cinnamon for a touch of more sweetness and serve. The dish should take about 20 minutes.

Chef Richard Landau recently opened Vedge in the heart of the Gayborhood in the historic Tiger building across from Uncles on Locust Street. The vegetarian restaurant presents creative, healthy cuisine inspired by international culture and local seasonal ingredients. He’s also the author of two cookbooks Horizons: New Vegan Cuisine and Horizons: The Cookbook (Gourmet Meatless Cuisine) with his wife Kate Jacoby.

What’s the best way a vegetarian can enjoy Thanksgiving?

Landau: Prepare. If you are dining around other vegetarians, use this occasion to go all out and celebrate with gorgeous roasted brussels sprouts and parsnips, red sauerkraut, baked heirloom squashes, garlic-mashed potatoes with truffle oil, fresh salads with hazelnut vinaigrette and some roasted rutabaga and turnips. Bring lots of color and variety of texture to the table. On the other hand, if you are one of few vegetarians at the table, determine who is preparing the bulk of the food. Figure out if you can bring anything (if so, make sure it’s something that everyone else will oogle over!) or if they want to be in control. Lots of people might stress over having a vegetarian sitting at the table. They might wonder what to make and how much will be enough, if they can use certain ingredients. If they insist that you shouldn’t do anything, you might want to put them at ease and suggest a few things that you love, perhaps provide recipes for easy dishes. It could point them in the right direction.

What’s a great vegetarian supplement for the usual turkey and stuffing combo?

Landau: There are plenty of great proteins out there that make elegant main dishes for vegetarian Thanksgiving. Some are pre-packaged, and others are more simple and depend on your creativity (roasted seitan with rich mushroom gravy, tofu roasted with rosemary and garlic). But it’s also a nice touch to bring color to the table. Try halving a large, orange heirloom squash and roasting it until fork tender. Meanwhile, prepare some shredded, roasted vegetables. Choose radishes, brussels sprouts, baby sweet potatoes, rutabaga, purple carrots. Fill the roasted squash with some celery root and potatoe puree for richness, then top with the roasted vegetables. You can keep this in the oven to warm up, then serve as your piece de resistance. It makes for a festive centerpiece that has lots of depth of flavor.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving recipe? Share it with us in the comments below or by emailing nmcdonald@phillymag.com.