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Give Thanks: A Holiday to Feast & Savor

Chef Jamie Gwen shares suggestions for innovative Thanksgiving recipes and tips for keeping the basics absolutely delicious.

Chef Jamie Gwen shares suggestions for innovative Thanksgiving recipes and tips for keeping the basics absolutely delicious.

This year, perhaps more than others, we are grateful for simple things. Take a page from the early American feast “guidebook” and invite good friends, old and new to your Thanksgiving table. Add a fresh twist to traditional dishes on your menu, for the reason that celebrating the local bounty is a big part of what this holiday is about.

Where I have the blessing to live, in sunny Southern California, we are abundant in fresh produce, seafood and a variety of wonderful cuisines. The trend this year is an infusion of flavors; the traditional favorites from your family feast, reinvented or adjusted slightly to create a new and unique explosion of flavors. The following are a few suggestions for innovative Thanksgiving alternatives and you’ll find my best Chef’s Tips for keeping the basics absolutely delicious.

So, to start a new tradition this year, add a coastal theme to your holiday table with a first course of steamed mussels, flavored in a savory broth of white wine, garlic and fresh herbs. Pair them with a salad of buttery pears, walnuts, blue cheese and pomegranate arils and serve crusty bread, for dipping into the mussel broth.

Looking for a new way to serve pumpkin? Roast mini pumpkins by cutting off the tops and removing the seeds and threads. Season the flesh with olive oil, salt and pepper and place the pumpkins on a baking sheet. Roast at 350°F until tender, then scrape out the flesh and puree it with a fresh pear, a pinch of curry powder, chicken stock and a touch of cream. Pour this delectable, creamy soup back into the mini-pumpkin shells, for an extraordinary presentation, and pair it with a chilled Pinot Grigio. The perfect first course~

Another fine benefit to Southern California living is that even in the Fall, our produce markets are full of fruits and vegetables of all varieties. Take plantains and peel and slice them into one inch disks. Heat grapeseed or canola oil in a heavy pan, over medium heat, and sauté the plantains in batches until slightly browned. Remove them from the heat and drain on paper towels. Take a spatula or flat utensil and press down on each plantain chip to make a “pancake.” Return them to the pan and brown them on each side until crispy. Dust the hot plantains with a sprinkling of fleur de sel and add them, as a crouton, to the pumpkin soup or to your harvest salad, to enjoy their crunchy, starchy texture and unique sweetness.

When it’s time for dessert, liven up the celebration by serving a holiday-inspired coffee “buffet” along with your pies and sweets. Offer orange slices and cinnamon sticks, freshly whipped cream and Frangelico or Brandy, and allow your family and friends to create their own signature coffee…It’s a wonderful way to round out the evening joyously.

Thanksgiving is a time to gather together, to celebrate the harvest and above all, to feast!  Wishing you, fine cooks, a culinary success this holiday and best wishes for a fruitful meal, from my kitchen to yours~

Secrets to Classic Thanksgiving Favorites

Roasting Turkey

  • Invest in a good quality, heavy roasting pan.
  • Buy a fresh—not frozen—turkey. 
  • Look for a “Natural” Turkey that has been fed only organic feed and is not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Most “certified organic” or “heritage” turkey farmers are small-scale enterprises and I like the idea of supporting small business. It’s definitely worth it to order a higher quality turkey; I guarantee you will taste the difference.
  • If your turkey is frozen, allow four to five days in the refrigerator to thaw. It takes twenty four hours to thaw every four pounds of frozen turkey, so keep in mind that a 16-pound bird will take four days. 
  • I recommend that you roast two smaller birds rather than one large bird. Smaller turkeys tend to be more tender, and since they cook a shorter time, can be more tender…And, you’ll have extra drumsticks, too!

Carving Turkey

  • Invest in a good quality carving knife and fork.
  • Allow your turkey to rest for 20 minutes before carving; it will be so much juicier!


  • Deglaze the roasting pan with chicken broth and white wine or apple cider.
  • Puree dried mushrooms in a food processor until powdery. Add to the developing gravy, add your favorite seasonings and heavy cream and keep stirring over low heat until thick and smooth.

Cranberry Sauce

  • No matter what recipe you choose to use, always add the sugar after the cranberries have burst. Adding the sugar at the end of the cooking process keeps the skins from getting tough and leaves the cranberries tender and delicious.

Thanksgiving Recipes to Share…

Spicy Cranberry Chutney

This simple, homemade cranberry sauce is so flavorful and fresh tasting! 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 3/4 cup port
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • One 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepot.  Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add the port and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries, orange zest, curry powder and mustard. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the ginger. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Makes 2 Cups

The Perfect Day-After Thanksgiving Sandwich     

For sandwich lovers, the ritual of the transformation of holiday leftovers into a very serious sandwich is a celebration in and of itself! 

  • 4 slices sourdough or rustic bread of choice, toasted
  • A generous smear of mayonnaise
  • 8 tablespoons cranberry chutney
  • 6 slices freshly roasted turkey
  • 1/2 cup leftover holiday stuffing
  • 4 slices triple cream brie cheese
  • 4 tablespoons warm gravy

To assemble the sandwiches, lay the toasted bread slices on a work surface. Spread each slice of bread with mayonnaise, then top with 2 tablespoons of cranberry chutney. Top with the sliced turkey, then pile half of the stuffing on top of each sandwich. Top with the slices of brie and finish with warm gravy. Top with the remaining slice of toast and enjoy!

Makes 2 Sandwiches

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