Food & Cooking

Thanksgiving recipes that are easy to make : Life Kit : NPR

Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.
Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.

Food writer Eric Kim is kind of a Thanksgiving expert — he’s been making the holiday dinner for his family since he was 13 years old.

“My parents didn’t know how to cook American food when they immigrated here,” he says. Kim and his cousins really wanted to partake in this very-American holiday so they took over the kitchen and fashioned a menu straight from the imagination of a 13-year-old: “Those early Thanksgivings had like five different pies and a banana pudding.”

He says the holiday evolved over the years (though the banana pudding remains a staple).

Eric Kim eats Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Augusta, Georgia in the 1990s.

Eric Kim


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Eric Kim

“The kids got better at cooking it, and then the adults looked forward to it. And then it became this beautiful kind of moment once a year where the adults could, like, sit back and relax.”

Kim says those early years of making Thanksgiving dinner helped him become the cook — and the New York Times food writer — that he is today. This year though, he’s on a mission to help everyone spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying their food and their company.

(See two of Kim’s original Thanksgiving recipes — Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast and Cheesy Pizza Stuffing, at the end of the story.)

Cook smarter, not harder.

“I think people cook too much on Thanksgiving Day, and that’s really unrealistic,” Kim says. “What I want to do on Thanksgiving Day is be with my friends … or my family.”

Kim has devised a menu that’ll allow you to actually enjoy the day – by simplifying the meal in five key ways:

Make ahead

Spend the day before Thanksgiving doing the bulk of your work so that the day-of you only have to roast the turkey and reheat your sides.

Simplify your ingredients

Kim’s simplified menu relies on a pared-down list of ingredients used throughout the dishes: salt, pepper, butter, dried oregano, onion and lemon.

The food at Thanksgiving is already delicious, Kim says, so it doesn’t need a lot of extra flavor. “You’re taking these ingredients like sweet potatoes or green beans, radicchio … and just adding two or three things to them to make them shine and to make them more of themselves,” he says. “A lot of butter goes a long way.”

Illustration of a hand stirring ingredients in a bowl. A pepper grinder, bowl of salt, cut lemon, and plate with butter sit in the foreground.

Simplify your tools

Kim says you can make the full meal with just a sheet pan and a large skillet. The bone-in turkey breast is roasted on the sheet pan while all of the sides and gravy can be cooked stove-top in the skillet.

No oven acrobatics

Look for recipes that allow you to cook everything at one temperature. That way, you’re not having to figure out the logistics of when to put in one casserole for an hour at 375 degrees and another for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Kim designed his menu (peep his cheesy pizza stuffing here) so everything can be cooked at 350 degrees — which is also low enough so that you won’t be sweating in your kitchen all day!

Take the terror out of turkey

A lot of first-timers can get overwhelmed by cooking the turkey. Kim says it’s fine to just do a bone-in turkey breast. And he says, simplify your turkey prep. “All I do is I slather some butter all over it, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and I roast it.” (Try his recipe here.)

And for those turkey haters, Kim says part of the problem is that people usually overcook them. “As long as you don’t overcook it, a whole world will open up to you. It’s delicious.” To avoid overcooking, try using an electric instant-read meat thermometer so you’ll know exactly when it’s done.

With all that extra time you’ve got on Thanksgiving day now, you can focus on the important stuff like frantically cleaning your apartment, chilling the wine, finding the perfect pair of eating pants – oh, and spending quality time with your loved ones.

Enjoy the day … with whomever you’d like

Some of us are unable to travel home, or we’re stuck at work, or we’re estranged from our families. Some of us just want to be able to double up on this food-laden holiday. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that celebrating with friends is no less important. Kim says it’s a time to celebrate your found family.

“For me, Friendsgiving, it started out being the replacement holiday. It’s like, ‘Oh man, I can’t go home, so I have to be with … other people,'” says Kim. But throughout the years, he’s come to cherish the holiday.

“You’re not just celebrating your friends because they’re replacements for family, you’re celebrating them because they are your family. And I think that’s really beautiful.”

No matter who you’re celebrating with, Kim says, a little planning (and some prep the day beforehand) can help you enjoy the moment and the company.

Eric Kim’s Thanksgiving Recipes

Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 2 hours, plus thawing and resting

A bone-in turkey breast is significantly easier to cook than a whole bird, it takes a fraction of the time, and it still feeds a group comfortably. To ensure succulence, you could apply a dry brine the night before, but when you’re cooking just a breast, the greatest insurance against dryness is pulling it out of the oven the moment it’s done, and no later. (For that, rely on an electric instant-read meat thermometer; it’s the only way to get a truly accurate read on the internal temperature of your meat.) I like to roast turkey the way I roast chicken: unbrined but slathered in butter, showered with salt and pepper and popped into a moderately hot oven to get crispy skin. Once the slices are fanned out on a platter tumbled with lemon wedges, it looks like a veritable feast.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole (6- to 8-pound) bone-in turkey breast (see Tip)
  • 4 lemons, quartered, for garnish
  • Instant-read meat thermometer

Directions

1. Keep the butter nearby. Place about 1/4 cup kosher salt in a small bowl and keep nearby as well, along with a black-pepper grinder. Transfer the turkey breast to a large sheet pan and thoroughly dry all over with a paper towel; get it as bone-dry as you can.

2. Using your hands, very liberally rub the butter all over the turkey breast. (If the butter is difficult to spread, soften it further in the microwave in 10-second intervals.) Make sure to slather the butter on the underside and bones in addition to the entire surface of the skin. Wipe your hands with a towel.

3. Generously season the turkey all over with salt, especially inside the cavity. You don’t have to be precise here, but do go heavy on the salt — the turkey can take it. (In general, you should account for about 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon Morton coarse kosher salt per pound.) Next, generously grind black pepper all over the turkey; again, no need to measure this. Let the turkey breast sit so the seasoning can penetrate the meat and allow the bird to come to room temperature, about 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the turkey breast in the oven, then with the oven door still open, carefully pour 1 cup water into the sheet pan. Close the oven door and roast until the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, 13 to 15 minutes per pound. (To read the temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of one of the breasts, making sure to avoid the bone, which will give you an inaccurate reading.) Very carefully rotate the pan halfway through roasting and add another cup of water if the pan looks dry. When done roasting (1 1/2 to 2 hours), the skin should be golden brown and crispy.

5. Let the turkey breast rest in its pan, uncovered, until cool enough to handle, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut along one side of the breastbone with a sharp knife, then the other, cutting each breast off the bone, and keeping the skin intact. Thickly slice each breast crosswise and serve on a large platter scattered with the lemon quarters. Taste the pan juices and, if they’re a little salty, stir in a little hot water. If they need more seasoning, stir in salt and pepper. Spoon the pan juices over and around the sliced turkey.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 45 minutes, plus drying bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (12- to 14-ounce) loaf brioche or challah, torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more softened butter for greasing dish
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  •  Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more for topping
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella

Directions

  1. The night before serving, spread the bread pieces on a sheet pan and let sit on the counter to dry out. Alternatively, you can bake them at 250 degrees until completely dried out and no longer soft, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. When ready to make the stuffing, transfer the bread to a large bowl. Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-11-inch baking dish with softened butter.
  3. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly browned at the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the oregano and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a fork, then beat in the milk. Pour the stock mixture and milk mixture over the bread and toss with two spoons until evenly coated. Add 1 cup mozzarella, and toss again until well combined. Let sit until the bread fully absorbs the liquid, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the stuffing and any accumulated liquid to the greased baking dish, spread out evenly and top with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. (To make ahead, you can stop at this stage, cover the dish and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)
  6. Bake, uncovered, until heated through and the cheese is melted, 15 to 25 minutes. (You may need to add a few minutes to the bake time if the stuffing has been refrigerated.) Sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the top and serve immediately.

You can find more of Eric Kim’s recipes here.

The audio portion of this podcast was produced by Meghan Keane.

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