Dining with Miss Lil: Feast as we Give Thanks

November 3, 2009

Thanksgiving is coming and my memories of Thanksgivings past are as vivid as yesterday. My family cooked together, and we ate and gave thanks together as a family for our many blessings. It’s the one time of year when I throw caution to the win and fix my late Mother and late Grandmother’s best recipes just as they did. We make our turkey dressing and pie crusts from scratch. It took me a long time to perfect their thin crust and gravy from scratch, but I finally have them down pat. This is the perfect time to pull our young folks into the kitchen for cooking lessons to pass on family traditions. Please make the time to do so with your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. Let’s keep our legacies going.

Since I’m a diabetic, I don’t cook as many starches as Mommy & Grandma did. However I will never change their ritual of making it a fine dining experience. I use Grandma’s china and my crystal and I serve a four course meal fit for royalty. I have added some things that I’ve learned to the rituals too. To make sure my turkey is very moist I brine it before hand. Here are the instructions for brining a turkey to ensure you have a moist bird:

Brining a Turkey (Monday)

Makes: 5 quarts


  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of kosher salt
  • 1 bunch of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch of fresh thyme
  • 4 oranges, cut in half with the juice squeezed out into the water
  • 3 tablespoons of freshly cracked black pepper

How to make

Monday before Thanksgiving: Bring all the ingredients together in a large stock pot to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Chill overnight.

Tuesday before Thanksgiving: Combine the brine and the turkey on in a container large enough to hold the turkey double two large heavy duty garbage bags. Place turkey in bags and add brine. Cinch up sides of the bags and tightly tie the top. The brine should be all around the bird. Refrigerate turkey. If it doesn’t fit – use an ice chest, cover and surround the bird with ice. Replenish ice as needed until Thursday.

For the Turkey Stock (Tuesday)

Makes: 5 cups of stock


  • 2 turkey wings (purchased separately) plus neck. Giblets (except the liver)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

How to make

Tuesday before Thanksgiving: Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the turkey wings into a roasting pan. Roast until the skin is well browned, 45 minutes to an hour. Place all the turkey pieces in a soup pot. Add the sliced vegetables, a teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper to the pot. Add the chicken stock and enough cold water to cover the meat and vegetables. Bring to a boil and simmer stock over medium low heat, partially covered for 3 hours. Strain stock, reserving giblets and refrigerate. You should have 6 cups of turkey stock.

Corn Bread Stuffing (Wednesday)

Makes: Enough to stuff a 14 pound turkey


  • Make corn bread from 3 boxes of Jiffy brand corn bread mix
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of chopped onions
  • 2 cups of chopped celery ribs
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 5 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 ½ cups of turkey stock
  • Lawry’s seasoning salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

How to make

Thanksgiving Eve: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to make the corn bread for use. After it cools, break the corn bread up into large crumbly pieces in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the onions, and celery. Sauté until pieces are transparent and tender, but do not brown. Remove from heat and stir in the poultry seasoning. Add this mixture to the crumbled corn bread. Stir in the eggs. Gradually add the turkey stock ½ cup at a time until the mixture is moist but not wet. Taste and add seasoning salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate.

Roasting Turkey & Making Gravy (Thursday)


  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • Lawry’s seasoning salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 6 cups of turkey stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine (or water)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons flour

How to make

On Thanksgiving Day: About 5 hours before serving, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse with fresh cold water. Dry with paper towels. Season the bird with salt and pepper. Fill the body and neck cavity with the corn bread stuffing. Truss bird with butcher’s twine.

Spread sliced vegetables over the bottom of the roasting pan and lay turkey on top. Remove fat layer from top of the turkey stock and add a cup of turkey stock to roasting pan. Heat the remaining turkey stock in a sauce pan.

About 4 hours before serving, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place turkey in oven and roast for 1 ½ hours.

Turn oven temperature down to 325 degrees. Tent the breast loosely with foil. Add a little stock to moisten vegetables in roasting pan if they are browning too fast. Roast turkey for another 1 ½ hours or until the internal temperature of the thigh is 165 degrees and juices run clear. Turn off the oven and transfer turkey to a platter (or a cooking sheet) and return to oven to rest.

Strain the roasting pan juices into simmering stock, reserve vegetables. Use a little of the stock to deglaze the roasting pan and return liquid to sauce pan. Chop giblets very fine.

Melt butter in a sauté pan and add vegetables from the roasting pan. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it is very thick and brown. Add wine, blend thoroughly and cook, stirring frequently until wine is mostly evaporated. Add half of the stock into the sauce pan; stir well and put thickened stock back into the sauce pan. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce into another sauce pan and simmer gently for another 20 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven, pour any juices into sauce, add giblets to the sauce and simmer 5 more minutes. Taste and season sauce.

My Mommas made the best Sweet Potato Pies. I inherited Grandma’s pie plates, and my Mom’s rolling pin, and I think about my ladies every time I bake and use them. I will admit the Pillsbury’s pie crust is a close second to theirs though. Here’s Grandma Lola Jackson’s recipe for sweet potato pie:

Sweet Potato Pie (Wednesday)

Makes 2 pies


  • 8 round medium sweet potatoes (don’t get the long ones because the flesh is stringy)
  • ½ lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon of allspice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup of milk at room temperature
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • Pillsbury Pie Crust, 2 rolled crusts for 9 inch pie pans (or use Grandma Jackson’s pie crust recipe that follows)

How to make

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to ready the pie crusts for use.

Place the sweet potatoes into a large stock pot and fill with cold water until the potatoes are covered. Place the pot on a medium high flame and cook until the potatoes are real soft (stick one with a fork and it should split into pieces). Take the potatoes off the stove and drain the water out.

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the pie crust as instructed into two pie pans.

Mash the potatoes up real good. Add the softened butter while the mashed potatoes are still hot. Add the allspice, vanilla extract, sugar, and milk into the mixture.

Beat the eggs up together, and add to the mixture. Pour the mixture into the pie pans and bake for ½ hour. If necessary, cover the edges of crust to prevent over browning. The pies are done when the center is set and is no longer wiggly. Remove pies from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Grandma Jackson’s Pie Crust

Makes 2 pie crusts


  • 1 cup of all purpose flour (I use Heckler’s brand)
  • ½ cup (2 sticks) of Crisco oil (solid type or the buttered Crisco oil)
  • ½ cup of ice cold water

How to make

Prepare the dough for the crust: mix the flour and the Crisco with the hook attachment on your mixer (or using two knives or a pastry blender to cut the oil into the mixture). Stir in a little water at a time until the dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to form a 10 inch circle and put into the pans. Trim the edges of the dough with a sharp knife.

Remember to send in your written responses to recipes that I have shared that you have tasted or tested. I also encourage you to include photos of the recipes you’ve cooked. Send your photos and recipes to hwcontact@yahoo.com

Check out more of Dining With Lil at Harlemfaves

Greenpan® Cookware - Nonstick 14 Pc. Set
Greenpan® Cookware – Nonstick 14 Pc. Set (Photo credits: West Elm)

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