Dreaming of a Rockwellian or Insta-worthy Thanksgiving? We put out the Bat-Signal’s cooking equivalent, and some of the area’s kitchen heroes answered the call. Just follow their tips, tricks and recipes for a low-stress, high-praise feast - beginning with the bird.

Will Brown, executive chef Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square: Brine your turkey. It takes a little more work upfront, but brining your turkey will ensure that when it’s time to eat, your turkey is tender, moist and delicious. You do lose the crispiness of the skin, so if that’s your thing, brining may not be for you. Otherwise, your family will thank you! 

Patrick Czerniak, chef de cuisine Main & Vine Bistro, Villanova: By far the best holiday food hack helps tremendously with cooking the turkey. ALWAYS roast the turkey with the legs facing the back of the oven. We know turkey breast tends to dry out when cooking, so putting the back end of the turkey near the hottest part of the oven is the way to go!

Chris Welsh, executive chef-owner The Secret Ingredient Personal Chef Service, Wayne: Buy/order your turkey cut-up. Roast the same way you would if it was whole. It will take half the time and make carving a breeze.

Patrick Byrne, proprietor General Warren, Malvern: I buy smaller turkeys, and I cook them upside-down. And then I flip them. It makes the breast meat so much more flavorful.

His formula: three-quarters of the time upside-down, one-quarter right-side-up to “caramelize the top.”

Turning now from turkey to time-savers, here’s how to prep like a pro:

Brown: Mise en place - French for “everything in its place.” It basically means to have everything that you will need prepped ahead of time, so that when it’s time to cook, things come together quickly and efficiently. The trick here is to stay ahead of the prep so that you can enjoy more time relaxing with your family on the holiday. Make a list of the items that you will need to prep and the steps needed to complete them. Determine what you can complete ahead of time to spread out the workload.

Chris Calhoun, executive chef The Desmond Malvern: Design a great salad and/or soup to serve to everyone before bringing out the turkey and sides. Also, ONLY prepare three or four high-quality side dishes and enjoy time with friends and family (and the food) - versus four, five, six or seven side dishes while pulling your hair out.

Welsh: Prepare as much ahead of time that you can. Start on Monday or Tuesday for Thanksgiving by prepping side dishes. Set your table on Wednesday. On Thursday, just cook the turkey and stuffing and reheat your sides.

Brown: Two days ahead, you can make any dressings, brines and dice any hard vegetables like carrots or butternut squash. The day ahead, you can do the rest of your dicing of onions and celery, make your cranberry sauce and stuffing, brine your turkey and peel your potatoes (refrigerate covered with water in a pot). Rewrite your list and determine how long the items will need to cook and how to juggle your oven space. Go at the day with a plan, and you will be on your way to a successful Thanksgiving!

It’s all about tradition

The kids’ table. Grandma’s apple pie. A cornucopia centerpiece. What’s your Turkey Day tradition?

Andrew Masciangelo, executive chef-partner Savona, Gulph Mills: The night before Thanksgiving when family and friends are coming to stay over, everyone brings a homemade soup to share for dinner.

Czerniak: Well, my family came from Poland, so we never actually ate a traditional Americanized Thanksgiving dinner until about 4 years ago. So, now on the dinner table we have the obvious turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, canned cranberry sauce (because let’s face it, it’s the only way to go) and potatoes. But also having what's closest to the heart: stuffed cabbage (golumpki), pierogies, warm beet soup and of course for dessert, the angel wings (chrusciki).

Byrne: My Thanksgiving tradition is on the Sunday after Thanksgiving when I can sit at home, roast a turkey the old-fashioned way and enjoy a civilized dinner with my family … I love the smell of turkey cooking in the house, and I love leftovers.

Brown: We usually host Thanksgiving, so our meal typically consists of 25 to 35 guests, which means one turkey is not enough. We usually brine one, roast one and deep fry one! Another tradition we have is to write what we are thankful for on pieces of paper and collect them in a jar. We pass the jar around the table and try and guess who wrote each note, counting our blessings along the way.   

Cider Brine

Ingredients

5 lemons, halved 

6 bay leaves

4 ounces parsley

4 ounces fresh thyme

1/2 cup honey

16 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 cup black peppercorns

2 cups kosher salt

1 gallon water

1 gallon apple cider      

Instructions

In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients except for cider and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes and then remove from heat. Add cider and then chill in refrigerator before use. In the same large pot, cover your defrosted turkey with the brine for at least 6 hours but no more than 20 hours. Remove your turkey from the brine, pat dry with paper towels. Rub turkey with oil and roast per instructions. Makes 2 gallons.

Recipe courtesy of Will Brown, Longwood Gardens 

The Desmond Hotel’s Award-Winning Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

Stock:

4 chicken legs (omit for vegetarian and add extra mushrooms)

Mushroom stems (portabella and shiitake)

2 carrots, washed and chopped

4 ribs celery, washed and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bunch parsley, washed

1 bunch thyme, washed

4 bay leaves

6 peppercorns

1 gallon cold water

Soup:

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

1 medium onion

1 pound button mushrooms, washed

1 pound crimini mushrooms, washed

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems removed (reserved for stock)

1 pound portabella mushrooms, washed and gills removed

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup sherry wine

2 quarts mushroom stock

1 quart heavy cream

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped

1 pinch rosemary, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Stock: Combine all ingredients into large stock pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Strain and reserve liquid.

Soup: In large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Reduce heat to low and cover onions. Cook for about 15 minutes while covered and stirring occasionally. Chop all the mushrooms into 1/4-inch pieces. Add the mushrooms along with the garlic to the pot with the onions. Uncover the pot and increase the temperature to medium. Sauté the mushrooms for about 8 minutes while stirring occasionally. Once the mushroom mixture is cooked remove 1/4 of the contents and reserve for latter. Add the wine to the remaining mushroom mixture and simmer until the volume is reduced by half. Add the mushroom stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a blender, CAREFULLY puree 1/2 of the mixture. While the blender is running; slowly drizzle half the cream into the mushroom mixture. Repeat this step with the remaining mixture. Return to the pot, add the reserved mushrooms back to the soup and slowly bring to a simmer. Add the fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or cool, then reheat to 165 degrees when ready to serve. Yield: 1 1/2 gallons.

Recipe courtesy of The Desmond Malvern

Best Gravy

Ingredients

1 gallon chicken stock

1 cup red wine

1 cup small diced onion

1/2 cup small diced celery

4 cloves smashed garlic

6 springs thyme flower, picked

Salt and pepper to season

Turkey drippings

For roux:

1/2 cup flour

4 ounces butter, melted

Instructions

Once the turkey is cooked and resting, in the roasting pan add your garlic, onions and celery and sweat. Deglaze with red wine. Add butter and flour with vegetables and create a roux (you might have to add more flour depending how much turkey juices you have left over in your pan). Cook the roux for 2 minutes and then slowly add stock with whisk. Add thyme flowers and let gravy cook for 5 to 8 minutes on low heat. Season with salt and pepper. Strain and serve!

Recipe courtesy of Patrick Czerniak, Main & Vine Bistro

Butternut Squash Risotto

Ingredients

1 small onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup white wine

1 rosemary sprig, chopped

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

3 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 pound butternut squash

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cube butternut squash and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast 30 minutes or until just browned and fork-tender. Sauté onion in olive oil, add rice and stir until coated. Add white wine and rosemary. Add broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes. When rice is just about soft, stir in roasted squash and serve. Servings: 4.

Recipe courtesy of Secret Ingredient

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