Every year I get the same questions about Thanksgiving recipes, and the questions are never about new and hip recipes or something different to wow their guests; the questions are always about the basics and how to perfect them. 

If you know me, you know by now that Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. I love sharing food with people I love, and there’s no better holiday that exemplifies this concept than Thanksgiving. After years of celebrating together, we all have our favorite dishes, and it’s the one thing we look forward to each year. 

How horrible would it be to show up to your gathering and someone messed with the recipe you look forward to? I say this only half jokingly because realistically we’ll be fine and grateful for the opportunity to celebrate together, but inside there would be a little seething only because we’re human and love little rewards like expectations coming true.

Things you don’t want to test out for Thanksgiving are some of the basics. You need these mainstays to be perfect so you can try out something new elsewhere and it not be a total fail. The requests I get the most are for the following recipes. 

I hope you and your friends and family have a wonderful gathering whether it’s near or far, whether small or large. I truly hope you get to enjoy it in the way that makes you most complete this year, because let’s face it, 2021 was just as (if not more) trying than 2020.

 

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

For the best mashed potatoes, keep these tips in mind:

  • I love using Yukon gold (or gold) potatoes. They’re more buttery than russets and feel a little more substantial than others.
  • Potato ricers are amazing! I love how smooth they make the consistency of the potatoes. But alas, not everyone has a ricer. If you don’t, then at least get a potato masher and get those potatoes as smooth as you can.
  • After you drain the potatoes, it’s essential to return them to the hot pot to dry them out. Wet potatoes can end up clumping on you or getting gummy. Dry them out in the pot and shake them vigorously to rough them up to get out any hidden moisture.
  • Heat the butter and cream together to create one consistent liquid. And add in a little at a time to see how much you actually need.

Ingredients:

Serves 12

  • 5 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (reduce to 1 if you think this is too much) 
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4  cup sour cream
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • optional: 1 tsp. garlic powder and 1/4 cup chopped chives 

Directions: 

  1. Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and salt heavily (roughly a tablespoon or so).

  2. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium high heat. Potatoes are ready when they’re fork tender.

  3. Drain them and return to the pot for the drying step mentioned above. Leave stove on for about 30 seconds or so and then turn off to prevent burning.

  4. Heat 1 stick of butter with the cream and set aside.

  5. Using a ricer or a masher, mash the potatoes and slowly stream in the cream mixture while slowly mixing. See how much the potatoes absorb to get to the consistency you like. (I like mine very buttery, so I end up adding more butter than the cream, but see what works best for you.) Add in the sour cream once all the liquid is absorbed.

  6. Season well and taste as you go. Definitely use freshly cracked black pepper instead of pre-ground; it just has better flavor. 

  7. As your potatoes stand, they’ll get a little drier. Keep any butter or cream on hand to add if needed.

 

Easiest Dinner Rolls

Most people end up buying store-bought dinner rolls, and let me tell you, sometimes using $5 to buy your sanity and time back is one of the wisest things you can do for the holidays. I do it all the time. Still, many people love the concept of baking bread, which is their version of creating peace and sanity. So this highly requested recipe is for those who enjoy making things from scratch. I’m both versions of these people.

Here are tips for these rolls:

  • Make these the night before so there's less to do on the day of. Place in the fridge after step 12, and then take them out the next day about an hour before baking and follow the remaining steps.
  • If you’ve made a lot of your dishes the day before, these are super simple to do the day of as well. It just creates a little mess, so you’ll be cleaning your counters off yet again, but what’s a little extra Fabuloso during the holidays, am I right?
  • These are best served warm with good salted butter. You hear me? Splurge on the butter just this once if you don’t usually. Little known fact: Good butter can be used as a dip for bread. Insert nervous laughter… 

Ingredients: 

Yields 24 rolls

  • 1 1/4 cups warm whole milk (110-115 degrees)
  • 1 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 egg at room temperature
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra bench flour)
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temp (this is not the good salted butter mentioned above)

Directions:

  1. Place the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer (if you plan to hand knead, place in a large bowl)

  2. Add the sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk.

  3. Whisk very gently to combine and then leave it alone for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast starts to bubble or foam.

  4. Add in the honey, egg and salt and mix gently to combine.

  5. Add the flour and use the dough hook to slowly mix it in together. 

  6. Slowly add in the softened butter in pieces until incorporated.

  7. Continue kneading on low for about 8-10 minutes. Dough will be sticky.

  8. If dough is way too sticky, add in a tablespoon of flour to absorb some of the stickiness. You don’t want to add too much flour because then they will end up heavy and dense instead of light and fluffy.

  9. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and move dough around to ensure all the sides of the dough get coated with a thin layer of the oil.

  10. Cover the dough and leave it to rise for about an hour. Keep it somewhere warm.

  11. Butter a baking pan or a 9x13 casserole dish.

  12. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead a few times, then cut the dough to about 24 small or 12 large equal pieces. Place them in the baking dish and cover again to rise for an additional 30 minutes.

  13. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, uncover and bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes or until golden in color. 

  14. I like to brush the tops with a little butter. You can also brush with a mixture of honey and melted butter. Serve warm. 

 

The Best Gravy

One time I made gravy without really understanding the concept of math as it applies to recipes and I think I truly made a gummy bear. It was so thick it would’ve been hit on at a club. This thing was an epic disaster! Why am I telling you this? Because I never want you to do it, and also because I failed numerous times so you can succeed. Gravy is actually really easy. You just remember the simplest ratio: 4:4:2. That’s it. I fixed your life, go live out your dreams now.

Seriously, that's all you need to know about gravy: 4 tbsp. fat, 4 tbsp. flour, 2 cups broth or liquid. Melt the fat with the flour and make a little roux, then slowly stream in your liquid. Voila, gravy! But obviously you need to season it, so let's get to the recipe!

Ingredients: 

Serves 8-10 (or just one food blogger named Zara because I drink this stuff)

  • 8 tbsp. turkey drippings (fat only)
  • 8 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 4 cups turkey broth
  • Seasonings: salt and freshly cracked black pepper, 1-2 tsp. rubbed sage, 1 tsp. poultry seasoning

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized pot, add in the turkey fat/drippings and the flour and cook on medium low heat until incorporated. Don’t let this burn.

  2. Slowly add in the turkey broth and keep whisking to avoid clumps.

  3. Taste for seasonings and add in what is lacking. I don’t have measurements here because they will differ based on how your turkey was cooked and how much salt was added to the bird.

Pro tip: My best trick is to make an ample supply of the gravy weeks before Thanksgiving and put it in the freezer. How do I do this? Buy turkey necks before Thanksgiving and season and roast them just like you would your turkey. Let it cook with onions, garlic, parsley and carrots. Use those turkey neck drippings as the base of the recipe. 

To make the stock, I take all the necks and cooked vegetables and place them in a large stock pot and then add about 8-10 cups of water. I let it simmer for hours to make the broth to use for the gravy. Since this is done way in advance of Thanksgiving, I can take the time to do it in the most flavor-impactful way and save time on the day of. Strain the broth and make the gravy right then or store the broth for later.

 

Perfect Pie Crust

The last recipe I get the most questions for is the perfect pie crust! Just remember, the fewer the ingredients, the more technique that might be necessary. If you’re wondering why your pie crust never turns out, it may have to do with the technique you’re using and any effects it may have on the temperature and or consistency of the dough. This is my easy, no-fail version. Keep the ingredients simple and focus on the process.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cups + 3 tbsp. ice cold water (or vodka — shhh — because it evaporates so quickly it’ll pull your dough together without weighing it down)
  • 1 2/3 cups + 2 tbsp. all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp. white sugar
  • 12 tbsp. good quality salted butter, cold and cubed (you can also use unsalted here, but I personally like the slight saltiness up against the sweeter fillings)

Directions:

  1. Make a large cup of ice cold water and place in fridge. You will measure out the water you need from this.

  2. Cube the butter and then put back in the fridge to ensure it’s really cold.

  3. In the bowl of a food processor, add in the flour and the sugar. Then add in the cubed butter and do a few slow pulses to combine the butter so it starts to look like clumps of wet sand. (Warning: Do not keep it running because the friction of the blades can heat up the butter. If you feel you have heated up the butter, place the entire bowl in the fridge for a few minutes to get cold again.)

  4. Immediately after pulsing the butter and the flour together, measure the correct amount of water from the ice cold water in the fridge and pulse together quickly until the dough forms together. Be careful not to over mix!

  5. Turn the dough out and knead together any dry portions, but don’t over work it. Cut into 2 pieces (I like to make the top piece a little larger than the bottom shell so there’s less shrinkage when I’m placing it on the top), cover in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to use. Work the dough disks only one at a time to maintain the cold temperature. 

 

From Z to A with Zara Abbasi

Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit.