Thanksgiving dinner recipes: from turkey and cider gravy to pecan cheesecake – how to cook the ultimate holiday feast

Thanksgiving falls on Thursday 27 December this year

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Roast turkey

Serves 8-10

This recipe involves taking the legs off first and stuffing them and cooking the bird in different stages to get the best results. Years ago, when I used to work at The Dorchester under Anton Mosimann, our turkey would be prepared in this way. I've never looked back, and since then have dreamt up all sorts of stuffing combos for the legs.

I always cut the backbone out, which has virtually no meat on it anyway (except for the oysters) and use that and the leg bones for gravy which I make in advance to save time on the day.

I've opted for a simple onion and thyme stuffing here for the legs but you may wish to do another separate sausage-meat stuffing. You can quite easily bone the legs yourself with a sharp knife or just get your butcher to do it.

1 medium turkey weighing about 4-6kg
Butter for basting
100g caul fat (optional)

For the leg stuffing:

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
A couple of good knobs of butter
500g minced pork or chicken
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bone your turkey legs by running the point of a sharp knife along the bone and working it around the bone to release all the flesh. Remove any visible tendons in the drumstick and lay it on a tray, then repeat with the other leg. If you have a friendly butcher, ask him to do this. Put the legs to one side for the gravy.

To make the stuffing, gently cook the onions and thyme in the butter for 2-3 minutes to soften, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the onions with the pork and breadcrumbs and season. Divide the mixture between the two legs, then roll them up as tightly as possible. Roll the legs in several layers of clingfilm and twist the ends tightly to make a perfect cylinder.

Place the legs in a large saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Leave to cool, then remove from the water and leave to set in the fridge for a few hours. Wrap the legs in a couple of layers of caul fat then tie with string at every 3cm; if you don't have caul fat then just tie with string. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

With a heavy chopping knife, cut away the back bone from the base of the turkey as this hasn't any meat on it and chop it into small pieces with the bones from the legs and keep aside for making the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

Season the breasts and rub with some butter and place in a tray with the legs and cook for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180C/gas mark 5 and cook for a further 30-45 minutes, basting every so often. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the stuffed leg and the thickest part of the breast; if it's hot, it's cooked. To serve, remove the breasts from the carcass, slice them into cm slices at an angle and arrange on a warmed serving dish. Slice the stuffed legs into 1cm slices and arrange on the dish.

Chestnut stuffing

Serves 8

This stuffing works very well with turkey, goose, pork or game and it can be cooked within the bird or joint or separately, wrapped in foil or in a baking dish – or you could vac-pac it and boil it in the bag.

Some people like to put minced pork or even sausagemeat in this type of stuffing but unless you use really top-notch sausagemeat, a chestnut stuffing can taste like a cheap ready meal. I reckon that if you put plenty of chestnuts, onions and herbs in your stuffing (and possibly a bit of offal) that's probably sufficient, as you should have enough meat with the main item anyway.

100g butter
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
150g duck, chicken or pork livers, chopped
5 leaves of sage, chopped
2tsp thyme leaves
30-40 chestnuts, lightly toasted, peeled and quartered
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
3tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan, season and cook the onions, livers, sage and thyme on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat and mix with the chestnuts, breadcrumbs and parsley.

Season to taste, then stuff your bird or pork before cooking.

Cider gravy

Serves 8-10

Everyone seems to be obsessed with pouring wine into their gravy and sauces, but cider works equally as well and is a brilliant match with goose, pork and turkey.

There is absolutely no point in messing around at the last minute trying to make gravy. It's much better to make it ahead to ensure that you get a really good flavour.

If you want to de-glaze your roasting pan, just use a little bit more cider and scrape the bottom, then add it to this delicious gravy.

1kg chicken wings, chopped into small pieces
2 medium onions, peeled, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
A couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 large leek, trimmed, roughly chopped and washed
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2tsp tomato purée
1tbsp plain flour
2 litres chicken or beef stock (a good cube will do)
10 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Roast the bones and the vegetables for about 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured, giving them a good stir every so often. When they are a nice golden-brown colour, add the tomato purée, then the flour and stir well with the bones and vegetables in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes or so.

Remove the roasting tray from the oven and add a little of the stock and give it a good stir over a low flame. This will remove any residue from the tray and begin the thickening process. Transfer everything into a large saucepan, cover with the rest of the beef or chicken stock (and some cold water if the stock doesn't cover the bones) and add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf.

Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that forms and simmer very gently for about 1 hours. The gravy may need topping up with water to keep the ingredients covered. Skim occasionally, as required.

Strain the gravy through a fine-meshed sieve and remove any fat with a ladle. Check its strength and reduce it if necessary. If the gravy is not thick enough, dilute some cornflour in a little cold water and stir in.

Shipwreck butter

Serves 8-10

This is like a traditional brandy butter which you can serve on your Christmas pudding or on mince pies. I've given it a bit of a West Country twist by slipping in some of Julian Temperley's delicious Shipwreck cider brandy (ciderbrandy.co.uk).

250g unsalted butter, softened
2tbsp icing sugar
60-80ml Shipwreck cider brandy
100ml double cream

In a mixing machine or by hand, cream the butter, sugar and cider brandy together until well mixed, then finally add in the cream. You can add more cider brandy to taste. Roll up the butter in clingfilm or greaseproof paper or transfer to little serving pots, cover with clingfilm and store in the fridge until required.

Cranberry and orange sauce

Serves 8-10

I know that it's traditionally eaten with turkey, but cranberry sauce goes equally well with goose or suckling pig, as well as cold pies. It will keep for a week or so in the fridge in a sealed container.

500g cranberries
The juice and grated zest of 3 oranges
200g sugar, plus a little extra if required

Put the cranberries in a pan with the orange juice and zest and the sugar. Heat on a low heat, stirring every so often until the sugar has melted, then continue cooking for about 15 minutes until the cranberries have softened.

Taste the cranberry sauce for sweetness; add more sugar if necessary. Leave to cool; store in the fridge until required and heat gently in a pan, or just serve at room temperature.

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Stuffed onions are a great alternative to making a stuffing

Stuffed onions

Serves 8

Trying to dream up some new vegetable for Christmas Day – apart from the ubiquitous parsnips, sprouts and carrots – can be tricky, but one that we often forget is the humble onion. Stuffed onions are a great alternative to making a stuffing, as everyone gets their own little package of stuffing encased in their own onion.

Ask your butcher to reserve the kidney and liver from the suckling pig – if not, you can just buy, say, 200g of liver (either pig or chicken).

8 small to medium onions
100g butter
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200g pig or chicken livers, cleaned and finely chopped
tbsp thyme leaves
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Cut about 1cm off the top of the onions (the opposite end to the root), replace it and wrap the onions in foil. Stand them on a baking tray and cook for an hour, or until they are fairly soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and fry the garlic, liver and thyme on a fairly high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often, then remove from the heat. Once the onion is cool enough to handle, scoop out the onion with a spoon, leaving a couple of layers from the skin to hold it together and leaving the tops intact. Finely chop the onion flesh you have scooped out and mix with the liver, breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste. Spoon the mixture back into the onions and replace the lids. Place the onions back on a baking tray, cover with foil and return to the oven for about 30-40 minutes. You can keep these warm for about 30 minutes or serve straight away.

Cranberry and pecan cheesecake

Serves 8-10

I think if you gave most families the choice between a cheesecake and Christmas pudding, they would probably opt for a cheesecake.

There is something so comforting about a creamy cheesecake with its biscuity base – and made with traditional Christmas fruits, it keeps everyone in the festive spirit.

150-200g fresh cranberries
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
150g caster sugar
100ml water
1tsp cornflour
200g Hobnobs or digestives
80g butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

500g cream cheese, such as mascarpone, softened
300ml double cream
120g caster sugar
120g pecan nuts

Put the cranberries in a saucepan with the sugar, orange juice, zest and water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 5 minutes; then dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir into the cranberries. Continue simmering for a few minutes until the cranberries are just coated in the 3-4 tablespoons of the thickened liquid, then remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.

Place the pecans on a tray lined with foil and scatter a couple of tablespoons of sugar from the 120g you need for the cheesecake. Lightly toast under a medium grill, turning them as they are cooking, for 2-3 minutes.

In a food processor, crush the biscuits to a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. To do this by hand, put the biscuits in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin. Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter.

Line a 14-18cm round or square removable-bottomed cake or deep flan tin (or one of those with a side that unclips) with greaseproof paper. Because the cheescake is soft, the sides of the tin must be detachable. Pack the biscuit mixture into the tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon.

Using a mixing machine or by hand, whip the double cream and sugar until fairly stiff. In a clean bowl, again by machine or hand, soften the cream cheese then add the whipped cream. If you're using softer mascarpone, rather than Philadelphia, you may need about 50g less cream. Carefully fold in half of the cranberry mixture and half the pecans to form a rippled effect. Now spoon the mix on to the biscuit base, leaving the top a bit rough. Leave to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm.

Remove the cheesecake from the tin – you may need to run a hot knife around the edge – then slide it on to a serving dish. Spoon the rest of the cranberry mixture on top and then scatter the rest of the pecans all over.

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