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If the pandemic means you're cooking the holiday dinner for the first time this year, no need to panic. Plan ahead, keep it simple and delegate when necessary. Here are five recipes for the essentials, chosen for their ease and the fact that they are tried-and-true (as well as delicious). Even if you've cooked this meal many times before, these will guarantee memorable results.

 

Simple Roast Turkey

Total time: 3 1/2 hours, plus brining

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)

Coarse kosher salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 lemon, zested and quartered

1 bunch fresh thyme or rosemary

1 bunch fresh sage

12 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 bottle hard apple cider (12 ounces)

Dry white wine, as needed

2 onions, peeled and quartered

3 bay leaves

Olive oil or melted butter, as needed

Remove any giblets from the cavity, and reserve for stock or gravy. Pat turkey and turkey neck dry with paper towel; rub turkey all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt per pound of turkey, the pepper and the lemon zest, including the neck. Transfer to a 2-gallon (or larger) resealable plastic bag. Tuck herbs and 6 garlic cloves inside bag. Seal, and refrigerate on a small rimmed baking sheet (or wrapped in another bag) for at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning the bird over every day (or after 12 hours if brining for only 1 day).

Remove turkey from bag, and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey, uncovered, back on the baking sheet. Return to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours to dry out the skin (this helps crisp it).

When you are ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for one hour.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. In the bottom of a large roasting pan, add the cider and enough wine to fill the pan to a 1/4-inch depth. Add half the onions, the remaining 6 garlic cloves and the bay leaves. Stuff the remaining onion quarters and the lemon quarters into the turkey cavity. Brush the turkey skin generously with oil or melted butter.

Place turkey, breast side up, on a roasting rack set inside the roasting pan. Transfer pan to the oven and roast 30 minutes. Cover breast with aluminum foil. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh reaches 165 degrees, 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Transfer turkey to a cutting board to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

— Melissa Clark

 

Bread Stuffing

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 to 8 cups, enough for a 12-pound bird

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts

6 to 8 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs (see tip)

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or sage leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon or sage, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Melt butter over medium heat in a large, deep skillet, Dutch oven or casserole. Add onion, and cook, stirring, until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add nuts, and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes.

Add breadcrumbs and tarragon or sage, and toss to mix. Turn heat to low. Add salt, pepper and scallions. Toss again; taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add parsley, and stir. Turn off heat. (You may prepare recipe in advance up to this point; refrigerate, well wrapped or in a covered container, for up to a day before proceeding.)

Pack into chicken or turkey if you like before roasting, or roast in an ovenproof glass or enameled casserole for about 45 minutes, at 350 to 400 degrees; you can bake this dish next to the bird, if you like. (Or you can cook it up to 3 days in advance and warm it up right before dinner.)

Tip: To make the breadcrumbs, tear bread into chunks and put them in the container of a food processor; you may need to do this in batches. Pulse until you have coarse, irregular crumbs, no smaller than a pea and preferably larger.

— Mark Bittman

 

Green Beans With Ginger and Garlic

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Salt

2 1/2 pounds green beans (French-style slim haricots verts work especially well), trimmed

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup minced fresh ginger (about 6 inches ginger root, peeled)

4 medium-size garlic cloves, minced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and fill a large bowl with ice water. Working in two batches, boil beans until just tender but still crisp and bright green. Start testing after 4 minutes or so, being careful not to overcook. When done, plunge beans into ice water to stop cooking, lift out immediately when cool and drain on towels. (Recipe can be made to this point up to a day in advance and kept refrigerated, wrapped in towels.)

When ready to cook, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over high heat. Add half the beans, half the ginger and half the garlic, and cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until beans are heated through and ginger and garlic are softened and aromatic. Sprinkle with salt, and remove to a serving dish. Repeat with remaining oil, beans, ginger and garlic. Serve.

— Julia Moskin

 

Mashed Potatoes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

7 tablespoons butter, chilled

1 cup milk, heated

Salt to taste

Dash nutmeg (optional)

Peel potatoes, cut into quarters and wash thoroughly. Put in a saucepan, and cover with cold water. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to boil, and boil until cooked, about 15 to 18 minutes, or until you can slip the tip of a knife into a potato. Don't overcook.

Drain water, and rapidly push potatoes through a food mill; they must stay hot. Return potatoes to saucepan, and put on a very low flame to dry the potatoes for about 8 minutes, moving with spatula. Add butter in pieces. Be sure butter is cold and hard. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to make the puree light and white. Then add very hot milk in small quantities, working with spoon and wooden spatula until totally absorbed and smooth. Do not boil after this step. Add a dash of nutmeg. Add salt if necessary. Serve as soon as possible. Once prepared, the puree should not be reheated.

— Dena Kleiman

 

Pumpkin Pie

Total time: About 1 hour

Yield: One 9-inch pie

2 cups pumpkin purée (canned or fresh)

3 eggs

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk or heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 9-inch blind baked pie crust, homemade or store-bought

Whisk all filling ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into crust. If there is extra filling, pour it into a baking pan for a crustless pumpkin pie or custard.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then approximately 35 minutes at 350 degrees or until set.

— The New York Times

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