By Marianne Weaver
With residents hailing from all regions of the country—and the world—a modern Prince William Thanksgiving bears little resemblance to Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction from yesteryear.
Although the turkey still plays the leading role on many dining room tables, that’s not always the case. And, often, PWC families aren’t feasting on roast turkey, as local home chefs are putting their own spin on it.
Even the appetizers and side dishes are undergoing changes. There’s still the typical mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and greens, but appetizers are being reinvented across the county as cooks borrow from traditional family recipes and then add a twist of modern.
For the Nalls family of Manassas, Thanksgiving is an all-day event. “We start to nosh at 1 p.m. for people coming and going or passing through, and the kids love this,” said Dana Nalls, who with her husband John has five children. “We include things like stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, and an assortment of fruits and veggies.”
Stuffed mushrooms, she said, are a must.
“My grandmother always made them for my grandfather. Her mother-in-law taught her, so it must be a traditional German thing,” she said. “My son David, 16, likes them best and requests them whenever he has the opportunity. My husband likes the texture and that they are a ‘substantial’ appetizer. ..not just empty calories that look pretty.’”
She said her whole family pitches in: Core the mushrooms, fill with cream cheese, top with crumbled cooked/drained hot sausage. Bake on cookie sheet covered in parchment for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Kim Wigode, who, along with husband Emil, owns the Bottle Stop – Wine Bar & Shop in Occoquan, said her family wouldn’t consider it Thanksgiving without cheese crisps.
He’s from New Hampshire, she’s from Virginia. About 15 years ago they hosted Thanksgiving with some traditional southern fare, including country ham and dressing. Her in-laws offered to make cheese crisps—their family tradition—for the more than two dozen guests.
“The first batch was gone in about a minute and a half,” said Wigode, adding they taste great with wine.
1 lb. sharp cheddar, grated
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
1⁄2 cup butter, melted
2 cups flour
1⁄4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• Sift flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Combine flour mixture with grated sharp cheddar and melted butter. Mix well. Press into two long equal size rolls (3-inch diameter) and wrap in wax paper. Chill for at least one hour.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut rolls into 1⁄4-inch slices, place on greased (or parchment paper) cookie sheet. Bake until lightly brown, approximately 7 minutes. Serve warm.
Mike Lampros, chef/owner of Giorgio’s in Montclair, is also accustomed to hosting large family gatherings. What started out as a joke about a decade ago has become known as “drunken calamari,” and his family looks forward to eating it at all family celebrations.
“It started as a joke because I put ouzo in the calamari while I was cooking it,” he recalled.
10 fresh calamaris, sliced into thin rings
2 cloves of garlic
2 shots of ouzo – one for the recipe and one for the cook
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
• Start with a very hot sauté pan. Add the minced garlic with a little olive oil, then immediately add the calamari.
• When the calamari rings start curling upward deglaze the pan with the one shot of ouzo. Take the other shot of ouzo yourself. Add the pesto and heavy cream. Remove calamari and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper. Best served with pita bread.
Center Stage: The Bird
Sandra Hardeman of Triangle said she loves Thanksgiving so much that, 25 years ago, she planned her wedding around the holiday.
“It’s hard to get family to come together,” she said. “But this forced them to do it.”
His extended family lived in Texas, hers in New York … but her parents had grown up in St. Lucia and Barbados. She is a first-generation American.
“My parents knew what Thanksgiving was, but they were never in the tradition,” she said. “I remember one year when I was 10 and we had spaghetti. It didn’t register that you were supposed to have a certain type of meal. My mom just didn’t know.”
Her husband, however, was born and raised in Texas. “I’ve learned a lot from him and that is why Thanksgivings have become a big production.”
At the Hardeman Thanksgiving, she said, turkey will always be fried, with a heavy dose of Cajun seasoning.
“Fried turkey is something we love,” she said. “We rarely bake a turkey. And we rarely have leftovers.”
Not everyone, however, subscribes to the fry method. Allison Dauksz, general manager of Secret Garden Café in Occoquan, said Secret Garden owner and head chef Sarah DeVight still uses the braised bacon wrapped turkey she first tasted in her grandmother’s kitchen when she was 8 years old. As per tradition, the kids help by wrapping the bacon around the turkey.
Braised Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Whole Turkey (12–20 pounds)
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Roughly chop enough onions, carrots and celery to fill bottom of turkey roasting pan. Fill bottom of roasting pan with just enough water to barely cover vegetables.
• Using a carving fork, puncture the turkey multiple times making many small half-inch deep holes all over the turkey.
• Rub outside of turkey and inside cavity with softened butter. Liberally salt and pepper the entire turkey both outside and inside the cavity.
• Place multiple sprigs of rosemary and thyme inside the turkey cavity.
• Place turkey into roasting pan breast side up, and begin wrapping bacon around the outside of the whole turkey.
• Cover roasting pan with foil and let turkey braise at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound for defrosted, or 10 to 15 minutes per pound for fresh.
• When about 30 to 45 minutes are left on the timer, remove the foil and the bacon from the turkey. Turn the oven temperature up to 425 degrees to crisp the skin.
• Remove turkey and let rest for no less than 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the turkey should read 165 degrees. Although Wesleigh Lin, executive chef at Malones of Manassas, prepares a bird for Thanksgiving, he doesn’t go with the traditional turkey. Instead, he has put his own twist on the recipe for herb-roasted Cornish game hen that he learned from Chef Jeffrey Gaetjen at Kinkead’s of Washington, D.C.
“As Chef Gaetjen instructed me on the ‘how-to’ of creating Herb-Roasted Cornish Game Hen, my palate and imagination came alive,” said Lin. “As a young chef, it was the first time I’d truly composed a dish; it wasn’t just about the protein anymore, it was about how all the components of the dish came together – the garnish, poultry, jus, seasonings and accompanying side dishes. Like a well-composed symphony, all ingredients are perfectly balanced on one’s palate as well as one’s plate.”
Based on that original recipe, he has added his own twist by marinating the hen.
Yogurt-herb Marinated Cornish Game Hen
1 Cornish game Hen
2 ounces of chives
2 ounces of rosemary
3 ounces of parsley
2 cups of plain yogurt
6 cloves of finely minced garlic
1 finely minced shallot
Zest of one quarter lemon
• If you are able, glove bone [a method of deboning] the Cornish Hen.
• To create the marinade, lightly blanch the chives, rosemary and parsley (make sure the rosemary is picked from the stem), and puree in blender while adding the yogurt, being mindful not to overblend. Set aside marinade in a shallow container large enough to accommodate the hen. The marinade should be light green.
• Rub garlic, shallot and lemon zest onto the hen, letting the hen rest in the marinade. Rubbing these ingredients onto the hen will help with the absorption of the flavors as it marinates. Let the hen marinate overnight for best results.
• Remove the hen from marinade and place on plate prior to grilling. Allow any excess marinade to fall off. Season the hen with salt and pepper. Place hen, breast side down, on a well-oiled, hot grill, grilling for 3 minutes before flipping the hen over and reducing the grill’s heat. On this low heat, cover the hen and grill an additional 7 minutes.
• In a pre-heated oven set at 375 degrees, bake the hen in shallow baking dish, breast side up, 20 minutes.
• Remove the hen from marinade and place on plate prior to grilling. Season with salt and pepper.
Regardless of the main attraction, local chefs agreed that Thanksgiving would be lacking without some outstanding side dishes.
A few years ago, William Landay, Executive Chef at CJ Finz in Manassas, was trying to find a dish that would be fall festive, packing lots of flavor … but still be eaten quickly.
“I came up with a Butternut Squash and Pumpkin bisque, something that could be eaten fast but still reminded everyone of the holidays,” he said. “I had never made anything like it before, so when it was finished and we all tasted it, it was very rewarding to see something I came up with go over so well.”
1 small pumpkin, de-seeded and peeled
1 butternut squash, de-seeded and peeled
1 onion, rough chopped
4 celery stalks, rough chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, rough chopped
1 tablespoon nutmeg, more to taste
1 tablespoon cinnamon, more to taste
2 ounces oil – canola or vegetable
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt and pepper, more to taste
• Combine oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
• Toss carrots, onions, celery, cubed pumpkin flesh, and cubed butternut squash in spice mix.
• Roast in 350 degree oven until soft, about 25 minutes.
• Bring chicken stock to a boil and add roasted vegetables, reduce down one third.
• Blend until smooth, and adjust seasonings as needed.
Andrew Schwarz, director of food and beverage and executive chef at the Brass Cannon Restaurant at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, has been eating creamed onions at Thanksgiving and Christmas since he was 5 years old.
“I stabbed it with a fork and the insides shot across my plate.
It became a contest between my sister and I,” he recalled. “Grandma was never pleased.”
Yet the creamed onion tradition stayed with him, and he served them at his first Thanksgiving with his wife’s family, 23 years ago. And they’ve been on the menu ever since.
2 ounces butter
2 jars pearl onions
1/8 cup flour
8 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon chicken base
2 ounces white wine
White Pepper and salt to taste
• Drain onions, reserving liquid.
• Combine flour, butter and chicken base to make roux.
• Add wine.
• Add 1 jar of onion juice and cream until thick.
• Add onions, use remaining onion juice to thin if needed.
• Place in oven-safe dish and bake until hot.
Grand Finale: Drinks and Dessert
Locals all agree: Leave room for an after-dinner drink and dessert. Stefan Trummer, owner of Trummer’s Coffee and Wine Bar in Gainesville and Trummer’s on Main Restaurant in Clifton, grew up in Austria. Although he didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the changing of seasons means it’s time for Glühwein, a traditional Austrian drink.
“I remember the smell when my mom made it,” he said. “I was really young and couldn’t wait to be old enough so I can finally taste it. Once I tasted it, I thought it was the best thing ever. Still today, every time I drink it, it brings me straight back home.”
(1 to 2 servings )
1 cup good red wine (you can make it with white as well)
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole allspice
Little bit of fresh nutmeg
Peel of one orange
Sugar to sweeten (you can add as much or as little as you like; we drink it a bit on the sweeter side)
• Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring slowly to boil, over medium heat, so the wine has time to infuse with the spices. As it starts to boil, remove from heat and serve (you can strain out the spices if you prefer).
As the plates from the Thanksgiving feast are cleared, conversation tends to turn to the beginning of the December holiday season—sending holiday cards, shopping, decorating and baking. Debbie Peltola, pastry chef at Mom’s Apple Pie, brought her mother’s love of gingerbread and gingerbread houses to patrons of the Occoquan shop.
“Both my parents have passed away in the past few years,” she said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to continue my family’s tradition of gingerbread cookies and houses at Mom’s Apple Pie.”
She recalled as a child kicking off the baking marathon the week after Thanksgiving—and continuing through Christmas. Her mother guided her and her two sisters in the kitchen extravaganza as the foursome baked….and baked….and baked.
“My absolute favorite cookie was her gingerbread,” said Peltola. “My mom would hide them so we would not get into the box before Christmas.”
The week before Christmas, her mother put together plates of cookies for friends, neighbors and teachers.
“When I started making them for Mom’s Apple Pie Company I only made them as part of our Christmas cookie lineup,” she said. “After a season or two they became so sought after by customers that we began to make them a regular item. Customers loved them, and gingerbread cookies have become one of our most popular cookies, regardless of the season.”
One of the most in-demand holiday traditions at Mom’s Apple Pie is the gingerbread houses, which also started in Peltola’s childhood home.
“One year my mom found a gingerbread house cut out in a magazine. She had my father make a cardboard replica of the house—it was very detailed, complete with dormers, chimney and eaves on the roof—and she announced we would make a house to go along with our cookies. That was the beginning of a wonderful tradition.”
The family worked together to roll, cut, bake and assemble the gingerbread house, and then decorate until not a piece of house was showing.
“We would salivate over it for the next couple weeks until my Mom said we could eat the entire house,” she said. “As each of us had our own families we continued making a gingerbread house for our Christmas traditions. The houses seemed to get less complicated, but were always loaded with candy.”
For the past three years she’s watched families come into Mom’s Apple Pie to reserve their favorite house for their own holiday traditions. She added, “The shop, for a few weeks, looks like a gingerbread wonderland … and I absolutely love it!”
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1⁄2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cups cold water
7 cups pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
• Mix butter, brown sugar, molasses and water.
• Add flour, baking soda, ginger, salt, cloves and cinnamon.
• Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.
• Roll out to 1⁄2-inch thick.
• Cut out cookies with a favorite gingerbread cookie cutter.
• Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
• Press M&M’s into dough for eyes, hands and shoes.
• Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Cool slightly and carefully remove from baking sheet.
• Chill the dough.
• Roll out to 1⁄2-inch thick.
• Cut out with a gingerbread house cookie cutter.
• Place carefully on a sheet pan, and cook at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
• Let pieces cool overnight, then assemble the houses with a royal icing. Let the house sit for one day before decorating with your favorite candy.
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University. She lives in Gainesville, Va., with her husband and two children.
Encore: Day-After Thanksgiving Brunch
“In my house, it’s hard to get people to eat leftovers,” said Sandra Hardeman, noting that she usually does not have all that much left to work with. But she has perfected a recipe to finish off any leftover remnants of cranberry sauce: Cranberry French toast, which she serves with ham, leftover or otherwise.
Cranberry French Toast
6 to 8 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups milk
1 cup cream or refrigerated coffee creamer
1 pound/loaf French bread, sliced or cubed
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 cup slivered almonds (optional)
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese (room temperature)
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
• Whisk together the eggs with the sugar and cinnamon, then whisk in the milk and cream.
• Coat 9” x 13” dish with butter (but cooking spray would work).
• Place the bread in the bottom of the pan.
• Sprinkle almonds.
• Pour the egg mixture evenly over bread.
• Gently stir it around.
• Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
• Drizzle over dish filled with bread.
• Refrigerate overnight.
• Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, then set to broil 3 to 5 minutes until slightly toasted.
• While waiting on the toast to bake, make the cranberry sauce.
• To make cranberry sauce, in a medium saucepan, using leftover cranberry sauce and fresh chopped cranberries, add 2 tablespoons of water and bring to a boil. Blend in maple syrup. Simmer over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, Remove the cranberry mixture from the heat and keep warm till serving.