It’s tradition on Thanksgiving to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for. I’ll try to think creatively, though I know it’s just for sport. Every year, I want to give thanks for the essentials. My family, our home. 365 days of breath in our lungs. For another year with this meal in front of us.
This story was adapted from Magnolia Journal special edition 2023. Find the full issue on a newsstand near you.
STORY BY JOANNA GAINES
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELSEY HANSEN
FOOD STYLING BY KELSEY MOYLAN
PRODUCED BY SCOTT J. JOHNSON
Our table is big on comfort. Nothing here is overly impressive or complex. But who gathers around that table is what I’m really most grateful for—and every moment together is made richer by the food that brings us there.
Dinner rolls with warmed butter. Green bean casserole. Pumpkin cheesecake for a sweet ending. All year long, this is the menu we look forward to. We count down the days until we get to taste my mom’s cranberry sauce, even better the day after. To experience the whole meal nearly exactly as we already have. Even in its simplicity, there is something profound about this menu and these moments. Defining this one day, and sustaining us until the next. That’s what Thanksgiving gives us. What was once ours still is. That’s enough to be thankful for.
Herb-Roasted Turkey & Gravy
PREP: 30 minutes
ROAST: 2 hours 45 minutes
STAND: 10 minutes
MAKES: 10 servings
1 white onion, quartered
3 carrots, peeled
3 stalks celery, trimmed
1 12-lb. turkey
2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh sage
6 sprigs fresh thyme
Fresh sage leaves, oranges, and/or blood oranges (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Place onion, carrots, and celery in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Pat the outside and cavity of turkey dry with paper towels. Place turkey in pan on top of vegetables. In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, and paprika. Season the cavity of the turkey with one-third of the salt mixture. Fold wing tips under turkey.
2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium about 2 minutes or until edges begin to turn golden. Add sage and thyme; cook and stir 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sage and thyme to cavity of turkey. Tie turkey legs together using 100%-cotton kitchen string. Brush butter over the outside of turkey. Sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over turkey.
3. Roast turkey, uncovered, 23/4 to 3 hours or until juices run clear and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (not touching bone) registers 175°F. Tent turkey with foil and let stand 10 to 15 minutes before carving. If you like, serve turkey on a platter and garnish with fresh sage leaves and halved or quartered oranges. Serve with Turkey Gravy.
Drain turkey drippings from roasting pan. Skim fat from drippings. Add enough butter to the fat to equal 1/4 cup. Add enough chicken broth to strained drippings to equal 2 cups. In a large skillet whisk together the fat and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Cook and stir over medium 1 minute. Add drippings. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper. Serve immediately with turkey.
PREP: 10 minutes
COOK: 30 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings
6 large russet potatoes (about 31/2 lb. total), scrubbed
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1. Peel the potatoes, leaving a little skin on each one for texture, if you like. (Jo likes to leave about five stripes of skin on each potato.) Cut potatoes into 11/2-inch chunks.
2. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boiling. Add potatoes. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and return potatoes to pot.
3. Meanwhile, heat butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low just until butter melts and milk is warm. 4. Mash potatoes using a potato masher, adding milk mixture in four parts and mashing as you go until potatoes are creamy and well blended but still have a bit of texture. Mash in 1 tsp. salt and the pepper.
TO STORE: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust
PREP: 1 hour 15 minutes
BAKE: 1 hour 15 minutes
COOL: 6 hours 20 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings
2 cups gingersnap cookies
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
11/2 lb. cream cheese, softened
11/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
11/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
Spiced Brown Sugar Whipped Cream
1. For gingersnap crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cookies in a food processor and pulse until crumbs resemble sand. Measure 2 cups crumbs and place in a medium bowl. Discard remaining crumbs or reserve for another use. Stir melted butter into bowl until crumbs are well coated. Spread in the bottom of a 9×3-inch springform pan. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to press crumbs tightly over bottom of pan. Bake 7 minutes. Let crust cool. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
2. For cheesecake: Place cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy; scrape down sides of bowl. Add brown sugar; beat on low to begin then increase speed to medium-high until well combined. With mixer on low, add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Beat in vanilla.
3. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add pumpkin puree, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 tsp of the salt. Beat on low until mixture starts to come together; increase speed to medium and beat until well combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Pour filling over crust in pan. Place springform pan in a shallow baking pan with 1-inch sides.
4. Place pan in oven and carefully add enough hot water to fill baking pan with about 1/2 inch of water. (Avoid getting any water in cheesecake pan.) Bake 1 hour 5 minutes or until cheesecake has a 2- to 3-inch area in the center that jiggles slightly. Remove cheesecake from baking pan and cool on a wire rack 1 hour. Place cheesecake in the freezer to cool completely 5 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, remove cheesecake from freezer and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
5. For caramel sauce: Combine granulated sugar, the 2 Tbsp. water, and the cream of tartar in a medium heavy saucepan. Stir until sugar is wet. Place over medium-high and slowly stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until sugar dissolves. Once sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boiling, stop stirring. Boil 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture turns an amber color. Immediately remove from heat; stir in 3 Tbsp. butter until melted. Slowly add heavy cream and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt while stirring. Let cool 10 minutes.
6. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake then open the pan and remove side. Cut cheesecake into eight slices. Top with Spiced Brown Sugar Whipped Cream and drizzle with caramel sauce.
SPICED BROWN SUGAR WHIPPED CREAM
Combine 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 tsp. vanilla bean paste, and 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium. Bring to a boil, then continue boiling about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 20 minutes. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, pour in 1 cup cold heavy cream. Starting on low speed and slowly increasing to medium-high, whisk about 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly add the cooled brown sugar mixture and whisk until whipped cream is fluffy and holds its shape, 1 to 2 more minutes.
TO STORE: Store leftover cheesecake in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 5 days.