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first thansgiving



Thanksgiving will soon be here. It is a very special time. It is a time to give thanks for our many blessings and time to be with family and friends. The original Thanksgiving goes back to the time of the first Pilgrims in the early 1600s. It was a celebration and feast that probably had its origins in Europe. Today Thanksgiving is observed in the U.S. and Canada (at different times) and a few other places. And, just as it was in the early days, it is also the time for a traditional Thanksgiving meal (although our meals today are much different than those in the early days!) The Thanksgiving meal comes only once a year (although the leftovers carry on for a few days after). And it is my favorite meal. I love everything about it – the history of the celebration, the time with friends and family, and, of course, the food and wine.

My wife, Laurie, and I have been preparing Thanksgiving dinner every year since we moved into our first house in the early 1970s. Over the years, we have refined the menu and have basically settled into one menu for many years. The number of people has varied greatly over the years. My wife and I are both from small families. When we first began doing Thanksgiving dinners we would have as many as 20 or so people. The number varied up or down over the years, but gradually dwindled for many reasons. Today we will usually have six to ten people. So it is a small celebration. But the meal has stayed basically the same. Here’s our Thanksgiving program (at the end of this article there are 10 recipes, 3 purchased food suggestions, and 4 wine selections).


We begin in the late afternoon with appetizers. These consist of homemade snack mix (everyone loves this!), fresh roasted pecans, celery stuffed with roasted red pepper cream cheese, and Graber olives (these are a unique and delicious olive grown in California). With these snacks we serve sparkling wine to which we add cherries marinated in liqueur. This is a drink that everyone really looks forward to.

While we are enjoying the drinks and appetizers, Laurie and I, along with some help from other friends and family members, get the final things done in preparation for the Thanksgiving meal. We always have turkey. Turkey is one of my favorite things to eat and this is a special time to prepare it. Over the years, I have tried cooking turkey every way that I know how – in an oven at a very low heat overnight, in an oven in a bag at a very low heat overnight, in a hot oven, in a convection oven, smoked, grilled, deep fried, and on a rotisserie. Out of all these methods of cooking, I think the rotisserie is the best. It produces a bird that is crispy on the outside and succulent and moist on the inside.

Accompaniments include cranberry and orange sauce with fresh orange zest, homemade gravy including the pan drippings, mashed potatoes with celery root, roasted Brussels sprouts with parsnips and fresh rosemary, fresh green beans boiled with shallots and bacon, homemade cornbread stuffing, and yams baked with apples. For dessert there are apple and pumpkin pies.

And, just as I have experimented with all kinds of ways to cook the turkey, so have I experimented with serving all kinds of wines – German Riesling, California Chardonnay, Bordeaux, Red Burgundy, Alsatian Gewürztraminer, California Cabernet, Zinfandel, Rosé (Australian and French), Pinot Noir from Oregon and California, Beaujolais, Loire Valley Red Wines and Chateauneuf du Pape. Normally, I serve at least three or four different wines. My favorites are Zinfandel (usually a Ridge and usually Geyserville), Beaujolais (a rich, fruity one with a slight chill), sometimes a young Burgundy, and a couple of different rosés (again, rich fruity ones.) For years, these included the Australian Rosé of Virginia from Charles Melton. Now I am down to my last few bottles as, unfortunately, it is no longer imported (To read that story click here [1].)

I am eagerly looking forward to Thanksgiving this year just like I always do. We have already begun making our preparations. I would like to share our Thanksgiving recipes with you. Also, I will direct you to some things that you can purchase. And, lastly, I will give you my wine selections for this year’s celebration. I have put together 10 recipes and 3 purchased food suggestions. At the end are my 4 wine selections for our dinner this year. Please take a look. I think you will find some things that will enhance your Thanksgiving celebration. HAPPY THANKSGIVING and BON APPETIT!

wine and turkey





1 dozen celery stalks from the heart of the celery
1 pint fresh deli cream cheese
4 large red bell peppers



Preheat oven on broil
Place the rack as high as possible
Cut both ends off red peppers
Open the pepper and remove the seeds
Place the pepper strips, skin side up on a baking sheet lined with a generous amount of aluminum foil
Broil the peppers until the skin is black (about 15 minutes)
Enclose the peppers with the foil and let steam for about 1 hour
Remove the skin
Chop the peppers into small pieces and with a spoon blend into the cream cheese
Trim celery at both ends and chop into bite size pieces
With a knife fill the cavity of the celery with the red pepper cream cheese mixture






1 1/4 pound raw pecan halves *
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. chopped rosemary
1 tsp. cayenne
4 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. coarse salt
* The small raw pecan halves from Bergeron in Louisiana are great. Bergeron is a 100 year old business now in the third generation of family ownership. You can order the pecans by calling 1-225-638-9626



Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Bake nuts on sheet pan for 10 minutes.
Melt butter in large glass bowl in microwave or sauce pan.
Add rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt to melted butter.
Fold in nuts, let cool, and serve.



9 cups Chex mix (rice, corn, and wheat)
2-3 cups stick pretzels broken in half
1 cup roasted Virginia peanuts
2 cups fancy raw mixed nuts
8 Tbs. (1/2 cup) melted French butter
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
¾ tsp. sea salt



Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spread raw nuts on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes
Reduce oven to 200 degrees
Combine melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and salt
Put Chex mix, pretzels, peanuts, and mixed nuts in a large bowl
Fold in melted butter mixture
Divide onto 2 sheet pans
Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes
Store in an airtight container



Graber Tree Ripened Olives may be found in limited distribution at specialty food stores or on line at www.graberolives.com [2] . Take a look at the website. The history is very interesting. The tree ripened olives come canned in 3 sizes 12(small), 14(medium), and 16(large). I love olives and this is one of the best olives you can buy.

Cherry and sparkling wine






NV Blason de Bourgogne Cremant De Bourgogne Brut Reserve


This is a very good (and inexpensive) sparkling wine www.blason.com [3] . Imported by Plume Ridge Wine Negociants Industry, California. www.plumeridge.com [4] . But, if you cannot find this, you can use any sparkling wine you like as long as it is clean and fresh.

Verdine Cherries in liqueur

This is great as it contains the whole, seeded cherries. If you cannot find this, you can use a cherry liqueur or a brand of cherries in brandy or Armagnac.




In a Champagne flute add 1 or 2 tsp of liqueur and a cherry or two

Fill glass with Sparkling wine that is ice cold (best to put it in the freezer for an hour or so before serving to get it really cold)



cooked turkey

As I mentioned earlier, my favorite way to cook a turkey is on the rotisserie. But, if you don’t use a rotisserie and cook your turkey in an oven, you can still use my basic preparation.



1 small to medium size (12-16 lbs.) fresh free range hen turkey
Wash the turkey in cold water
Cut a fresh lemon and rub the turkey thoroughly squeezing the juice to completely cover it inside and outside
Brush the turkey inside and outside with soy sauce
Put fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary in the cavity
Cut enough lemons, oranges, and onions in half to completely fill the cavity



4 cups homemade cornbread (no sugar), crumbled
8 cups dried bread (nut breads and whole grain breads are best), crumbled
1 ½ cups diced onion
1 ½ cups diced celery
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 Tbs. dried sage
1 Tbs. salt



Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray or brush corning ware container with oil or butter
Put bread and cornbread in a large bowl
Melt butter in a large pan
Sauté onion and celery in butter for about 5 minutes
Add to bread along with parsley, eggs, sage, salt and pepper
Mix with a spoon to combine
Place in glass corning ware container, and cover with lid
Bake for 1 hour




4 large Yams
6 large Pink Lady Apples (Or Pippins, Arkansas Black Spur, or any other kind of firm, sweet/sour apple)
½ cup unsalted French Butter
¼ cup dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp real Maple syrup
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Sea salt



Wash Yams and bake in oven until they are partially cooked, but firm and not soft
Remove yams, peel, and cut into thick slices
Peel apples and cut into slices about ½ the thickness of the yam slices
Use a cookie cutter to remove core forming a circle or use a paring knife and remove core in a square pattern
Coat a baking dish with the butter
Layer yam slices on bottom and brush with butter and Maple syrup
Top with apple slices and brush with butter and Maple syrup
Sprinkle each piece with a little brown sugar and sea salt
Continue with the above procedure until the dish is filled
Add fresh squeezed orange juice with a tablespoon over each stack of apples and yams
Place in oven and bake until the apples and yams are soft
Brush with the liquid in the pan and serve





2 lbs. fresh French green beans.
4 slices thick cut apple smoked bacon
4 large shallots
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper


Cut ends of green beans, break in 1-2” pieces, and rinse
Chop bacon into small pieces and light sauté in fry pan for 2-3 minutes being sure to remove before it is crisp
Peel and cut shallots into 1/4s
Add 1tsp sea salt to warm water in a pot
Add green beans, bacon (including the grease), and shallots
Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat and cook for about ½ hour
Remove beans, bacon, and shallots from pan and place in a serving dish
Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Here you can use your favorite recipe. We like to use peeled Yukon Gold Potatoes. (Or as a variation use the potatoes in a 2/3 mix with 1/3 peeled celery root. Cut and steam together before mashing and add cream, French butter, sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.)





1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts (the ones on the stalk are best)
1 lb. fresh parsnips
Fresh rosemary
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
French butter (unsalted)



Peel parsnips and cut into bite size pieces
Steam Brussels sprouts for about 10 minutes and parsnips for about 5 minutes
Remove and layer in a roasting pan or dish that has been brushed liberally with unsalted French butter
Sprinkle with sea salt
Cover with ¼ cup unsalted French butter and stir together making sure to coat every piece
Place in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
Remove and add ½ chopped fresh Rosemary. Stir vigorously until Brussels sprouts and parsnips are covered
Put back in over for another 5-10 minutes
Remove, add fresh ground pepper to taste, and serve



We used to make this from scratch. It’s pretty easy. Buy a 1 lb. package of fresh cranberries and follow the recipe on the package. After the cranberries are cooked and are still warm add the orange zest by grating the peel of one large orange and mix in. Place mixture in the refrigerator. But, we don’t do this anymore. Many years ago, around Thanksgiving, Trader Joes www.traderjoes.com [5] began carrying fresh made cranberry sauce in the refrigerated section. Now there are two versions – one uncooked with fresh oranges and one cooked without oranges. Get the one with oranges and before serving add freshly grated orange zest from one large orange. You can also add some chopped raw walnuts if you like.




Sometime before Thanksgiving, bake a large turkey.
Eat as much as you like and save the rest (including meat and carcass as well as the pan drippings)
Kosher Salt
12 peppercorns
2 large onions
4 large shallots
4 large carrots
4 large celery stalks with leaves
1 large bunch parsley
Wondra flour





Chop the turkey (carcass and meat) into chunks with a cleaver
Place in a large boiling pan
Add 1 tsp. Kosher salt, peppercorns, and coarsely chopped carrots, onions, shallots, parsley, and celery
Cover with water and place lid on the pot
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for several hours until the ingredients have turned to mush and the meat has fallen off the bone
Remove pan and let cool
Strain liquid and discard meat and bones
Place remaining liquid back in the pan and reduce the contents by ½
Let liquid cool and then place in a container and place in the refrigerator
The next day remove the fat layer from the top and discard
Either place the remainder back in the refrigerator or freeze if it will be more than a couple of days before use


Heat stock and reduce to desired flavor intensity
Combine Wondra flour and water to make a paste
Add slowly to the stock, stirring constantly
Add drippings from the turkey used to make the stock and the drippings from the Thanksgiving turkey.
Salt to taste

turkeyand wine






I like to give guests a choice of at least three or four wines. This year my choices are the following:


2004 Charles Melton Rosé of Virginia

2003 Pascal Cotat Sancerre Rosé

2003 Marcel Lapierre Morgon

1995 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville

I think you would agree that this is an unusual and under the radar choice of wines. Let me explain. First, there are the two old rosés. As I have mentioned several times in my rosé reviews, many rosés, if properly cellared, are capable of aging for quite a long time. (Stay tuned I will have an article with tasting notes on old rosés soon.) These two rosés are a case in point. The 2004 Rosé of Virginia is my last bottle. I used to buy a case every year so I had a good supply. Now I have very few bottles of any vintage left. But, every time I have had an older one it has been delicious. The 2003 Sancerre rosé is absolutely stunning. I have had a bottle in the past year. It was off the charts great! The Lapierre Morgon is just gorgeous. It is silky and lush with great intensity and very pure fruit. The 1995 Geyserville I have not had in awhile. But, here (taken from the back label) is what the winemaker, Paul Draper, said about the 1995 when it was bottled “…the resulting wine is one of the finest Geyservilles we have made in this decade….it will be most appealing around the turn of the century, and reach full maturity by 2010.” I love old Geyservilles and this 1995 should be spot on now and a real treat. But, if you don’t have old Rosé, Beaujolais, or Zinfandel try some newer vintages such as 2009 or 2010. I have reviewed many of these wines in the last year or so and you should have a good selection to choose from (You can find notes by going to the website www.undergroundwineletter.com [6] and use the search function to look up wines.)


Over the years we had had all kinds of pies and a few other desserts as well. But, we have mostly gravitated to pies. We never made them from scratch, but others have made them and brought them for dinner. We have also bought pies from different bakeries. Many years ago, when Costco started carrying pies at Thanksgiving we gave them a try. We have never changed since then. Every one agrees that these pies are the best and they are also great bargains. (A large pumpkin pie is $5.99. See photo of the pie in its take out container below.) Our favorite pies are pumpkin and apple. We serve the pies with fresh whipped cream.


So there you have it. A preview of the food and wine that will be presented at the Tilsons on Thanksgiving day 2011. (I will pass along some notes on the wines later.)

To all of you – Have a very happy celebration and enjoy good food and good wine. We are indeed blessed.

Thanksgiving-statue of liberty