News & Politics

What Washingtonians Cook Up on Turkey Day

>> Thanksgiving Guide 2009

What’s the only thing—besides a Cowboys loss—guaranteed to please a home crowd on Thanksgiving? Innovative and inspired Turkey Day dishes. We asked several local celebrities (and one First Lady) what their favorite Thanksgiving food is—and some were even kind enough to pass along their top-secret recipes. So when the big day rolls around, drop that remote, drag yourself from the couch to the kitchen, and give thanks for these crowd-pleasing favorites.

Michelle Obama, First Lady:
Word in the White House is that Michelle has been whipping up her whipped sweet potatoes to the delight of Sasha, Malia, and Barack for years. Here’s a page from the First Family’s cookbook:

Whipped Sweet Potatoes 

Serves 4

3 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1⁄8 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoons ground cumin
1⁄8 dark chili powder
Pinch of ground cloves
4 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Wrap the potatoes in foil, place them on a baking sheet, and cook until soft all the way through, approximately 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow them to cool. Cut the potatoes in half, then scoop out the insides and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. With a whisk, whip the potatoes until they are smooth and the ingredients are incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Adjust seasoning and serve.

Chris Pontius, DC United midfielder/forward:
“Since I’m not a big cook, I rely heavily on my parents and grandparents for food on Thanksgiving. My favorite Thanksgiving meal is pretty ordinary: I love turkey with sides of corn and mashed potatoes, and I make sure that everything is covered in gravy. I also mix it all together to make sure that I get a little bit of everything in every bite.”

Doreen Gentzler, NBC news anchor:
“I’ve been making corn pudding for holiday family meals for years, and it’s always popular. It’s also easy to make—foolproof for someone like me who doesn’t cook a whole lot. Even better: Little kids like it and so do adults.” Here’s Doreen’s recipe:

Corn Pudding

Serves 8 to 12

3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2  teaspoons baking powder
1½  teaspoons salt
6  large eggs
2 cups milk or half and half
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
6 cups fresh corn kernels (about 12 ears) or frozen corn kernels

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together eggs, milk or half and half, and butter or margarine. Gradually add in the sugar mixture, whisking until smooth. Stir in the corn. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and set. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Ellen Miller, head of the Sunlight Foundation:
“Our family has a pretty atypical Thanksgiving meal. Our nontraditional Thanksgiving revolves around the preparation of Peking duck because frankly, we hate turkey. Since they were old enough to sit in high chairs, all the children in my family who could participate have chopped, peeled, and prepared the necessary ingredients for a huge Chinese feast. This tradition has lasted nearly 40 years!”

Sounds delicious. Ellen was kind enough to send us her recipe:

Peking Duck

Serves 8

1 whole Long Island duckling
3 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon red food coloring
2 Chinese Mandarin pancakes per person (find them at Asian markets)
Chopped scallion root, for garnish
Sliced cucumbers, for garnish
Hoisin sauce, for garnish

Boil 4 quarts of water with honey, sugar, ginger, and scallions. Soak the duck in the boiling broth for ten minutes until it turns orange-red. Hang duck to dry at room temperature until it’s completely dried.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a roasting dish, set up a pan of water as a water bath on the bottom shelf of the oven. Set the duck one shelf above it. Bake for 25 minutes or until the duck looks crispy.

Serve the deboned duck with scallion, cucumber slices hoisin sauce, and pancakes on the side.

Ezra Klein, Washington Post economic-and-domestic-policy blogger:
“My mother makes a white cake from Betty Crocker. It won’t set foodie hearts aflame, but for me, it’s the taste of Thanksgiving and of home.”

Bryan Moscatello, executive chef at Zola, Zola Wine + Kitchen, and Potenza:
“At our Thanksgiving cooking classes [recently], we made a smoky sweet-potato casserole.  As opposed to the traditional Thanksgiving casserole with marshmallows on top, we did a combination of crispy applewood bacon and some diced brioche croutons—it was delicious. We baked it so it got really nice and crisp and added a chipotle-adobo sauce.”

Here’s Bryan’s recipe:

Smoky Sweet-Potato Casserole

Serves 4 to 6

3 large sweet potatoes
2 cups raw bacon, diced
4 cups brioche croutons (using either stale or fresh bread), diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons chipotles-in-adobo sauce (you can find cans of this at most supermarkets)
1 teaspoon roast-garlic paste (Take a full head of garlic, cut a thin layer off the top so that you can just see the exposed heads. Drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil, and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until tender. Let cool and mash the cloves with a knife or blender.)
 ¼ cup honey
½ cup butter
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the sweet potatoes, wrapped individually in foil, for 45 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool, then peel. Mash the potatoes until you have a smooth purée, and season with salt and pepper to taste. For the casserole, measure out 3 cups of purée.

Lower the oven to 350 degrees. Sauté the bacon in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat until it is cooked, then remove it from the pan, reserving the fat. Toss the brioche croutons with a few tablespoons of the rendered fat,then combine with the bacon and the thyme.

Combine the sweet-potato purée, chipotle-adobo sauce, garlic paste, honey, butter, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a prepared 9-inch square buttered baking dish. Pour the bacon-and-brioche mixture over the top, and bake for about 30 minutes or until set.Ben Olsen, DC United midfielder:
“Though Thanksgiving certainly is about quantity, for me it’s all about quality. One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes is cheesy mashed potatoes.”

Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8 to 10

9 large baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons butter

Place the potatoes in boiling water and cook until soft, then remove them from the pot and mash until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients, and beat until combined.

Susan Norton, National Geographic Museum director:
“I’m from south of Lynchburg, so my dish is Southern. It’s sweet potatoes with miniature marshmallows on top. I use brown sugar and coconut to give it a sweet, crisp taste.”