When it comes to holiday meals, Minnesotans have their go-to recipes that have withstood the test of time. But sometimes it’s fun to switch it up. Chef Peter Makens shares his traditional holiday recipe for brining the turkey along with his prized sweet potato gratin recipe and some tips that can be useful when the time comes to play holiday host or hostess.
Makens has cooked in restaurants in Minnesota and Iowa. He comes from a large family of six boys and also has a large extended family that gets together every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The menu for each holiday is very large and extensive to meet everyone’s dietary requirements. The family always serves up a 24-pound turkey and a salt-crusted prime rib. The sides are fairly traditional with dishes that include mashed potatoes, candied yams, wild rice, fresh cranberries, homemade pies and the special family tradition of monkey bread. To help alleviate the host’s cooking time, everyone is assigned a dish to bring. Every year, Chef Peter is responsible for the turkey, prime rib and sweet potato gratin.
Quick and Easy Holiday Shrimp Appetizer Platter
- Frozen shrimp (amount will vary on number of guests)
- Various dipping sauces: tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, aioli
- 1 lemon
Boil, steam or sauté your shrimp. Put the various dipping sauces in small bowls on a platter. When the shrimp is done, zest some lemon and squeeze a little juice onto the shrimp and toss. Put everything onto the platter and your guests are ready for their appetizer. This recipe is quick and easy and should be done shortly before your guests arrive or just as they are arriving for best flavor.
Chef Peter highly recommends brining the turkey, roasting it briefly in a high-temperature oven and finishing it at a low temperature for the duration of the cooking process.
- 1 cup kosher salt
- Half-cup brown sugar
- 2 yellow onions, cut in half
- Tops and bottoms of the celery you are using for stuffing
- 3 carrots
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 6-8 sprigs of thyme
- 3 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 gallon of heavily iced water
Combine everything except the ice water in a large sauce pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat, and once cool, place in the refrigerator. The day before you cook the turkey, remove the onion, celery, carrot and herbs and store them for later. Combine ice water and brine solution in a 5-gallon bucket, then place your thawed turkey straight into the mixture. Store the bucket in the refrigerator, or a very cool room (your garage works great if the temperature is cold), and let the turkey brine for 16 to 24 hours. You should flip the bird over half way through this brining process.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the turkey from the cold brine solution and rinse inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the bird on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan and pat dry with a paper towel. Stuff the onion, celery, carrots and herbs from previous brining inside the cavity of the turkey and then rub the entire bird with olive oil.
Place the turkey into the 500-degree oven on the lowest rack and cook for 30 minutes; rotating after 15 minutes. Then insert the probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook your bird until the thermometer reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit, rotating occasionally, and remove from the oven. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.
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Sweet Potato Gratin
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into fourth-inch-thick slices
- Three-fourths cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Half-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer the pan with a single layer of sweet potatoes. Drizzle with heavy cream and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and salt. Repeat this process 5 or 6 more times until all of the potatoes are used.
Dot with the remaining butter over the top and cover with foil. Bake the potatoes covered for 20 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and continue baking the potatoes until they are tender and the tops are browned, 20 to 25 minutes.
Tips from Chef Peter on holiday cooking:
1. Write your menu in advance to figure out where you are using the same ingredients in multiple recipes and prep them all at once to save time.
2. Figure out what can be made ahead of time and plan your timing out so your oven is not backed up. This way you can stay out of the kitchen and enjoy time with your family.
Amber Ranzau lives on the edge of Uptown in Minneapolis and is a gal about town. She frequents the local restaurant scene, loves to support new and local businesses, follows the latest and greatest fashion and design trends, and she does all of this while working as an interior designer, spending time with her man, The Specialist, and taking care of her two goldfish Felix and Petunia and their tankmate Huey the Snail. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.