Most people consider polenta a restaurant food. Because as good as this creamy, cheesy Italian staple is, few of us have the hour needed to crank it out.
But hidden on the grocer’s shelves is a shortcut that can help get polenta on your dinner table any day of the week in minutes: prepared polenta. Which is different — and far better than — a related product known as instant polenta.
But first, some polenta basics.
Polenta is a traditional starch in Italian cooking, an alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes that pairs deliciously well with robust sauces and meats.
Polenta is made by slowly simmering and stirring cornmeal with chicken broth or water. It’s usually also seasoned with Parmesan cheese and butter.
Get the recipe for Spicy Pork With Polenta »
First lesson of Indian cooking: Not all brown powders are curry powder.
Second lesson: Don’t confuse heat and warmth, especially in Indian cuisine, as they are wildly different concepts.
Third lesson: Indian cooking is a deliciously inexact science. Embrace its freewheeling approach and all of your cooking, Indian and otherwise, will be better.
And all of that is why I want to introduce you to garam masala, a widely available yet little used (in the U.S.) seasoning blend from northern India. Like so many Indian spice blends, there is no set recipe for garam masala. The ingredients can vary tremendously by region and cook. But in general, it usually contains a mix of spices that are at once sweet and warming — coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and black pepper.
Get the recipe for Smashed Garam Masala Potatoes »
Leftovers are practically guaranteed after a meal as large as Thanksgiving dinner. In my house, we ensure them by making a small, extra turkey and several batches of stuffing, so that everyone can take some home. But beyond making turkey sandwiches and soup, what can you do with all of that extra meat and how should you use up those spare potatoes and vegetables? We have the answers, plus helpful tips on how to safely store leftovers and inventive recipes for next-day dishes.
Shelf Life: Though there’s no reason to rush through Thanksgiving dinner in order to get the leftovers in the fridge, it is best to start packaging them within two hours of the meal. In general, most leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days. Frozen leftovers, however, are best within 2-3 months, though they’ll remain safe to eat forever, so long as they are kept at 0 degrees F.
Unstuff the Stuffing: If you chose to stuff your turkey, remember to unstuff it before storing. Scoop it out of the cavity of the bird and keep it in one container, and put the carved meat and each of your side dishes in their own separate containers.
Follow these easy food safety tips »
Any food that can make your tongue tingle has got to be worth a taste.
I’m not talking a seltzer-like zippiness or even a searing chili heat. I mean literally tingling because your tongue is at once numb and buzzingly alive.
That is the power of the Sichuan pepper (also called Sichuan peppercorn). But why would you want to (albeit mildly) numb your mouth? Because aside from the basic coolness of a tingling tongue, that sensation also changes the way you taste food seasoned with the pepper, adding a wonderful punchy vibrancy and warmth unlike anything else.
First, the basics. Despite appearances, Sichuan pepper is not a true peppercorn. It is the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the prickly ash tree. And chances are, you’ve had it before. Sichuan pepper is a basic component of Chinese five-spice powder. As its name suggests, the spice has left a serious thumbprint on the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province. It also is used in Japan, where it is called sansho.
Get the recipe for Sichuan Pepper Meatballs »
Less than a week to go to Turkey Day and it’s time to hammer out the details. If your family vetoed your idea for an innovative reimagining of pumpkin pie, channel your creativity into designing a table centerpiece to set the mood. Also, consider four days ahead as a good time for a freezer exchange — frozen turkey (if you bought it that way) should come out, homemade pie crusts go in.
• Setting the Stage: While the food and the company always make Thanksgiving memorable, it doesn’t hurt to have a beautifully set table to sit around. Consider mixing flowers in with some artful edibles or even scout your backyard for inspiration. We like gourds, mini pumpkins, acorns, pine-cones and Indian corn to give the table a real fall feel. Gather everything you’ll need for the table (except the flowers), and stock up on candles for an extra-special touch.
From freezer to table »
It may look and sound like a weed, but lemon grass actually is one of the most important ingredients in Southeast Asian cooking. And it can transform the all-American foods you love.
Lemon grass is a reed-like plant that grows as a thin, firm 2-foot stalk with a small bulb at the base. It varies in color from pale yellow to very light green.
True to name, lemon grass has a pleasantly assertive lemon taste and aroma.
Lemon Grass Chicken Stir-Fry »
If ever there was a vegetable dogged by misunderstanding, fresh fennel is it.
Because while it may taste like anise and look like a bulb, it’s neither. And don’t let the grocery workers who love to label it that way tell you otherwise.
Fennel may taste like anise, and is a relative of it, but they are separate plants. And while the base of fennel is bulbous, that’s a shape, not its plant variety.
So now that we’ve cleared up what fennel isn’t, let’s focus on what it is.
Fresh fennel resembles a cross between cabbage, celery and dill. The taste is assertively (though not unpleasantly) licorice and sweet. The base of the fennel is round with tightly overlapping pale-green leaves. Sprouting out of that are long celery stalks topped with fine frilly leaves.
Fennel Egg Salad Sandwiches »
Try roasting a few pumpkins, then freezing the puree — that’s what Alton does. You can thaw it to make pie just before Thanksgiving, and the rest will store up to 6 months in the freezer.
Try making: Michele Albano’s Maple Pumpkin Pie With Pecan Streusel
Browse more of Food Network’s Thanksgiving recipes and tips.
To cut 100 calories off your Thanksgiving meal, watch out for the fried topping on green bean casseroles. This casserole wouldn’t live up to the hype if it wasn’t for the crispy French fried onions, but each quarter cup will set you back 100 calories (and most recipes call for five times that amount!). Slim down portions to a light sprinkle and try these four other ways to cut 100 calories from Healthy Eats.
When glazing your vegetables, add a touch of butter and sugar with a pinch of salt. The sugar and butter add shine to the glaze. Aromatics like herbs, ginger or citrus zest will add some zing.
Follow this guide to learn how to make your veggie side dish extraordinary, then watch our how-to video.
Browse more of Food Network’s Thanksgiving side dish recipes.