Pop quiz: What are the top-five grocery items sold during the week of Thanksgiving, excluding turkey? The obvious — milk, eggs and butter — are top-sellers year-round, including Thanksgiving week, but we were surprised that beer came in fifth across the country, beating out canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce. The fourth most popular item? That depends on which side of the country you’re on: East Coasters buy record amounts of cream cheese, while those in the West are big on packaged fried onions.
Don’t be fooled by the label “Grade A” on a bottle of maple syrup: It’s no better than Grade B. Grade B syrup is darker and has a stronger maple flavor; Grade A is milder. We prefer Grade B for cooking (we used it in a Kale-Sesame Chicken Salad for Food Network Magazine). Both grades are more expensive than the imitation stuff (“pancake syrup”), but real maple syrup is worth the splurge.
Pick up an extra bag of cranberries this year and dye a set of napkins for Thanksgiving. Put white cotton napkins in a simmering pot of 8 cups water mixed with 1/2 cup salt for 1 hour (this will help seal the dye later). Meanwhile, simmer 2 cups each cranberries, cranberry juice and water for 30 minutes in another pot, mashing the cranberries; strain and return the liquid to the pot. Rinse the napkins in cold water, squeeze dry and leave one end in the cranberry liquid for 4 hours. Rinse again, squeeze and hang to dry.
Bakers often use coffee in brownies and cakes to bring out the chocolate flavor. But coffee works just as well in savory recipes — especially slow-cooked dishes like Food Network Magazine‘s Slow-Cooker Chili. Try adding a shot to tomato sauce, gravy or stew, and if you don’t have brewed coffee, just dilute a little instant espresso.
Cincinnati is the site of an epic pie battle, and it heats up every November: Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants and Busken Bakery both claim to make the best pumpkin pie. The rivalry started in 2010, when Frisch’s ran a billboard ad on top of Busken Bakery saying, “Hello, Pumpkin.” Busken put a sign next to it reading, “That’s ‘Mr. Pumpkin’ to you, Big Boy.” And the companies have been duking it out ever since. Last year, Busken’s owners dressed the seven-foot Big Boy statue in a Busken apron. If you’re in Cincinnati, keep an eye out for the latest pranks — and try a slice of each so you can pick a side.
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When you’re chopping garlic, onion or other vegetables in a food processor, keep the motor running and drop the ingredients through the feed tube. The food will bounce around and won’t get stuck in the blade or along the edge of the bowl, so you’ll end up with nice, even pieces.
Instead of passing the breadbasket on Thanksgiving, serve this fun pull-apart loaf: Brush a tube pan with olive oil and put four or five toppings in small bowls (we used shredded cheddar, paprika, chopped dill, parsley and almonds). Form refrigerated breadstick dough into small balls (you’ll need three 11-ounce tubes), then roll each ball in a topping. Arrange the balls in the pan, drizzling with olive oil between layers. Drizzle with more olive oil and bake at 350 degrees F until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in the pan before serving.
You can assemble the bread in the morning: Just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Uncover and bake while your turkey rests.
(Photograph by Kang Kim)