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On Thanksgiving, even the humblest home cook becomes an overachiever, striving to live up to the fantasy that one person can create a perfect turkey and all the fixings, plus multiple side dishes and desserts, in a brief, 24-hour window.

But after a long day in the kitchen, the exhausted cook often ends up dropping the greasy pan drippings all over the floor, throwing down the oven mitts and wailing, “Where’s my wine?”

With readers’ sanity in mind, we asked Perry Hoffman, the new culinary director of the Healdsburg Shed, to share a few simple recipes and tips to streamline the annual Thanksgiving cooking marathon.

As the youngest American chef to earn a Michelin star, Hoffman has spent his share of holidays working in a restaurant kitchen, but he also grew up as the grandson of Sally and Don Schmidt, founders of The French Laundry. His family, which straddles both Napa and Mendocino counties, has sunk their hands deeply into farming, cooking and gardening, and for them, eating together is a casual, fun affair.

“In my family, half the time the turkey never made it to the dining room table,” he said. “As soon as one person starts picking at it, it’s pretty much fair game.”

Here are nine of the most common pitfalls posed by Thanksgiving, and some simple solutions offered by Hoffman:

Do you have angst about undercooking or overcooking the bird? Join the club. With different cooking times required by the lean white meat and the fattier dark meat, roasting the turkey can be tricky. Too often, the breast turns out too dry or the legs are undercooked. As an alternative to the whole bird, Hoffman suggests buying a double turkey breast and cooking it low and slow, so that it doesn’t lose moisture.

“That classic image with the brown-skinned turkey breast, you have to have that on the table,” he said. “And a really nice rest, after you cook it, is incredibly important.”

But forget about brining the bird ahead of time. Instead, Hoffman likes to dry-cure the bird in the refrigerator with a simple, 48-hour dry rub.

“The first 24 hours, it extracts the moisture, and the next 24 hours, the meat is soaking it back in,” he said. “The result is that you have a dry-cured bird, and you get incredibly crisp, beautiful brown skin.”

Is there too much stuff in your stuffing? Everyone has their own idea of what should go into the stuffing, and it’s often dictated by the flavors of the stuffing you ate as a child.

“Stuffing has always been that one ingredient that’s above and beyond turkey,” Hoffman said. “My mom always made cornbread stuffing from a coarse, ground cornmeal and a mixture of pork lard and good butter.”

If you use high-quality cornmeal, Hoffman said, you don’t need to add a lot of other, fancy ingredients. (You can find a pre-made cornbread mix at Shed, made with fresh-ground cornmeal.) After you make the cornbread, simply flavor it with some aromatics and stock, and move onto the next dish.

Are your potatoes too watery and mushy? One common misstep with potatoes is overcooking them. Hoffman pulls them out as soon as they are cooked, then lets them drain to get rid of extra water. Then he puts them through a potato ricer and adds equal parts butter and cream, melted together and seasoned with salt so the salt can disperse evenly through the potatoes.

Do you suffer from gravy angst? Most inexperienced cooks are afraid of making gravy, which is fraught with danger (think hot fat) and requires one’s full attention. To ease the anxiety, make or buy your stock in advance, then make sure you add the flavorful turkey drippings back into the pan. When you make the roux, Hoffman said, make sure you really brown the butter with the flour mixture.

Are your appetizers an afterthought? Sorry, but celery and carrots won’t cut it anymore. Hoffman suggests serving some delicious charcuterie like duck liver pâté. Instead of crackers, serve it with thin slices of seasonal fruit.

“My family would do a really good smoked trout, mixed with goat cheese and orange zest,” he said. “And we’d serve it on some big, beautiful crisp apples.”

Looking for an unexpected starter? Pumpkin or squash soup is a perennial favorite at Thanksgiving, but you can surprise guests with an equally seasonal root vegetable soup such as a Parsnip and Roasted Pear Soup, a recipe Hoffman learned from his grandmother.

“You can start with it as a first course in a formal setting,” he said. “Or you can serve it in small coffee cups on the side.”

Side dishes too labor-intensive? It doesn’t take much time or effort to throw together a winter squash gratin. The oblong, delicata squash has a thin, edible skin that does not need to be removed. Simply cut the squash in half, hollow out, slice, then add spices, cream and butter, and create a crust of Parmesan and bread crumbs.

Looking for a local cocktail? Shed’s Fermentation crafter Gillian Tyrnauer has come up with an tasty aperitif made with Jardesca, a blend of sweet and dry white wine plus double-distilled eau de vie that is hand-crafted in Sonoma. For those who do not drink alcohol, ready-made Inna Shrub mixes in yummy flavors like Meyer Lemon and Black Mossion Fig are for sale at Shed and other grocery stores. Just add sparkling water.

Need a few, easy shortcuts? S hed’s pantry, like many other food outlets in the North Bay, will offer ready-made sides, gravy, breads and pies for Thanksgiving. It’s always a good idea to place orders in advance.


This recipe is from Gillian Tyrnauer, fermentation crafter at Healsburg Shed. Jardesca is made in Sonoma and available at Shed.

Pomegranate Aperitif

Serves 8

1 cup pomegranate juice (approximately 7-8 pomegranates, juiced )

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon saba or swap with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon sea salt

2 cups Jardesca Aperivta or Lillet Aperitif

4 shakes of Scrappy’s Celery or Angostura Bitters

— Ice cubes

— Sparkling water

Cut pomegranates in half, then firmly, while holding them in your hand, whack them with a wooden spoon so that the seeds fall out of the fruit. Proceed with all the fruit in the same manner.

Place seeds, sugar and saba (or balsamic) in a blender. Pulse on a low speed. (Note: you want to mash the fruit, but not the bitter seeds. Then strain in a fine mesh strainer season into a pitcher and add salt.)

To the pitcher add the aperitif and the bitters and stir.

To serve — Pour over ice in a cocktail glass and top with sparkling water.


The following recipes are from Perry Hoffman, culinary director at Healdsburg Shed.

Parsnip Pear Soup

Makes 4 quarts

3 pounds of parsnips, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces.

2 cups of yellow onions, medium dice

3 cups of pears, peeled, cored and cut into half-inch pieces.

2 quarts of chicken stock

1 bay leaf

2 cups of heavy cream

1 cup Sauternes or sweet dessert wine of choice

1 teaspoon nutmeg

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons salt

1 pear, optional garnish

— Orange zest, optional garnish

— Ground nutmeg, optional garnish

In a large sauce pot, add butter, onions and bay leaf. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Add parsnips and pears and cook for another 15 minutes. Add all other ingredients and cook for one hour. Discard bay leaf. Add the soup base to a blender (or use immersion blender) and blend until smooth. Garnish with a little ground nutmeg, orange zest and diced pear if desired!


This squash recipe can easily be halved (use a smaller pan, and watch the baking time carefully). Sub any peeled winter squash for the delicata.

Delicata Squash Gratin

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 medium sized delicata squash, split lengthwise and very thinly sliced

¼ cup grated Parmesan

1 cup breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons butter, divided

2 cups heavy cream

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon black pepper

1½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

4 tablespoons pomegranate kernels

Preheat oven to 375. Generously grease a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with butter. Layer squash in pan, overlapping as you go, and changing directions each layer. (Should be 2 or 3 layers). Stir garlic, ½ tablespoons thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper into the cream. Pour cream mixture over the squash. Cut one tablespoon of butter into little chunks and arrange over the top.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Mix with bread crumbs, cheese, and remaining thyme. Spread bread crumb mixture evenly over squash.

Bake squash at 375 for 1 to 1½ hours until top is golden, squash is soft, and liquid is bubbling. Remove and garnish with pomegranate kernels.


Dry Rubbed Turkey

Makes 6 servings

¼ cup kosher salt

6 leaves fresh sage, chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

1 3-pound turkey breast

In a small bowl, combine the kosher salt with the sage, black pepper and sugar. Set the turkey in a large roasting pan and rub it with the spice mixture inside and out; refrigerate for at least 12 hours or for up to 24 hours. Return the turkey to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 475°. Brush the turkey all over with the melted butter and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and roast the turkey for about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees. Turkey will rest out to 165 degrees. Transfer the turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Reserve all dripping for the gravy.



Makes 6 cups

For roux:

1⁄3 cup unsalted butter

1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour

For gravy:

6 cups turkey stock

— Turkey drippings

1-2 cups chicken stock

— Salt and pepper

For roux: Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Reduce heat to low; whisk until roux is golden brown, about 2 minutes.

For drippings And assembly: Bring 6 cups of good turkey stock to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add turkey drippings. If you’re short on drippings, skim fat from pan and add 1 to 2 cups chicken stock. Scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon; strain liquid into stock. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in roux.

Reduce heat to low; simmer gently 5 minutes for gravy to thicken. Season if desired.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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