Good Taste: Thanksgiving with Cat Cora

This week and next, Good Taste will focus on Thanksgiving and all its fab food components.

My partner Laura and I are total Thanksgiving nerds. We talk about the menu for weeks. We get excited and giddy. We cook for days. Laura especially loves pie. And I really love designing a menu. Laura’s parents come to visit, the kids get lots of quality grandparent time, and Laura’s mom makes the classic André family recipe, Green Stuff (it contains lime Jell-o, cottage cheese, Cool Whip, and chopped pineapple).

This is Laura, with the Green Stuff.

You might not love Thanksgiving as much as we do; you might even hail from Great Lez Britain or Canada and not celebrate the day, but do not fear. These recipes can be enjoyed at any time of year, with or without a turkey (or a Tofurkey).

Cat Cora, award-winning celesbian chef (and the first and only female Iron Chef) took time out from her busy schedule to send us readers three amazing Thanksgiving recipes and four helpful tips for pulling everything together on the big day.

The recipes are from her new cookbook, Fresh Takes On Favorite Dishes: Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist.

Included: her recipes for Southern Corn Bread (great to mop up gravy, and as a base for stuffing), Caribbean Sweet Potato Pie with Coconut and Rum (there are no words), and as a lissome leftovers solution, Turkey, Leek and Potato Cream Soup.

Speaking of pie, please do leave a comment below with your favorite kind of pie/recipe, and a link to the recipe, if it’s online.

She was also generous enough to pass along four helpful tips for T-day success.

1. The best thing to do is plan ahead, and whatever can be made the day before, make it the day before!

2. I enlist my family’s help to select a Thanksgiving menu in advance. Everyone gets to choose a special dish to put on the menu and then I recruit help in the kitchen.

3. Mashed potatoes are a great dish to make the day before-between the aromas of the garlic and the rich, creamy, buttery flavor, no one will ever know they’ve been reheated!

4. If you want to wow your guests, try infusing your holiday turkey with a glaze that contains seasonal fruits such as figs, pears or pomegranates.

A Note to My Vegan Chickadees: you can substitute Ener-G Egg Replacer for the eggs, Mimiccreme for the heavy cream, and to make vegan buttermilk, add 1 tbsp. of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of soy/almond/rice milk and let it sit for a half hour). Use meat subsitutes where desired.

Without further ado, Cat Cora’s recipes.

Southern Corn Bread
from Fresh Takes On Favorite Dishes: Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist

Cornbread is quick and versatile: serve it with a big pot of chili or stew, or use it for Thanksgiving stuffing. It’s also a great easy Sunday morning breakfast, set out with a pot of honey butter and a platter of nicely browned chicken-apple sausages.

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk (shake before measuring)
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 F and position a rack in the middle. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Melt the butter in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish in three 15-second intervals on high or in a small pan on the stove. Set it aside to cool.

In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the eggs. Add the melted butter. Add the flour-cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake until the corn bread just begins to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 23 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Pie With Coconut and Rum
from Fresh Takes On Favorite Dishes: Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist

At Thanksgiving, sweet potato pie is a must at my house, but I also make it all year long. I’ve always thought that coconut and sweet potato were meant for each other, so it was just a matter of time before I added coconut milk and ginger to my family’s old recipe, along with a gingersnap crust. Richer, spicier, and a little denser than the standard pumpkin, with an exotic flavor, this pie is like no other.

The gingersnap crust has just the right amount of spice, and the filling, with its hit of rum, is so yummy, you’ll crave it even in mid-August.


Gingersnap Crust

24 2-inch crisp, thin gingersnaps
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Sweet Potato Filling

1 ¾ lbs. sweet potatoes (about 3 medium)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (or vegan substitute), cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. amber or dark rum
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup regular or light coconut milk


½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp. amber or dark rum

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Scrub the sweet potatoes and poke them all over with a fork. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet (I put a piece of parchment paper down first) and bake until a fork slides in easily, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Remove from the oven, cut each of the sweet potatoes into 4 to 6 chunks so they cool faster, and let cool. Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, for the crust: Break up the gingersnaps into a food processor. Add the butter and pulse just until the cookie crumbs have the consistency of a graham cracker crust; don’t overprocess.

Alternatively, place the gingersnaps in a 1-gallon re-sealable bag, squeeze out the air, seal the bag, and crush into fine crumbs with a rolling pin. Mix the crumbs and butter in a medium bowl.

Press the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate, leaving a rim along the top edge.

Bake the pie crust until the crumbs are just slightly darker and you can smell the gingersnaps, about 8 minutes. Leave the oven on. Let the crust cool while you make the filling.

For the filling: As soon as the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the skins to measure 2 cups (save any extra for another use) and place in a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, mash the sweet potatoes with the butter pieces until the butter is melted and the sweet potatoes are smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the brown sugar, ginger, rum, vanilla, cream, and coconut milk and whisk until smooth the light. Pour the filling into the gingersnap crust and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Leave the oven on.

For the topping: Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast it in the oven until it begins to turn golden, 5 to 7 minutes. (Coconut burns easily, so keep an eye on it.) Let cool. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whip the cream until it begins to form soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and rum and continue whipping until stiff peaks form.

Serve the pie warm or at room temperature, cut into thin slices. Top each serving with a spoonful of whipped cream and a generous sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Turkey, Leek and Potato Cream Soup
from Fresh Takes On Favorite Dishes: Cat Cora’s Classics With A Twist

I make this soup every year right after Thanksgiving and throughout the winter, because it’s rich and creamy, warming and homey, and easy and appealing to kids and grown-ups alike. My boys like oyster crackers with it, so I put a big bowlful on the table.

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 cups sliced leeks (white and tender green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock
6 medium boiling potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and quartered
1 ½ cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground white pepper
½ cup light sour cream
½ cup chopped fresh chives or flat-leaf parsley

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the leeks and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat. With an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth. (If using a regular blender, wait for the soup to cool a bit, then hold the blender lid on with on with a kitchen towel while you puree.) Return the soup to the saucepan over low heat and stir in the turkey or chicken. Add the salt and pepper.

When the meat is heated throughout, ladle the soup into bowls and top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the chives or parsley.

Candace is the co-editor of Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women (Seal Press, 2010), and Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On (Seal Press, 2009). She is currently working on a memoir-with-recipes for Seal Press called Licking the Spoon. Candace is also the features editor at Mothering magazine, mama of two, and enamorata of smarty-pants Laura, her live-in recipe tester. Follow Candace on Twitter @candacewalsh.