Preparing the perfect Thanksgiving

Local chefs share recipes, traditions to make “Turkey Day” one to remember

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Owner of TC Mae’s in Fort Dodge, Doc Shivers, dishes up some food recently at his restaurant. Shivers said his family always has a large family gathering each Thanksgiving.

For Doc Shivers, owner of TC Mae’s in Fort Dodge, Thanksgiving is more than just food – although there is never a lack of savory and sweet items at any holiday, leaving no one in attendance hungry.

“Our tradition is about family. Being together, food and fun – that’s what we do,” said Shivers.

There’s some traditional items, such as turkey and dressing, but they also serve some non-traditional items as well.

“We have dirty rice, baked macaroni and cheese, potato salad, ribs” he said. “We will always have cornbread dressing.”

Preparation for their Thanksgiving dinner, Shivers said will begin two days ahead. He takes advantage of the large industrial kitchen at his restaurant to prepare the food he will bring to his aunt Mattie Preston’s home.

Doc Shivers

“I like to cook,” he said. “I like to put a smile on a person’s face. Whatever they want to eat, I try to serve it the best it can be.”

Shivers and his family don’t like to give away their recipes, but they suggest sticking with the basics. They use a lot of kosher salt, black pepper, Lawry’s seasoning, Accent flavor enhancer, onion powder, garlic powder.

Even for cornbread dressing – if you don’t know how to make cornbread, you can go with a box mix. They also recommend saving your chicken and beef stock.

“You always want to keep that for the future,” he said. “The more chicken, the more broth you will have – beef stock too. You always want that. That gives flavor.”

Deb Lacina, owner of Tea Thyme in Fort Dodge, has been serving not only Thanksgiving dinner to the public, but her own family for many years.

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Aterryonn Williams and Blake Gearts work on preparing some mussels recently. Both are students in the Iowa Central Community College Culinary program.

Whether you are making the traditional Thanksgiving dinner or have yet to decide what to prepare, Lacina said the possibilities are endless.

Thanksgiving, she said, could look a little different this year than those holidays of past.

“You might not see those large gatherings,” she said.

Hosts and hostesses of Thanksgiving 2020 may be looking for alternative recipes for a smaller group.

“They may not want to cook a large turkey,” she said. ”It may be harder to make a meal in smaller quantities. I know it is for me.”

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Sierra Leith, Iowa Central Community College Culinary student, gets some assistance from Chef Michael Hirst in preparing a tart.

However, if you do end up with Thanksgiving leftovers, that could be a good thing.

“There are lots of recipes out there that you can use to help use up those leftovers,” she said.

Some of the dishes, she said, not only can be made in smaller quantities, but you can also buy some of those entrees pre-made.

And not all of the foods you serve, Lacina said, have to be made from scratch.

“Some people like instant potatoes, and there is nothing wrong with them,” she said. ”There are some great ones out there now. Instant boxed stuffing mixes are very popular as opposed to making it from scratch. There’s lots of shortcuts that a person can take if you want.”

Gravy, Lacina said, can be tricky.

“Gravy has always been kind of an issue for some people,” she said. “I personally prefer corn starch as to flour when making gravy. I remember my mother always adding the potato water. After she would boil the potatoes, she would put that in the pan with the drippings and use that to make gravy. I haven’t done that for years”

Lacina said she likes to take advantage of some of the fresh produce that is available in the fall.

“One of our popular entrees at Tea Thyme has been stuffed acorn squash,” she said. “You could incorporate that into your Thanksgiving dinner or you can turn that into your main course, which we do in the tea room.”

It doesn’t always have to be the traditional turkey and dressing with potatoes and gravy – although Lacina said that is all No. 1 on her list.

“If you prefer chicken, or some people like duck. There are lots of recipes to try and new appliances available to make cooking a lot faster than it used to be,” she said.

You can even try some variations of the Thanksgiving staple: the pumpkin pie.

“A good old fashioned pumpkin pie is easy to make,” she said. “If you are nervous about pie crust, you don’t even have to use one. You can make it in a square 9 by 9 or 9 by 13 dish and it’s just the same – with lots of whipped cream.”

There are so many possibilities for desserts, Lacina said, with one of her family’s favorites being coconut cream pie.


Often, it is nice to do a lot of the preparation work for your Thanksgiving meal ahead of time.

“You can than be with your family when they arrive,” she said.

Planning ahead can also make for a seamless Thanksgiving meal.

“I really love the Wednesdays for grocery ads,” she said. “Right around Thanksgiving there will be lots of good bargains to be had when it comes to cooking and you can plan your meal ahead and get those groceries that you need. Prep a little bit ahead and you will have a great Thanksgiving.”

The table

Setting the table can make your home more inviting to your guests.

“I personally like to have a table set. I like to use china,” she said. ‘I come from old school of setting a table and you would be surprised at the younger people that don’t know how to set a table.”

Lacina will often use the most common place setting, which includes a salad fork with the main course fork on the left; with the knife and teaspoon set to the right.

Don’t want to pull out your grandmother’s fine china? That’s OK, too.

“So many people like to use disposable plates, and that’s OK too, if that is what you like,” she said. ”It’s sure nice at the end when all you have to do with the dishes is just throw them away.”

A centerpiece, Lacina said adds to the table – if you have the room.

There are several options for decorating your table, she said, at the Thyme to Shop gift shop; with some centerpieces put together and ready to go home.

Lacina said trays filled with holiday themed decor – such as pumpkins and gourds have been very popular this year as have velvet pumpkins.

Real or battery operated candles; lights inside baskets, lanterns or tiered baskets full of seasonal items may also help to enhance your Thanksgiving get together.

No matter what is served or how your table is presented, it is the people you share it with, Lacina ,said that will make your Thanksgiving.

“I think it’s great to have family and friends and maybe think about somebody that doesn’t have any family around to invite them,” she said.

For Chef Michael Hirst, when it comes to a holiday gathering, besides serving a delicious meal, his main priority is early preparation.

If Hirst is preparing a turkey, he will remove the breast and legs off of the turkey a day or two ahead of the holiday. He then utilizes the extra time to make his broth.

“That broth is going to make that gravy and it’s going into my stuffing,” he said.

When making your own broth, Hirst said to throw in some onion, thyme, bay leaves and simmer for about 4 to 5 hours.

“It makes your house smell like chicken soup. It’s a great smell to have. Your neighbors will be jealous,” he said.

He will blanch his vegetables in boiling water for 4-5 minutes than put them in ice cold water.

“Then you have a vegetable dish partially ready to go for quick cooking that day,” he said.

His stuffing is also made the day before.

“I am just reheating it that day. That way I am spending more time with my family,” he said. “I think from a chef’s perspective, we don’t understand why moms are wanting to spend 5-6 hours in the kitchen. It’s is a holiday. They should have a holiday too.”

Why turkey?

“Nothing against turkey producers, but why do we have to eat turkey? You could be eating lamb, you could be eating duck, you could be eating pheasant. There are so many other great things to have it doesn’t have to be just that one bird – although, we don’t eat enough turkey. I wish people would eat more turkey throughout the year. Just be open to other ideas – roast goose is delicious for this time of year.”

However, if turkey is going to be the main course for your Thanksgiving dinner, Hirst offers some valuable tips.

Personally, Hirst said he prefers soaking his turkey in a brine solution.

A simple brine solution would be a pint of water and a half of a cup of salt. Hirst said he uses sea salt or kosher salt.

“Don’t use table salt, it’s full of chemicals,” he said.

Then, he will add a variety of herbs to help infuse flavor such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. You can also try adding juniper berries and mustard seeds as well.

“I like to put the bird in brine for 24 to 36 hours. It adds more moisture when it comes to cooking the bird so it stays nice and juicy,” he said.

And, don’t forget the bacon.

“Everyone in America tells me to add bacon to stuff,” he said. “So, put bacon over the breast of the turkey. It self bastes in bacon fat while it’s cooking.”

No matter how you prefer to prepare your turkey, Hirst said there is one thing he does not recommend.

“Never deep fry that turkey,” he said. “That is a horrible way to cook a turkey. I’ve eaten it once and it was dry on the outside. You have to kill that turkey about an inch in before you get it cooked all the way through.”


Hirst said if you make your own turkey gravy, to use your own stock.

“It tastes so much better,” he said. “A gravy should have a lot of meat flavor, so if you take the bird off the bone first, you have this whole carcass. You have the neck, you have the giblets, you have the livers and all that sort of stuff. That makes great flavor.”

Just a little rue made with flour and butter added to turkey or chicken stock is all a gravy has to be.

“Don’t make it too thick,” he said. “It shouldn’t get a skin on it and it shouldn’t be so thick it is going to sit on your mashed potatoes. It should run down your mashed potatoes. Just don’t use too much flour.”

Hirst recommends starting with a small butter and flour mix; always equal parts, possibly four ounces of flour and four ounces of butter.

“Start with that and pour your liquid in,” he said.

These recipes are traditional English recipes submitted by Hirst – he said he can’t take credit for writing these recipes, but has made them all:

Mulled wine

1/2 bottle red wine

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise

2 cloves

1 orange, sliced

1 lemon, sliced

1 3/4 ounce brown sugar

Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, without boiling. Alternatively, place the ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low until warm (1-2 hours, depending on your slow cooker).

To serve, pour the mulled wine into a heatproof glass.

Roast parsnips

2 1/4 pounds of parsnips

4 fluid ounces vegetable oil

3 1/2 fluid ounces maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the parsnips and then halve them crosswise, then halve or quarter each piece lengthwise. Place the parsnips into a roasting tin.

Pour the oil over the parsnips and mix them well so that the oil covers all of the pieces.

Pour maple syrup over the parsnips and roast for 35 minutes, or until they are tender and golden-brown. To serve, place on a clean serving dish.


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