Talking Turkey!

Area chefs and food aficionados share their secrets for preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal

Generally, what words of wisdom do you have regarding Thanksgiving meal preparation for family/friends?

I would say the most important thing, if you are tasked with the preparation of Thanksgiving, is to not overextend yourself. Make them bring some sides – you just concentrate on the bird and one or two sides that you know you can handle and knock it out of the park. It is hard to please everyone at a table even if it’s friends and family, so delegate and don’t say no when they offer to bring something. That way, if they don’t like anything, it’s just as much their fault as yours.

—Daniel B. Sheridan, Chef/Owner, Wilmington Pickling Co., Locale BBQ Post, Stitch House Brewery

The most important thing is not to stress yourself out! Plan, plan, plan. Make as much ahead as possible. Breads and baked goods freeze well, so make them a couple of weeks ahead and then reheat them on Thanksgiving. Be sure to put some water in an ovenproof container in your oven so that there is some moisture when you are reheating. Think about prepping your veggies and starches a day or two ahead. Make an oven plan: count back from when you plan to sit down to eat and have a checklist of when items should go into the oven. This helps prevent the inevitable “There’s no more room in the oven!” headache.

—Paula S. Janssen, Owner, Janssen’s Market

The holidays are about spending time with family and friends. Don’t let the food take you away from spending time with them. When time and schedules permit, make preparing and cooking the meal a tradition. If that is not feasible, then try to buy the more time-consuming foods. It may cost a little bit more, but it will give you the opportunities to be with your loved ones.

—Kevin Varrasse II, Owner, Bachetti Bros. Meats, Market and Catering

Specifically, any thoughts about how to prepare a turkey? What herbs and spices have we been missing out on all our lives? What about alternative suggestions for vegetarians or vegans?

Ingredients should be as fresh as possible from any reputable grocer. I usually grab everything I need a day or two before. You don’t need too many off-the-cusp seasonings or ingredients, just a nice turkey and the vegetables you need for the sides. Herbs like thyme and rosemary go a long way and help the house smell great all day. Since I’ve opened Locale BBQ Post I’ve been smoking the turkey the last couple of years for my family and some regulars and it comes out amazing. I brine the turkey, then make sure some butter is stuffed in between the skin and the breasts, then season very heavily with salt, pepper and some of our dry rub. I usually cut the legs off the body so I can control the cook time on them separately. A brine on the turkey is definitely suggested. Don’t forget to make sure you have a drip pan to save all that great flavor for some gravy.

Daniel B. Sheridan

Honestly, turkey is one of the easier meats to cook—don’t overthink it. Start with a good, natural bird. We sell T.A. Farms fresh, all natural turkeys from Wyoming, Del., which are delicious. I rub mine with a dry rub: Chairman of the Bird by Madison Avenue Seasonings, and leave it to rest on the counter for about an hour before cooking so that it cooks evenly. Once I put the bird in the oven with a little white wine in the bottom of the pan, I don’t open the oven door. No basting, no nothing—just even heat. Check after several hours with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh—you want it to reach 165 degrees. Also, let the bird rest for 15-20 minutes before carving so that each slice is tender and juicy!

Some things to think about if you are having vegetarians or vegans at your Thanksgiving table: There are options like Tofurkey, but honestly, I think you are better off just eating sides. Personally, I just take one token piece of turkey—for me it is all about the sides! Instead of mixing bacon into your green beans or Brussels sprouts, have them on the side to sprinkle on top. Use olive oil instead of butter in your recipes. Skip the cheese in recipes—everything is heavy enough as it is! Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Paula S. Janssen

I believe that poultry seasoning is the key ingredient in cooking turkeys, although many people are experimenting with fresh sage placed under the skin on the breast.

Kevin Varrasse II

Fantastic! Anything else we should know before rolling up our sleeves?
If the thought of cooking for everyone stresses you out, let people bring side dishes and dessert. Or pick up some items at your favorite local market—put it in your own dish and no one will ever know!

Paula S. Janssen

When mom says get out of the kitchen, just listen to her.

Kevin Varrasse II

A Toast to Holiday Events

We’ve compiled a list of every manner of merriment to help get you into the bell-ringing, carol-singing, candle-lighting, reindeer-sighting, eggnog-guzzling, mistletoe-nuzzling mood. Happy Holidays to all!

Longtime Holiday Traditions

Yuletide at Winterthur
Now–Jan. 8, 2017 | Winterthur Museum & Gardens
Yuletide is one of the most beautiful times at Winterthur, with tree displays adorning the rooms and the Conservatory; sparkling trees and American Christmas vignettes—scenes inspired by Currier & Ives, holiday decorations from Mississippi in the Civil War era and the White House in the early 1900s. New this year in The Galleries stair hall: a 6×3-foot, slate-roofed, fully electrified dollhouse inspired by Queen Mary’s dollhouse, created by Nancy McDaniel and donated to Winterthur.

A Longwood Christmas
Now–Jan. 8, 2017 | Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pa.
The sounds of the season resonate through the gardens in this year’s musically inspired display. Highlights include an 18-foot Fraser fir adorned with a garland of musical instruments in the Music Room; holiday horticulture showcasing more than 6,000 seasonal plants; organ sing-alongs, strolling carolers and performances throughout the estate; and three fire pits—at the Hour Glass Lake Pavilion, Peirce-du Pont House Plaza and Dogwood Plaza—available (weather permitting) for guests’ enjoyment from 4:30–10 pm.

Family Holiday Fun

Breakfast with Santa
Saturday, Dec. 3, 11 am | Delaware Museum of Natural History
Enjoy a special pancake breakfast and a visit with Santa. Get your picture taken with him and let him know if you’ve been naughty or nice. Afterward, take an afternoon tour at the Museum. Tickets are $5 for members and $9 for non-members. Pre-registration is required at delmnh.org.

Holiday Sing!
Sunday, Dec. 4, 3 pm | The Music School of Delaware, Wilmington Branch
This musical sing-a-long for the whole family is hosted by the Early Childhood Department of the Music School and marks their 26th annual seasonal celebration. Music School faculty and friends provide instruments, singing and fun. Free, and good for ages 1½ and up.

Chesapeake Brass Band
Holiday Concert
Saturday, Dec. 10, 7 pm
Grace Episcopal Church, Wilmington
This 35-piece award-winning brass band presents a high-spirited performance of classical, traditional and popular holiday favorites. This event is free.

Holiday Family Festivities at the Delaware Art Museum
Saturday, Dec. 10, 10:30 am
Delaware Art Museum
Enjoy a host of family-friendly activities at the Museum this holiday season. In Kids’ Corner, explore a geometric winter wonderland, add to the interactive igloo and build 3-D snowflakes. Families can also take a wintry walk through the Copeland Sculpture Garden to search for geometric shapes. Free with museum admission.

Legos & Latkes for Kids: A Pre-Chanukah Program
Sunday, Dec. 18, 12:15-2 pm
Chabad Center for Jewish Life, Wilmington
This popular, community-wide event helps parents and kids enter Chanukah with spirit—by making their own Lego Menorah and delicious latkes. Cost is $12-16 per Lego Menorah set, and online registration is required to guarantee a Menorah. Register at ChabadDE.com/register.

Chanukah Family Fun Festival
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 5-7 pm
Chabad Center for Jewish Life, Wilmington
Bring the whole family to this party, which will feature a public menorah lighting, a professional entertainer, a delicious Chinese buffet dinner, a moonbounce, games, Chanukah crafts, festive Jewish Music, face painting, prizes and more. Early-bird tickets (purchase before Dec. 23) are $20 for adults and $12 for kids. Register at ChabadDE.com/ChanukahEvents.

Holiday Theatrics

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!)
Friday, Dec. 2–Saturday, Dec. 10 | Chapel Street Players, Newark
Instead of performing Charles Dickens’ holiday classic for the umpteenth time, three actors decide to perform every Christmas story ever told—plus Christmas traditions from around the world, seasonal icons from ancient times to topical pop culture, and carols too. A madcap romp through the holiday season! Tickets to $18.

Christmas by Candlelight
Now–Friday, Dec. 23 | The Candlelight Theater, Arden
Back by popular demand, this heartwarming yuletide celebration features some of your favorite holiday tunes performed by some of your favorite “Candlelighters.”

A Christmas Carol
Wednesday, Dec. 7–Friday, Dec. 30
Delaware Theatre Company, Wilmington
Ebenezer Scrooge returns to the DTC stage as he transforms from a stingy miser to a man who generously celebrates the spirit of the season all year long. Don’t be left out in the cold for this stunning adaptation of a timeless holiday classic. Tickets are $40-50 and available at delawaretheatre.org.

Sparkling Holiday Dance

Wilmington Ballet Academy of the Dance —
50th Annual Nutcracker
Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 | The Playhouse on Rodney Square
Kick off the season with one of Wilmington’s most enduring holiday traditions—the story of young Clara on Christmas night as she is tangled in a battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King in the Land of Sweets. Wilmington Ballet’s performance features New York City Ballet principal dancers Abi Stafford and Adrian Danchig-Waring as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Live music will be provided by the Wilmington Ballet Orchestra and Chorus, and the beloved Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble will perform. This year, Gov. Jack Markell and First Lady Carla Markell will make a cameo appearance in the Dec. 3 2 pm show to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Christina Cultural Arts Center — Eleone Dance Theater’s 25th Anniversary of “Carols in Color”
Sunday, Dec. 11, 4 pm | The Grand Opera House
For a unique holiday treat, check out this one-day-only performance in Wilmington. “Carols” is a stirring holiday musical that retells the story of Christ’s birth according to the gospel of St. Matthew using contemporary music, exuberant dance and powerful narration. Tickets are $25-35, available at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org or 800.37GRAND.

First State Ballet Theatre — The Nutcracker
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2 and 7 pm and Sunday, Dec.18, 2 pm
The Grand Opera House, Wilmington
Delaware’s only professional ballet company presents Wilmington’s favorite holiday tradition, The Nutcracker. Experience the magical journey through the land of sweets in FSBT’s lavish production. Tickets are $14.99-45 and are available at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org or 800.37GRAND.

Do You Hear What I Hear? Holiday Music!
Thursday Noontime Concert — Cartoon Christmas Trio
Thursday, Dec. 1, 12:30 pm | First & Central Presbyterian Church, Rodney Square
Market Street Music welcomes back the Cartoon Christmas Trio for one of downtown’s favorite holiday traditions. Jazz music from the beloved cartoon “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will fill the sanctuary of First & Central. The concert is free to attend, but donations are gratefully accepted.

First State Symphonic Band Christmas Concert
Friday, Dec. 2, 7:30 pm | Emmanuel Presbyterian Church
First State Symphonic Band gets you into the season with some of the most popular holiday music—Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Nutcracker, Symphonic Prelude on Adeste Fidelis and medleys of popular and traditional Christmas carols. The concert will conclude with the Leroy Anderson classics, “A Christmas Festival” and “Sleigh Ride.”

Festival Concert — Mastersingers of Wilmington Nativity Carols
Saturday, Dec. 3, 7:30 pm | First & Central Presbyterian Church, Rodney Square
Market Street Music’s holiday concert features its own Mastersingers with conductor David Schelat and organist Marvin Mills. Their program includes music by Marvin Mills, Neil Harmon, Paul Manz, Jonathan Dove and more. Tickets are $20 ($25 at the door) and are available at marketstreetmusicde.org.

A Jazz Christmas — featuring The Wilson Somers Trio
Sunday, Dec. 4, 7:30 pm | Laird Performing Arts Center at The Tatnall School
Emmy Award-winning composer and pianist Wilson Somers leads his jazz trio—Somers on piano; Pete Paulson, contrabass, and Glenn Ferricone, percussion—along with guest artists Ed Kirkpatrick, tenor saxophone; Wes Morton, vibes; The Tatnall Singers and singer Annie Fitch in traditional and contemporary treatments of holiday favorites, all to benefit Family Promise of Northern New Castle County. Tickets are $15-20 and are available through the event Facebook page, facebook.com/jazzchristmas.

An All-Star Christmas
Sunday, Dec. 4, 8 pm | World Cafe Live at The Queen, Wilmington
A star-studded seasonal celebration featuring regional music scene faves Jimmy McFadden, Kevin Walsh, Billy Penn Burger, Steve Prentice, Samantha Desper Poole, Chris Duncan, Ritchie Rubini and Tony Cappella. Tickets are $12 and are available at ticketfly.com.

The Wilmington Children’s Chorus Annual Candlelight Holiday Concert
Saturday, Dec. 10, 7 pm & Sunday, Dec. 11, 5 pm | First & Central Presbyterian, Rodney Square
Join the Wilmington Children’s Chorus as they celebrate the season, showcasing holiday music from around the world. The performance features all 150 members of the Youth Choirs, Select Choir, Young Men’s Ensemble and Chamber Choir at First and Central Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $10-$20; call 763-3637 to order.

Holiday Choral Concert
Sunday, Dec. 11, 4 pm | St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, Wilmington
The Music School of Delaware’s Delaware Women’s Chorus and Adult Jazz Choir join the Choir from St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, singers from New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church and Brandywine Brass in performance. Music for chorus, chorus with brass quintet and brass quintet alone will round out the program. A community carol sing will follow the concert. Admission is a non-perishable food item.

Thursday Noontime Concert — Center City Chorale’s Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day
Thursday, Dec. 15, 12:30 pm | First & Central Presbyterian Church, Rodney Square
Market Street Music continues its musical holiday celebration with delightful carol arrangements sung by Wilmington’s Downtown Choir, including brilliant arrangements of well-known carols by Howard Helvey. Guest pianists Neil Harmon and Hiroko Yamazaki join the chorale. The concert is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Halls that Are Decked

Rockwood Holiday Open House
Friday, Dec. 2, 6 pm | Rockwood Museum
There’s something for the entire family at the 16th Annual Holiday Open House: live entertainment, children’s activities, refreshments, free photos with Santa, museum tours and a festive light display in the gardens of the Mansion and Carriage House; and New Castle County Youth Entrepreneur’s Secret Santa Shoppe, selling gifts for the whole family. Entertainment includes Delaware Arts Conservatory performing excerpts from The Snow Queen; Delaware Children’s Theatre performing a preview of Willy Wonka; the Imagination Players; Kathryn Ciminello Dance Troupe; Cab Calloway Middle School choirs; the UD Children’s Choir and more. The event is free to attend, but families are asked to bring a nonperishable food item or new mittens, hats or scarves for the Giving Tree.

Holiday House Tour
Saturday, Dec. 10, 9 am | Delaware Art Museum
The Museum’s holiday house tour enters its 30th year. Start at the museum with artisan shopping followed by a tour of historic Greenville houses decked out for the holidays. Homes open at 10 am. Proceeds benefit the Museum’s educational programs. Tickets range from $25-60 and are available at DelArtHolidayHouseTour.org.

Old Fashioned Christmas at Bellevue Mansion
Now – Dec. 18, 10 am-4 pm | Bellevue State Park
Step back in time into the beautifully decorated Bellevue Mansion at Bellevue State Park. Visit with Father Christmas, sit and listen to the storyteller, view the train display, custom-designed for the holiday by the First State Model Railroad Club. The Mansion provides not only an old-fashioned experience but also many holiday picture-taking and “selfie” opportunities. Tickets are $15 (children under 2 admitted free) and are available at eventbrite.com.

Hagley Twilight Tours
Tuesdays & Wednesdays, Dec.13-14 through Dec. 27-28, 4:30-7 pm
Hagley Museum
Enjoy a rare opportunity to see Eleutherian Mills—the first du Pont family home in America—dressed for the holidays with softly glowing lights, lace, fresh greenery, poinsettias, and dried flower arrangements. Admission is free for members and $10 for non-members. Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 658-2400, ext. 261.

Holiday Greens Workshop
Saturday, Dec. 3, 9 am | Delaware Center for Horticulture, Wilmington
Add sparkle and beauty to your holiday decorations at the annual Holiday Greens Workshop. Create a beautiful wreath or table arrangement from an unusual collection of fresh greens, dried flowers, seeds, fruit and ribbon. Experts will be on hand to provide guidance. Bring hand pruners and gloves to work with prickly materials. Tickets are $45 for members and $55 for non-members. Space is limited, so reserve by calling 658-6262.