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SALT LAKE CITY — Get ready cooks! Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And if you're looking for ways to pep up or improve your standby recipes, we've enlisted the help of the head chef from The Little America and the head baker from the Lion House.
Executive Chef Bernhard Gotz will oversee 2,500 pounds of turkey, 2,000 pounds of yams, and dozens of pans of stuffing this Thanksgiving. He says the key is to plan ahead: Buy your bird, defrost it, and get the seasonings ready to use.
Turkey tip No. 1: Gotz says the secret to a flavorful, juicy bird is slow cooking: 240 degrees for five to six hours.
"The whole turkey breast will be perfectly cooked and evenly cooked," he said.
Turkey tip No. 2: Stuff the bird, not with bread, but things that add flavor from the inside.
"What I do at home is I stuff it with apples and celery and onions," Gotz explained. "I put that right inside the turkey, that way I get moisture and flavor from the inside out."
While the turkey goes in the oven, Gotz starts on the yams. His recipe, he says, creates a dish even the kids will eat.
First the yams are peeled, quartered and steamed. Then Gotz adds a unique blend of flavors: "Pecans, raisins, brown sugar, chopped pineapple, pineapple juice, maple syrup, seasoning, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, (and) melted butter," he explained.
A few marshmallows on top, and into a 325 degree oven the pan goes.
Now it's onto the stuffing. Gotz suggests sautéing onion, celery, smoked sausage and thyme. Then combine those ingredients with Granny Smith apples, poultry seasoning, a pinch of nutmeg, ground ginger, orange juice chicken base and honey. Finally, add day-old rolls in chucks and unsalted turkey stock.
Then, as it's all mixed together, another seasoning tip: add salt at the end of your cooking.
While we were waiting for our basics to cook, we headed over to the Lion House for rolls and pie. Head baker Brenda Hopkin and her crew are baking up a storm this week.
To make those famous Lion House rolls, Brenda mixes in a blend of bread flour and regular flour — the mix makes better rolls, she says. She lets the dough rise for about 45 minutes before she starts to work with it again.
Hopkin said it's normal for the dough to kind of 'bounce back' on the table. Her secret weapon: a quick flip.
"One great secret is to flip your dough and let it relax before you cut it," Hopkin said. "Then they won't shrink after you've cut them."
Next, she cuts the dough into strips. Then, she flips the strips into a roll. It's all in the wrist, she says.
Now, it's onto the pie, and the secret is a good crust. To get that perfect crust, Hopkin blends four different fats — butter, margarine, shorting and lard — creating a tender flakiness.
Mix it with your hand until it "sort of like cornmeal with some large chunks in it," Hopkin explained. To that, she adds ½ cup of water and folds the mixture together with her fingers.
Unlike most pie dough, this recipe is more forgiving to handle — not so crumbly, more like a sugar cookie dough.
To fit the dough in the pan better, a little nudge will do, Hopkin says. "Instead of trying to get it to go in, we drop it a couple times and it goes right in."
Hopkin has a secret for a finishing touch. "For a beautiful, brown, sparkly crust, lightly brush cream on the top (and) add sugar," she said. The raw pie goes into a 375-degree oven for a half hour or so.
The meal comes together
Now it's time for the rest of our meal to come together. The turkey's been resting — slow roasting means the juice stays in the meat. With the addition of the mashed potatoes, the yams, and the stuffing, our meal is complete.
"It's God's gift, what else can I say?" Gotz said. "Food is love."
"I would like to have everyone feel success in whatever they're baking," Hopkin said. "Everyone has their thing, mine is baking."
In the end, it's about having fun. Don't feel overwhelmed, Gotz and Hopkin say, just do what you can.