When I announced in our SheKnows editors Slack channel earlier this fall that I had never made an Ina Garten recipe before, you would have thought I’d said I’ve never scrambled an egg or something genuinely surprising. The shock in my colleagues’ gifs was something to behold. So from that moment, I knew I needed to change course. I promptly bought Ina’s latest cookbook Modern Comfort Food, but I didn’t stop there. Since I was planning to host my parents for Thanksgiving this year, I made the emboldened decision to cook an all-Ina Garten recipe holiday meal.
Modern Comfort Food has many delicious-looking recipes, but not many that read strictly “Thanksgiving” or “holiday dinner”. Luckily, Ina’s Thanksgiving recipes are not hard to track down online and in less time than it takes to carve a turkey I found my menu. Full disclosure, this is only the second Thanksgiving meal that I’ve cooked and hosted on my own (ok, that my husband and I have hosted together). So I’m still what one (and certainly Ina) would consider a novice Thanksgiving chef — but I wouldn’t consider myself a total novice in the kitchen.
After cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner from scratch with Ina’s help, this is my honest review. In general, her recipes are mercifully easy to follow — something to be thankful for indeed. But I also found some of them to be lacking in robust flavors, so I’ve included notes about the different modifications I made along the way and how I would recommend improving (that’s right improving) them in the future. My biggest takeaway: What does Ina have against garlic??
Perfect Roast Turkey
My cardinal sin this Thanksgiving was not taking a picture of our turkey after it came out of the oven (oops!), so please forgive these pre-oven photos. As far as roast turkey recipes go, Ina’s is very straight forward and easy to follow. I’m a big fan of stuffing the bird with onions, lemons and garlic — I also added shallots to the mix since I had more of those than onions in my fridge.
As you can tell from my “before” images, we made a few modifications. When brushing the outside of the turkey, I added chopped rosemary and minced garlic to the butter-and-herb mix for extra flavor. And perhaps in the biggest departure from Ina’s recipe, we wrapped the turkey in bacon. This is my husband’s preferred way of roasting poultry and, honestly, it’s 100% the right move.
Overall, I give this recipe an 8/10. A running commentary I had across all of the Ina recipes we made is that they need more garlic and herbs — but that’s just my personal preference. This was a solid, delicious centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table and one I’d make again with some of these same modifications.
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Novice Thanksgiving chef that I am, I was genuinely flummoxed by the “defatted” descriptor on the turkey drippings in the ingredients list. So I made the roux and then added the full turkey drippings and chicken stock while following the directions and the gravy promptly began separating. I used my turkey baster to skim off all of the fat — next year I will definitely invest in a fat separator so I don’t make the same mistake. Otherwise, this gravy was silky and smooth, well seasoned and a fairly easy (and fast!) recipe.
Overall I give this recipe a 6/10. I’m, deducting a few points for my own user error but also because I generally prefer a darker, thinner gravy. This gravy complemented the turkey and everything else beautifully, but it was very thick (even after adding more chicken stock to try and tweak the texture). And thinner gravy typically stretches farther — in terms of leftovers, there wasn’t enough gravy left in relation to the rest of the meal.
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Sausage and Herb Stuffing
This stuffing recipe stole the show at our Thanksgiving table. It was perfectly sweet and savory whilst also having a perfect texture. As some reviewers noted, the only herb in Ina’s Sausage and Herb Stuffing was the parsley (which we used as a garnish and not cooked in the dish). I was a bit hesitant that the flavor might be lacking, so I added a couple teaspoons of chopped thyme and rosemary and minced garlic (leftover from the turkey) and added it to the dish. This was absolutely the way to go — I might even write Ina to let her know.
One fairly big caveat, however, is that I made a rather notable modification to this recipe. It calls for sourdough bread, but I couldn’t find that in my grocery store and really didn’t feel like venturing out the weekend before Thanksgiving in search of it. So instead I used brioche and, truth be told, I may never use another bread in my stuffing ever again.
Overall, I give this recipe a 9/10. If (ok, when) I make it again, I’ll probably stick to the brioche because it was just that good. Run, don’t walk, to make this recipe. It was also the perfect leftover — it made large portions and the microwave didn’t screw up the texture or flavor.
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Green Beans Gremolata
I don’t think I’ve ever had a brighter, cheerier-looking side dish on my Thanksgiving table than this Green Beans Gremolata side. Blanching the green beans and then shocking them in ice water is a technique I see on all the cooking shows but had never actually done in my own kitchen before. And let me tell you, I’m a convert. If you want a lighter green bean side (the classic casserole is delicious, but can be very heavy), this is an easy and gorgeous addition to your table.
Overall, I give this a 9/10. As we were eating, I even said I’d make this again on a regular weeknight. It’s a super quick dish to make and, if this matters to you, pretty photogenic too. I did forget the pine nuts, but I don’t think anyone missed them.
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Classic Mashed Potatoes
Everyone has their preferences about mashed potatoes. Personally, I like them with the skin on and a little lumpy. I also really, really like garlic mashed potatoes. So off the bat, I knew I’d be making a few modifications to this recipe. But as the commenters were quick to point out, this recipe is a fantastic basic mashed potatoes recipe. If you follow it to a tee, you will get delightfully creamy mashed potatoes. But it’s also an incredibly easy recipe to riff on. Ina calls for skinless potatoes (I started veering off course early on…), then later instructs you to blend them until smooth and creamy. And the only seasonings she calls for is salt and pepper. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I added a pretty generous amount of garlic to the mix because if you’ve learned anything about me through this article, it’s that I think most things (especially on Thanksgiving) need garlic.
Overall, I give this recipe a 7/10. It’s fairly no-frills and will make a very dependable dish of mashed potatoes that your guests are unlikely to complain about. I’d consider this a gateway recipe for Thanksgiving or any holiday meal — an easy-to-follow crowd-pleaser that you can build upon over time.
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