On November 16, 2015 the library's cookbook club met for dinner with Rick Rodgers Thanksgiving 101: Foolproof Recipes for Turkey, Stuffing and Dressings, Cranberry Sauce, Pumpkin Pie, and More, originally published in 1998 and a second revised edition in 2007 by William Morrow.
Who is Rick Rodgers? All of the cookbook club members had never heard of him before, but the cover of his book claims he is “America’s Thanksgiving Expert”. I'd originally chosen Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, but had to change our November selection when I took a second look at the slim book, and realized that there weren't enough recipes for the number of club members, unless we wanted to have 7 different turkeys. So, I looked for another Thanksgiving expert and came to Rick Rodgers.
He is the author of over 40 cookbooks on a wide range of subjects. Over 40 cookbooks is a lot of cookbooks, and the reason we may not have been familiar with his name is because he is a cookbook ghostwriter for chefs. According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, lots of busy chefs want to write a cookbook but don’t have the time to translate their recipes (used by highly trained line cooks) into instructions that can be carried out by a home cook. “That’s where Rodgers comes in. He tests and tweaks in his New Jersey home kitchen, making sure that none of the differences between a restaurant environment and a domestic one get in the way.”
He is well known for bestsellers: Thanksgiving 101 and Fondue. He received the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook award for The Chelsea Market Cookbook and nominations for Kaffeehaus and The Carefree Cook.
When it comes to his turkey expert claim, he explains in the "Introduction" that his relationship with Thanksgiving cuisine dates back to the early 90’s. In 1985 he created a catering company which specialized in cooking regional American foods, with the Thanksgiving meal being the most American of all. By 1990 he’d become a media spokesperson for a large poultry producer, where he was able to learn everything there was to know about turkey. He has become known as “Mr. Thanksgiving” or “The Turkey Meister”. Rick states in his acknowledgements that the book “was born from my Thanksgiving cooking classes, which I have taught from Washington to Florida every autumn for over 15 years.”
And he reminds readers of Thanksgiving 101, that if you ever feel the pressure from making the perfect Thanksgiving meal is too much “remember that at the first Thanksgiving, only six women prepared all the food for 91 Native Americans and 56 settlers, and that the party lasted three days.”
Our club's feast menu looked like this:
- spiced yam and pecan muffins p.108
- corn sticks p. 129
- tender corn pudding p. 92
- shrimp cocktail dip p. 16
- jell-o cream cheese mold p. 109
- winter squash soup with prosciutto and sage p. 31
- celery root and oyster chowder p. 27
- two-tone root vegetable soup p. 32
- grand marnier cranberry sauce p. 92
- cranberry ginger and lemon chutney p. 111
- scalloped yams with praline topping p. 104
- brussels sprouts in sherry cream sauce p. 90
- butternut squash and rice tian p. 75
- savory sausage and mushroom bread pudding p. 82
- italian stuffing with sausage and parmesan p. 80
- turkey roulades with prosciutto and sage in cranberry red wine sauce p. 72
- turkey tetrazzini gratin p. 166
- turkey breast with wild mushroom stuffing and marsala sauce p. 70
- berkshire pumpkin pie p.140
- cranberry ginger tart with chocolate drizzle p. 148
- cranberry cheesecake p.157
The favorite recipe which showed up the following week on a few club member's Thanksgiving tables was the Brussels Sprouts in Sherry Cream Sauce.
The cookbook is organized into 10 chapters and ends with a thanksgiving menu planner for four different styles of meals: Traditional; Sophisticated; Chile Lover's; and for a Crowd. Rodgers provides historical tidbits that explain much of how this annual meal came to be. His chapter titled, "Turkey and Friends" begins with frequently asked questions and includes recipes for grilled turkey and deep-fried turkey, along with lots of stories of turkey failures and successes from a man dubbed, "the turkey meister". Those looking to shy away from the traditional roast, will find other alternatives for a smaller crowd with turkey breast or roulade recipes, along with ham, lasagna, and a vegetarian option.
Club Rating: 3.5
"Very practical and helpful but not very sexy. More like a reference than a fun adventure." –A.C.
"I liked them and copied about 10 to try out at my leisure." -J.K.
"Best feature: detailed what parts of each recipe could be made ahead and exactly how far ahead. A great feature for a holiday meal cookbook." -M.C.
"I liked the first Thanksgiving book that was originally chosen, but now having eaten from this book, I really enjoyed some of the recipes." -T.H.
"There were a variety of recipes--some old-fashioned, others more contemporary. The leftovers chapter was interesting. Good for both beginner and advanced cooks." -anonymous
Sixteen of the eighteen club reviewers stated that they would recommend this cookbook to a friend. Cookbook club members now understand, there seems to be no question then, when it comes to Thanksgiving, Rick Rodgers is the man to call.
He is also the author of the unofficial sequel, Christmas 101.