The march of holiday foods has already begun on Cheyenne Chef Petrina Peart’s Facebook page with a beautiful apple pie that has a rose-shaped center. It would star at anyone’s holiday lineup, whether it’s for Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Apple pies are a classic and happen to be a Peart family favorite, she told Cowboy State Daily. But most of the dishes that grace the Peart family’s table for the holidays will be classics that have a distinctive Jamaican Twist.
“I will be going back to Vegas for Thanksgiving to spend it with my family, and so our Thanksgiving is a little bit different than most because my heritage is Jamaican,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “We’ll do a full Thanksgiving spread, but we’ll have combined foods.”
Think turkey with jerk seasoning for example, and curried goat. That’s a family favorite that Chef Peart prepared when she competed on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”
Peart almost beat Flay with that recipe and, regardless of the outcome on that show, it’s still a definite winner on her family’s holiday table.
“My mom does that,” Peart said. “We’ll also do fried plantains and rice and peas. And I usually do fresh cranberries for the cranberry sauce and baked apple pie.”
Her sister kicks in a beautiful pecan loaf, and there’s usually plenty of comfort foods like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and green beans.
“I come from a family that loves to cook,” Peart said. “My sister bakes and she’s been to culinary school. My mom went to culinary school a long time ago in Jamaica. My grandmother used to cook and bake, and it was just, even on my father’s side, I have cousins who are chefs and they work at Sandals in Jamaica, so on both sides I just come from a family of cooks. A lot of the men in my family cook really well, too.”
A New Holiday Favorite
Since coming to Wyoming, Chef Petrina has discovered a new favorite to add to her holiday repertoire. It is a dish she found in Dubois, Wyoming — a sour cream raisin pie.
That sounded pretty weird at first, Peart admitted.
“But it’s very delicious, actually,” she said. “And I first heard of it and tried it in Dubois at, I think, the Cowboy Café.”
The sour cream in this pie is used to create a custard base that is poured into a flaky buttery crust. The plumped raisins are a nice contrast to the texture, adding a bit of sweet tartness that blends well with the sweet and tangy sour cream.
To finish things off, there’s a beautiful toasted meringue on top.
“You can toast that in the oven or, if you have a torch handy like I do, you should torch the meringue that way,” Peart said. “It’s a really good pie.”
Sour cream and raisin pies were popular during World War II. The pie uses dried fruits and humble ingredients that were readily available during a time of scarcity.
Peart’s version of the sour cream and raisin pie will be part of a Thanksgiving menu she’s planning to send out next week to her clients.
“I’m offering just the sides and the desserts,” Peart said “I didn’t want to cook 20 turkeys. That seemed like a lot to take on.”
The menu will have all the classic sides, as well as her favorite apple pie, and the new kid on the block, that sour cream raisin pie.
Let’s Talk Turkey
Turkey is one of the trickiest dishes served at a traditional Thanksgiving feast. The reason for that is that the breast meat takes less time to cook than the legs and thighs. It’s very easy to wind up with overcooked white meat or underdone thighs, neither one of which are welcome at the Thanksgiving table.
Peart recommends making a brine a few days before that will not only tenderize the turkey, but add flavor at the same time.
“You can do that with oranges or lemons — just citrus in general — and then maybe some garlic, onions and fresh herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme,” she said.
The other key ingredient for a brine is, of course, salt. One cup of kosher salt to a gallon of water is a common ratio.
“You’re just adding the salt to tenderize and also bring flavor into the meat,” Peart said. “Some bay leaf maybe, some sugar, and then mix everything together and add enough water to cover the turkey and kind of let that sit in the brine for a couple of days.”
After that toss on whatever rub you like, wet or dry. Peart’s family prefers a Jamaican jerk seasoning, but the options are literally endless.
Peart has some advice that may be a little bit different than what’s typically mentioned in cookbooks. She has on hand a turkey syringe, which she uses to inject pan juices from the turkey right back into the bird as it’s cooking.
“Not just the baster,” she said. “But the one where you can actually, like, get into the meat of the turkey.”
She recommends taking that step every 30 minutes, along with basting.
“Just inject it right back into the turkey breast, especially the breasts, because you know that’s the driest part,” she said. “And you can still use a baster, you know. Do that, too. But I find injecting it directly really helps with the flavor and preventing it from being too dried out.”
Take Out The Guess Work
Peart recommends a thermometer to test the doneness of the turkey breast meat and thighs, rather than trying to play a guessing game.
Once the meat hits an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it’s safe to take it out of the oven. The turkey should rest at least 15 minutes before slicing, to ensure a juicy result.
While the turkey rests, Peart makes gravy using the turkey juices that remain in the bottom of the roasting pan.
Peart starts with a roux, which is a 50-50 mixture of butter and flour, then adds in the juices from the pan. She’ll also blend whatever vegetables were stuffed in the turkey to add flavor to the gravy.
“And then add fresh herbs also, and blend that all together to create a nice, smooth gravy,” she said. “It will be really delicious.”
Peart uses an immersion blender to quickly smooth the gravy out right in the saucepan.
“That way you can avoid a lot of splashes,” she said. “If it’s not thick enough, you can always add, you know corn starch, but usually with the roux it’s pretty thick.”
The vegetable trick is one that Peart also uses with a pot of beans or with soup. Blending a portion of the beans or vegetables adds thickness to the stew without diluting any flavor.
The Creamiest Potatoes
Who doesn’t want a pile of fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes to go with their turkey?
For the creamiest mashed potatoes, Peart recommends Yukon golds, cream instead of milk, and real butter.
Lots of real butter.
“Yukon gold potatoes just have a nice, creamier taste to them,” Peart said. “And I always use a ricer. You can find them pretty easily online. So, the ricer, you know, has a smaller hole and that way you won’t have any lumps.”
Fans of garlic can roast an entire bulb in olive oil with fresh herbs, then use that oil to add to the mashed potatoes.
“It’s going to be really flavorful,” Peart said. “And you can just add your roasted garlic in with the mashed potatoes and mash those together. It’s heavenly.”
“Stuffing benefits from fresh ingredients like sourdough bread, apples and sage,” Peart added. “Apple and sage is just a really nice combination together, and sourdough bread just has, you know, more flavor.”
White wine and chicken or vegetable stock are the best liquids for moistening the stuffing.
Keeping It Real, But Not Real Expensive
One of the fun dishes that will be at Chef Peart’s Jamaican family celebration will be a drink called sorrel which, for the holiday, is usually spiked with a little bit of wine and sometimes rum.
It’s a delicious and refreshing red drink made from hibiscus blossoms.
But apart from all the classics with Jamaican twists, there’s something else Peart looks forward to in her family’s celebration. It’s not something money can buy, it’s not a special spice or recipe. It’s just the time she gets to spend with her family.
“That’s the whole point of the holidays,” she said. “It’s communion and coming together.”
Coming together is also great way for families to be festive without breaking the bank, Peart suggested.
Everyone is still facing high inflation when it comes to Thanksgiving. The average cost of the meal is down from last year’s record average of $64.05, but is still expected to come in at $61.17, according to the American Farm Bureau.
“Potlucks are a great idea to cut costs,” Peart said. “So, you’re not taking on everything on your own, but combining resources.”
One turkey between two families can help halve the cost of the feast, Peart pointed out.
Going a little smaller can be a good plan as well, particularly for those who might be single and cooking for themselves. Think Cornish game hens, for example, which are a much easier lift than a giant turkey.
Neighbors who are single could also plan a get-together for the occasion, which can be another way to keep things festive and economic.
When bringing together a diverse group, Peart recommends keeping dietary lifestyles in mind. Nothing says that you care about a friendship more than attention to such details.
“If you’re hosting, you’ll want to have something that everyone can eat,” she said. “Whether people are you know, gluten-free, or vegan, or keto, or whatever it is. It’s important to just remember that not everyone eats the same way. Having something that all your guests can have and enjoy is really nice.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.