The Thanksgiving secret ingredient that ‘makes everything better’, according to one master chef

Naomi Tomky
·10 min read

Though she lives in London, chef Judy Joo normally travels to Los Angeles for a big Thanksgiving celebration at her sister’s house. As many as 50 people fly in from around the world for a multicultural feast featuring traditional American foods, Korean recipes, Korean American favorites, and even a few Japanese dishes.

The turkey comes with a side of kimchi, a platter of sushi, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, and Ritz cracker-topped creamed corn casserole. “It is a gastronomical delight,” says Joo. Then she laughs, “or disaster, depending on how you look at it.”

Thanksgiving is Joo’s favorite holiday, “Mainly because I love to eat,” she says. This year, staying put in London’s lockdown with only her boyfriend, Joo plans to make her holiday meal for two just as special – and she shares tips and tricks to make sure that everyone else can do the same.

“Cheese makes everything better,” says Joo, demonstrating three ways to incorporate cheese into what she calls the best part of the Thanksgiving meal: the side dishes. Her cheesy mashed potatoes give a dairy-based boost to the standard version, while her kimchi mac and cheese draws on her Korean heritage for a tangy kick. Finally, the cheese incorporated into the crust of her apple pie adds a little crisp richness to the crust.

Before you even get started, though, Joo has one major suggestion: plan ahead as much as possible and do as much of the cooking ahead of time as you can. That way, she says, “You’re not rushing around like a maniac on the day of.” Instead, you can just relax, reheat, and squeeze some lemons and limes for her other recommendation: serving a variety of waters infused with citrus, mint, other herbs, or fresh raspberries. “It’s a little bit of luxury.”

Cheesy Sour Creamy Mashed potatoes

"You can't do mashed potatoes without butter," says Joo. And cheese.
"You can't do mashed potatoes without butter," says Joo. And cheese.

She also finds luxury in her smooth, creamy mashed potatoes, which she makes using extra sharp cheddar cheese and jazzes up with sour cream and chives.

The key to getting that enviable texture, she explains, comes from using the right tool: a potato ricer. “It really makes a difference,” she says – and squeezing the potatoes through the tiny holes gives her a good workout. She puts the potatoes through the ricer a few times, over and over, which she notes is much easier when the potatoes are hot.

While Joo adds extra sharp cheddar to her potatoes, she suggests getting creative at home – using blue cheese if you want, bacon, or mixing olive oil, garlic, and mushrooms. Into her velvety potatoes, she also adds sour cream and butter (“You can’t do mashed potatoes without butter,” says Joo), letting the residual heat of the potatoes melt everything together.

Then she dollops in a little milk or heavy cream to get the right consistency. “It will get thicker as you mix it,” Joo reminds cooks, so err on the side of adding more liquid. She also recommends keeping them warm between when you make and serve them, as they get gluey if they cool. Then she finishes them off with chopped chives, for both the pop of color and a little onion flavor.

Ingredients

2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and roughly cut into 2 inch pieces

4 large cloves garlic

5 Tbsp salted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sour cream

1 ¾ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup heavy cream, warmed

4 Tbsp chives, finely chopped

Salt and white pepper to taste

Instructions

Fill a large heavy bottomed pot with cold water and place the potatoes and garlic in, making sure all of the potatoes are covered. Salt the water well, and set over high heat, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and allow to cook for 20 minutes until a fork pierces the potatoes easily.

Drain in a colander, and tip back into the pot. Using a potato ricer, press all of the pieces through the ricer into a large bowl. Using a spatula, mix in the butter, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Add the cream slowly, and check the consistency, add more to make it looser and use less to make a thicker mash. Fold in the chives and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Serve immediately or keep warm covered in a low oven.

Kimchi Macaroni and Cheese

Joo says this kimchi macaroni and cheese recipe was one of the first things she learned to cook.
Joo says this kimchi macaroni and cheese recipe was one of the first things she learned to cook.

Joo always looks for those little ways to add more flavor to dishes, which also influences how she starts her kimchi mac and cheese, adding the flour to a hot, dry pan. By toasting it just a bit, she gets a little nuttiness from it before adding butter to make the roux.

Then she builds the creamy sauce, adding a wide range of cheeses – blue, goat, cheddar, and Comté. “I pretty much clean out my cheese drawer,” she says, and the variety adds depth and complexity.

Finally, she stirs in her main ingredient, chopped kimchi, for tang and spice, turning the sauce a lovely red color. “Cheese and kimchi go so well together,” she says.

Both the cheese sauce and the noodles can be made the day before and kept in the fridge, then warmed separately before mixing, which keeps the macaroni and cheese from splitting. Either way, she finishes off the dish by stirring the noodles into the sauce, then topping it all with toasted panko.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups dried elbow macaroni

9 tablespoons butter, divided

3 tablespoons flour

2/3 cup whole milk

4 cups mixed cheese, grated (blue, goat's, cheddar, Parmesan)

2 cups double cream

1 cup chopped cabbage kimchi

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon chives, finely chopped, for serving

Instructions

Bring 3.5 liters (6 pints) water to the boil with the salt. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Drain well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F

In a saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the mixture for just under 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, making sure to stir well so that no lumps form. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 10–15 minutes until you have a thickened and smooth sauce, whisking constantly.

Remove the sauce from the heat, add the cheese and cream, and stir until it is well combined and the cheese is melted, then add the chopped kimchi.

Add the macaroni to the sauce and mix well. Transfer to a deep suitably-sized ovenproof dish. Keep warm in the oven.

For the panko crust, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add the panko. Keep tossing and stirring until golden in color. Remove the crumbs from the heat and sprinkle them evenly over the mac and cheese.

Scatter with chopped chives to finish and serve immediately.

Deep Dish Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust

Joo uses cheddar cheese to crust her apple pie recipe
Joo uses cheddar cheese to crust her apple pie recipe

Joo’s cheesy side dishes add fun twists, but the biggest surprise comes from how she incorporates cheese into her dessert: with a cheddar crusted apple pie. The filling hews to tradition, with a standard mix of sliced apples mixed with lemon, sugar, and spices. The lemon infuses into the apples with the warm spices, while the sugar macerates them, helping draw out the juices.

As that happens, she puts together a crust with her special ingredient – along with the vegetable shortening and butter, she adds grated cheddar cheese. The most important thing in making this, she notes, is keeping all the fats very cold. Then she adds ice water to continue maintaining that chill. When she finishes rolling the crust and filling it, she adds the top crust, cutting a vent and brushing with egg whites and water for a nice shine. She then sprinkles it with demerara sugar, explaining that the bigger, browner variety of sugar gives the pie a nice golden color.

The apple pie with cheese crust, like the mac and cheese, works well to make a day ahead of time, says Joo, and they all taste great the next day – she’s a huge fan of leftovers.

She suggests freezing leftover macaroni and cheese, while she uses the mashed potatoes for a shepherd’s pie or adding it to a baguette with turkey for her version of the classic day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich.

As for the pie, Joo says the best way to eat the leftovers – as on the day of – is topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients:

Dough

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp sugar

3oz mild cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup vegetable shortening, cut into dice sized pieces and chilled

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into dice sized pieces and chilled

7 to 8 Tbsp ice water

Filling

2 Tbsp all purpose flour

3 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8ths

4 large McIntosh, Royal Gala, or Cortland apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8ths

1 lemon, juiced and zested

¾ cup sugar

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

1 egg white, beaten

1 Tbsp demerara sugar

Optional

Whipped cream

Instructions

In a food processor, tip in the flour, salt, and sugar and pulse until mixed evenly. Then add in the cheese, shortening, butter and pulse gently until the mixture is coarse. Add the water slowly, a little at a time (you may not use all of it), while the processor is on, and mix until you form a dough. Tip the dough out onto a clean work surface and divide in half. Roll each half into a ball, dusting your work surface with more flour as necessary, and press into a flat disc. Wrap with cling film and chill. Once firmed up, after about 30-45 mins, roll one disk out to about 1/8th inch thick to about a 12 inch diameter circle, and line a 9-inch pie dish with the dough.

In the large bowl, toss the apple slices with the flour, lemon juice, zest, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Tip into the lined pie shell, making it slight mound in the middle.

Roll out the other dough disc to a 12-inch circle, and place over the apples. Trim the excess dough, but leave about a ½ inch around to tuck under the bottom edge of the pie dough. Using either your fingers or a fork, pinch the edges or flute them sealed. In the center of the pie, using a sharp knife, cut a 1-inch “X” making a steam vent. Chill the pie for ten minutes in the fridge. Then brush the entire crust with the egg white and sprinkle the demerara sugar all over on top.

Bake in a preheat oven set at 425 degrees F. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees F and bake until the apples are soft and the juices are bubbling inside. About 30 minutes more.

When done, place on a wire rack and allow to cool. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

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