Thanksgiving is about family, traditions and, of course, food.

Coast asked chefs and foodies from around the county to share their favorite traditions, recipes and tips on holiday survival and how to cut corners without forgetting what’s important — The things and people in their lives for which they are thankful.

•••

Tony Gonzalez

Owner of Smooth Tony’s Patio & Grill, 415 Ninth St., Galveston

Tony Gonzalez grew up watching his mother cook to feed an army of seven children. His parents came to Texas from Mexico in the 1950s, and integrated the Thanksgiving traditions of food, family and football into their children’s lives. As a teenager, Gonzalez got a taste of the food industry while working to save money for a moped. He opened the island’s first juice bar, Smooth Tony’s, in 1997.

Q: What is your first memory in which you recall being interested in the art of food?

A: In terms of fine dining — two of my older brothers worked at Gaido’s. I remember them talking about how amazing the food was. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the means to eat at a place like that. Every now and then, they would bring us a little shrimp dinner when they got off work.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: When I was a teenager, I worked at the Galveston Country Club in the restaurant as a busboy. While working there, I got to see people appreciate the food and the experience. I learned that half of it is what you eat and half of it is the conversation that you have over a meal.

Q: Describe your typical Thanksgiving. What are your traditions?

A: Aside from family and football, I recently started my own tradition. On Thanksgiving morning, I load up my golf cart with pots of coffee and tamales or sweet bread. I drive around downtown handing it out. For people who might not have family in town, I hope it makes them feel like they’re part of something.

Q: What is your favorite food to cook and/or eat on Thanksgiving?

A: We’ve always done the traditional turkey. But, one of my favorite things to eat on Thanksgiving is my mom’s Asado de Puerco, pork roasted with chillies.

Q: What’s the perfect number of side dishes?

A: It just depends, sometimes we have seven, sometimes 12. Everybody wants to bring over a dish that they’re known for. I make Nopales con Camarones, a salad with cactus with shrimp.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert, other than the traditional pies?

A: Tres leches or buñuelos, which are fried pastries with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: I try to get the younger kids involved with the meal, which helps with the work and carries on the tradition. It’s hectic for one family to manage all the food for Thanksgiving, so we all pitch in. Thanksgiving shouldn’t be stressful — it should be about family. If it gets to the point that it’s not enjoyable, it’s time to hire a caterer.

Nopales con Camarones

10 cactus leaves

5 radishes

1 large onion

2 large tomatoes

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Cotija cheese

3 pounds Gulf shrimp

Cilantro

Curry powder (to taste)

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.

Slice cactus leaves into thin strips.

Boil cactus leaves for about 15 minutes until the slime dissipates.

Drain the water, and dry on a plate lined with paper towels until cool.

Seed and dice the tomatoes and chop the onion and cilantro. Combine cactus, and vegetables in a large bowl and add a dash of curry powder to taste. Mix to combine.

Garnish with boiled Gulf shrimp and sprinkle with cotija cheese.

•••

Chris Perry

President and CEO of Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille, 487 Bay Area Blvd. and other locations

When he was 9 years old, Chris Perry was treated to dinner at a steakhouse. After admiring the waiter’s uniform, professionalism and attentiveness, all while enjoying a delicious meal, Perry told his parents that he wanted to be in the restaurant business. His father, Bob Perry, opened his first meat market in 1979 on Scarsdale Boulevard in Southeast Houston. In 1986, Chris Perry joined the family business, and expanded the butcher shop to include a dining area, which led to great success and the opening of a second Perry & Sons Market & Grille in Friendswood in 1989. The family added the Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille concept, which has a faithful following in the Houston-Galveston area. Perry’s Steakhouse, known for award-winning culinary creations, has expanded to other cities in Texas, to Chicago and soon to Denver.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: I worked at Perry’s Butcher Shop and Deli, which has evolved to be Perry & Sons Market & Grille.

Q: What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?  

A: My mother’s eggplant dish. She sautés eggplant in olive oil, layers it with homemade tomato basil sauce, tops it with fresh Parmesan and heats it in the oven. It’s delicious.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: Our family plans the menu about one month prior to the special day. My mother makes some dishes, like her eggplant, several weeks in advance and freezes them. The eggplant actually tastes better after freezing, and it makes preparation on the day-of so much easier.

Q: Around here, fresh seafood is at our fingertips. How might you incorporate seafood into your Thanksgiving meal?  

A: I would serve a shrimp cocktail or crab meat tostadas as an appetizer. I might also stuff the turkey with shrimp and grits.

Q: For people wanting to try something besides the traditional turkey or ham, what do you suggest?

A: Serving prime rib with the bone in adds a bit of elegance to the table, not to mention flavor. We always use USDA prime bone-in prime rib, which ensures the meat is extremely tender with a robust flavor that is only possible by cooking on the bone.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?

A: My mother calls it her “lemon Jell-O,” but actually it’s an amazing lemon curd prepared with marshmallow and cream cheese. It’s incredible. 

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: My family — we are very close and we love great food.

Butternut Squash Puree from Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille

SERVINGS: 8-12

2.5 pounds of butternut squash

¾ of a yellow onion (medium sized, sliced thin)

2 garlic cloves

¼ cup sugar

¼ tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter (unsalted)

¼ pound bacon (cooked crisp, fat rendered)

½ cup maple syrup

10 cups chicken stock

Fry the bacon until crisp and save the rendered fat.

Peel and cut butternut squash, yellow onions and garlic and place in stainless steel pot with 10 cups of chicken stock.

Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to boil. After bringing to boil turn down to a simmer and season with sugar, salt and pepper.

Continue cooking until butternut squash is tender (about 15 to 20 minutes).

Once butternut squash is done, strain the squash through a sieve into a stainless steel bowl and save the cooking liquid in a separate container.

Begin puréeing the butternut squash with a pole blender (You can start with small batches, adding the reserved liquid to help purée).

As you purée, add the butter.

After the butternut squash is puréed with the butter, add the crisp bacon, bacon fat and maple syrup.

To top it off, make a crust with Italian breadcrumbs, Parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil and place into a broiler until golden brown.

•••

Bryan Warren

Owner of Warren’s Catering, La Marque

Bryan Warren grew up in Galveston and learned the art of slow cooking from his grandmother. While working at LyondellBasell as an operator, Warren was able to turn his passion for food into a side job. He began catering in 2006, and in 2009, Warren’s Catering became a fully realized and full-time business. He continues to cater special events, as well as operating a food trailer, which Valero Energy in Texas City has contracted for lunches since 2010.

Q: Describe your typical Thanksgiving. What are your traditions?

A: We still do it the old-fashioned way. We have the traditional Thanksgiving meal at lunch, and in the evening, we might make a seafood gumbo or fry up some fish. We don’t necessarily do a whole lot, but we eat good food and watch football.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: When I was in high school, my first job was at Wyatt’s Cafeteria in Galvez Mall. I started out as a dishwasher and was promoted to prep cook. When I was a senior in high school, I started cooking for the Kettle restaurants in Galveston.

Q: What is your first memory in which you recall being interested in the art of food?

A: When I was 7 years old, my grandmother let me stand in a chair and fry chicken. I was not as patient as I should have been. When it looked ready to me, my grandmother said, “Leave it in a little longer.” She taught me the art of slow cooking. Anybody can fry a chicken wing. But, if you marinate the chicken for 24 hours and take the time to fry it properly, it’s perfectly crispy and juicy on the inside.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: Keep it simple. Don’t complicate the meal. Thanksgiving is not the time to try a recipe that you’ve never tried before. If you want to try a recipe, use it on Memorial Day. When you have so many different people coming in, it’s not the time to explore the area outside of your comfort zone.

Q: What is your favorite food for Thanksgiving?  

A: It’s always been cornbread dressing. The recipe is pretty traditional, but I take my base dressing and incorporate seafood with sauteed oysters, shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat.

Q: What’s the perfect number of side dishes?

A: You can never have too many side dishes on Thanksgiving. We always have green beans, yams, dressing, potato salad, rice, giblet gravy, broccoli-cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, corn, and the list goes on.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?

A: We have sweet potato pie, buttermilk pie (or as my grandmother called it, custard pie), and a pound cake.

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: Family — my children are all doing very well; my wife of 27 years. And, I’m thankful for what’s right in front of me today.

Cornbread Dressing

SERVINGS: 15-20

1 gallon cornbread, cooled

1 cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped bell peppers

2 pounds chicken livers sauteed and chopped

1 pound chicken gizzards sauteed and chopped

1 tablespoon of sage (or to taste)

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

¼ cup garlic powder

1 large can cream of chicken

1 can of chicken broth

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed together and bake for one hour at 350 F. Top with your favorite giblet gravy. Any seafood can be used in place of livers and gizzards.

•••

Brittany Todd

Owner of Rise Cupcakes, 907 S.

Friendswood Drive, Friendswood

A veteran of the Food Network’s competition “Cupcake Wars,” Brittany Todd knows something about baking under pressure. After graduating with a degree in international relations from Austin College, Todd worked as an investment banker for UBS Wealth Management in London. Choosing the sweet life over stocks and bonds, she returned to Texas to open Rise Cupcakes in 2011.

Q: What is your first memory in which you recall being interested in the art of food?

A: I was never a picky eater, and I always wanted to try new things and travel. My passion for food developed when I studied abroad in France. My host sister was studying to be a pastry chef, and she tried out all of her different recipes at home. After that, I was hooked.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: My first culinary experience was working at Young Life camp in high school. I loved the familial atmosphere of the kitchen and the way everyone interacted with each other. I enjoyed seeing the cooks do things on the fly if they were out of something — how they could create something from nothing.

Q: What is your favorite food to cook/eat on Thanksgiving?

A: This is difficult, because I absolutely love every dish at Thanksgiving. I am one of those people that wants a bite of everything. But, if I had to choose a favorite: stuffing with turkey and a little bit of cranberry sauce. I love the sweet and salty combo.

Q: How might you incorporate seafood into your Thanksgiving meal?

A: We typically do a seafood appetizer around our house. We get fresh crab claws, oysters and we boil shrimp from Kemah and eat them as snacks before the heavy meal.

Q: What’s the perfect number of side dishes?

A: I would say three to five. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and sweet potatoes — and one dish that’s unexpected.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: I suggest shopping well in advance, prepping the day before and then enjoying the day. No sense in stressing yourself out when most everything can be done ahead of time and popped in the oven.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert, other than the traditional pies?

A: Cupcakes! I love pumpkin pie and pecan pie, but often have a hard time eating both, so I merged the two and made a praline-dipped pumpkin cupcake sprinkled with toasted pecans and topped with vanilla buttercream.

Pumpkin Praline Cupcakes

Cupcakes

3 cups self-rising flour

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

2 sticks of butter

1 cup of milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 cup pumpkin purée

Preheat convection oven to 325 F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla. Add pumpkin purée.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and mix until smooth.

Stir in the heavy cream.

Line cupcake pans with paper liners and fill two-thirds full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Praline topping

1 stick butter

1½ cups dark brown sugar

½ cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Chopped pecans

Melt butter and sugar together over medium heat until smooth, being careful not to overheat.

Stir in salt and vanilla.

Take off the stove and add heavy cream. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes, dip cupcakes in the praline topping, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

•••

Paul Mendoza

Director for Culinary Arts Program at Galveston College

After working in the energy industry for more than 20 years, Paul Mendoza needed a change of pace. Mendoza graduated from the Art Institute in Houston with a degree in Culinary Arts in 2002. After completing an internship, Mendoza was hired on as the garde manger chef for Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks at the Moody Gardens Hotel and eventually as the chef tournant before overseeing the Culinary Arts program at Galveston College.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: My first cooking job was as a short-order cook at a military base in Berlin, Germany. I quickly learned the importance of preparation. When you have everything prepared ahead of time, it makes the process of cooking go much more smoothly. I also learned to shield the large 40-quart mixer bowl when making pizza sauce. Otherwise, the walls wear it.

Q: What was Thanksgiving like when you were growing up?

A: When I was a child, Thanksgiving was one of the few occasions throughout the year when we would use china and silver service. With so many folks in my mom’s tiny kitchen, my brother and I would polish silver in the bathroom sink. My mom would always schedule dinner around football game times. After all the work that went into preparing food for many, she wanted us to focus on the meal and each other rather than the television. 

Q: What is your favorite food to cook/eat on Thanksgiving?

A: I like turkey, but these days I like to focus on the sides — dressing, casseroles, sweet potatoes, and I have moved toward using fresher ingredients rather than canned.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: The trick is to plan ahead and, for large family gatherings, assign various dishes to different people. Most of my family members like to cook, so they enjoy bringing a dish to share with everyone. Also, remember to take the turkey out of the freezer a few days in advance, otherwise, it will not cook completely in the center.

Q: What’s the perfect number of side dishes?

A: Ideally, four to five sides. And, I try not to stuff myself, because I don’t like that miserable feeling. 

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert, other than the traditional pies?

A: One year I made a pumpkin cheesecake, which was a big hit.

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: I am thankful for a large, loving family who are healthy for the most part. I have aging parents and that presents some challenges, but we are all coping. I am thankful for the traditions that my mom instilled in us.

Apple/Pear/Cranberry Pie

3 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon cinnamon

7 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

7-8 pats of butter

Double pie crust

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Prepare a double pie crust and roll out larger than the pie pan (I use a deep ovenproof bowl).  

Place the crust in the pan and allow the sides to hang over the edge.  

In a separate bowl, mix the fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla, pour into prepared crust.  

Place the butter pats around the fruit filling.  

Gently fold the edges of the crust over the fruit. The center of the pie should be open. Brush milk onto the crust edges and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  

Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes, then turn oven down to 325 F and bake for 1-1.5 hours until pie filling is bubbly.  

Cool and serve. (It is also good warm with whipped cream, ice cream or honey yogurt.)

•••

Kat Kearns

Co-owner of ShyKatz Deli & Bakery, 1528 Ave. L, Galveston

At age 9, Kat Kearns was the resident sweet tea maker in her family, and by the time she was 12, she was making cream gravy and frying chicken. In 2010, Kearns and Shy Leger opened ShyKatz Deli & Bakery, a neighborhood eatery that plates up down home meals and tasty treats from family recipes.

Q: What was your first job in the food industry?

A: I worked as a fry cook for Jack In The Box when I was 16. Then, I waited tables at a steakhouse — the kind where you had a name that wasn’t your own. Outside of a home cook, I didn’t really work in food prep until we opened ShyKatz.

Q: Describe your typical Thanksgiving. What are your traditions?

A: One of the many traditions: everybody shows up with Tupperware, so they can take some food home. The guys come prepared so they can take leftovers to eat when they’re hunting. They also take some dressing to put in the freezer, so when they come back and there’s deer sausage, they’ll have it. They put the dressing on the barbecue in some tin foil and smoke it next to the sausage. It’s an amazing meal.

Q: What were your childhood Thanksgivings like?

A: It was my grandmother’s holiday. No matter where you were in the world, you were to come home for Thanksgiving. You didn’t have to show up for Christmas, but for Thanksgiving, she expected you to be there.

Q: What are some of your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?

A: If you focus on family, the reason that your gathering, and the love that you have for one another, I believe that you can push the stress aside. It’s not all about the meal.

Q: What is your favorite food to cook/eat on Thanksgiving?

A: Cornbread stuffing. It was my grandmother’s specialty, and it’s what we use at the restaurant. Also, sweet potato casserole.

Q: What’s the perfect number of side dishes?

A: Around five. We keep it simple: stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, buttered corn for the kids, cranberry sauce and gravy. There’s a certain way that food goes on the plate for Thanksgiving. For me, it’s a visual experience. You have to have colors that complement each other.

Q: Aside from the traditional desserts like pumpkin or pecan pie, what is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?

A: This year, I’ll be making Pink Lemonade Cake, because it’s something that’s really popular at the restaurant.

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: My children are healthy. I’ve been blessed with new grandchildren this year. I’m grateful for Galveston and the community that supports ShyKatz and the ShyKatz family.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4-5 large or 6 medium sweet potatoes

1 cup butter

1½ cups brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup heavy cream

Marshmallows

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Boil whole sweet potatoes with skin on until knife goes through easily.

Strain water and let the potatoes cool to make it easier to peel the skins.

Slice about ½ inch thick and lay in a sprayed baking pan.

Put a cup of butter in a sauce pan until it starts to melt.

Add 1½ cups brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ cup heavy cream and whisk until combined.

Simmer until sugar is dissolved.

Pour mixture over sweet potatoes and top with marshmallows.

Bake at 325 F until marshmallow is melted and toasty brown.

•••

Jimmy Graves

Launched “Kid’s Cooking Club,” the first Saturday of each month at St. George’s Episcopal Church, 510 13th Ave., Texas City

For more than 20 years, Jimmy Graves worked as a chef around the nation. His experiences have run the gamut, from owning a catering company to teaching classes at a private cooking school in Chicago. Now an account executive for The Post Newspaper, Graves dedicates the first Saturday of each month to teaching families how to make the most of what they have in their refrigerators. The free cooking class, called “Kid’s Cooking Club,” empowers children and parents to eat healthy and work as a team.

Q: What is your first memory in which you recall being interested in food?

A: I grew up in a single-parent home. My brother, sister and I learned to cook at an early age. I just always loved it.

Q: Describe your typical Thanksgiving. What are your traditions?

A: They always start and end with family, friends, food and, of course, faith.

Q: What were your childhood Thanksgivings like? Are there foods from that time that you still crave and like to cook?

A: I remember always being with family and just love. I still crave a cold, turkey sandwich, but now I put a twist on it with my cranberry mayo.

Q: What is your favorite food to cook/eat on Thanksgiving?

A: The last couple years I have been smoking turkeys for friends and family. My favorite has always been green bean casserole and deviled eggs.

Q: Since we have fresh seafood at our fingertips, how might you incorporate seafood into your Thanksgiving meal?

A: I make a really good Blackened Mahi Mahi with black bean corn relish.

Q: For people wanting to try something besides the traditional turkey or ham, what do you suggest?

A: I think a good pork tenderloin with a sherry gravy is always good.

Q: Aside from the traditional desserts like pumpkin or pecan pie, what is your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?

A: It would have to be ice cream: simple, tasty and there is always room for more.

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: I am thankful for all the friends that God has placed in my life; the heart that he has given to me for sharing my gifts. Of course the life I am able to live through him.

Sauteed Green Beans with Black Pepper Candied Pecans

Candied Pecans

3 pounds halved pecans

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh cracked pepper

1 teaspoon coarse, ground sea salt

3 tablespoons butter

Melt butter, add pecans and mix to coat.

Add all dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread onto a cookie sheet and bake at 400 F for about 8 minutes.

Allow the pecans to dry and set aside (there will be plenty left over for snacks).

Green Beans

3 pounds fresh green beans (ends snapped)

1 medium red onion thinly sliced

Sea salt

Chopped garlic

Black pepper

Olive oil

Bring water to boil in a large pot.

Cook green beans until done (about 10 minutes) and drain.

Bring saute pan to medium-high temperature. Add red onions and allow to sweat. Add garlic and cook until translucent.

Add green beans and season with sea salt and pepper. Add handful of candied pecans and toss.

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