A Well Planned Feast

Published November, 2008

For Thanksgiving: a blend of past, present, and preparedness

Lieutenant General Russel Honore (Ret.), 61, has built his career on being prepared. Known nationally as the tough and efficient general who devoted more than 35 years to the United States Army, General Honore is perhaps best-known as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina. In that effort, he deployed thousands of troops to provide military relief for grief-stricken New Orleans. Affectionately called "The Ragin' Cajun," he is the man who led the U.S. Armed Forces in their mission to finally bring order to the rescue of thousands following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Orleans. Life-preparedness, says the general, is his new calling, and not only on the home front.

On Thanksgiving, part of being prepared and ready for service means the three-star general is on call as his wife, Beverly, does most of the Thanksgiving cooking in the Honore household. "I usually end up going to the store three or four times over the course of the day; that’s my official role" he laughs.

"My wife does some small preparations the day before the holiday, but she cooks most of the food the morning of Thanksgiving," he says. "We like a peaceful holiday so the family arrives the night before, but we usually cook that morning. That’s my wife's rule: fresh food."

The general grew up on a subsistence farm, in a Creole family with 12 siblings. He says he was very fortunate to have his grandfather, Ferdinand St. Amant, living in the house with them. St. Amant was General Honore’s only living grandparent, a hard worker throughout his life who served as a life inspiration. "He was a great man to look up to and growing up with him in our home was a gift. He always told me, 'Son, to work is a blessing, and you remember that.' I hope to be in the same position with my grandson and future grandkids," he says

Today, Thanksgiving dinner remains reminiscent of those he had as a boy: turkey with bread dressing and potatoes, casserole, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and baked macaroni. The day was a time to focus on the food and "a day where everyone sits around the table and says what they are thankful for," he says, a tradition upheld in his home today.

General Honore says that his parents, Udell and Lloyd Honore, were both "pretty good cooks," who always made a ham on Thanksgiving from pigs they raised on the farm, in addition to the customary turkey. In honor of that tradition, the self-professed "Grill Master" makes his "specialty dish" for his family the day after Thanksgiving. "When the kids come to the house for Thanksgiving, I always do pork, just like my mom and dad" he says. "I do ribs for them, or a Boston butt, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, and cayenne."

And Thanksgiving is particularly meaningful for General Honore. It will be his first as an Army retiree, a time he can focus strictly on his immediate family: his wife, his grandson, James, and his daughters Stephanie, James’s mom, Jimmy, Stephanie’s husband, and Kimberly, all of Florida, and his sons Sergeant Michael of Fort Hood, Tex., Michael’s fiancée, Nicole, and his young son Steven, an ROTC cadet at North Georgia College.

The logistics of a family Thanksgiving are an easy pleasure for this soldier who recalled his years overseas during the holidays and the effort it took on behalf of the U.S. Army to feed thousands of troops ham and turkey; the logistics, physical and mental, to prepare a meaningful day for the men and women, so far from home on the family-oriented holiday. The day, says General Honore, "had to be special when you are away from home, with the troops, and reflect on times when you are in the peace and safety of your own home."

Lieutenant General Russel Honore's Thanksgiving Pork
Pork this tasty extends the feast on Thanksgiving weekend, grandchildren, grandparents, heritage food

"I grill year-round, in spite of  [the] weather," says Lieutenant General Russel Honore. "If my kids come for a long weekend for Thanksgiving, I finish off the high-calorie weekend with my grilled Boston butt." The general, who has a book coming out in May 2009, Survival: How A Culture of Preparedness Can Help Save Your Family During Disaster (Simon & Schuster), sears, smokes, and roasts the pork, which he calls "my Thanksgiving dish" because he not only loves to grill, but he also loves to serve pork during the holidays like his parents did.

10-pound Boston butt
4 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons black pepper
4 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons garlic powder
4 garlic cloves
4 whole, cayenne peppers

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a small bowl, mix together salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder and work the mixture into the meat. With a sharp knife, make four holes in the roast and plug each hole with a garlic clove and a whole red cayenne pepper.
3. Heat grill (may use charcoal or gas grill) on high. Put roast on grill and sear on each side until butt is browned, but not burned, about 20 minutes per side. Stay with the grill to ensure the roast does not scorch. If using a charcoal grill or smoker, you may add your favorite wood chips to the fire if you like the smoke flavor.
4. Remove roast from grill and put into covered Dutch oven or any roaster covered with aluminum foil. Roast in oven for a half hour, then reduce heat to 280 degrees F and roast for another 2 1/2 hours or about 15 minutes per pound, until the roast registers an internal temperature of 170 degrees.
5. Remove from oven when cooked and let stand for 15 minutes before slicing. You should have a lot of gravy in pan. Skim off grease from pan gravy and serve roast with a plate of white beans and rice or on crusty bread, with pan juices.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Beverly Honore's Sweet Potato Soufflé
Sweet potatoes get light and fluffy in a pleasing soufflé tinged with spice

Lieutenant General Russel Honore's wife, Beverly, serves this sweet potato soufflé with her Thanksgiving dinner. “I like to use ramekins so that each person has their individual dish,” says Mrs. Honore. “It makes for a festive presentation,” she says but notes you may have to reduce cooking time if baking in individual ramekins.

3 medium-size sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup evaporated milk

For topping:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Boil sweet potatoes or yams in enough water to cover until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and mash well, ensuring there are no lumps. You should have about 3 cups
2. In a large bowl, mix together mashed sweet potato along with the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and evaporated milk. Pour into buttered baking dish
3. For the topping, combine butter, brown sugar, pecans and flour and sprinkle evenly on top of sweet potato mixture.
4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is set and topping is bubbly.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.