oh, thanksgiving. that most wonderful of holidays, where all anyone talks about is family, friends, football, and food. four of my favorite things, which makes thanksgiving one of my favorite holidays.
unfortunately, it seems like when a lot of people think about the big turkey day, they just think about stress. cleaning, menu planning, traveling, shopping, and putting out seemingly endless fires of family drama and scandal.
the family. dad, brother, husband, mother, dog, and me.
now, i don’t want to brag. (well, maybe i do. just a little.) but my family is pretty awesome. both my immediate family and my in-law family are wonderful, kind, loving people who are a joy to be around – and to cook for. and my husband, of course, is amazing. so this year, rather than traveling to the rugged wilderness of caribou, maine to see my husband’s family (we’re saving that for christmas!) or driving a few hours to my parent’s house in vermont, i opted to host thanksgiving at our little apartment in somerville.
i think most of my friends thought i was crazy.
and after cleaning every inch of my apartment, pouring over millions of holiday recipes, deciding to make every dish from scratch, making a terrifying shopping list, buying everything, and prepping as much as possible before thursday, i admit that for a minute, i thought i was crazy too. what the hell was i thinking?
sous chef steve, diligently peeling potatoes.
but my mother is calm and wise, and my father, brother, and husband are wonderful sous chefs. even the dog was surprisingly quiet. we had a few epic mishaps – the coffeepot breaking spectacularly and spilling coffee all over everything, the pie crust failing to rise…twice, and burning my hand on some hot oil in the roasting pan – but the meal came out even better than i’d hoped. it just goes to show that even if you’re not martha stewart or rachel ray, you can make a few mistakes on a big family holiday and it doesn’t wreck the entire occasion. and my family was wonderfully tolerant of me stopping everything to take pictures every five minutes. thanks, guys!
in the spirit of the holidays – and with the knowledge that christmas and its accompanying feast is looming – i’d like to share my full menu with you. my family is all a little food-and-wine-obsessed, so in addition to dinner we also had several nights’ worth of appetizers, a spectacular cheese plate, about a dozen wines, and homemade pumpkin pie. some things are more photogenic than others, but all of the recipes are either linked or listed.
the cheese board.
in choosing recipes, i ended up creating a pinterest board with dozens of options. i made my poor family look over these and choose their favorites, which resulted in a menu that everyone was happy with…and about a dozen recipes that i’d never made before. this is not an approach i would recommend. but somehow, magically, every single recipe was delicious and wonderful. i would remake this meal in a heartbeat, and i think that that’s pretty incredible. feel free to steal the entire thing for next year.
the breakfast. i wanted to make something simple, seasonal, and satisfying that i could make ahead and throw into the oven on the big day. i didn’t want people fussing around in the kitchen before i destroyed it to create our meal, and making something filling and comforting seemed like a great answer. it took two pots of coffee spilling all over the kitchen before my dad figured out how to temporarily fix it (and we put a baking sheet with high sides underneath it), but for thanksgiving morning my family enjoyed coffee, fruit, and a pumpkin french toast bake that took about 10 minutes to make the night before. the photos on this wonderful blog are much prettier than this one, so give her lots of kudos for a great recipe and some beautiful images.
the appetizers. my apartment kitchen is surprisingly large, but it doesn’t matter – i like my space when i’m cooking. i don’t like people to hover, and i really, really don’t like people to stick their fingers in my food and taste it while i’m cooking. it bugs me. to encourage the family to munch on other things, we set up a table of appetizers before dinner would be served. it seemed to work pretty well. the highlights – my father’s incredible home-smoked salmon, my mother’s famous tapenade, a garlic and herb seasoned butter that my husband was determined to have on the table (though i made it and it was messy, but addictive), brie baked in puff pastry with cranberry relish (more on that later), and deviled eggs with basil aioli and fried capers, otherwise known as the greatest deviled eggs of all time.
seriously, i’m not kidding. we were all positively raving over these eggs. don’t finish this post without clicking on the link and reading the recipe, because you might need to make them for yourself before you continue. molly wizenberg is a genius.
the turkey. turkey is not as hard to prepare as it seems, but there’s so much contradictory advice out there that it can feel incredibly overwhelming. i try to keep the turkey as simple as possible, and like to brine with various ingredients – i find that it gives the bird wonderful moisture and tenderness. this year’s turkey was brined with oranges, cloves, and a splash of bourbon. i stick it in the pan to dry out, put it into a roasting pan, slather it with butter, and shove it in the oven. i don’t cover it. i don’t baste it. i don’t do anything but check on it to make sure it’s not getting too dark – and if it does, i put a small piece of folded aluminum foil on top of it. after the appropriate amount of time (my turkey was 15 pounds so i roasted it at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then 350 degrees for 3 1/2 hours), i take it out and let it rest for a full hour before carving. and it came out delicious.
yes, it’s dark. no, this is not my best turkey photograph. but it seems wrong to not include a shot of the whole bird. and it was so, so delicious.
yeah, my mom carved it.
i’ve used turkeys from the grocery store before, but i think part of the reason that this bird came out so well is that i splurged on a fresh turkey from stonewood farm in vermont, through dave’s fresh pasta. it wasn’t cheap, but i truly think this is the best turkey i’ve ever cooked. it can’t be a complete coincidence.
(and by all means, don’t forget to make stock out of the bones. just throw it all in a pot, cover it with water, add some carrots, celery, and an onion, as well as some basic seasonings, and let it reduce for a few hours. freeze it in small containers and it makes delicious soups and sauces. so much better, and cheaper, than store-bought stock.)
the classic sides. there are certain dishes that you just don’t mess with on thanksgiving, and my family wasn’t afraid to vocalize their preferences. i think my brother and husband would happily live on mashed potatoes forever, and my father is very particular about the dressing. my mother eats better than the rest of us and likes to have several types of veggies on the table. and all of us love my mom’s refrigerator roll recipe, which she’s made at every holiday i can remember – and of course made for thanksgiving at my house.
i don’t really follow a specific recipe for mashed potatoes – i think i make them differently every time. but my potatoes this year were roughly based off this recipe for buttermilk-chive potatoes, though i used whipped cream cheese instead of buttermilk. the dressing was something that i agonized over, because it’s one of my favorite parts of the thanksgiving meal. if you forced me, i might have to say that it’s my favorite. but bad stuffing is just so awful – soggy and mushy, with no texture or flavor to speak of. it’s such a let down. i was determined to make my own, rather than just doctoring a box mix, and finally settled on bon appetit’s “simple is best” dressing. i used sourdough bread as the base and tons of fresh herbs and veggies, and i thought it came out really well. my mom’s rolls are a family recipe, and i’m a little hesitant to post it here for the world to see – but if she okays it, i’ll add it in later. we used whole wheat flour because over the course of the day, we managed to use up both bags of flour that i had on hand. whoops.
the new classic sides. the vegetables and salads that accompany the turkey and classic sides always seem to rotate, and i wanted to try a few new dishes for this year’s feast. green beans or brussels sprouts always make an appearance, but this year i wanted to keep them simple. i chose a roasted brussels sprouts recipe that used a garlic aioli as a garnish, which worked out nicely – we also served the garlic aioli with my dad’s smoked salmon and the amazing deviled eggs. i also wanted a more traditional salad, but one that still had seasonal flavors, so we put together an arugula, pear, and goat cheese salad with pomegranate vinaigrette. it gave a bit of lightness to the meal, and rounded out some of the richer flavors.
i also wanted to redeem a few dishes that don’t get a lot of love in our family holiday meals – sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. none of us strongly dislike sweet potatoes, but we never seem to find a way to serve them that we all like. they’re either bland or undercooked, and i often find them unappealing. even sweet potato fries aren’t a particular favorite of mine. but smitten kitchen’s sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese was a big success, and i think it’s definitely a dish that i’ll bring back next year. i also made a cranberry-orange relish that was a surprise hit. tart and crisp, the relish was delicious stuffed into baked brie, served on top of turkey, and all on its own. and the best part? it wasn’t much more difficult than opening a can.
the dessert. my brother had initially declared that he would be in charge of making a pumpkin pie, and that he was going to make it entirely from scratch. it was an admirable goal, but after reading a little bit more about the process, decided that the end result might not be worth the time and effort necessary. we ended up making a bourbon pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. there were some difficulties with the pie crust (anyone else have trouble rolling out crust on granite countertops?), but it ended up being really yummy – almost like a coffeecake. i’m not much of a pie girl, but even i could get on board with this one. and, of course, we had a big cheese plate with jams, jellies, and a little more tapenade.
overall, i was really pleased with my first thanksgiving effort. and the patriots’ big win certainly gave us something extra to be thankful for. i hope that all of you had a wonderful celebration with your friends and family, and please share your favorite recipes (or disastrous stories!) in the comments.