We hosted Thanksgiving last night and I think it was a great success. I love the way the holiday table looks set for the meal and decorated with flowers and crafts the boys made! I had two goals for Thanksgiving this year: spend more time with my family while they’re here (less time prepping and cleaning up after), and make a meal that is well-loved and not too experimental. Last year the food was fine, but there was nothing that came out great. Not so this year!
Our biggest experiment was smoking the turkey. While I handled all the raw poultry prep (rinsing, plucking any remaining feathers, and an unsuccessful attempt at turning the wings back under the bird), J. made up the rub and then smoked it on our Weber. It turned out well, very moist and flavorful but not too smokey. Still, I think I would prefer a traditional oven-roasted turkey next year. Plus, there are no slow-baked onions to pick off the top of the turkey while it roasts when it’s smoked! (This is a long-standing tradition in my family!)
I had a large bag of carrots from our farm share, which I made into Roasted Carrots by Pastor Ryan (from The Pioneer Woman Cooks). I roasted them the night before and then reheated them in the oven on Thanksgiving. They were seriously delicious, even though prepping the thyme was a pain in the neck. Mine just didn’t want to slide off its stem. I would definitely make these again, and they’re so easy it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner, too.
This Celeriac and Apple Salad was the surprise hit of the evening — people were taking seconds! I just used celeriac and Granny Smith apples, no nuts. I did buy hazelnut oil for this recipe, though, so now I need to find some additional ways to use it. I like to have a cold vegetable side dish with a holiday meal (I’ve done chilled marinated beets in the past, for instance) — I think it’s a nice contrast to all the starchy, warm foods on the table.
I used Simply Recipe’s Cranberry Sauce as a guideline for making my own. It is so easy to do (fresh cranberries cooked in sugar and water) and you can doctor it up to change the flavor. I added orange zest, which I really liked but make a much less sweet sauce than what you’d get canned. I serve the sliceable canned stuff, too, because my whole family enjoys it. In fact, we had to cut A. off — I was afraid he’d get sick on the sauce.
We made J.’s Favorite Goulash and egg noodles along with the turkey, which I originally wasn’t going to do. I had thought I’d make a heartier vegetarian side dish with gnocchi instead of another meat, but even after we decided to do the goulash I kept this selection on the menu. This is pan-friend gnocchi with garlic and Brussels sprouts, based on my Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts. I omitted the mushrooms because I was including them in my stuffing, and wasn’t sure if everyone liked them. Regardless, this dish was a huge hit! Mostly everyone loves Brussels sprouts (as do I), but pairing them with the gnocchi went over especially well.
I adore stuffing — it is my favorite holiday food, by far. Normally I buy a plain stuffing mix (lightly seasoned bread cubes) and then doctor it up. I’ve added chestnuts, dried fruit, and so on. This year I decided to do wild mushrooms. I reconstituted a package of porcini mushrooms, and chopped them up and reserved some of the soaking liquid. I sauteed a minced onion and lots of fresh shitake and oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped, and added those to the bread cubes with the porcinis, mushroom broth (made by Pacific Natural Foods) and about a cup of the porcini liquid. Oh my goodness, it was divine. Even J., who has never uttered a single word about liking stuffing in all the time I’ve known him (20 years!), thought it was excellent and actually proactively commented on how good it was. If I wasn’t already in heaven from eating it I would have been from the praise.
J.’s aunt Ann (of Ann’s Apple Cake fame) brings the sweet potatoes, so although I didn’t cook them I’d be remiss in not mentioning them here. They are a staple at Thanksgiving, and this year they were better than even J. and I fondly remember them. Perfectly toasted marshmallows, super-creamy sweet potatoes — it is the ultimate holiday food. When else would you top a side dish with marshmallows?
We finished the meal off with my dad’s apple pie (I had a slice this morning — yes, for breakfast — and it was one of his best ever), Ann’s pumpkin pie (a classic), and Kitchen Sink Cookies (with M&Ms only) and chocolate chunk brownies (based on Hershey’s Best Brownies) that I made.
We have some leftovers, but not an insurmountable quantity after giving away some doggie bags of turkey. With food this good, no one minds eating it again.