November 29, 2010
I have been mulling over Thanksgiving 2010, a holiday that went smoothly overall, but fell a little short of what I thought I could have put together. I have mentioned various elements that bugged me to friends, acknowledging that I am being a bit of a loon to have been bothered by things like my mismatched but at least color-coordinated (and slightly wrinkly) tablecloths. These things sound so silly coming out of my mouth that I am reluctant to repeat them here and give them more power over me. Still, I think it’s good to make notes of what did and didn’t work for next year. Plus I deeply missed my sister and her husband, who moved to Australia at the end of the summer and couldn’t be with us. Their absence made me think even more about grandparents no longer with us, and especially after our families went home Thanksgiving eve, I was preoccupied with missing people instead of being thankful for what was in front of me. What a mess I am!
The meal turned out well. I was seriously on the ball with prep beforehand, but then made a rookie error: I had no plan for reheating any of it, and had not thought to put my stove top and Crock-Pot into service on the day of the feast. Everything needed to go in the oven all at once to be warmed for the meal, so all my glee at being extra-prepared on Wednesday went out the window. I’ve written notes to myself in the past about including a cold item as a side (such as the Celeriac and Apple Salad I made in 2009), but didn’t do that this year and should have. I also failed to locate infrequently-used items before the holiday, so I was scrambling to find our gravy separator at the last minute (still can’t find it). I would guess none of our guests (we had 20 people in total) had any idea we were flustered, though, and that is fine with me.
So, the meal:
We kicked things off with Apple Sangria, which was apparently delicious — I didn’t get to try any! I based my recipe loosely on the link above, but used Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur when I couldn’t find a reasonably-sized bottle of schnapps. It was recommended to me by Manor Wines & Spirits in Briarcliff Manor, and I am thankful I took their advice, as I did sneak a taste of the liqueur on its own before it went into the sangria. It was very good, and not too sweet. I would definitely make it again.
We continued our tradition of a cheese plate before the meal. J. chose Delice de Bourgogne (an OMG! triple creme, the only cheese on the plate that was finished), Tomme d’Abondance (nutty cow’s milk cheese, very smooth), Rogue River Creamery Rogue River Blue (always one of our favorites), Le Chevrot (like licking a freakin’ goat — I am shuddering just thinking about it, but with a very cool, lacy exterior), and El Trigal (a young Manchego which was pleasant but not very interesting).
It was a really well-rounded assortment, though maybe a bit unapproachable for our crew, who left a lot of it over. I can’t remember having so much cheese left over in previous years, but we were happy to have it. We gave the Chevrot one more try and then pitched it. Ugh. We had cut-up carrots, celery, and red peppers, plus a creamy spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl from Jenny, which everyone gobbled up.
Then we sat down for the main event:
We roasted the turkey in our oven this year, rather than smoking it. I think everyone prefers this more traditional preparation. I made an obscene amount of roasted Brussels sprouts — 5 containers of raw sprouts, plus a big stalk from my farm share. They were almost all eaten. The Roasted Maple-Bourbon Carrots & Parsnips were just OK. Ann’s Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows are always a hit. I went with a traditional stuffing (dressing, really) this year, starting with Arrowhead Mill’s Organic Savory Herb Stuffing and doctoring it up with a large amount of chopped and sauteed celery and onion, plus ground savory. The flavor was great but it was a little too dry (easily remedied with some gravy, Lauren informed me). Lauren also brought us Ritz Cracker Stuffing, a side dish my brother-in-law remembers fondly from his childhood. It’s basically Ritz crackers, sauteed onion, and margarine to hold it together. Although we ribbed them a bit about its ingredients, I liked getting a chance to have a peek into another family’s traditions, and the flavor of it was pretty good — it’s hard to go wrong with salty and buttery.
The new and most interesting item to me on the table this year was Mushroom & Onion Phyllo Cups:
I based these little beauties on Mushroom and Caramelized-Shallot Strudel. When I went to buy the phyllo sheets, I saw Athens Mini Fillo Shells and knew they would make my life much easier. The shells are pre-baked, about the size of a mini muffin, and ready to accept a savory or sweet filling. I wound up make a non-dairy version of the mushroom filling the night before, then mounded the filling into the frozen cups, and baked them for about 10 minutes just before serving. Very cute finger food, and an unexpected side dish on what wound up being a very traditional menu. The phyllo gets soggy if you store leftovers, so don’t plan on having any! The mushroom filling would also be great mixed with pasta.
Finally, we were ready for dessert. My mom baked the beautiful pecan pie at the top of this post. Ann brought pumpkin and coconut custard pies. Lauren baked chocolate chip cookies. And I made Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies. They are aptly-named. I cut the butter by 25%, because some reviews said the brownies tended to be a little greasy. I also omitted the walnuts altogether. They were phenomenal. The recipe is easy but just takes a while — melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler, let it cool (but not too much!), then mix up the batter. I liked watching the brownies deflate just like they were supposed to when you slam the baking pan against the oven rack half-way through baking. These are dark and dense brownies that I will make again. We had fruit salad too, and though it was a gorgeous arrangement it didn’t get much play. Sorry, fruit!
We were left with a very moderate amount of leftovers, save for dessert (most of which we were able to give away). My friend Amy told me she stocks up on take-out containers before Thanksgiving, and sends her guests home with turkey (they prepare lots extra on purpose) and more. I love that final gesture of hospitality and will try to remember to offer leftovers next year.