I decided to host Thanksgiving this year with my mum, hubby and five friends — this would be the first time we cooked for anyone else since our July wedding! Eek! It was a wonderful affair, though — I got to use literally every single wedding/engagement gift we had received, and all the foods turned out delicious (if not perfect). This post is hecka long and detailed, so read on if you’re brave or hungry!
To drink, I simply mulled up some wine for starters. (And then forgot to serve it to guests. But the intent was there!) I purchased one of each red varietal of Charles Shaw (aka Two-buck Chuck) from Trader Joe’s, and mulled them with orange and lemon peels plus cinnamon, allspice and cloves. (I sometimes throw in a vanilla bean, but not this time.) To sweeten, I added a mixture of brown sugar, agave syrup and maple syrup and a touch of honey, so that the flavor was more complex and it was slightly lower on the glycemic scale. Since I had forgotten to serve it to guests, I then delighted in my mulled wine over the weekend, sometimes spiking it with a surprisingly decent yet affordable Moldovan brandy.
But yes, we wound up drinking extra-brut Cristalino cava during appetizers, as well as red and white wine brought by guests during the main affair. And during said appetizer time, I served up Mt. Townsend Sea Stack, Humboldt Fog, a bit more of that Golden Glen raw cheddar, and this amazing duck liver and local black truffle pâté from Rain Shadow Meats. I could live on that stuff.
As an afterthought appetizer, I served a roasted butternut squash and pumpkin soup, topped with sour cream and chives. I roughly based it off this recipe I Google-discovered, but I switched up the herbs, used a shallot instead of onion, added a bit of cream and a can of organic pumpkin purée, and dumped the whole mixture in the food processor for a smoother texture. This was probably the star of the show, presentation-wise! It worked out well to serve this while people were still hanging in the living room and not actually seated yet, since I still had some running around the kitchen to do.
For the turkey, I had ordered a wonderful 15-pound bird from Mad Hatcher Farms via Rain Shadow Meats. I brined it with a mixture based on the ratios from the Cooks Illustrated Brining Basics and then dried it overnight. I bankrupted my supply of Diamond Kosher Salt, but I also added soy sauce, honey, agave, thyme, peppercorns, you name it — it was a very nicely flavored bird, and it came out delightfully moist. It doesn’t hurt that my British mother always insists that I cover my bird in bacon, which I did (house-smoked at Rain Shadow). And I took a tip from Patrick O’Connell’s book (literally), and covered my bacon-dressed bird in cheesecloth and basted the cloth with melted butter. And bacon fat. And drippings. What can I say — every bit of white meat was moist and tender, so it was worth it!
My sides were a root vegetable purée (based loosely on the Joy of Cooking recipe) made with parsnips, rutabagas and turnips from Ballard Farmer’s Market; Brussels sprouts with brown butter that I forgot to add roasted hazelnuts to (OK, FILBERTS, MOM); easy peasy cranberry sauce with agave and maple syrup and sugar (again to deepen the flavor and lower the glycemic index); rainbow potatoes au gratin (from a personal recipe) topped with Golden Glen Creamery raw cheddar, and layered according to potato color so the purples wouldn’t bleed all over; and vegetarian plus sausage stuffing (with Rain Shadow in-house mild Italian pork sausage). I bailed on chestnuts in my stuffing this year, because I had bought some vacuum-packed ones that were simply disgusting. Turns out, if you want to have chestnuts you really must roast and peel them yourself to make them tasty. Oh, and a simple greens and spinach salad with raspberry yogurt cumin poppyseed dressing. (Yes, you read that right!)
In addition to all of the above, Grant gave our new Zojirushi Home Bakery Breadmaker a spin for the first time. I’ve literally never made bread before in my entire life, so it was good to try out — but we had to substitute regular milk for dry milk, and it seemed to result in a shorter, heavier loaf. We gave it a spin the next day with the proper dry milk, but we still got the same result. It’s tasty, but quite clear that it didn’t rise properly. Internet research leads me to believe that a) using higher gluten flour will help, b) we should experiment with rapid rise yeast, and c) all the instructions about making sure our Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast doesn’t touch any liquid are bunk, and that type of yeast needs to be started in the water before we begin. So we’ll keep experimenting! It was still yummy, especially with Golden Glen farmstead butter (regular and Herbes de Provence, mmm!).
For dessert, I don’t care for pumpkin pie, but my husband adores pumpkin confections. So I usually compromise and make a different recipe of pumpkin cheesecake each year. This year, I made a crust of gingersnaps, roasted pecans and salted butter all melted and crushed together — something of a hybrid between Emeril, Patrick & Gina, and my own firm belief that crusts should be saltier than the recipe says, to offset the sweetness of the dessert. I wound up making the actual cake from Ann Thornton, though I did try to make P&G’s cinnamon whipped cream… and failed. For some reason, whenever I try to whip Sea Breeze Farms‘ cream, it just won’t whip (and yes, I have it cold enough). I think I’m sticking with Golden Glen when I want fancy cream in the future. Ah well — my non-whipped cinnamon liquid was still enjoyed! Alas, I should’ve photographed the cheesecake (or ANY of the other items I’ve mentioned!) but we were too busy in the moment. I will say that I was particularly pleased at this innovation, though — I cooked the cheesecake on a springform pan and couldn’t move it from the metal bottom, but I wanted to use my fancy beautiful cake stand from Jen. So I used some Crate & Barrel candle buttons that we had left over from our wedding’s candle ceremony, and stuck the metal down to the stand that way.
With dessert, we enjoyed a cheap sparkling red wine from Trader Joe’s, and then watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Nice cozy holiday!