Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks (Thanksgiving!)

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I think this one truly had some highlights. Most families have traditions of their own, so I don't want to force recipes on you, but I think it's fun to try new things every now and then. You just may be better served by ensuring you give a new dish a test run, first, before springing it on guests for a special day.

The spread
Geoff was playing sommelier for the evening, Aaron carved the turkey, and Laura and I handled most of the cooking. I've made Williams-Sonoma's cider-brined roast turkey, modified with a Martha Stewart trick of covering the turkey with a wine-soaked cheesecloth until the last hour, since the first Thanksgiving A and I were together. Last year was the one exception: an ill-fated test of Alton Brown's turkey recipe. His claim that blasting the turkey at high heat lets it cook quickly and avoid drying out left me with a blackened bird. I almost cried.

I encourage you to try the brining and cheesecloth method, my turkey's been moist, flavorful, and perfectly mahogany-skinned, every time.

Hooray for happy endings
This year, Bon Appetit provided the inspiration for most of the sides in place of some of my more traditional recipes. The pictures in the magazine were so beautiful, the descriptions so delicious, I couldn't refuse. They've been tweaked, of course. For example, I couldn't in good conscience make potato gratin, that's where the gravy goes! We made:

Cider-brined roast turkey with pan gravy
Red-skinned potatoes cooked in turkey stock and whipped with butter, sour cream, and fresh thyme
Fennel, pear, and spinach stuffing
Spiced cranberry, apple, and pomegranate chutney
Raw Brussels sprouts and Tuscan kale salad
Roasted acorn squash with balsamic vinegar and fresh mint
Crispy cauliflower with capers, raisins, and breadcrumbs
Spiced glazed carrots with sherry and citrus
Bourbon-chocolate pecan pie

OMG, make this now
Laura laid out our beautiful tablescape while I finished gravy. The November issue of Martha Stewart Living had included guides to staff members' holiday tables, and I copied the plan to feature multiple small arrangements and candles. This allows guests to see each other at the table rather than peering around a singular arrangement, and the pieces can be adjusted like modular furniture to make way for food.

A place at the table
We used sunflowers, green & yellow spider chrysanthemums, golden-red spoon chrysanthemums, pale green hydrangeas, sprays of cranberry and sprouted eucalyptus, seeded grasses and triumphant spikes of goldenrod.

Setting the scene
I'm also especially thankful that, even though scheduling conflicts divided us for the meal, we still got to see Sarah, Seth, Dar and the boys, too. Dylan proved quite fond of the kale salad (a surprise hit, it's not half as bitter as you'd think), but Ben just wanted Teen Titans and the rock candy that Aaron gave him. Ah, the vagaries of youth.

All in all, it was a great night, I'm gloriously lucky to be surrounded by such great friends and family. Best wishes to you all, ladies and gents, let's start gearing up for next year!


Unknown said...

You have nice variations of many traditional foods. Love the pie photo!

J said...

Thanks! I'm traditionalist at heart. I really wanted to work in some corn bread, too, but we were stuffed as it was.

I'm glad you like the photo. It was just past noon by the time I finished the pie and the light was pretty extreme. :)