Although this was my third year hosting Thanksgiving, it was the first year that I had the honor/dutiful task of roasting the turkey. With friends and family joining us, I decided to use this as a year to try out some new recipes while sticking with those old standards. I am thankful for having a delicious meal with people that are so dear to me. Without people like them, the rest doesn't really matter.
So, what did we eat at our feast?
Pull Apart Rolls from the King Arthur website
"Touch of Grace" Biscuits from Orangette
A Perfect Turkey (and Gravy) from Simply Recipes
Simple Cranberry Sauce and Cranberry Sauce with orange zest, cinnamon and figs (inspired by Christine Koh at Boston Mamas)
Stuffing a la Pepperidge Farm Mix
Homemade Stuffing With Chestnuts from Joy of Cooking
Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes with Browned Butter from Simply Recipes
Potatoes Mousseline from Barbara Lynch's cookbook, "Stir"
Pickled Beets from the Boston Globe
A Classic: Spinach Casserole a la Durkee Fried Onions
Roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts from Orangette
Port Poached Pears (From the book: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker, Recipes for Entertaining)
Slow Poached Quince (made in a slow cooker) from Year of the Glutton
Rosy Poached Quince from David Lebovitz
Chocolate-Orange-Pecan Tart from Not Without Salt
My Brother's Delicious Apple Pies (crust from Jasper White's Cooking from New England)
Orange-Almond Cake from the James Beard Cookbook
The Verdict/The Keepers
Almost everything. We loved the biscuits and rolls. Both are best right out of the oven, but we still enjoyed them the next morning. The biscuits are a magical recipe in that it seems impossible that a pile of liquid could cook up into such unbelievably moist delights.
I use milk instead of cream to make them just a bit lighter. They are also perfect for cooking with children which helps to keep them involved with the meal.
The homemade stuffing won over the Pepperidge Farm. I skipped making my own bread, instead letting a loaf of "Stuffing Bread" from Roche Brother's sit out overnight to get stale. There was no clear winner among the potatoes. The yukon gold were earthy and buttery, while the russets were smooth from my using a potato ricer for the first time. (Chef Lynch calls a ricer an essential ingredient...and I now agree although it took more elbow grease than I thought. I bought mine for $20 at Bed, Bath and Beyond.)
The turkey was the best we have had. We started with a brined Bell and Evans turkey from Whole Foods. (I wasn't sure my side-by-side frig could accommodate the turkey). I stuffed it with a cut lemon, carrots and an onion used metal ties from a cooking store.
Elise from Simply Recipes included directions and pictures that made this so easy. Her secret: cook the turkey breast side down, while slowly decreasing the temperature from 400 to 225. My other key utensil: my meat thermometer that helped me to determine exactly when to remove it from the oven. The meat, both dark and white meat were as moist as you could hope for!
As for the desserts...no one touched the poached fruit. Both of the quince were tasty, though I preferred the style with the cinnamon. I reduced the sauce to make a syrup. I am enjoying them for breakfast with yogurt. Though peeling and coring a quince was much more simple than websites indicated, I don't think the task involved will merit a return to next year's menu.
We were also ambivalent about the pecan tart. The top was perfect-neither too sweet or too cloying. The orange zest also added a subtle tweak that made it depart from typical pecan pies. However, I used a heavy hand with the bittersweet chocolate which made it too rich. The browned butter crust also didn't live up to my expectations. Next year: the same pecan pie recipe, without the chocolate (or much, much less) in a standard tart shell. I didn't like the orange-almond cake. The grainy texture and bitter taste put me off. However, my mother-in-law enjoyed it noting that it wasn't too sweet.
Finally a few tips for pulling a Thanksgiving off as a working parent. Cliched but true, it came down to organization. I did all my shopping the weekend before, storing the brussel sprouts and cauliflower in cold water to keep them fresh. (I had made the beets a week in advance as they needed to marinate.) Tuesday night I pre-prepped all the baked goods by putting dry ingredients in bowls and covering them with plastic wrap. Wednesday I made: the poached fruit, the pecan tart and the stuffing. Thursday morning I made the pull apart rolls. That left the oven free for the turkey. We also had the turkey done 1 1/2 hours before dinner so that the oven was free to heat up the stuffing and spinach casserole. The only last minute items were the roasted vegetables and the biscuits. The other key: wonderful friends and family who helped to cook and clean all night, avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed the next morning by kitchen chaos.
Turkey Congee from Steamy Kitchen-a delicious and different take on using the leftover turkey bones.
Potato Bread from A Year in Bread-a wonderful and easy use of leftover mashed potatoes. Delicious for grilled cheese, french toast or slathered with jam.
The Websites that Helped
King Arthur-an excellent site for baked goods of all sorts from scones to pizzas to whole grain rolls.
Orangette-though Molly hasn't posted as often since she opened her own restaurant in Seattle, her collection of recipes is part of my essential collection.
Simply Recipes-this website is fast becoming one of my favorites. Elise shares pictures and recipes from her family. The recipes are not pretentious but just taste so good and are easy to prepare, particularly due to her clear directions.