I braved the daunting task of cooking for about twenty (20!) of my friends this past weekend, and believe it or not, it went off without a hitch. The holidays are times for your family; and for me, friends are as much family as the people that raised me. So I was pleased to prepare this meal for them and spend time together before we scatter to the four winds to be with our families for the holidays.
Here’s the menu:
Roasted Turkey Breast
Traditional Sage and Sausage Dressing
Apple and Leek Dressing (v)
Turkey Gravy with Sherry
Baked Whipped Potatoes (v)
Spinach Gruyere Gratin (v)
Honey Glazed Carrots (v)
Cranberry Conserve (v)
Golden Beets and Pomegranate Salad (v)
Yeast Rolls (v)
Jack Daniels Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Bread, Ginger and Orange cookies (v)
(v) – no carne; vegetarian
You might be wondering how I pulled this off. Well that secret weapon was my mom, who graciously helped with preparation and supplies. Thanks, Mom. She also served as my phone hotline while I was cooking for any emergency questions like, “Can you refrigerate gravy, nuke it, and have it come together again?!” The answer: yes!
Herb Roasted Turkey
I could do without turkey at Thanksgiving. Yean, I’m in that camp. It’s on the buffet, but it’s not the highlight for me. And it’s probably more trouble that it’s worth. That said, I had to forgo the full bird. Instead, I roasted and carved two turkey breasts (bone-in) Friday night, refrigerated the slices, and intended to bring it up to room temperature for dinner on Saturday. (I forgot, and served cool turkey; but everything else was hot, so who knew?) The advantages of turkey breast over the full bird are: reduced thawing and cooking times, more quality meat, less carving, and it will comfortably feed a crowd with some leftovers.
To begin, thaw the bird according to the packaging recommendations for the specific weight of turkey you have. Rinse and pat dry. (Clean your sink thoroughly after this to avoid cross-contamination!) Preheat oven to super hot: 450°F. Because I lacked a roasting rack, I used halved onions and lemons to prop up the bird. Melt a stick of butter and stir in salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Brush the bird with half of this mixture, and then half-way through the cooking time, brush the bird with the remaining.
The key to getting the turkey right is checking the internal temperature, which should reach 165°F in the middle of the breast. I used a snazzy oven probe meat thermometer with alarm. When the turkey reaches the desired, programmed temperature, an alarm goes off, and out comes the turkey. Easy, right? Then just let the bird rest, tented with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes. Then carve. I followed this video to get the best results.
When the turkey was done and resting aside, I placed the roasting pan on the stove top over medium-high heat, and added a gravy base from Williams-Sonoma with equal parts milk. This allows for full-proof gravy when there are other dishes to get together. Scrape the bottom of the roasting pan to pick up some of the tasty bits. I sprinkled in poultry seasoning (on the aisle with herbs at the grocery store), cooking sherry, salt and pepper. Then taste and season until you’re happy. I let it cool and refrigerated it overnight. When I was ready to serve, I just microwaved it in 1-minute intervals, whisking between until hot. While it’s optional, I highly recommend adding the sherry. It made the gravy more complex and acidic.
Traditional Sage and Sausage Dressing Patties
Recipe to come…this is a family favorite.
This is a vegetarian option from Martha Stewart, with the major flavor components being country bread, Macintosh apples, leeks and rosemary. Yum! I’ve got to start using leeks more. They’re a pain to clean (grains of sand lodge in the layers of the plant), but well worth it. Leeks are a lit like a cross between an onion and celery.
Baked Whipped Potatoes
This is my mom’s recipe. What’s great about this is that it’s a casserole. You’re not whipping and seasoning potatoes at the last minute before they go on the serving table. Instead, you make it and bake in advance and just keep warm until served. All of the delightful baked potato toppings are already mixed in, and you end up with this very flavorful, airy potato.
- 8 baking potatoes
- 3/4 cup hot milk
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons onion salt
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter on top
1. Peal, cube and boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain.
2. With an electric beater, combine hot milk, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, onion salt, and salt and pepper. Add potatoes and whip. Check seasoning—it may need more salt and pepper.
3. Pour into a Pyrex dish and sprinkle with paprika. Dot top of casserole with small slices of butter. Bake for 20-30 minutes in a 350°F oven.
Ina Garten’s Spinach Gratin
This cheesy little number was a favorite at the feast. And when you read the rich ingredients you’ll know why. One thing I like about this dish is that there’s a good balance between inexpensive—even some frozen ingredients—and the fresh, more expensive ingredients. And when it all comes together, it tastes truly divine. The cheese is gooey, and a bit crispy on top. And it’s well worth the extra penny for the Parmesan and Gruyere.
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 4 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups milk
- 3 pounds frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (5 (10-ounce) packages)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add the cream and milk and cook until thickened. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add the spinach to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
3. Transfer the spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Gruyere on top. Bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.
This dish is absolutely my favorite item on the Thanksgiving plate. It’s sweet and tart, and crunchy and smooth. It beats the heck out of the canned, ringed cranberry gelatin stuff. And it is wonderful side item to not just turkey and dressing, but also chicken tetrazzini and other such bird dishes.
- 1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries (can use frozen)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 1 orange, zest grated and juiced
- 1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- a splash of port (optional)
Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled.
Honey Glazed Carrots
These carrots serve as a nice contrast to the creamy, heavier recipes of mashed potatoes and spinach gratin. The preparation is simple, but ever so tasty!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 pounds carrots, halved lengthwise, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup canned reduced-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- fresh thyme leaves
1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add carrots; cook, stirring once, until beginning to brown, 2 minutes.
2. Add broth, honey, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until crisp-tender, 10 minutes. Uncover, and cook over medium-high until carrots are tender and liquid is syrupy, 7 to 9 minutes more (there should be only a small amount of liquid remaining).
3. Remove skillet from heat; add butter, and swirl skillet until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Top with fresh thyme leaves.
Golden Beets and Pomegranate Salad
I love love beets, and especially love them on a a bed of lettuce with a delicious cheese. Raleigh Times Bar serves a tasty pub salad with pears and roasted beets with Gorgonzola, so that was my inspiration in hunting down a Thanksgiving-appropriate recipe. I noticed that not many Thanksgiving guests were thrilled with the beets. It’s a vegetable that’s not too common, apart from mentions on The Office by Dwight Schrute (Bears, Beets, Battlestar Gallactica). To me beets taste like a combination of carrot and potato, and when oven roasted, they’re far superior to their canned counterparts. As for the pomegranate, I picked one up at the grocery store, out of sheer curiosity never having used one before. I had to look up how to open the darn thing.
This salad dressing is…ahmazing. It’s rather sweet and concentrated, so I added olive oil and a touch more red wine vinegar to cut the sugar and cover more greens.
- 4 golden beets
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, divided
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
- 3 Tbsp Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueur *I had some leftover from margaritas
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- Seeds of 1 pomegranate
- 2 heads Boston lettuce, 1 head green lettuce, 1 head red lettuce
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1. Wash the beets, trim the greens from the top. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap in a packet of aluminum foil and place on oven rack. Roast at 375°F for an hour. Test the tenderness of the beet with a sharp knife. Continue roasting if not tender. Then allow to cool. Then peel and cube.
2. In a medium skillet over high heat, bring beets, shallot, vinegar, broth, liqueur, sugar, and orange peel to a boil, stirring often, until liquid is reduced to 2 Tbsp, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
3. Stir pomegranate seeds into the beet mixture and salt to taste. Serve on top of salad greens. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Toss with remaining red wine vinegar and olive oil.
How to get to those pom seeds…
I will never make bread from scratch, when I can I buy these. They’re so good.
For dessert, we feasted on a a variety of items—pumpkin bread, ginger and orange cookies, and J’s Jack Daniels Pecan Pie! Wowsah. This is a show-stopping pie. So pretty.
That wraps up our Thanksgiving Feast. Thanks to everyone that came from all over, and for those that couldn’t make it, I missed you! (Katie Co—I poured out a little champagne for you.) Much love and safe travels this holiday. Love, Miss Em
PS—Thanks to Ashton for taking most of these pictures.