Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thinking Thanksgiving

This year, I'm the head chef for our family's Thanksgiving.  Everyone else is injured, inundated with work, or not naturally prone to the culinary arts, and so I am taking up the helm of this Turkey Ship, and I'm ready to bring it on home with a delicious, yet relatively simple feast.  Here is my menu as it stands now:
Nigella Lawson's Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts (basically warm, spicy, sweet mixed nuts... you can't go wrong)
pomegranate seeds and green grapes
a few hunks of cheese (probably a five-year-old gouda and a triple creme brie from the local cheese dude)
*I like to keep Thanksgiving apps sparing and simple.  With so many labor-intensive dishes in the meal to follow, you don't want your guests to spoil their appetites or have a bunch of extra, early prep on your hands.

Bourbon Turkey with simple pan gravy
Joy the Baker's Cranberry Sauce (Pictured above.  I'm now more or less stalking Joy the Baker.  It can't be helped.)
Fougasse Stuffing (Fougasse is a gorgeous bread made with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt.  Our favorite bakery in my parents' town makes a fabulous one, so I'm going to take a basic stuffing recipe and make the fougasse the focus of it, rather than those little Pepperidge Farms crouton bad boys you can pick up at the store.  I am totally rolling the dice by making up and not pre-testing a recipe for one of Thanksgiving's centerpiece dishes.  This is way ballsy.  Pray for me.  I'll let you know what happens.) 
Smitten Kitchen's Balsamic Braised Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Maple Brown Sugar Sweet Potatoes (I am going to completely wing this recipe and will report back, as these could potentially be a winner for all of your holiday season menus).
My mom is also going to make her mother's old-school and much-beloved recipe for a chilled cucumber-sour cream salad.

The areas in which I am still brainstorming are beverages and desserts.  Festive cocktails set the tone for the whole day and meal, and I really think you can't go wrong with a bellini.  I love to mix prosecco and pomegranate at the holidays because the ruby red color is so festive, but the wine shop on my parents' street also sells a special pear puree, and I'm thinking that would also be mighty good with some bubbly.  Why choose?!  In an ideal world, we'll stock up on prosecco and both juices.  I am also very intrigued by this Hot Vanilla Cider I just spied on Shutterbean:
With so many Knob Creek lovers in the family (hi hubs, hi bro-in-law, hi me), it seems we could hardly go wrong with this fun cocktail.

As for desserts, I'm caught in a Libran indecision land between adherence to the classics (my sister is a sucker for a perfect, flaky crusted apple pie) and food-blog-stalking innovations (see below for Joy's pumpkin pie bars).
I'm also half-inclined to order store-bought desserts from one of many killer bakeries in the area, because with a two-year-old afoot, having never cooked a major meal in my parents' new kitchen, and with all that everyone has been through this fall, trying to make flawless pie dough from scratch along with all those other goodies sounds perhaps just one step over the line.  And selfishly, I'll more than get my pie fix when my father-in-law brings on his epic pie-creating magic at Christmas (the man has a gift).

On the other hand, I may just have to try making this Salted Caramel Pie from November's Issue of Food and Wine Magazine.  It looks simply outrageous.
Only time will tell.
Special bonus: are you Thanksgiving-procrastinating and only planning your menu now? Does all of the above sound great to you?  I'm creating a comprehensive shopping list for my menu and would happily e-mail you that Word doc if you want to play along at home.  Leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I'll share the love.
What are you cooking/baking/eating/drinking on Turkey Day?


  1. Your menu sounds brilliant & if it wasn't for the fact that I have my own family to eat with, I would be hopping on a flight to barge in! ;-) Can't wait to hear/see all the highlights! Make sure someone helps you out with photography! xoxo

  2. Yes! I want to play! I am hosting this year but luckily the whole famdango is participating and bringing the side dishes. I had it all planned out to brine the turkey and cook it the way my mom does, but now I am tempted to throw it out the window and go your bourbon route. We did a stint in Kentucky, after all.

    The father-in-law had talked me (back) into putting stuffing inside the bird, as long as we cooked it additional outside. Now I have too many good options. Thank you SMJ!

  3. I go very traditional on Thanksgiving - and I'm all about pies (although those pumpkin bars look dangerously good). You can make flawless pie dough in advance and freeze it til the day before T-giving...
    -Boss Lady A.

  4. Alison - Do it! Hope on a plane! :)

    Ali - You guys should definitely do a bourbon turkey. My family was skeptical the first year, and now everyone is addicted. In fact, when I suggested going in a slightly different direction, there was a total mutiny. I think you guys would love it. I link to the recipe above, and let me know if you want my type-A word doc as well :)

    Boss Lady - You are a professionally trained King Arthur baking wizard. I am not sure that I trust your ability to make flawless pie dough ahead of time to transfer to lil' ole me.

  5. Jane I am sold. Two follow up questions for you. It looks like you do not rinse the turkey after the bourbon-soaking, correct? Just take off the cheese cloth and put that mess into the bird? (OK, three questions.) Also, what does this do to your gravy? I was planning to do onions below the bird, then blackening them (how my gravy-goddess mom does it). I am re-adjusting to have a world-rocking turkey, thank you!

  6. Ali, you can feel free to rinse and pat dry the bird before you start the bourbon marinating process, but definitely don't rinse it after the marination. Just take off the cheesecloth and stuff it in the bird. This totally foils your FIL's stuffing inside the bird request. Blame me. You can make pan gravy from this, but it will be different than what you are probably used to -- very sweet and oak-y. We like it, but if you have gravy traditionalists you don't want to upset, I suggest making a gravy just from flour and a separate broth. Let me know if you have any more questions, and I can totally be your turkey hotline on Thanksgiving if need be!

  7. i've made smitten kitchen's pumpkin pie and it was KILLER. that's my fave and for me, it's not thanksgiving without it! i want to make those brussels! yum. thanks smj! -hpw

  8. Thanks so much, Jane. I will try not to bug you after this -- I think your menu is challenging enough as it is. This turkey novice does have a few more questions for you. While cooking, at any point do you turn your bird over? Do you ever cover it? Finally, any tips if the bird is larger than 16 pounds? You are my Turkey Day hero, thank you for all of the help.

  9. Ali, keep on buggin'! I'm happy to help. There's plenty of debate about turning and covering, but I don't do either. I roast my bourbon turkey breast up and uncovered for the entire time. My secret though, especially with a big bird, is frequent basting. I'd baste at least every 30 min.

    Also, when the turkey comes out of the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest for about 30 min before you carve it. This will allow the juices to reabsorb into the meat, and the bird will be much more moist this way. Its also a great way to maximize oven usage (I'm going to bake off my stuffing while the turkey rests).

    Finally, the bourbon does something to the bird where it becomes so tender, it is almost falling off the bone, so you couldn't flip it during the roasting process anyway, or you'd literally have a hot mess on your hands :).

  10. Alright, SMJ. You've really done it this year. It sounds cliche, but you truly took thanksgiving to another level. The turkey was very good, as usual, but the stuffing and the brussels sprouts were sublime. You know how I love the fougasse and the stuffing was the perfect mixture of moist and crispy. The sprouts had both amazing flavors and textures. I felt like the main character from the Ratatouille cartoon when he discovers his love of food. Then, the day after, you made the leftovers into healing, aromatic and delicious pho! Unbelievable meal and special memory made. You're amazing.