It’s Turkey Time… Well, Almost…
I love Thanksgiving. I didn’t always, but now that I’m in charge of the cookery, I love it very much. (Did I mention that I’m a control freak?) This year, we’re hosting 8 of my hubby’s nearest and dearest relatives in our new (new to us, really, really, really little) house. I probably should be scared… I probably should be freaking out… BUT I’m not. Because I, Jennie Clingan, have planned ahead.
MAKING A PLAN
Planning a menu for a load of people can be daunting, and if you like to cook it’s very (in fact almost irresistibly) difficult not to go overboard. DO NOT GO OVERBOARD. I have gone overboard and not only would I not like to live there, it isn’t even a nice place to visit!
So… start your menu planning by thinking about which items are crucial to your ideal Turkey Day. For me it’s : 1) turkey (or some other poultry – honestly, last year I had fewer folks and I did two ducks.); 2) cornbread dressing (like E said, it is, in fact, illegal in the South to have Thanksgiving without cornbread dressing – trust us, we’re lawyers. If you aren’t from the South I recommend you try cornbread dressing. You’ll like it.) 3) some sort of a sweet potato dish (my mother in law usually provides this. Hers is really sweet, and I don’t even want to know what’s in it. Plugging my ears – lalalalalala…) 4) regular mashed potatoes or some close relative thereof (I don’t feel limited to potatoes and you shouldn’t either. If you have picky and non-adventurous eaters coming, I suggest sticking to white or yellow root veggies. Do not, I repeat, do not tell anyone that it’s not potatoes until they compliment you on your mashed potatoes. This is similar to how I used to tell my son that all meat was “chicken.” Year before last I fed a bunch of South Arkansas folks mash celeriac using this method.) 5) at least two green veggies (In the spirit of tradition I’m liking brussel sprouts and green beans this year.) 6) desert (usually involving pumpkin. I love pumpkin deserts.)
Once you’re decided which items are on the guest list, you’ll need to find recipes or, if you’re like me, inspiration. I use the internet. (I know- surprise, surprise, I write a food blog and I get culinary inspiration from the internet.) I mainly use Epicurious because I like their variety and the reviewers on there are not shy about leaving extensive and often crucially helpful comments. I recommend always reading the comments if there are any – I know E already said that, but I just want to reiterate. Once you find recipes that inspire you, I say feel free to improvise and combine them. I like to use recipes to get the method and, depending on what I’m making, ingredient proportion, but it’s fun to add and subtract ingredients as desired. Have fun making your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a creative endeavor… an edible adventure… You get the picture!!!
This is the part where I share a few of the recipes I plan to use. I’m giving you sides because, for me, homestyle dinners like this are all about the sides. Now, bear with me because these are originals and they’re stored in the old noggin so I’m going to be using a slightly different format than what I usually use. Please try these at home anyway…
I’m not a bragger, but this dressing is awesome. I have now surpassed all the grandmothers as the most sought after cornbread dressing maker on all sides of our family. Even the grandmothers admit that mine is the best. Just sayin’…
-Cornbread mix and ingredients required by package directions
-1 yellow onion
-1 large or 2 small bulbs of fennel (if you think you don’t like fennel, you will like it in this. Give it a try.)
-fresh sage and thyme
-salt and pepper
-shredded, cooked chicken (meat from 1 whole chicken)
First make your cornbread using Jiffy Cornbread mix. Make two batches – that’s two boxes – according to package directions. While your cornbread cools, chop a large yellow onion and one or two bulbs of fennel – white parts removed (depending on the size 1 large or 2 small). Also chop some fresh herbs – sage and thyme to be specific – 2 generous tbsp of each. Melt about 4 tbsp. of butter over medium heat and add your chopped veggies. Sprinkle veggies with salt and pepper and allow them to cook for a couple of minutes. Now add in your chopped herbs and cook the whole thing until the veggies are very soft and translucent. Set the veggies aside to cool while you crumble your cornbread into little crumbs – I mean little ones, no chunks please. Once the cornbread is crumbled, add your shredded chicken. I HIGHLY recommend using the meat from one of those deli roast chickens that you find at your grocery store. It saves you time and adds a fantastic depth of flavor. Now add your veggies and mix it all around. Add 4 eggs (make sure the mixture is room temp or you will get scrambled eggs in your dressing) and mix it all around. Add chicken broth while stirring. The final mixture should be the consistence of very thick cake batter (with chunks of course). It shouldn’t be watery and the chunks of chicken and veggies should remain suspended, BUT you should be able to pour it. Pour the mixture into a greased (large) baking dish and bake at 375 until the dressing is set – this will take a long while, like over an hour. Just like a cake, a toothpick in the center should come out relatively clean.
Oven-Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Buttery Goodness
Ewwww…brussel sprouts. No, young grasshopper… Yummy brussel sprouts. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t care for boiled brussel sprouts. These are not those sprouts.
-fresh brussel sprouts (yes, they have to be fresh)
-salt and pepper
-1 tbsp of fresh thyme (leaves, very tender stems are okay)
-chopped, roasted pecans (I don’t often say this, but – optional)
Wash and dry your sprouts – get them dried well, otherwise they will steam and not roast = bad. First, remove any ugly exterior leaves. Prep them by slivering off the very end of the stem and then quartering them. Preheat your oven to 450. While the oven heats, toss your sprouts in olive oil to coat and season somewhat liberally with salt and pepper. Place your sprouts in the oven and allow them to roast, stirring maybe once until they are somewhat brown and slightly fork tender (not mushy) – I’m gonna say 20-25 minutes but watch them. Remove sprouts from oven and make the buttery goodness. Take three or four slices of bacon and cut them up. Cook them over med. high starting with a cold pan until they are browned and crispy. Now remove the bacon (reserve it), turn your heat down a tic, and drain off most of the grease (say all but a tablespoon) and add in about 3 tablespoons of butter. Allow that to melt and then add the thyme, about 4-6 cloves of diced garlic and about 2 diced shallots. Allow them to cook until they are translucent, then stir in the juice of a lemon and about half of the zest from that lemon (I recommend Meyer lemons if you can get them.) Remove from heat and toss with the roasted sprouts. Top with the reserved bacon pieces and the roast pecans if you feel like it.
Mashed Root Veggies
-yukon gold potatoes
-celeriac (celery root)
-salt and pepper
Peel the parsnips and the celeriac. Cut all of the veggies into approximately equal sized, small pieces – I will probably use 3 or 4 parsnips, 3 medium turnips, 1 celeriac, and about 6 yukon gold potatoes. Place the veggies in a large pot, add a cup and a half of apple juice and then chicken broth to cover. Also add 2 or 3 bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the veggies are very, very tender – how long this takes depends on how small you cut them, smaller = less time. Drain the veggies and return them to the pot. Fish out the bay leaves. Add plenty of butter (probably 4 tbsp. for the amount of veggies I described, more if you want, though I might not exceed 1 stick). Add plenty of sour cream (probably about 3/4 cup for the amount of veggies I described). Mash everything together and add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. I would guess one tsp. salt and one tsp of garlic power for that quantity of veggies, but it’s always best to start with less and add more. Now, if you can, use an immersion blender or a food processor and whizz the whole thing until it’s good and creamy. (I don’t do this with just potatoes, but some of the others veggies here are more difficult to mash through the usual means.)
HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM ME TO YOU!!!