Saturday, November 26, 2011

Give Thanks

The oven was on for 8 hours straight on Thursday, every piece of tupperware in the house is being used and we've been eating turkey leftovers for four straight meals. Must be Thanksgiving week!

I had the pleasure of hosting Thanksgiving for the first time for my family, based around my sister's impending delivery of her second daughter. Since we weren't sure when she would have the baby, due to arrive on November 22, we had our parents come down to us this holiday season. Luckily for us, baby Amelia was born on Monday morning, which meant my sister and the new addition could join us at our house on Thanksgiving day!

Okay, so how to break down this holiday feast? I should first and foremost say that there is no way I could have stayed sane and on time if not for my mom's guidance and chopping skills! She happily tackled the apples, celery, onions, herbs, bread cubes, pears and more - a job I usually despise!

Here's the menu I created, with links to the recipes (either on allrecipes.com or this blog)

Appetizers
Creamy Goat Cheese and Honey
Pear and Blue Cheese Tartlets

Main Menu
Velvety Squash Soup
Maple Roast Turkey and Gravy
Cranberry, Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Cheesy Crock Pot Potatoes (calling for the recipe, sis!)
Creamy Brussels Sprouts
Cranberries (simply frozen package microwaved with sugar and water)
Rolls with Herb Butter (see recipe below)

Dessert
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie
Devil's Food Cake with pumpkin and chocolate frosting (to celebrate my Aunt's birthday)

Got all that? Let me start by saying that the pumpkin and apple pies were bought ahead of time to help a co-worker's daughter's softball team, my sister's fam brought the cheesy potatoes and my mother whipped up her famous creamy brussels sprouts and brought the rolls down. So again, couldn't have done it all without a little help! And if I ask nicely, maybe my sister will share her recipe for cheesy potatoes??

We don't yet have a table that fits more than 4, so I made sure to hold off on selling our outdoor table and chairs on craigslist until this holiday passed. With a fall themed tablecloth you wouldn't know that we were sitting on an IKEA patio table! This was an idea cribbed from my harvest dinner party last year.
I also used a desk that has yet to find a home in our new place as a makeshift buffet against one wall. Simple decorations including a bowl filled with candy corn (heavily marked down after Halloween at Walgreens!) and fake leaves scattered across the tables helped set the scene. We used the buffet for a crockpot of hot apple cider and the appetizers set out before dinner. Later, it would be used for the side dish overflow. We set the table at about 9am so not to have to worry about it later in the day. Once that turkey came out of the oven it was fast and furious getting everything else done!
I first made these goat cheese appetizers for a housewarming party a couple years ago - so simple! Then on allrecipes.com I found these pear and blue cheese tartletts and after trapsing around town to find the frozen tartlet shells (thanks Jewel, boo Dominicks!) these were too easy and so so good! Chopped pear, blue cheese, a bit of light cream and 10 minutes in the oven later here's what we have:
Okay, onto the main meal. I made the Cooking Light Velvety Squash Soup on Wednesday and left it in the fridge to just re-heat the next day. Smartypants move by me. My mom and I also made the Maple Glaze the night before to make our Thursday morning a little easier on us.
Either way, we were up by 6:45 in the morning to prep getting the turkey in the oven by 10am (to eat at 4pm). While I tackled the stuffing, my mom kept up with the dishes (something I can never seem to keep up with during meal making) and worked on her Brussels Sprouts.
The stuffing was delish - 12 cups, or almost 2 loaves, of bread cubes dried in the oven added to sausage, dried cranberries and apples. I replaced the leeks in the recipe with onion partly because I was too lazy to find leeks in the grocery store and partly because I already had the onion on hand.
At the last minute, I realized our extra lemon zest and fresh thyme from my mother's garden could be used to create some herb butter. We had a recipe from a Chopping Block visit where we realized how easy making speciality butters can be! 1 stick of room temperature butter, mixed with thyme, lemon zest and parsley.
Mix together and form into a tube with saran wrap. Put in the fridge for about an hour and then set out for the meal! You can also freeze these for up to 6 months or so.
Did I forget about the turkey? Not by a long shot. Let me start by saying that this turkey was FREE! We found a deal through Dominicks to spend $150 in a shopping trip and get a turkey up to 20lbs for nada. We filled the cart and were convinced we had enough to make the cut. However, I had also applied a ton of coupons online to our Dominicks card so the total kept going down down down. We had a plan for this. Bob ran to the liquor aisle and grabbed a bottle of Ketel One and a Maker's Mark. That did the trick. By the end of the trip, we had saved 48% or almost $150 off of our bill that included ingredients for three full meals and all of the dry ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal!
Defrosting the turkey started last Sunday when I made some room in the fridge for our big bird. On Tuesday night I took it out of the wrapper and rinsed it with water, wrapping it in saran wrap to help it defrost a bit faster. I wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed at this point as I didn't think about juices running down onto the refrigerator shelves once it thawed out. Wishing I would have put a pan under the turkey!
This maple glaze was an easy one as well - highly rated on allrecipes, I trusted the reviews enough to have this be the one we used for the big day.

Again, huge thanks to my mom for being at my side all day - I would not have known how to pull the neck out, find the gizzard packet or how to, ahem, shove my hand under the skin to rub the glaze into the breast.
We borrowed my sister's roasting pan and into the oven it went.
10 minutes later I freaked out - missed the step involving chicken stock and vegetables added to the bottom of the roasting pan! Take two.
We added a tin foil tent after the first 30 minutes and basted occasionally throughout the day.
Perfect timing for a Packers game break - and win!

Around 1:30pm we picked things back up. The sweet potatoes were peeled, cubed and put to a boil.
The soup was re-heated, the cranberries were prepped and the appetizers were formed. When the turkey came out, the brussels sprouts and stuffing went in. Here's a mid-way shot.
Who's ready to eat? Bob and my Dad watched a youtube video on the perfect carve and then got to work.
I dished out the soup course while the meat stayed warm in the oven.
After mastering the art of passing dishes, our plates were full and just as quickly our bellies were. My three day old niece slept perfectly through the whole dinner, allowing a bit of quiet time for my sister and brother in law to eat!

With dinner done, we cracked open the pies and cake to wish my aunt a happy 64th! Instead of Happy Birthday, we sang along to The Beatles' "When I'm 64" blaring from the iPad. Notice our Egyptian Alabaster vases glowing brightly with tea lights? Nice ambience to the evening.
All in all, a great night for a feast and to give thanks that we could spend it together as a family!

Of course, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without leftovers. My sister brought a couple to-go plates with dividers and we realized they fit perfectly in the pie boxes to not get squished on the ride home.
Bob and I are researching turkey recipes - after all a 20lb turkey for only 8 adults means plenty o' leftover bird. Here's a sandwich I whipped up today: herb butter, turkey, spinach and apple slices on fresh italian bread.
Bob went more traditional with stuffing cranberries, mayo, mustard and turkey on his sammie.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday as well! Any big traditions your family upholds every year? Any recipes you refuse to celebrate Turkey Day without?

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