I hope you had a good Thanksgiving–I certainly did. I hosted again this year with a small gathering of friends and family, serving enough food for a…much larger gathering, lol. Normally, I’m just cooking for my wife and me, but Thanksgiving is an entirely different animal what with the wide variety of dishes to coordinate–you don’t want redundant flavors, too few pans, too little oven space, too much to do at once–its a lot of work, stress, and trouble…and I love it. As I had promised you, I wanted to share the outcome of my Thanksgiving this year with you as this holiday is obviously about giving thanks, and for me, its also very much about the food.
Also, something worth mentioning: Foodbuzz. I’ve been a member with Foodbuzz for a while now, and they have been nothing but good to me, so imagine my delight when I was selected as one of the food bloggers to take part in their monthly 24, 24, 24 series (24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Posts). If you’re not familiar with the event, the idea is that twenty-four people host twenty-four dinners in twenty-four hours. Thanks, Foodbuzz!
I wanted to have something of a theme for my food this holiday. While I’m not a southern native, I nonetheless thought I would aim for a Thanksgiving where I tried to flourish each dish with a bit of southern influence. Does that mean this is your traditional southern Thanksgiving spread? Nope–some dishes are clearly southern, and others have touches that I hope evoke ideas of southern food.
So finally, on to the food. Obviously, I can’t go too crazy trying odd new things–there would be a revolt if some staples like turkey and mashed potatoes didn’t make an appearance. So this year, I aimed for a balance of some favorites from last Thanksgiving and a few new things (and I promise more detailed posts in the coming days/weeks for the new items. I’ll update this post with links).
Since all of my guests had slept over, this means I’m on the hook for more than just Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to make a light lunch–enough to satiate but not such that it would detract from dinner or keep me too busy in the kitchen.
I wanted to start with something like a roasted butternut squash soup I had made recently, but also something more in keeping with the Southern theme. I thought it would be fun to try take this in a more Louisianian direction by crossing butternut squash with a Creole-styled gumbo. This soup relied on butternut squash (instead of tomato) and smoked pork stock as the base, and included classic gumbo components like a caramel roux, okra, celery, peppers, andouille, shrimp, and more. If I didn’t have a big dinner to follow this, I would have went to town loading this up with other kinds of shellfish because I love gumbo! And not to toot my own horn, but this was a very strong way to start the meal!
The next bit of finger food: I chose to go with something more traditionally Spanish (after all, did you know the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration in the USA was held by Spanish explorers down south?). So I topped some crostini off with a bit of membrillo and manchego cheese. This is one of those simple combinations that is surprisingly delicious. Its also great because it takes no time to put together and time is a precious commodity with all the other dishes I still had to put together.
With the growling bellies satisfied (for now!), back to working on dinner. The star of the show at any Thanksgiving table, the turkey. Until I get myself a big deep frier, I’m a big proponent of brining the bird. So I stuck with the tried and true approach: brining in a spiced, cider broth overnight before slowly roasting the turkey to perfection. Oh, and the difference between the turkey I wanted to make last year and the turkey I did make this year? This turkey got a generous duck fat rubdown before oven time (it was no coincidence that I roasted duck recently). Just like butter and bacon, everything is better with duck fat (and a little bit of trivia: did you know duck fat is healthier than butter? Its practically diet food 😉 ).
Using the gizzards, pan drippings, and a bit of cider (in keeping with the brine flavors), I prepared a gravy to go with the turkey.
And besides turkey, what else is the perfect complement to gravy? Biscuits, of course. Biscuits and gravy are a very southern mix, albeit normally a sausagey breakfast item. These biscuits are flavored with aged cheddar, buttermilk, and chives.
While we’re on the note of gravy and other turkey accompaniments, cranberry sauce is a must. I’ve come to really love cranberries, so I went a little overboard. I made two different cranberry sauces that I’d prepared last year: a traditional orange and cranberry sauce (because if we Floridians can get anything at this time of year, its very abundant and very fresh local oranges) and a spiced, dried fig & wine based cranberry sauce. I also thought I’d try to add another southern element to the lineup with a third cranberry sauce. Taking some of the ideas of South Carolina styled barbecue sauces, I also served a zesty cranberry mustard sauce (flavors like serrano, garlic, ginger, lime, stone ground mustard, dijon, etc). If this sounds like a whole lot of cranberry sauce, you’re thinking too short term–I mean, just imagine the leftover turkey sandwich possibilities!
And now, let’s focus on the side dishes.
I had a ton of ideas I wanted to pursue for the potatoes. Mashed, sautéed, gratin, whipped, studded with truffles–heck, there should be a potato Thanksgiving! I ultimately decided to use my roasted garlic mash as a base recipe, working in creme fraiche, duck fat, chives, and goat cheese for what obviously, was a heart stoppingly rich side dish.
Then there’s the stuffing. I have a confession: this doesn’t really fit the southern theme all too well as I did it. But I have another confession: I don’t care, lol–this is too good! I prepared this stuffing last year to rave reviews and I was told not to change it. So much for a corn bread-based dressing (which apparently is the southern term for stuffing. “Corn bread dressing” always gave me the strangest mental image…pouring corn bread on a salad? WTF?). This is incredibly rich and the kind of thing I could live off of: sour dough, cream, sausage, leeks, mushrooms, and goat cheese.
Then there was the corn pudding. This was really delicious. I was largely inspired by a recipe I saw, so I made this corn custard with a bit more of a kick, loading it up bacon, a mix of peppers, and chestnuts.
Given all of the rich entries on the menu thus far, I thought it might be wise to have a few “simpler” veggies. First, I diced up a few carrots and parsnips, parboiling them until tender (no more than 10 minutes) and then giving them a quick, sweet, orange, balsamic glaze in a pan.
And to keep the carrots some company, I cleaned up some green beans, tossed them with orange infused olive oil, and roasted them along with some shredded leek, garlic, orange zest, and almonds.
And finally, I hope you saved room for dessert. If you didn’t, unbuckle your belt and make room!
Pie on Thanksgiving is a must in my opinion, and the proper pie to fit the southern theme seemed like an obvious one to me. I chose to go with a classic soul food styled treat: sweet potato pecan pie. If you’ve never had sweet potato pie before, I promise you, you are missing out. Its kind of similar to pumpkin pie, but well, uses sweet potatoes rather than pumpkin, not to overly trivialize it (because trust me, flavor-wise, its so much more). Smooth, bright orange, and surprisingly sophisticated for such a sweet, this is probably one of my absolute favorite pies. Combined with another classic Georgian treat, and this is a pie of the gods.
And since this is Mike’s Table, after all, it is only fitting that there be an ice cream to go along with this. I churned up a batch of ginger ice cream to serve this pie a la mode.
Since I’m all about dessert, I like to have a second item handy (and the freezer full of ice cream flavors doesn’t count), so I decided to make some candy a few days ahead. In this case, I chose to highlight my favorite nut (which is now in season) by making some buttery, bourbon flavored hazelnut brittle.
At this point, I was stuffed and had more dirty dishes than I knew what to do with and we were all stuffed to the gills, some more than others (or maybe just pregnant 😉 ). I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!