For those of you who don't know me other than from this blog, I'm in grad school (last year!) and living in Virginia, but most of my family and friends are in Texas. We get a week off from school for Thanksgiving, and while many people choose to return home for the holiday, Andy and I stay put. It's expensive and time consuming getting home, and ultimately not worth it in our minds, especially considering winter break is right around the corner. So, for the third year this year, we've had friends over for Thanksgiving, and for the second year, my older sister and my nephew were able to join in as well since she's now doing a grad program about four hours away in Ohio.
Andy and I don't mess around when it comes to Thanksgiving; it's quickly becoming our favorite holiday. We send out e-invitations, make a menu, a solicit contributions from our friends. We do the bulk of the cooking, and honestly we like it that way. We really enjoy spending the day together in the kitchen, and we always have the best time drinking and eating and hanging out with our friends, who are always such gracious guests. It's hard not to be thankful on a day like that.
I didn't post anything leading up to Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be nice to do a little re-cap. I meant to get this up yesterday, but yesterday after my sister and
nephew headed back to Ohio, Andy and I just lazed around and watched TV
and ate junk food. And ran the dishwasher about four times. I sporadically took pictures with my phone throughout the day, but I missed out on quite a bit, so this will be half pictures and half description. This might end up kind of long, but if you're interested, buckle up and enjoy this peak into our home!
One of the first things I did was get the stuffing made. I use my mom's recipe because it's the only stuffing I've ever really known and a lot of other stuffing recipes have sausage or other weird stuff in it that I don't approve of. I like to stick to the classics. One thing my mom always did that is equal parts gross and responsible is use the whole turkey. We cook the gibs and neck in water, onion, celery, and spices to make a little broth that we use to make gravy later and then cut the gibs up and put them in the stuffing. Celery and onion gets cooked in a bunch o' butter. Loaf of cheap wheat bread plus some broth plus cooked gibs plus onion and celery plus some spices equals super simple stuffing. By the way, if you're still using a disposable pan for your turkey, you need to get yourself a legit roasting pan. It's so much better, plus it's a lot easier to pull in and out of the oven than those flimsy foil pans. I got this one last year at Walmart for like 10 bucks.
This year we dry brined our turkey three days before Thanksgiving and it worked marvelously. The last two years we did a wet brine recipe from a friend of Andy's, and that was great, but the dry brine was so much easier and so much cheaper, so I think we'll be sticking with that from now on. Then we wrap the turkey in bacon to keep the top of the turkey from browning too quickly and to give it a bunch of flavor. Our turkey actually cooked a lot faster than we expected it to this year, so we actually took it out of the oven, wrapped it in a bunch of foil, and let it rest in a styrofoam cooler (thanks Andy's Dad for this wonderful idea!). It stayed warm and moist and delicious until we were ready to eat it. So yeah, now you know that trick in case that ever happens to you. Crisis averted.
The last two years we had mashed potatoes for our potato, but this year I decided I wanted to do something different. The two potato dishes I remember us doing most when I was growing up was Au Gratin Potatoes or red potatoes and green beans. Andy isn't super hype on Au Gratin potatoes though (which is crazy), so when I saw this recipe it sparked an idea. So we did this hasselback or accordion style potatoes with super thin slices of garlic and put out a serving dish with sour cream, green onions, and shredded cheddar cheese for people to top them with as they liked (and of course there were butter dishes). For our green vegetable we were going to do this super simple green bean and shallot recipe, but then Andy got an idea for a deconstructed green bean casserole, so we did sauteed green beans and shallots with a mushroom puree served on the side for you to drizzle over the top. There were absolutely no leftovers of that and it was delicious. When the bacon was done on the turkey, we took it off and set it aside to be crumbled over potatoes or stuffing or whatever your heart desired and let the top of the turkey brown up.
Fresh rolls are pretty much a necessity in my opinion. I've made these a few times and love them. I doubled the recipe to make sure there was plenty for everyone with some leftover for turkey sandwiches the next day. Leftover turkey sandwiches with a little Miracle Whip and cranberry sauce is there best part, right? My mom always served homemade bread in a basket. It just feels right that way.
My sister whipped up her candied sweet potatoes. I use my mom's recipe when I make them, but she has a slightly different recipe that she uses. Regardless, candied sweet potatoes are one of my favorite Thanksgiving things. Seriously. It doesn't look like much here, but you top them with a buttload of marshmallows and brown them up in the oven and it's heaven. Heaven, people!
You can never know exactly when Thanksgiving dinner will hit the table, so it's always nice to have some snacks out for people while they're smelling all of the wonderful food and waiting so patiently. I whipped up some deviled eggs following this boiling method and my own recipe. Taste and mix is my method. I also made these crunchy chickpeas for a healthy, non-filling snack.
Slow cooker mulled cider is the easiest, most genius drink idea because you can drink it hot or over office, kids love it, adults love it, and you can spike it with regular rum or spiced rum or bourbon or whatever and you don't need quality liquor people. I put in some store bought cider, a couple of orange peels, a lemon peel, and a cheesecloth filled with allspice berries and whole cloves and some cinnamon sticks. It smells amazing as it cooks and it keeps really nicely. I cook on high for about four hours and then turn it down to keep warm after that.
This is definitely my new favorite pie crust recipe. It came out flaky and browned up beautifully and tasted delicious. It was also easy to roll out. If you are a beginner pie crust maker, I don't envy you. I put in my time and I'm finally able to make it without crying or cursing or stressing out. Yay! With stuff like biscuit dough and pie crust and all that kind of thing, you really just have to know what it's supposed to look like. Because if you don't you sit there thinking is this right and adding too much water and stressing out. But if you do you just stand there and say, no, it's fine, it'll come together, and it does. I used this apple pie recipe and it tasted good, but the juice didn't thicken up like I wanted it to. I've never been able to get a fruit pie to gel up properly. Does anyone have any great tips or advice on this matter? I didn't get a picture of my pecan pie, sadly, but it was wonderful. The whole thing got eaten up. I used this recipe as a base and decreased the sugar and increased the pecans. I'm sure I'll post my modified recipe in the future because I will definitely be making it again. My friend Meghan brought the Pumpkin pie this year (just so you don't think we didn't have pumpkin pie, because it's kind of a necessity). She also brought some delicious homemade cranberry sauce. And of course no table would be complete without a can of jelly cranberry sauce as well.
We had seven adults and one kid at our table this year, which actually worked out perfectly with the size of our table (with leaves) and the number of seats we were able to scrounge up. We did not do anything fancy with our table setting at all this year. We put out a couple of unscented candles for a little ambiance and a cloth napkin. I know lots of people do a buffet style thing so as to avoid the cluttered table, but we like keeping the food on the table so people feel comfortable getting seconds and talking while they're serving themselves and it feels more family style that way. So we don't clutter up the table with extra stuff, because the surface of this table was full to the brim with all of the food on it!
In the middle of all of this cooking and cleaning and preparing and whatnot, there was my four year old nephew. In the middle of the day he just needed to get out and get rid of some energy while his mommy was taking a nap, so he went out and started picking up sticks in the front yard. He actually wanted to rake, but we didn't have a small enough one. I asked him to make a nice pile for me and he decided that he would instead lean all of the sticks against the tree in a bizarre, modern art masterpiece. I named it tree tree. We will just leave it like that and let our neighbors wonder what kind of witches we are.
Our friends brought all of the wine and booze. We did cocktails before dinner and wine with dinner and cider after dinner. Every one was so lovely and took turns playing with my nephew and there were video games played and toy block towers built and wonderful conversations had. Perhaps the best Thanksgiving yet.
What did you do for Thanksgiving this year? What traditions does your family have? Also, throw your Hanukkah stories at me!
Yours Truly, Jen
November 30, 2013