Face it, if you’re serving the feast this year there’s a lot of work to be done.
Walk in my door, and you will be directed to the living room with a crackling fire in the hearth. Most likely, The Mister will pour you a beverage and there will be what I call vestigial nibbles on the coffee table (spiced nuts and marinated olives) because really, you should fast for a day before what’s to come — belly distention and stupor-wise. More than any meal of the year everyone has a pretty set idea about what they want to eat. So, bearing that in mind — oh, and people get the most peculiar expressions on their face when I suggest an alternative to turkey — here’s a traditional menu from soup to three festive desserts.
Corn Soup with Lime, Basil, and Avocado, adapted from “I Am Almost Always Hungry” by Lora Zarubin
Plain Old Herb and Salt Rubbed Roast Turkey, Like Mom Used to Make
Pork Sausage, Pine Nut, Apple, Onion, Parsley, Fennel Seed, and Bread Dressing
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
A Simple Tossed Butter Lettuce Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Nope, I didn’t forget: Honey Roasted Garlic Balsamic Yams, Delicata Squash, Tomatoes, and Green Onions (Marshmallows are for toasting over the fire, nuff said.)
Have a sip of Sparkling Cider or Wine
While I brew the Coffee and Bring Out Dessert
Lemon Ricotta Torte
Gingerbread Cake with Soft Whipped Cream
Cider Caramel Apple Pie
You want recipes? Well, stick around. This spread should serve 8-10, amply.
Corn Soup with Lime, Basil, and Avocado:
6 ears of corn, 8 cups water, 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 shallots (diced), 2 cloves garlic (minced with salt), 1 cup diced potato, sea salt to taste, grated zest of 1 lime, juice of 2 limes, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, 1 ripe avocado diced (garnish)
Cut the corn kernels from the cobs and set the kernels aside in a bowl.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and add the corn cobs. Cook over medium heat for thirty minutes. Remove the corn cobs and throw them away. You now have corn stock.
In a skillet (big enough for your pile of corn) melt butter and add olive oil. Sautée the shallots and garlic until translucent, don’t brown the garlic because that makes it bitter. Add the corn, potatoes, and sautée for a minute or two. Take this mixture and add it to your stock.
Simmer the soup for 20 minutes. Add salt to taste. It will take quite a bit to make it come alive. Keep tasting after each 1/4 teaspoon, you’ll know when it’s right. Remove the soup from the flame and cool until it’s not too molten to whiz up in a blender. You’ll have to do this in batches, as you will have a lot of soup. Add each pureed batch of soup to a large bowl, and when you’re done add the lime zest, lime juice, and basil.
You can serve the soup chilled, or reheat and serve hot. Garnish with diced avocado (tossed in lemon juice). I like to put it in little mugs or cups and serve it cool while people are still milling around in the living room. Which means—you can make it the day before Thanksgiving. Just don’t dice your avocado the day ahead, that’s definitely a “day of” task.
Plain Old Herb and Salt Rubbed Roast Turkey, Like Mom Used to Make:
For eight to ten people you will need a 12-14 pound turkey (you can get away with a 10-12 pound turkey if you don’t want leftovers). The night before you roast the bird, rub it with a dry mixture of salt, sage, thyme, black pepper, and smoked paprika — inside the cavity and all over the skin. Refrigerate. The day of, preheat your oven to 375º, put the turkey in that pan you only use once or twice a year and plan on roasting it 20 minutes per pound. Tent the bird with foil, or you can have a Martha Stewart Moment (it’s a good thing) and cover the the turkey with cheesecloth onto which you liberally brush one melted stick of butter, baste a few more times while roasting to keep the cloth moist. 30-40 minutes before the roasting is done remove the foil tent, or buttered cloth (be very careful), and let the bird brown.
Shall We Talk Gravy?
I just take the pan the turkey was roasting in and put it over two burners on the stove and add flour to make a roux and simmer for three minutes and then pour in, very gradually — whisking all the while, 4 cups of chicken or turkey stock (store bought). Add a shot of cider, or cognac, simmer a little more and you’re done. But, if you want to take a bit more time and make a supremely delicious gravy, there’s none better than this: Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s Thanksgiving Gravy
For a crowd, 5 pounds of potatoes should do. Whatever kind of potatoes you like, just don’t use waxy ones. I like Yukon Gold. Peel, chop, and boil until tender. Melt one stick butter, and warm 1 — 2 cups buttermilk, in separate pans (or separate glass measuring cups in the microwave). Pour the melted butter over the potatoes and start mashing. When you’ve got the texture you like stir in the warmed buttermilk. You do it in this order because the butter coats the starches and makes the potatoes fluffy. If you add the buttermilk first it will turn into something nasty and gooey. You can do any variation you like, just always add the oily stuff first; for instance 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup warmed half-and-half, 1 cup caramelized onions, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese… Salt to taste.
Pork Sausage, Pine Nut, Apple, Onion, Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Fennel Seed, and Bread Dressing:
Turkey dressing, or stuffing (if you go old-school and cook it inside the bird), is also one of those dishes you can tilt any way you want. The basic building blocks are bread (cornbread, rye bread, ciabatta, whatever strikes your fancy), something savory like sautéed mushrooms, or crispy pancetta, or…, butter, herbs, beaten eggs and chicken stock. You combine everything and cook in a buttered baking dish. Okay, here we go.
6 cups of dried crusty bread, 1 pound pork sausage (loose, not in links), 1 stick of butter melted, 5 eggs beaten, 2 cups chicken stock, 2 onions chopped, 2 apples chopped, 2 stalks of celery chopped, 1 cup of flat leaf parsley chopped, 1 cup of pine nuts, about 2 tablespoons fresh sage (minced) and thyme (tear the leaves off the stem), 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Tear bread ( I use a mixture of caraway seed rye bread and sour dough) into bite sized pieces the night before and lay on a pan and let dry. Or, if you’re pressed for time on the day, toast the torn bread in the oven for a few minutes, but keep an eye on it because it can turn into charcoal very quickly if you’re not paying attention.
Preheat oven to 350º (or if you’re putting it in the same oven with the Turkey 375º is fine).
Fry the loose sausage in a good heavy skillet and break it up as it sizzles with a fork until it is crisp and brown. Take the sausage out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the pork fat cook the onion, apple, and celery until translucent. Add parsley, sage, thyme, and fennel seeds.
Place the bread, sausage, and herb apple-onion mixture in a very large bowl. Add the pine nuts and combine. Pour the melted butter over the mixture, add 1 cup of the chicken stock, and stir. Add the beaten eggs and stir. Add the last cup of the chicken stock and stir.
In a large buttered baking dish (about 3—4 inches deep) spread the stuffing out and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes more.
A Simple Tossed Butter Lettuce Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette:
The easiest part of the meal! To make the mustard vinaigrette whisk together about 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons (or less) of white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
1 sack of cranberries (they come fresh in plastic bags in the produce section of the market, and are four cups worth), 1 seedless orange (peel and all) diced, 1/2 cup sugar (to taste), 1/4 cup water, 2 handfuls of pecans, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon of ground clove, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger.
Make this the day ahead of Thanksgiving. Sort through the cranberries and throw away any squishy ones (there are always a few). Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. The cranberries will start to pop, and after gently bubbling for about 15—20 minutes the sauce will start to gel. That’s when it’s done. Remove from heat and put in the fridge.
Honey Roasted Garlic Balsamic Yams, Delicata Squash, Tomatoes, and Green Onions:
12 green onion cut into 3-4 inch lengths, 8 plum tomatoes cut in half, 4—6 yams cut in sections, 2 delicata squash seeded and sectioned, 2 cloves of garlic minced with salt, 5 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, salt and pepper to taste.
First make the marinade. Mix the oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, salt an pepper in a small bowl.
Place the green onions, tomatoes, yams, and delicata squash in a large roasting pan and toss together with the marinade. You can let this sit on your counter all day until you’re ready to cook. Place in a 350º oven and roast for 1 hour, until the yams and squash become fork tender. The tomatoes will have collapsed into themselves, this is okay, and quite delicious.
Darlings! What a meal. Now pull up a chair, because after you feed people, they tell you the most extraordinary things. Maybe it’s the wine? Maybe it’s because you’ve just engaged in one of the most primal, caring, traditions and everyone feels the love? I don’t really know, but enjoy it. Converse, relax…and I suggest (in my Bossy Pants way — I beg a million pardons) you and your closest comrades clean up the kitchen before climbing upstairs to bed, because you really don’t want to face that mess in the morning.