(Almost) can-free Thanksgiving

This year, I decided to take on the challenge of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. My mom served as sous chef (her words, not mine) and we hosted at my parents’ place, which is a great thing because we ended up having 34 guests, and I do not have the space, furniture or dishes to accommodate that.

I wanted to make a can-free Thanksgiving, and an as-local-as-possible feast, so got a Thanksgiving package from my beloved Fresh Fork Market CSA that included:

  • 1 Tom Turkey (promised to be 20+ lbs, it was 22.5)
  • 2 bunches carrots
  • 3 lbs candy onions
  • 4 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1 lb shallots
  • 1/4 lb garlic
  • 1 dz eggs
  • 1 head lettuce – this ended up being a mix of greens, which I just took home because a) there wouldn’t be enough for everyone, b) I don’t think most people would eat is anyway, and c) apparently no salad is one of three top Thanksgiving rules
  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 1/2 peck apples

The menu

  • Turkeybrined a la Good Eats. This guy was ready more than an hour before expected! We didn’t have a probe thermometer, and by the time I checked the temp it was a little over. But, likely thanks to the brine, it came out really well. Whew! Crisis averted. Note to self (and others): Check way before you think you need to, just in case. Or, use a probe. 
  • Traditional mashed potatoes with gravy – this was a dish my mom made with russet potatoes, but we made the gravy from scratch. I used buerre manie instead of mom’s standard slurry, and my dad said it was the best gravy he’d ever had. Win!
  • Olive oil and swiss chard mashed potatoes with garlic (with half-and-half instead of milk, roasted garlic in the potatoes and fresh garlic in the greens) – my potato contribution, using the ones from Fresh Fork (for the record, leftovers of these make amazing potato soup if you just add some broth). My family aren’t a bunch of adventurous eaters, but this was a big hit.
  • Sweet and savory sweet potatoes – I made this one up. Roasted the potatoes whole with butter on the skins, cut them into chunks and mashed them with salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.
  • Roasted root vegetable medley – turnips, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts and shallots roasted at 400 for about 20 minutes with salt, pepper and olive oil, then I added pre-roasted beet chunks and thyme for another 5 minutes or so; I also made a maple-dijon dressing (see here, sub olive oil for canola) to go on top for anyone that wanted it. Among a few diners, these were another big hit.
  • Steamed corn with butter – another of mom’s dishes; not local, but mostly for the kiddos.
  • Green beans, blanched and sauteed with shallots and butter, topped with toasted pecans – another mom dish.
  • Out-of-the-turkey dressing, made from scratch with knead-not sourdough bread that I baked, then diced and dried out in the oven at 200 for about 40 minutes … maybe 60. This was then mixed with onions and celery sauteed in butter, and homemade stock, then baked at 400 for about 30 minutes. Foil on at first, then removed for the last 10 to make the top crispy.
  • Cornbread – made by mom.
  • Cranberry sauce – Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s recipe, which is excellent, although I cut down on the sugar, using about 2/3 what’s called for because I like it a little on the tart side.
  • Crescent rolls – Totally not local, and the only thing not made from scratch, but a cute idea my mom had for the kids. They asked people what they were thankful for, wrote everything down on strips of parchment and rolled them up into the crescents. Then, when everyone opened theirs, they read the thankful message inside. We ended up nixing these. The kids were not amused.
  • Pumpkin pie – I looked at a ton of recipes for this, and ended up making the filling from a super old copy of Joy of Cooking. You heat the (roasted and pureed) pumpkin and heavy cream with spices and eggs over a double boiler “until thick,” which took about 25 minutes, and then pour it into the baked crust. Most recipes have you bake the filling in the crust, in the oven, but this came out really well and, not to toot my own horn, but it was delicious.
  • Apple pie – I followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, except my pie dough is Michael Ruhlman’s 3-2-1 recipe, using half butter and half shortening. (And, no offense to mom, but I think mine was a little more stable than her go-to recipe.) In the end, this may have been my favorite dessert. Flaky crust, not overly sweet.
  • Pecan pie – This one was all mom, but damn if it isn’t one of the dishes I look forward to all year.
  • Pumpkin roll – See above re: pecan pie.

A few of our guests also brought dishes: bread and dipping oil, and veggies and dip to tide everyone over before dinner; a small extra turkey, extra stuffing, macaroni and cheese for the youngins; bing cherry Jell-O (a grandma tradition); torte (also a grandma tradition); key lime pie (not very fall-ish, but my aunt Lyn makes a mean one); cherry cheesecake pie.

The meal

My parents’ house was basically turned into a restaurant setup. Their dining room and living room are connected, and we had four tables spanning that area, plus another in the kitchen.

Everyone was happy to be together, and happy with the food, which of course made the entire endeavor a great success.


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