When people are falling asleep on your sofa from the dreaded food coma, you know that you’ve hosted a successful Thanksgiving meal. Last year I had 16 people crammed into my apartment…this year there were only 9 of us, and it is was the PERFECT size. The dinner was potluck-style, which resulted in a stunning spread: Parmesan Pumpkin Biscuits, White Bean Gratin, Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Beef Bourguignon, Salad with Roasted Squash, Truffle Mashed Potatoes, Onion Pancetta Stuffing…swoon. I relinquished the need to make the 20+ dishes I hoped to, and instead invested all of my energy into the main event: the Salted Roast Turkey with Herb and Shallot Gravy.
This was a big bird…which made for some comical “behind-the-scenes” drama (picture a 5-foot person woman to lift this thing…you get the picture). The recipe was quite different from last year’s turkey – rather than soaking the bird in a brine, I used a “dry brine”. In other words, the bird was seasoned with a salt mixture and left overnight – I read multiple criticism on wet brining for its lack of flavor and odd texture (considering the meat has, essentially, been waterlogged). A dry brine is intended to produce a similarly succulent bird while also imparting a more flavorful seasoning in the meat (herbs and zest, in this case).
The turkey was, needless to say, divine – it was full of flavor, quite tender, and (if I do say so myself) really beautiful. You can find the recipe for this gorgeous bird HERE. So now the question on whether or not I stick with this technique or return to the full brine…I’d have to say this newer method has won me for the following reasons:
- Ease of preparation: rather than having to manage a bag filled with COLD, salty water, I was able to season the bird and let it rest on a baking sheet in the fridge (no kitchen sink catastrophe this year, ha!)
- Flavor: while most people opt for smothering their turkey with gravy and/or cranberry sauce, the meat was actually quite good on its own. The multitude of leftover salads, sandwiches, etc. that I’ve been enjoying since Thanksgiving can speak to that.
- Make-ahead items: the stock, herbed salt, and mise-en-place were things I could do WAY before the actual day. This, my friends, is a key strategy to being a successful (and sane) host.
Okay…so I didn’t JUST make the turkey (it’s no secret that I am a little crazy when it comes to hosting…) but I also didn’t make anywhere near as much as I did last year. A stress-free host = the perfect party. One of my 2012 solutions? Appetizers. These don’t have to be fancy – your guests (most likely) won’t have eaten anything all day, so anything edible will do, haha! In all seriousness, give your guests food that will appease their ferocious hunger, while still leaving enough room for the big event. My personal favorite were the Orange Chipotle-Spiced Pecans, which you can find the recipe for HERE! I also had cheeses, sausages, sweet potato bites…to name a few.
If there is one thing I insist on making (other than the turkey), it’s pie. This is where I can really let my creative juices flow, trying new flavor combination and what not. I went for a classic here: Bourbon Pumpkin Pie. I used an actual sugar pumpkin (instead of canned) – the result was a pie with more depth of flavor, and less of that off-putting texture that canned varieties can impart. The crust is one of my favorite recipe – it’s not elegant, but it is SO good. If there is one thing you can rely on in my kitchen, it is always taste over appearance. Click HERE to learn more about this irresistible pie!
Moral of the story? It was a great night – there was more food than 9 people could ever hope to eat, great conversations, and wonderful company (clean-up was another story, but this is a cooking blog…not a Clorox ad). Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I do it again as soon as next weekend? Absolutely not, haha! What’s truly great about Thanksgiving is its distinction from all other meals – it’s the one time of year that a bountiful feast is merited, and we can celebrate everything that we have to be thankful for.
As I continue to grow and make Boston my home, I realize just how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and family – their continued love and support make every moment worthwhile. It was this very realization that inspired my musical pairing: Variations on an Original Theme ‘”Enigma”, Op.36, by Edward Elgar – he dedicated the work to his “friends pictured within”. What’s perfect about this pairing is the implication of an actual “variety” – this meal was a colorful assortment of personalities and tastes. From a simple melody emerged this beautiful, fully developed composition consisting of 14 variations. The most renowned is arguably “Nimrod,” which is of course a tearjerker to the “nth” degree. I chose this work not only for its familial genesis (both his wife and friends served as an impetus for its creation) but for its overall multiformity. No Thanksgiving meal should ever feel “dull” or “uninspired”, for it is a meal that brings people together – it embraces diversity. I’ve included two recordings below: the first is with Leonard Bernstein at the podium conducting the first 7 variations, and the second with Daniel Barenboim conducting “Nimrod” (grab those tissues folks…) I hope that all of you had a beautiful Thanksgiving, and were surrounded by loving friends and/or family – enjoy this beautiful work 🙂
“Enigma Variations,” Wikipedia.com