This has been an incredibly busy fall. Between house guests, school activities, various illnesses, and several mini-vacations, I haven’t had much time to share our adventures or the food I’ve been serving my family and friends. But now that Thanksgiving and Christmas are in the books, I’m giving myself permission to relax and take the time to look back and share my family’s Turkey Day feast with you.
If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t actually appreciate Thanksgiving until I was in college. There’s something special about coming home, spending time with your family, sleeping in your own bed, and indulging in delicious food prepared by your mother. I have loved it ever since.
Over the years, the responsibility of food preparation has been transferred to me. It can be incredibly overwhelming and exhausting, but with a little planning and organization, it is possible to have almost everything, save the turkey, prepared in advance, so the cook can enjoy spending time with loved ones, too. Ever since we moved to Florida, my parents have journeyed down to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in a much warmer climate. This year, despite my Mum’s recent hip replacement, they made the trip, which I greatly appreciated. When they are in town, I want to enjoy their company, not spend the holiday chained to the stove.
Crudités with Blue Cheese Dip
Sparkling Apple Cider
Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Bourbon-Pecan Frosting
Sadly, my husband was working, so he couldn’t join us. As a result, the menu was slightly scaled down. My parents and I aren’t big on stuffing (also known as dressing, if you don’t cook it inside the bird), so that was left off the menu, but the other basics were covered: Roast Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, and Cranberry Sauce. Rather than make Sweet Potato Casserole with marshmallows, I like to make one with a rich streusel topping that is to die for. Because I like a variety of color on my plate, it’s important to me to have some sort of green vegetable on the menu. This changes yearly—sometimes it’s green beans (in casserole form or otherwise); occasionally it’s a salad; this year it was Roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were cooked with bacon (instead of pancetta, which the recipe called for) and tossed with balsamic vinegar. In the southern tradition, we like to have a variety of relishes on the table, one of which is always Corn Relish; the recipe can be found in one of my favorite resources, The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook. As a nod to time spent living in Maryland, the relishes also include Sauerkraut—this tradition was introduced to my parents when they lived in Havre de Grace while my dad was in the Navy. No Thanksgiving is complete without olives, so we had black olives (my son’s favorite) and jumbo green olives stuffed with blue cheese (for something different). Finally, we finished the meal with a long standing family tradition—Spiced Pumpkin Cake with a Bourbon-Pecan Frosting. This recipe can be found in one of my all-time favorite party books, Entertaining Ideas from Williamsburg. Let me tell you, this cake blows pumpkin pie out of the water—no other desserts are necessary. The beverage options were wine for the grownups and sparkling cider for the kiddo (or anyone not wanting to consume more alcohol).
Now that I have highlighted the main event, I want to briefly discuss the other food we consume during the day and how it fits with my family’s Thanksgiving traditions. It should be mentioned that we eat our Thanksgiving dinner in the evening, during the regular dinner hour. I try to have food available throughout the day so no one gets overly hungry. We always start with a heavier breakfast/brunch in the morning. Every year, this meal includes seasonally appropriate Scones, Sausage Meatballs with a luscious Apple Butter Dipping Sauce, and when my husband is with us, some sort of egg-based Breakfast Casserole (which I didn’t bother with this year). I make the scone dough in advance (keeping it wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator), then bake them and glaze them that morning. The meatballs (and dipping sauce) are also made in advance and are heated up in the oven prior to serving. If we are having a breakfast casserole, I bake it after the scones and while the meatballs heat. The various breakfast items are put out on the dining room table, along with plates, napkins, and utensils; everyone can enjoy the food at his own pace. We enjoy our breakfast while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (much to my Dad’s and husband’s loathing).
Rather than preparing and serving lunch, we have substantial hors d’oeuvres in the mid-afternoon. Very rarely do we deviate from the food selections, but the cocktail changes yearly. Our menu consists of an incredible artichoke dip, roasted nuts, and lots of crisp veggies to munch on. Our cocktail this year was the family favorite Bourbon-Lime Spritzers. Normally, we enjoy these noshes while watching football (or a schmaltzy Christmas movie), but the weather was perfect for porch-sitting, so we took the party outside…One of the perks of living in Florida!
As mentioned, I tried to have as many dishes as possible made in advance for a stress-free day. Here are the basics on how I scheduled preparations:
Monday before Thanksgiving, we made the cranberry sauce, the corn relish, the dipping sauce for the breakfast meatballs, The Bourbon-Lime Spritzer mix, and cooked the sauerkraut.
Tuesday, we made the mashed potatoes (I love this recipe from Ree Drummond, in which the mashed potatoes are baked in a baking dish—they are seriously delicious AND schedule-friendly), the base for the sweet potato casserole, the streusel for the sweet potatoes (kept separate until baking time), the artichoke dip, the meatballs, and the scone dough.
Wednesday, I baked the cake in the morning, then made the frosting and iced the cake in the afternoon. We also cleaned and cut the vegetables for crudités, made the creamed onions, washed and sliced the Brussels sprouts, chopped the bacon to go with the sprouts, and prepared the herbs, vegetables, and citrus fruit that would be stuffed in the turkey during roasting. Beyond food preparation, Wednesday was also the day I pulled the Thanksgiving china out of storage, organized the serving dishes and platters, and assembled the table decorations.
Thursday morning, I took the turkey and 1 pound of unsalted butter out of the refrigerator as soon as I woke up to allow them to come to room temperature. I prepared the breakfast items, as described above, before the parade began, then enjoyed some down time with my family. Once the parade was over, I began preheating the oven, made the compound butter for the turkey, then prepped the bird for roasting. The turkey went into the oven around 1:00 p.m. I then cleaned up the dining room table, decorated it, and set it for dinner. Around 2:00, I took the various casseroles out of the refrigerator to allow them to come to room temperature. The artichoke dip was baked at this time, and various hors d’oeuvres assembled and carried out to the porch. Drinks were prepared, and we enjoyed the gorgeous Florida fall afternoon. The turkey was removed from the oven and tented around 4:30, the oven heat was jacked up, and by 5:00, casseroles were baking. While the casseroles were getting hot, the sprouts, bacon, and seasoning were tossed on a sheet pan, the creamed onions were heated on the stove top, and the gravy simmered. When the casseroles came out of the oven, the heat was turned up further and the sprouts went in. While the veggies and bacon roasted, the candles were lit, the casseroles were placed on the table, the turkey was carved, and the wine and sparkling cider were opened and poured. Once the Brussels sprouts came out of the oven, they were dressed and transferred to their serving bowl, as were the creamed onions, and the gravy went into its vessel, then all joined the party.
A lot of people already have their Christmas decor up by Thanksgiving. I am not one of those people. For me, Thanksgiving is the grand finale of my favorite season, so I want my decorations to reflect that.
This year, I had a new dining room table to decorate! As it is a rectangular table, I decided to create a long grouping of mini-gourds and pumpkins running down the table. Three short ivory-colored pillar candles were elevated above the pumpkins by brass candle holders (purchased at Target) and ivory votives were nestled in amongst the gourds. To add more texture to the table, sprigs of fresh sage were tucked in around the gourds and candles.
Each place was set with a round, natural fiber braided placemat. Plain gold chargers were placed on top, followed by the turkey plates that my Mum bought for me when I began hosting Thanksgiving many years ago. Brown napkins from Crate & Barrel, held with brass napkin rings from Target, topped each place setting. I don’t have fancy flatware, so our everyday utensils were used (definitely not complaining, considering I could toss them in the dishwasher once we were finished eating—I’m lazy like that). Adults had wine glasses, while the little guy had a short martini glass (to make it special for him).
Food was served on white platters and in white Corning ware baking dishes. A small turkey shaped dish was also used to hold the creamed onions. The cranberry sauce was served in a cut-glass pedestal bowl.
🦃 I hope that you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with those you love most! 🦃