Thoughts from Thanksgiving

Hello dear friends!

How was your Thanksgiving? I hosted this year for my little brother and a few friends, and it was overall a lovely holiday. However, I had a lot of thoughts afterward on what I liked and what I didn’t like, and how I would do things differently next time. I jotted down lots of notes so I can jog my memory next year, and I thought I’d share them in a post as well.

Turkey Discoveries:

This year I made Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey, which I have done for years. But, I think this will be the last time. It’s not that it isn’t a good turkey, but I’ve come to find that I prefer turkey breast over the whole bird. My husband and I both like the white meat over the dark, and during the Thanksgiving meal I found myself yearning for this Orange Glazed Turkey Breast I had made for a branded video:

If you prefer the dark meat over the white, I see how a whole turkey is essential, but for us it’s starting not to make any sense. Dealing with cooking the breast is a lot easier than the whole bird, too, and it cooks so much better when you’re only cooking one part.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I went to an event with NYC Chef Josh Capon, and he did a demo on cooking the turkey parts separately. He said in restaurants, they always cook the white and dark meat separately. Interesting, right?

As a closing note, I discovered that a whole bird keeps warm for a VERY long time when covered in foil. Because I had so many side dishes, I had to take out the turkey for the last hour and a half of cooking, but this worked out perfectly. The turkey was still hot (I still can’t believe it), it had rested for a nice long time, and my potato gratin and other dishes came bubbling hot out of the oven. It worked brilliantly.

Oh, AND because the turkey was done early, I was able to make the gravy at a nice leisurely pace because I had the turkey drippings.

Gravy:

Gravy was always so intimidating to me, but this year I tried my friend Meseidy’s recipe and it went awesomely well. I made the turkey stock 3 days in advance, then kept it ready to go in the fridge. The gravy was delicious and I had tons of it.

Cranberry Sauce:

Goodness me, I love cranberry sauce so much. I made my own recipe several days in advance, and I just love it. However, there’s a small part of me that wanted cranberry relish too (like this one) so maybe next year I’ll do both.

Biscuit Disappointment:

I discovered that it’s possible for biscuits to have too much butter. I don’t remember where I saw it, but somewhere on the internet I saw people raving about these Nancy Silverton biscuits. They said that even though the recipe had an obscene amount of butter (almost a half stick per biscuit), that they were the most insanely delicious biscuits ever.

Hm…I didn’t like these at all and would never make them again. There was so much butter that when I took the tray out of the oven, the biscuits were literally boiling in a layer of butter. I’m all for indulgence on Thanksgiving and I LOVE butter, but this was too much. I’m still looking for the perfect all-butter biscuit recipe!

Green Bean Casserole:

This was my first time ever making a green bean casserole. In the past I’ve always done something simpler, like roasted brussel sprouts, or green beans sautéed with shallots and garlic. But once I saw my friend Brenda’s recipe, I knew I had to try it. I really enjoyed her from-scratch version and it’s something I will make again.

Potato Gratin > Mashed Potatoes:

In the past I’ve made mashed potatoes, but this year I decided I wanted to make Potato Gratin and skip mashed potatoes altogether. I do like mashed potatoes, but I like potato gratin so much more. The potato gratin I made was my favorite dish of the whole Thanksgiving meal, and was pretty simple to make. Thinly sliced Yukon golds with cream, gruyere, parmigiano regiano, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper, bake until bubbling and brown. Here is the Potato Gratin recipe!

Sweet Potato Casserole:

I grew up with sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top and love the stuff, but my husband and little brother both like pecans better. This year I tried a brown sugar pecan streusel topping, but still wasn’t sold. The other two loved the topping, but next year I’m doing half and half with marshmallows.

Stuffing Preferences Were Learned:

My friends volunteered to make the stuffing, and this was the one dish I didn’t like. They made a slow cooker stuffing, and I discovered that I strongly prefer a drier over a wet stuffing, as I thought the slow cooker version was a bit mushy. Last year I made this Thanksgiving stuffing and sometimes I make it throughout the year just because I like it so much. I missed it at the Thanksgiving table this year and will definitely make it for myself in the future.

Asparagus Soup:

My friend Emma brought an Asparagus Soup, something that is part of her family tradition, and I really loved this. As the side dishes were finishing up in the oven, we all sat down to enjoy the soup as a starter, and there was something special and lovely about it. It felt like an amuse-bouche of sorts, and we could all eat the same thing together before the main Thanksgiving meal free-for-all started. This is something I will do in the future.

Mac and Cheese:

The other dish my friends brought was a Gouda, Bacon, Sundried Tomato Mac and Cheese. I don’t usually make mac and cheese as part of Thanksgiving, but I enjoyed this dish with everything else.

Pecan Pie:

This year I tried a recipe using Lyle’s golden syrup (a British product, but easy to find here in the US) in place of corn syrup, and this is the best pecan pie I’ve had yet. I have no problem with corn syrup as an ingredient, but one thing I don’t like about it is its lack of flavor. It’s just sweetness. This is the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and I will definitely make it again. However, I accidentally baked it in a 400 degree oven instead of 350, which I thought was a disaster, but it turned out incredible. It was deeply caramelized and dark, and a bit chewy on top, which is my favorite. Also, I always bake my pecan pie technically as a tart, so it’s not as deep. Yum.

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake:

Originally I planned to do a pumpkin pie, but I’m glad I decided to change it to a cheesecake. It was nice to have some variety beyond pie, and I think this is a much better application for pumpkin than pumpkin pie. And the cheesecake was to die for! I made up my own recipe and will share it in the future, but it was basically just a ricotta cream cheese cheesecake with pumpkin and a graham cracker crust.

Salty Honey Pie:

This is a recipe from a fantastic pie shop in Brooklyn, and it is ALWAYS good. I brought this pie to a pie potluck with over 100 pies, and it was the second pie to disappear. It’s delicious.

Thanksgiving Stress:

Please, future Joanne, do NOT stress so much. I was super stressed in the morning, to the point where I was getting frazzled and messing more things up. You know what I’m talking about, right? You mess up one thing, then you get in a tizzy, and more stuff goes wrong. This year my first casualty was accidentally baking the pecan pie in a 400 degree oven instead of 350, and opening up the oven to see that the pie was VERY dark. It ended up being okay, but I didn’t know this until we tasted it at dessert, and until then I was pretty stressed about it.

Around noon, I decided to turn off the oven and leave the house for a short walk to clear my head. This was VERY beneficial for me, just being outside for 20 minutes, being by the river and letting my head have a break. Then I returned home and resumed cooking.

Bottom line: It’s SO easy to get stressed, and I understand why it happens when there’s a bazillion things going on, but it really doesn’t help. Allow yourself to take breaks if needed to reset your head.

Feeling Stuffed:

Everyone expects to stuff themselves on Thanksgiving, but I was the only not lying on the floor after dinner. I was also the only one who didn’t go to town on the cheese board before dinner, and I’m wondering if there’s something I can do as a host to help mitigate this. My friend lamented while laying on the floor that he had done himself in with the cheese board before the meal even began. So, I’m wondering if I can perhaps serve less cheese and more of something lighter? I don’t know. I’ll have to think on that one. Maybe it’s just inevitable, because, cheese.

I saw the glory of “clean as you go”

This was my first Thanksgiving meal where I made a big effort to do the clean-as-you-go thing. It was WONDERFUL. After the Thanksgiving meal was over and my guests were gone, my kitchen was relatively clean. I couldn’t believe it. It was wonderful and I want to further ingrain the clean-as-you-go practice.

Don’t forget to say thanks:

We forgot to say thanks before the meal, oops. This was probably because we were all planning to eat at 3:30 and didn’t end up eating until 5, and everyone was a little frazzled and in a rush after having setbacks with the food. We ended up saying it afterward, but I’d like to remember to do it before if I can.

How about you?

Those are all my post-Thanksgiving thoughts on the day and meal. Do you have any of your own? Share in the comments section below!