My First Thanksgiving
Yesterday was my very first Thanksgiving - hosting that is. After many years of attending wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations at the homes of family and friends, I decided to take the plunge and host Thanksgiving dinner. With the support of my closest friend, who helped me prepare, cook, clean, and decorate, and several dishes brought by guests, we pulled off a lovely dinner for 11 loved ones, full of fellowship, food, and fun.
This gorgeous charcuterie board was made by two of my guests and overflowed with cured meats, olives, dried fruits, chocolate, nuts and cheeses. This was a wonderful way to launch the evening.
Bacon wrapped dates
I was inspired by a craving for something sweet and salty and this hit the spot. The dates, which I pitted, were then wrapped in bacon and cooked until they were warm throughout and the bacon was crispy. The softness and sweetness of the dates complemented the saltiness and crispiness of the bacon perfectly.
These deviled eggs were brought by two guests, who took an already indulgent dish over the top, by adding caviar. This was such a creative and genius addition because the pop and saltiness of the caviar balanced the creaminess of the egg filling. Yum!
Cranberry, mandarin, vanilla sauce
Making homemade cranberry sauce is so easy and tastes so much better than the store bought, canned alternative. I used equal parts water and sugar, added the fresh cranberries and warmed the mixture until the berries began to pop. After a splash of vanilla and the addition of fresh, mandarin orange segments, the sauce was ready to serve.
Herbed crescent rolls
Prior to rolling, I brushed the dough with butter and then sprinkled it very lightly with herbs that make me think of Thanksgiving (sage, rosemary and thyme). From there, I baked the bread as close to serving time as possible, so guests could enjoy the crescent rolls while they were still steaming.
Poached pear, persimmon and pomegranate salad
This salad was inspired by the fruits of the season. I poached the pears the day prior in simple syrup with cinnamon, vanilla and a few cloves. (If you try this, don't dispose of the leftover syrup. It is delicious over ice cream.) I used mixed greens, added baby, heirloom tomatoes, avocado and finished the salad with the sliced, poached pears, Fuyu persimmons slices, pomegranate seeds and a simple dressing of olive oil, salt, pepper and Meyer lemon juice.
I roasted whole, cobs of corn with olive oil and then cut them into bite-sized pieces, and tossed them in freshly-cracked, black pepper and Maldon sea salt for a little bit of crunch.
Marsala glazed mushrooms
I sautéed a medley of mushrooms in butter and dry, marsala wine, added fresh herbs, a squeeze of Meyer lemon and some lemon zest.
Macaroni and cheese
This dish was provided by two, lovely guests. They used five types of cheese, added to a garlic roux, and then baked the dish until the cheeses were gooey and bubbling and the crust was crispy. Delectable!
Roasted fennel and potatoes with garlic and herbs
There is a wonderful restaurant in Napa Valley that makes a fritto misto with fried fennel. That dish, inspired this one. I par boiled the potatoes in water and turkey stock and then cut them into chunks. I finished the potatoes and fennel with fresh herbs after frying them, just before dinner, so they would be crispy when served.
Snap peas with Calabrian chili oil, and fresh mint
I bought fresh, sugar snap peas and then blistered them in a wok very briefly so they maintained their crispness and bright, green color. I then tossed them in Calabrian chili oil for some kick, and fresh mint, for a refreshing finish.
I prefer using cornbread croutons to regular croutons for that little bit of sweetness that goes so well with all the savory items in this dish. I started with a mirepoix that I sautéed in butter. I added herbs and seasonings, turkey stock, browned sausage and then tossed in the croutons to coat them in the liquid mixture. After the croutons fully absorbed the liquid, I placed the stuffing in a serving dish, covered the top with additional butter and broiled it very briefly, so the top would be crunchy, and the middle would remain moist and soft.
This was the most intimidating dish for me to tackle. Upon the advice of many turkey chefs before me, I brined the 22-pound bird in a salt water, brown sugar, herb, lemon and mandarin mixture for 24 hours before cooking. I stuffed the cavity with more herbs and mirepoix, sowed it up, rubbed the outside with lots of butter and put it in the oven.
All of the advice I got, and applied, paid off because the turkey came out moist and flavorful. My friend did a wonderful job carving it up and helping me to make a flavorful, gravy from all of the drippings.
This dessert (along with several others that I didn't get pictures of unfortunately) was brought by a guest. The tart was light, fluffy and moist, and the tartness of the cherries provided a wonderful balance to the sweet, frosting and pastry.
I want to give a shout out to all the loved ones who gathered yesterday and made the time so special, and to all of the hosts from Thanksgivings past, present and future, who work so hard to fill the bellies and hearts of those they love on Thanksgiving.