Monday, November 22, 2010

On Thanksgiving

Less than 48 hours from now, I will be baking up a storm, most likely covered in flour, cinnamon, and thick cheesecake batter. Our (smallish) kitchen will be in disarray, and I'll be telling my mom, "Don't worry, I'm going to clean it up later." The (incredibly annoying) whir of the ice cream maker will tune out the Food Network playing in the background. It will smell like fresh apples and nutmeg.

That's a nice picture, isn't it? My love for Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday, is pretty much summed up in that the above scenario is not only completely enticing for me but also incredibly relaxing. There is no place that I'd rather be on the fourth Thursday of November than in the kitchen with my mom, cooking the many dishes that will grace our table. (Another way to gauge my love for Thanksgiving: it's the only non-school day of the year that I voluntarily wake up before 8 o'clock. So many things to make and so little time means you have to start early!)

For the most part, our main menu remains pretty similar from year to year, but it's always comforting to actually go through the process of detailing everything we'll make. This year we are having six for dinner (my mom, dad, and I, plus my Chinese roommate Chen and my grandparents). Since normally it's only four for dinner (my mom, dad, sister, and I), having an extra two is somewhat of a justification for making so much delicious food.

I'm fully committed to documenting the whole process of putting together our meal this year, but in the meantime, here's a preview of what's on the main menu....

Turkey and Gravy: This year we - actually, my dad - are roasting the whole bird. The turkey and gravy has been his domain for as long as I can remember. I see no reason to mess with what works.
Stuffing: We doctor up Pepperidge Farms stuffing cubes and always make sure to make a double batch. Even though we make two pans, the stuffing is always the first thing to go.
Green Beans with Toasted Walnuts and Dried Cherry Vinaigrette: For as long as I could remember, we had tender-crisp French string beans with buttered slivered almonds. Last year we broke out of that routine with a delicious green bean dish with walnuts and a lemon vinaigrette. I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and thought, Why not? It's already received rave reviews on a blog that I read.
Roasted Root Vegetables: The ho-hum name of this dish does not even come close to measuring its awesomeness or how much I love it. I would be perfectly content with a big bowl of roasted root vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I take my roasted vegetables seriously, and after a few years of tweaking with ingredients, I finally have the recipe down. Stay tuned on this front.
Carrot Ring: A family favorite. I cannot wait to eat this. It only comes around once a year, so I do my best to savor every bite.
Three Types of Cranberries: Yes, we love cranberries in our household. I love having a variety because it allows you to experience different textures and flavors so that nothing gets boring. The first type is a cranberry relish that is completely raw. My mom has been making it for years and it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. The second is a cranberry conserve from Ina Garten that we've also been making for years now. It's a more traditional style of cranberry sauce, but it's better than anything you can get out of a can. The third rendition pays homage to cranberry jelly, or the stuff that plops out of a can with ridges still intact. My dad loves the canned stuff, but he was the only one who ate it. Last year I made a homemade version and it was absolutely wonderful (and beautiful!).
Applesauce: I prefer my applesauce very simple and not too sweet, which, with the cranberries, complements the more savory side dishes incredibly well.
Rolls and Butter: Alas, not homemade this year. One day....

But enough about the main meal, let's get to the good stuff. If you know me (or have been reading this blog for a while), you know that I think very long and hard about desserts. I'm notoriously fickle when it comes to choosing what sweets to make. But I can't help it, and when the stakes are raised as high as they are on Thanksgiving (a holiday revolving around food), the pressure is really on to make the best possible desserts. (Note that we'll be having eight for dessert, hence the large spread.)

Pecan Pie: It's my grandpa's favorite. I'm also totally psyched (not psyched out) for making homemade pie crust this year.
Pumpkin Cheesecake: My favorite homemade cheesecake. It's another thing that I only eat once a year, if that often, so it's really special when I do.
Apple Bread Pudding with Rum Raisins: I really wanted to make a bread pudding recipe and somehow incorporate sauteed apples into it. I searched for weeks for a recipe and had a few hopefuls. Like so many things, the answer was right under my nose. Deb at Smitten Kitchen, a blog that I adore and have read for years, has a recipe that was just what I had in mind. (The rum raisins are our idea, though. Gotta love rum raisins.)
Pear Crisp: At first I suggested a spice cake with caramelized pears, but my mom was worried it would be too much bread. Fair enough. She had a fruit crisp in mind, and since apples were already utilized in the bread pudding, my thoughts naturally went to pears. We're going to use an America's Test Kitchen recipe, so I'm confident it will be delicious (and foolproof).
Autumn Spiced Ice Cream: The minute I saw this recipe (back in September), I knew we would make it for Thanksgiving. Katie tried it out a few weeks ago and gave positive feedback. The only downside to making homemade ice cream at Thanksgiving is how intensely irritating the noise is that the ice cream machine makes.

Because Georgia Tech has classes all the way until Wednesday, I won't be home until late Wednesday afternoon (at the earliest). Thankfully, most of these desserts are best when made ahead. The cheesecake needs to chill overnight, and the bread pudding will be just fine left to soak overnight, as well. The pecan pie takes all of 10 minutes to make, so that's no issue. The ice cream is also not too labor-intensive.

(You may be wondering why I don't just make fewer desserts, but where's the fun in that?)

I can't convey how much I am looking forward to this Thanksgiving. After four months of college food, a homey, comforting meal is just what I need.

What are your plans this year for Thanksgiving? What are you cooking? How much are you looking forward to leftovers (the best part!)?


  1. ok, taking a big, deep breath and promising to try not to nag too much about the mess. cooking with you is one of my loves about the holiday (stay tuned to my blog tomorrow - 10 for tuesday is all about that!) ... and I'm really going to miss katie's running commentary from the kitchen table and her very willing & able help with the table setting, the wine and the cleaning up. maybe next year we'll be three again!

  2. this sounds so yummy-will there be a smidge of ice cream left i can try on sunday? this year the youth "boys" are smoking meat for the holidays so i don't have to cook the turkey in my little oven-smoked turkey-mmmmmm. look forward to photos and such.

  3. what a treat to have you Sara as the chief meal planner and chef. is there room for one more?
    do enjoy and have a terrific holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!