Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snippets of Thanksgiving Dinner

Jeff and I had the pleasure of hosting his family for Thanksgiving this weekend. It was our first time cooking a turkey dinner for guests, and I was equal parts nervous and excited. Since it was such a busy day, I didn't get around to documenting things as well as I would have liked, but I do have a few dishes to share.

While Jeff took care of the fresh turkey from Stephen Taylor's farm (stuffed with onions, apples, carrots, and lemons, and rubbed with a lemon and herb butter,) gravy from scratch, and the potatoes (mashed with my roasted-garlic butter, and cream cheese) I tackled the rest of the dinner. First up is homemade cranberry sauce:

I followed a Martha Stewart recipe, but made it my own with a few generous shakes of cinnamon. Mmmm, it was spicy and tasted like autumn. I hated cranberry sauce until I started making it myself; there's really no comparison, and it's only slightly harder than locating the can opener.

Inspired by this month's recipe for Whole Wheat Stuffing with Pancetta, Chestnuts, and Parmesan in Bon Appétit, I tried something different for my dressing. I think chestnuts are more of an American holiday tradition; anyway, I'm not at all familiar with them so I substituted with walnuts. Also, because I have a hard time reading recipes very attentively, I didn't realize until later that this one called for cubed pancetta, and instead asked the kid at the deli counter to slice mine like bacon. While I can see why cubes of pancetta would work very well, texture-wise, with the cubes of bread in this dish, the sliced pancetta was perfectly tasty and added a lot of flavour. I also loved the complimentary, yet subtle, addition of Parmesan in this dressing.

I decided to use dried herbs in this dish instead of fresh, because I was afraid that fresh ones would wilt and lose their oils and flavour during the long baking time. In addition to the thyme and rosemary listed in the recipe, I added some ground savoury, inspired by a friend who raves about her mother's stuffing and credits this herb as a major player. I was very pleased with this dish, as it had great texture (toasting the bread cubes beforehand keeps the dressing from getting soggy) and amazing flavour. I smell a tradition!

For a vegetable side dish, I cut butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots into equally sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil, salt, and freshly cracked pepper, and roasted them at 450C for 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. I then drizzled the vegetables with a bit of maple syrup, tossed them some more, and put them back in the oven for 10 minutes to glaze.

They were delicious. Once roasted and caramelized, it was difficult to tell which vegetable was which, because the dish was a bright and shiny mass of orange. This side dish was full of deep, sweet flavour, and I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Finally, my crowning achievement. I made cheesecake for the first time, a pumpkin one. I followed yet another Martha Stewart recipe, replacing the graham cracker crust with one made from gingersnaps (I used a bit more crumbs than the recipe called for, and omitted sugar.) I also made my own pumpkin pie spice by combining ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
The cheesecake cracked in the oven, which I hear is a common problem. I just brought individual slices cut from the intact portion to the table for our guests, instead of displaying the cake before serving. No one seemed to mind! Made with 4 blocks of cream cheese, this dessert was incredibly rich, and required no sauce or whipped cream for garnish. Pure decadence!

For the first time, I truly appreciate how much work goes into putting on a Thanksgiving dinner. Although exhausting, it was very satisfying to invite people into our home to enjoy a holiday meal. I hope that this year's dinner was only the beginning of new traditions, and look forward to future feasts with loved ones.


  1. Great job! Mmm, looking at homemade stuffing always makes me hungry...nothing like toasting your own bread!

    You should call this the Maple Syrup Blog! :)

  2. yuuuuuuum! Maple Syrup. An excellent post.

  3. Oh my goodness, my stomach is growling after reading this post. What fun & interesting twists you gave to the traditional Thanksgiving foods!