“What do I bring to my in-laws?”
“Do you have a different kind of side dish I can bring to Thanksgiving?”
“What can I make for Thanksgiving day brunch?”
“I hate my aunt’s stuffing recipe. Do you know a good alternative?”
“What’s something traditional but not a pie I could bring for dessert?”
These are actual questions I was posed over the past few days – and most of them were followed with a fearful warning, “IT HAS TO BE GOOD.”
Thanksgiving should be a time to relax, unwind and eat your heart out. But the week leading up to the main event is apparently a very stressful and panicked time for a lot of people. Now that we’re officially one week away (can you believe it!?!), here are my best attempts to answer these Qs. (Disclaimer: My responses all assume people have the ability to prepare something at home and either serve on-site or drive to someone’s home. I’m not factoring in people who have to travel long distances. If that’s your case, just buy wine. I’m going with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and (appropriately) an American Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. Both should be good options with the bird, based on my research). If you still have no idea what to make, check out The New York Times’ special feature out this week for additional inspiration: “The United States of Thanksgiving.”
Q: What do I bring to my in-laws?
A: WINE. A LOT OF WINE. Just kidding! (Kind of.) My recommendation here is something quasi-traditional but that will pair well with anything served. I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog post but I’ll say it again – Celery Root Pureé is a very safe and delicious bet. It is a fantastic alternative to mashed potatoes and reheats well if you want to make it a day in advance.
Q: Do you have a different kind of side dish I can bring to Thanksgiving?
A: A few weeks ago I was picking a ton of carrots out of my garden and was intensely looking for a recipe that would feature them almost like a main dish. Then I remembered my meal at Gato this summer. Recently voted one of the top 10 restaurants to open in NYC in 2014, this Bobby Flay joint (yes, Bobby Flay!) had one dish I still dream about: Charred Carrots. Stay with me – I promise this is good. These carrots are seasoned with harissa paste and a variety of spices and have a hint of sweetness from some sugar. They are REALLY GOOD. Don’t let the harissa scare you – they aren’t too spicy and their combination with a cool yogurt balances them out. Here’s a recipe from Bon Appetit that I used that came from the man himself.
Q: What can I make for Thanksgiving day brunch?
A: Oh! I do Thanksgiving day brunch, too! I make Mini Pumpkin Muffins because that way people can pace themselves a little better and I can serve it with a few other items without it being overwhelming. Served hot or cold, they are yummy and they store well for a few days if you want to prep a little beforehand. I don’t think they need any condiment but if you wanted to go crazy, you could serve a little apple butter on the side. I make a variation on this cupcake recipe – yes, cupcakes! I go a little more liberally with the spices and since I use a mini muffin pan, cook them for less time.
Q: I hate my aunt’s stuffing recipe. Do you know a good alternative?
A: My family is kind enough to let me experiment with a lot of different options at Thanksgiving but one thing I am not allowed to mess with is Mom’s traditional stuffing. (Or, as my southern husband would call it “dressing.”) As a result, I haven’t actually prepared this recipe myself, but I’ve tried it and I think it’s really flavorful and worthy of trying. Funny enough, the recipe comes from Whole Foods so you probably can even order it from them pre-made! But here’s the recipe – it’s a Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing.
Q: What’s something traditional – but not a pie – I could bring for dessert?
A: A few years ago I was lucky enough to go to the Culinary Institute of America for a two-day bootcamp. We learned about cooking techniques, tips, knife skills, etc. But one of my favorite experiences was learning how to make a creme anglaise vanilla ice cream. (Fun fact: they keep vanilla beans under lock and key because they’re so valuable!) So, instead of bringing a carton of Haagen-Dazs to Thanksgiving, why not make your own? It’s actually pretty easy if you have an ice cream machine. WARNING: You will be RUINED FOR LIFE after eating this. I have never tasted an ice cream as good — and I don’t even usually go for vanilla. This ice cream will outshine any pie on the table. Here’s the recipe:
Creme Anglaise Ice Cream
- 1 quart half & half
- 2 vanilla beans, split in half
- 1 1/8 cups sugar (divided)
- 6 egg yolks (save the whites and use them for omelettes!)
- Prepare an ice bath by filling one metal bowl with ice and cold water and placing another metal bowl on top of it to cool.
- In a medium saucepan, combine half and half and half the sugar. Scrape vanilla beans with a knife so seeds are also added to pan. Bring to a simmer.
- Stir to dissolve the sugar fully and turn off the heat.
- Prepare a “liaison” (thickening agent for the sauce) by blending the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a mixing bowl using a wire whip.
- Temper the mixture together by adding one-third of the boiling cream mixture to the egg mixture and whisking rapidly to blend.
- Return the tempered egg mixture to the remaining hot cream mixture and continue cooking over low-medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F. Or, until it becomes “nappé” – when the sauce is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.)
- Remove immediately from the heat and strain through a chinois (any very fine mesh strainer will also do) into the clean metal bowl.
- Cool quickly in the ice bath.
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for use.
- Once cool, process mixture with ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Store overnight for best texture.
Happy menu planning! I’m in the process of finalizing my own Thanksgiving Day menu and will be posting about it in the next few days.