A couple of weeks into November, you'll sit down, with coffee in hand, and finally arrange the menu for your Thanksgiving dinner.
We always hope it's a quick process but it usually isn't. What tends to happen is we overcompensate for expectations and create a complicated menu that's unrealistic, or we act too quickly and choose recipes that sound great without considering if their preparation is practical for the biggest dinner day of the year.
In the last blog, we talked about some ways to uncomplicate the role of host for this holiday and one of the methods was to choose recipes that lend themselves well to being made or prepared in advance. I can't stress that point enough. It's a completely acceptable practice and it will ultimately allow you to enjoy more of your day out of the kitchen with friends and family.
Here are a few recipe favorites I make in my home every Thanksgiving that I hope will pave the way for you developing a painless menu this year. They are a mix of old family traditions and new staples I've introduced, but all are easy to make and perfect to prepare on the day before.
The first recipe is a tradition I began as a way to make my own mark on Thanksgiving. Creating some of your own traditions is just as important as holding onto the ones you've always celebrated. It gives your holiday a unique personality and something for you and the guests to bond over. It may seem silly, but even something as simple as a homemade loaf of bread can give Thanksgiving at your home it's own identity and one that your friends and family look forward to each year.
I have always been amazed by how little effort is needed to make bread. With just a few ingredients and some patience, you can have a delightful, freshly baked side.
I received a Bread Pot as a present a few years back and it's made this already simple process significantly easier, which is great since that's exactly what we're trying to do. An added bonus is that the makers of this product are local to the Boston area. They hand make their pots in a studio in Cambridge and fire them in a kiln located in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod. I recommend the pot with the recipe under the lid so you'll never lose it.
(Note: you may use any traditional dutch oven in place of a Bread Pot)
Mix flour, salt, yeast, Kandy Spice and water in a bowl. Cover the shaggy dough and set aside for 12-18 hours. Turn out onto floured surface to rest, 10 minutes, then fold into a round shape and cover. Place empty BreadPot in the oven. Preheat to 450-500° F while the dough rises. Place the dough in the blazing hot pot and return to oven. Bake with the lid on for 30 min.
While the bread bakes, mix a handful of the chopped candied oranges and walnuts with the honey and Kandy Spice.
After 30 minutes remove the lid from the pot and sprinkle the walnut mixture on the bread. Bake for 15 minutes, uncovered. Slice and drizzle with honey to taste.
In a medium skillet bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add oranges and flip periodically until the sugar water becomes a syrup and orange rind becomes translucent. Cool on a wire rack. ( You can do this the night before as well and store in an air tight container)
After I perfected this simple recipe, I've since experimented making a rye bread with caraway seeds too. The dough can be made the night before, and the flavors match so well with all of the customary Thanksgiving fixings. When the turkey comes out of the oven to rest, pop the Bread Pot in the oven. By the time the bird is carved, you'll have a fresh warm bread to go with dinner!
This next recipe looks a bit odd on paper, I'll admit. But I swear anyone that has ever tried it is quickly converted to a fan and begins serving it in their own homes in the years to follow. It's a secondary sweet side dish to the cranberry sauce that's undemanding and delicious. I say keep an open mind and try it out!
Mix Jell-O and sugar in a large bowl. Add boiling water and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the drained fruit with sour cream. Add to Jell-O and stir. Pour into decorative bowl. Refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving.
Some people argue that dessert is the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal. Even more so than the turkey. What side of that fence you fall on isn't important though. What is important is that dessert's available for guests who still have room to enjoy it.
My family always has a few different pies at the ready on Thanksgiving, but one that will never be taken out of the rotation is my Nanny's Apple Pie. Let me clarify: not my Nanna, but my Mom's Nanna. We're talking a four-generations-old recipe here!
As a young adult, my Mom asked her Nanny for a copy of her apple pie recipe and my great-grandmother's honest response was to laugh. She explained there wasn't an actual recipe written out on paper. Instead, the pie had been perfected through years of trial-and-error and was always made from memory. Luckily, Nanny offered to let my mother watch her make this treasured dessert and write down the steps it took to recreate it.
I haven't had one Thanksgiving without a taste of this pie and I'm really happy to pass it on to all of you. It's an extremely straightforward recipe, as far as pies go, and (surprise) you can prepare the whole thing a day in advance.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Core and slice 6-7 medium tart apples. Mix remaining ingredients together and add apples. Mix well. Place apples in a 9" pie shell and place slivers of butter on top of apples. Cover with remaining pie shell. Using a sharp knife, make decorative cuts on top of the pie (be creative!).
Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 350°F and bake until top crust is evenly browned and apples are tender (approximately 40-45 minutes). In my family, we serve each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - or a la mode.
The pie shell is the most important part of any pie. Even if you get the filling right, if your crust isn't flaky or doesn't have the right taste then the whole dessert will be a bust. Although it's easier, we don't recommend using store bought crust because, in our own experience, they just don't compare.
In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter squares and process until mixture resembles coarse corn meal, 8-10 seconds. Add 4 tbsp. of ice water, and pulse just until dough holds together without being wet and sticky. Process for no longer than 30 seconds total. Pinch off a piece of dough. If it's crumbly, add ice water (1 tbsp. at a time). Divide dough in half. Flatten into two even disks. Wrap in plastic, chill at least one hour.
Lightly flour food-safe surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough to 9" shell and place into pie dish. (My Nanna would often double this recipe, making four pie shells at once and freezing the extra two for the next holiday!)
Ok, that's all we have for you today, but hopefully you enjoy these recipes. I know they can help lighten your day as Thanksgiving host as they have for me in recent years.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving y'all.
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