I’ve been slacking off when it comes to blog posts lately. I think a lot of it has to do with this post. There was so much to say about our Thanksgivukkah celebration and there never seemed to be enough time to write about it. But today I have no excuse. It’s snowing outside. All the housework has been done. My belly is full of chicken soup and an apple crisp. I’m ready to write. Let’s do this.
I was particularly excited about this years thanksgiving. The first reason was because it coincided with Chanukah. Thanksgiving + Chanukah = Thanksgivukkah. As many people say, this is pretty much a once in a lifetime event. It felt like a great opportunity to have a bunch of friends over and try to do something special to incorporate the traditions of both holidays into one fun night of food & drink. I’ve also been itching to entertain a large crowd and thanksgiving felt like a great time to do that. I guess you have to define what large is. If you’re used to cooking for 2 and sometimes 4 people then for me large is 8 people and the idea of having that many people over for dinner completely freaked me out. Of course I didn’t have too much to worry about as I knew the crowd would prove to be very forgiving. For one thing I was the only Jew there so I could tell them anything about Channukah and they’d believe me. For another, this was an all Australian affair meaning we are all pretty much Thanksgiving newbies. I could say anything was a tradition and it would have probably gone down ok although I am a terrible liar and it would have all caught up to me at some point. One day I’m sure I’ll feel very comfortable with cooking for even more people and judging by how much food I had leftover I’m sure I could have managed more. Although there was no way our table was going to fit any more than 8 people.
I pondered the menu for weeks. I created a Pinterest board as I scoured the web for recipes from my favorite sources. I made sure that no recipe selected had anything less than 4/5 stars. I also tended to trust recipes from people I trusted (That’s you Ina!) I have to say that using Pinterest for this type of task was fantastic. It was a great way to throw my menu ideas somewhere so I wouldn’t forget about them and the visual presentation is just great. If anyone still doesn’t “get” Pinterest I like to think of it as a better way to bookmark things I’m interested in on the web, adding as much or as little organization to them as I like.
As the date grew nearer I finalized the menu with yet another board on Pinterest. I also tried to find a way to add some Channukah dishes to the menu and ended up settling on potato latkes as part of our appetizer course and jelly donuts (soof-ga-ni-yot) as part of dessert. Both dishes are very traditional for Channukah. I figured I had my work cut out for me with all the other thanksgiving dishes so I decided to get these dishes catered for from the good folks at Mile End Deli. If you’ve never been to Mile End I highly recommend it. This is a hip Canadian Jewish Deli based in NYC. They have two locations, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. I can’t think of anything more delicious right now then one of their poutines.
I contacted the helpful staff of Mile End and placed my order for latkes and donuts. For the latkes I decided to go with an assortment of both traditional and sweet potato latkes. I thought the sweet potato would be a nice touch because
- I loooove sweet potato and
- It was a cool way to blend traditions. Sweet potatoes (or Yams) usually make an appearance on a thanksgiving menu.
So let’s go through the final menu:
Our friends brought cheese, crackers, dips, vegetables and all the ingredients for gluhwein.
Latkes from Mile End, Brooklyn.
Roast Turkey (vegetarian turkey was attempted last year but deemed not worth it. All other dishes were vegetarian!)
Cranberry Sauce (yes, I had to make two. Explanation coming)
Individual Apple Crisps with Vanilla Ice Cream. This was a combination of two recipes. See this post for more details.
Jelly Donuts from Mile End, Brooklyn.
Edible Items from the table (see below).
Preparing for the day
Before I go into too much more detail (ha!) it’s time for me to have my beef with the food network and sing praises for the New York Times. Ok food network, I’m usually a huge fan but what is up with your recipe videos? You’ve got videos attached to written recipes that seem to be the same but they’re not! Here are two examples:
- For your perfect roast turkey recipe from (my favorite) Ina Garten you have Ina instrucing people to make a buttery paste that you put under the skin of the turkey. The written recipe has you melting down the butter and brushing it all over the bird. Which method is the way to go? Which one would Ina recommend most? Thanksgiving is no time to mess around with this kind of stuff. There’s too much at stake!
- For Tyler Florences Cranberry-Orange Sauce you have Tyler putting an ever so small amount of orange zest into his sauce. For the written recipe you’re instructed to cut the peel up into segments and add that to the sauce. The end result is a disgustingly sour sauce that no amount of sugar is going to fix. Believe me I tried.
Ok I know you’re probably saying “Well you should test your recipes out in advance of serving them to a crowd.” But this seems so unrealistic. How often am I going to need to make cranberry sauce or prepare a massive turkey?
And now I have to thank the New York Times. Their interactive thanksgiving page for 2013 was my savior. This page was so simple, yet so helpful. I used it to find a last minute recipe that allowed me to prep mashed potatoes a little in advance, come up with an alternative more traditional cranberry sauce and figure out just how much cooking time was necessary for a roast turkey that was the size I ended up receiving from Dicksons.
So in the weeks leading up to thanksgiving I put together a google spreadsheet (Yes, I am that geeky and that organized) listing out all the recipes and all the ingredients I would need, grouping by ingredient to make sure I ordered the right amount of everything. I decided to order as much as I could from fresh direct and have it delivered a day or two before thanksgiving. Anything that needed to be a little fresher I decided I would pick up on the day leading up to thanksgiving. The turkey was a whole other story. I decided to go all out and order a turkey from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. The turkey would be (ahem) “ready” on the day before thanksgiving. Nice and fresh, not frozen. Dickson’s is right by my work so I figured I could pick up the turkey after I headed home from work. Perfect! Here’s what the shopping list looked like.
Since I was working for the lead up to thanksgiving I knew it would be critical to do as much prep as possible on that precious half day off work my employer provided on the day before thanksgiving. So here’s exactly what I did on that day:
- Collected turkey and mile end catering order on the way home.
- Cooked orange cranberry sauce failure.
- Cooked backup cranberry sauce.
- Cooked soup, cooled a little then placed in fridge for reheating next day.
- Cooked stuffing components and prepared for baking next day.
- Cooked green bean casserole components and prepared for baking next day.
- Peeled potatoes and placed in bowl of water in fridge.
For the day of thanksgiving I put together a rough schedule based on when guests were arriving. This was originally after 7pm but I was informed that tradition dictated an earlier meal for thanksgiving so I settled on 5pm. This is apparently still quite late compared to what many Americans do but I knew there was no way I could have things even somewhat ready much earlier than 5pm. Based on the working backwards schedule here’s what I did on the day of thanksgiving.
- Prepared apple crisps for baking. Kept them in fridge till ready to bake later in evening.
- Prepared mashed potato casserole for baking. Kept at room temperature for a few hours until ready for baking.
- Prepared turkey and placed in oven at critical time.
- Prepared brussels sprouts for baking.
As soon as the turkey came out and began resting I cranked the temperature up to 400 degrees and popped all bakeable dishes into the oven at once and baked until they were all ready (30-40 minutes total). A risky venture but everything fit and came out when ready while we pondered carving.
Meanwhile, two guests decided to lend a hand and takeover the turkey carving. I had NO idea what I was doing in that department. Best I could do was lay out scary cutting instruments on the platter. Beautiful!
And voila, we had a buffet style kitchen counter full of food ready for eating!
Later that evening the apple crisps were baked off and came out perfectly. They were served with the mile end donuts.
Quick verdict on food
Overall everything came out great. If I could change anything here’s what I’d do.
- Try making another roasted turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. I’ve made this one before and I loved the flavor and the stuffing. I’d like to try making this herbed roast turkey breast. Turkey breast just seems so much simpler to me and if it will feed your crowd then why not?
- Don’t bother with the green bean casserole or find an alternative. Sorry Tyler Florence. First your cranberry sauce and now your green bean casserole? The casserole was fine. Actually the mushrooms, cream and bread on top were quite good but the green bean to other ingredients ratio seemed off to me and when I bit down on the green beans they just felt a little, boring to me?
- More salt for mashed potato casserole. The mashed potatoes had the perfect texture, they just needed a little more oomph!
- Make more brussels sprouts. These were a hit and sold out in record time.
- Let the apple crisps stand a little longer. We practically had to douse them in Ice cream (what a shame) because they were still so hot from the oven.
- The donuts might have been better if eaten on the day they were made. They were pretty dry and forgettable. Sorry Mile End!
Decorations & The Table
Ok, so there were a few more pinterest boards involved in the lead up to thanksgiving. I had my “essentials” listed here. This was just an assortment of things I might like to buy to support thanksgiving. Some of these things did end up getting purchased. Some did not. Surprisingly I did not need a $300 folding chair from Design “Within Reach”. Ikea folding chairs were perfectly fine thanks very much. The other Pinterest board documented some decorative ideas I wanted to try out.
I decided to go with a grey, orange and blue theme. Orange because that’s very traditional thanksgiving and autumny. Grey because it’s quite modern and contrasts well against the orange. Blue for the traditional blue and white (I had white chairs) in Channukah plus blue contrasts great against orange.
I had a grey and white patterned modern tablecloth and went with mini pumpkins, corn and gourds to add a thanksgiving autumnal feel to the table. To that we added some red flowers that were shortened and put in a small vase to make sure everyone at the table could see each other. I added more orange to the table with some cotton orange napkins. For that extra Channukah element I put gold chocolate coins all over the table and to make things a little more intimate I placed candles inside blue Bell Mason Jars. No idea where that idea came from but I always wanted an excuse to get those vintage Bell Mason Jars and they were super cheap yet effective. For a final cute touch I bought some personalized shortbread cookie placecards from Zabars and placed them over the napkins and plates. I was really happy with the finished product. It looked just how I imagined it!
I had plenty of leftovers the next day and a very pretty assortment of thanksgivukkah paraphenalia to decorate the kitchen counter with 🙂
Well, that’s it for Thanksgivukkah for this year. Excited to see what Thanksgiving will be like next year!