It is finally time to shove off into the beautiful seas of Thanksgiving planning! I am so very excited about everything: the shopping, the planning, the grocery list, the table layout, the hors d'oeuvres and aperitifs, the courses, the desserts, the laughter and happiness that I always associate with this time of year. Although my hair will be sticking out every which way from running around and getting in and out of the oven, I'll be exhausted from 2-3 days of straight cooking, and I might be driven to insanity to get everything to the table in a timely manner--I still can't tell you a time of year I am more alive. Can you tell I thrived in the restaurant environment?
I am also happy to have my sidekick for most of the Thanksgivings I have hosted, my darling roommate. If you have a kitchen helper/someone to share the load, this holiday will go wonderfully. I must admit, I am not the easiest person to share the kitchen with because I love to do everything myself--anytime you are watching someone prep food, you always think you can do it faster, even if they are going at it samurai-style. It's just human nature. My sous chef and I work perfectly together, knowing each other's needs without saying them, and taking care to warn of sharp objects/hot pans "comin' at ya". Also, she is the baker and I am the cook, so she can worry about the sweet and bread aspect (lots of prep the night before to free up the oven), and I can take care of the turkey, sides and drinks. Perfection.
However, never fear if you are on your own--I did it last year when I hosted Thanksgiving for my family in Spain. The challenge of finding American ingredients abroad, getting English measurements, and serving a hungry family of 10 was exhilarating! They even found a turkey for me in November in their village... the most beautiful and delicious turkey ever! I know, you can see my eyes twinkling just by thinking of the great memories this holiday has made!
Well, this multi-part Thanksgiving extravaganza is going to start with some simplicity just to get you off your feet. In chronological order, we'll start with the hors d'oeuvres. Your appetizers need to be very light...we're talking about the biggest meal of the year here! But, in order to save your sanity as the host, you need to have some munchables to buy some time for the grand meal to come together. Plus, apps are nice to set out next to some punch or your drink selection-- so when people walk in they can take care of themselves, and you can give a quick peck on the cheek to greet them and return your food-covered hands to preparing greatness.
Let's talk about some possibilities: You should get your hands on some nice quality nuts and toast them up. This would be a great time to roast those chestnuts up and serve them warm in the shell (like they do in Europe in those newspaper cones...tears...), or hazlenuts, almonds, pecans, etc. You can also choose to candy the nuts and serve those as well--I put the candied nuts on the Thanksgiving table to serve on top of salads and the potato dishes, for you can't indulge enough on this holiday.
Also a cheese plate would be useful. Many of the cheese shops have a basket of the "nubs" or the parts of the cheese left over when they've portioned the rest--these are gold my friends...buy all kinds and your guests can try different varieties. Try to keep the name though, for some reason people don't like to try what they don't know the name of...weird, right?
Alternatively you have a smorgasbord of options with your basic pastry dough: wrap asparagus with it, bake it with salami, put roasted butternut squash in a pastry cup (break out the muffin tin), press parmesan cheese in it-cut it into strips and bake cheese straws...really, the possibilities are endless and this is a great way to dress up anything you have kickin' around in the fridge.
Finally you can take this time to break out those preserves and jams that you made at the end of summer. This is a celebration of the harvest so take out your tomato jam, green tomato chutney, refrigerator jams (plum, peach, apple, whatever), apple butter, pumpkin butter, and display them in those nice rammekins you never use or the berry bowls you never knew were berry bowls, and set them with your cute little serving spoons or knives on a table with some sliced fruits and vegetables, or just a mountain of crackers...
What? Crackers!? Can I make those homemade too? I really like the idea of a homemade Thanksgiving with everything from scratch! Why, so do I my intelligent friend, and yes, yes you can make incredible crackers in your own home oven. Dozens of them...right here...so take a look!
Homemade Crispy Crunch Crackers
3 C Flour
(you can half and half with semolina and all-purpose)
1/3 C Extra-virgin olive oil
1 t Sea salt
1 C Warm water
Optional: Spices, sesame seeds, other toppings
Easiest thing in the world. Whisk the salt and flour together, you could probably sift this if you are into that, but it isn't necessary. Make a well in the middle and pour in both the water and the olive oil. If you want to use your electric mixer to knead, this is a time to use the dough hook and knead for about 5-7 minutes. You can do so by hand just as well, and the dough is so soft and luxurious and warm it is an absolutely pleasure to smoosh around for a while.
You're looking for a soft dough that has a bit of stick left to it. When you've reached that point, separate it into 12 similar-sized pieces. Roll the pieces into balls, brush with a little more olive oil and let sit covered in plastic wrap on a plate for 30-60 minutes...depending on the temperature in your kitchen. The hotter it is the less it has to wait, but no less than half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 450º and prepare two baking sheets either with parchment paper, flour dusting, or cornmeal.
Then you roll out the balls as thin as you can manage and cut them into the shapes you want. I have a handy-dandy pastry roll slicer for that. I just cut them into rectangles, but get fancy if you want. You can also make those comically large crackers that they have in the gourmet section--hey, less work!
I thought they were finished at about 10 minutes, but you really have to keep an eye on them. You want them golden but not burnt, and a difference in two minutes could mean the difference between a decent cracker and charcoal.
*If you are going to season these, you can press your seasonings in before you bake them. Alternatively, you can put the seasoning in the dough when you're kneading for more even distribution. I chose to press my seasonings on top and I made three different varieties: sesame seed (I had some gorgeous black and white sesame seeds), thyme and sea salt, and sea salt with fresh ground black pepper. This recipe yielded 100 crackers for me, so you have the freedom to experiment!
|Thyme & Sea salt, Sea salt & Pepper, and Sesame crackers served with chipotle hummus, green tomato chutney, and cornichons|
Enjoy and start thinking about what you want to serve with them! I'll pass on some more tips and a full menu in the coming days!
Happy Thanksgiving Prep my friends!