It’s all my mother’s fault.
Thanksgiving, I mean. She and my father raised me in a thankful home where it quickly became the most cherished day of the year. As I write this, I realize that it actually is my favorite day. From early in the morning, taking care of food preparations to late at night, stuffed and exhausted– it is the most joyful day of gathering. Family comes from near and far, special care is given to the food, the decorations, and the table setting (my mom sets her table over 1 week in advance). She’s what I’d call the one-and-only Thanksgiving queen. To prove it, she gave me a bound manual on how to host the best Thanksgiving! It’s something I really look forward to doing. So much so that I couldn’t wait to curate my “dream” menu. For as long as my mom can make her way around the kitchen, she’ll be hosting… so I may need to wait a while! Here’s a guide to my favorite flavors on this truly happy day.
When guests walk through the door, within minutes you can bet that my dad will ask, “Can I interest you in a cold beverage?” So, be sure you have a variety of drinks on hand– for both adults and kids. On the other hand, my mom is the ultimate health nut and never drinks soda (she’s smiling as she reads this) so the rest of us always have to stress the importance of offering guests more than just water! Let’s get fancy. I absolutely love the idea of pairing wine with food. I think it’s fun to do with your starters and hors d’oeuvres. Here are some of my picks:
- Riesling: my favorite white wine. It can range from dry to very sweet and is made from a single variety of grape originally grown in Germany. I like the ones that have peach notes. It goes great with fruits, cheeses and seafood. Try Smith Madrone Vineyards Napa Valley Riesling, $27.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: A popular, dry red wine made from a single widely cultivated variety of black grape. It has medium body and fruity flavor. I love it because it’s rich and bold. It goes really well with comforting, meaty dishes like a great steak. Here are Food and Wine’s top Cabs under $15.
- Sparkling Apple Cider: For kids and adults alike! I grew up drinking this by the glassful on Thanksgiving day. It’s vital to my family’s Thanksgiving meal. In fact, I can guarantee you there’s a value pack of 4 bottles in my mom’s kitchen right now! My favorite is Martinelli’s: They make the best variety of sparkling juices.
- Water, still and sparkling: Because it’s classy. Bottom line. Everyone loves to see San Pellegrino on the table.
Hors d’oeuvres always get me excited. They can be a great prelude for what is to come. While it’s great to get those appetites going, don’t overdo it. Nothing is worse than filling up on snacks and not having sufficient room for that turkey and the fixings. Being petite, I’m guilty of that almost every year. Just wet your whistle and have a little cheese and chips. As hostess, make it easier and try (2) cold and (2) hot bites (depending on your crowd size) so your guests have some things to munch on while you prepare the others. These starters make me smile:
- Cheese Board: Something comes over me when I see a gorgeously presented board of cheeses, fruits, nuts and crostini. It’s just so pretty and says “eat me!” I love the styling below by Honestly Yum. It’s got all the things you need. To assemble your own perfect cheese board, choose one of the following: a Soft Cheese (Brie, Mozzarella, Ricotta), a Semi-Soft (Jarlsberg, Oka, Gouda), a Semi-Hard (Manchego, Provolone, Comte), and a Hard (Parmesan, Sharp Cheddar, Gruyere). Then comes the fun accompaniments! Figs, honey, almonds, grapes, olives, prosciutto– the list goes on and on. Also, make sure you have some crackers in addition to a softer vehicle like a sliced baguette. Varying textures and flavor combinations is what makes this starter so good!
Photo Credit: Honestly Yum, www.honestlyyum.com
2. Stuffed Mushrooms: If you haven’t noticed already, this post is filled with all of my personal favorites. And this one is no exception. We make these every year without fail. While the recipe has changed from year to year, the love for stuffing that sumptuous mushroom with golden brown crumbs and cheese has not. This year I am going to try this recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis. She can do no wrong!
Photo Credit: Food Network, www.foodnetwork.com
3. Onion Dip and Chips: I warn you now… this will be ultimately devoured. Who doesn’t love the classic sour cream and onion combo? I can tell you that my brother and I can easily polish off on this one! There’s just something about these flavors. As simple as it is to pour a packet of onion soup mix and sour cream together, I thought it would be fun to try this from scratch version from Alton Brown. Pop open a big bay of wavy potato chips for this. I can taste the salty chips and dip now. I love salt… it’s a problem. Just so good!
Photo Credit: Alton Brown, www.altonbrown.com
My perfect salad is light, acidic, and anything but basic. I love the bitterness of arugula paired with a tangy cheese and citrus or something sweet. I found this recipe via Food and Wine magazine and instantly thought YES. The flavor of the beets, freshness of the avocado and pop of goat cheese will sing. It’s a nice change from the usual mixed greens, romaine and Italian vinaigrette. To me, this screams high-end restaurant. Dig in!
Roasted Pumpkin Soup Shooter: This is basically a shot glass of soup. How fun! A small, warm portion of delicious. With the remainder of food that is to come, no one will want a full bowl of soup. Besides being the perfect portion for tasting, these will also look darling on your table setting. I love this recipe I adapted from The Daily Meal. Add a sprig of rosemary to garnish. It that not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?
Photo Credit: Blessed Beyond Crazy, www.blessedbeyondcrazy.com
- Citrus-and-Butter Turkey: Get your taste buds ready and try not to drool over this: “Food & Wine’s Justin Chapple soaks cheesecloth in citrus butter and drapes it over turkey while roasting, yielding super juicy, delicious meat and skin.” You read that right: it’s a turkey that bastes itself! Self basting! They call this guy a “mad genius” for a reason. A cheesecloth is soaked in all that flavor and is continually released while cooking. If there were ever a *mind-blown* moment, it is now. The citrus + butter combination drew me to this recipe. You can count on Food and Wine to deliver.
Photo Credit, The Suburban Soapbox, www.thesuburbansoapbox.com
2. Spiced Honey Glazed Spiral Ham: My cousin Paige and I will tell you: it’s not Thanksgiving without the spiral ham. Some prefer this over the turkey. I find I love the way it tastes alongside the flavors of sweet potato and cranberry sauce. That glaze makes the ham shine–literally!! Try this recipe from Saveur.
- Sweet Potato Gratin with Pecans: On most tables you’ll find sweet potatos. I think it’s the best starch to have on the table. If you prefer regular mashed, that works just as well. If you really can’t decide, do both like we do! I love this twist on a classic by Williams Sonoma. Photo Credit: www.themeaningofpie.com
2. Rosemary Focaccia Stuffing with Pancetta: What Thanksgiving table is complete without stuffing? Honestly, I have never been a fan of traditional stuffing. But, love the flavor of rosemary– and the use of Focaccia sounds divine. Plus a little Italian bacon never hurt anything…Try this recipe from Food Network.
Photo Credit: Food Network, www.foodnetwork.com
3. Creamed Kale: Kale has been having a moment for a while now. While some claim they don’t like it, I think it all depends on how it’s prepared. This reminds me of when I had a hard time eating broccoli as a child and my mom would smother it with cheese so I’d eat them. I’m not saying kale is terrible on it’s own, it’s really not! But, cheese can not possibly hurt it. I forget how much I also enjoy creamed spinach. Take your pick on the greens, but consider creaming them for a perfect Thanksgiving Side. I like this recipe from Tyler Florence via Food & Wine:
4. Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower: This is one of the easiest side dishes, great for any gathering. So much flavor comes out of simply seasoning and roasting the florets. I think this final side rounds out a group of tasty accompaniments. Try this recipe from Bon Appetit:Photo Credit: Bon Appetit, www.bonappetit.com
Buttermilk Biscuits: I know this technically counts as a side… but I gave biscuits their own category simply because there are so many to choose from. Some prefer Italian bread, dinner rolls, etc. but this classic buttermilk recipe from Southern Living had me at Buttermilk. Get a load of this:
Photo Credit: Southern Living, www.southernliving.com
We made it to dessert! Of course, no matter how stuffed you are, just wait an hour or two and you’ll muster up the strength to take a slice of granny’s pie. It’s one of those times when you really don’t have a choice. It isn’t Thanksgiving in my family without the apple and the pumpkin pie. Pair that with a steamy cup of coffee and cream… not to worry, sleep (Err, food-coma-induced hibernation) is coming!
- Apple Pie: A true classic for the fall season. My grandma has been making the same apple pie since she was twenty years old. Now that I’m married, it’s been my ultimate goal to master her art. The idea of closing my eyes and savoring her apple pie, and sharing it for years to come, gives me great joy. I know I’ll pass it down to my daughter one day and the legend will live on! Find a fool-proof crust and expert pie recipe from King Arthur Flour:
Photo Credit: King Arthur Flour, www.kingarthurflour.com
2. Mocha Espresso Cream Pie: Everyone loves chocolate on the dessert table. I especially love this recipe from Southern Living because it incorporates espresso into the mix. This seriously enhances that chocolate flavor! Crunchy crust, creamy filling and that light fluff on top: Photo Credit: Southern Living, www.southernliving.com
And that’s all! Now, you find yourself flat on your back, in front of the fireplace with the buzz of football and family chatter in the background. If this is you, you’re just like my father and grandfather. When you’re full, you gotta do what you gotta do. But you’ll be gosh darn happy you did.
Lastly, we have a few cherished Thanksgiving family traditions. Make your day perfect by creating your own with family and friends you hold dear:
- Give Thanks: We have a little “10 Year Diary” of Thanksgivings that one day we’ll all look back on (or at least my sentimental mother will!) Each of us writes what we are thankful for, amongst a bunch of memories, recipes and photographs.
- Parade: Some of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving are the mornings we spent in front of the inaugural fire of the season watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I’ll admit: I’m married now, but the truth is I wish I could spend every thanksgiving morning for the rest of my life at my parent’s home doing this very thing. My husband’s invited too. (winky face)
- Game On: Nothing is funnier than getting your 84-year-old grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins together for a riveting board game. Especially after all the good food and drink they’ve enjoyed. I’ve witnessed some of the most gut-wrenching, hysterical moments as my grandma acts out charades. I think laughter is the perfect end to a Thankful day– and my family would agree.
Happy Thanksgiving, from my family to yours.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalms 100:4