More likely than not, family will gather around your Thanksgiving table this year. It is a time for distant cousins to reconnect, Grandparents to hold their sweet grandchildren. Its the time for naps in the Lazy Boy while football games play on the TV nearby, and everyone plays their part in bringing together a meal at the table.
On a special day at a large manor in Kentucky, we gathered our friends from far and wide for a day of feasting. We celebrated a years worth of experiences, cheered one another’s successes, toasted to the year ahead, talked politics over cigars and bantered and laughed during games of chess and slices of pie.
I have been hosting Thanksgiving for over half my life now. And whether with family or friends (or both), its important that I make the most of the time on that day to give heartfelt thanks for the blessings all around me.
Below are a few ways that I like to celebrate this special day:
Organizing the Day
Over the years I have found Thanksgiving to be one of the most enjoyable, stress-free holidays. One reason for this is my insistence on making a good plan for the day and continually taking into account the guests needs weeks before the day arrives. Here are a few tips that might help you pull off your most enjoyable Thanksgiving yet.
1. Make guests feel welcome by having as much preparation work done days, if not weeks in advance. This allows family and friends to feel at ease in your home, not like a burden or a distraction in your frantic attempt to get a meal on the table.
2. Elements like music and lighting shouldn’t be afterthoughts. These small details make all the difference when setting the tone for a festive day.
3. Set up a small card table with a stack of board games or cards to play throughout the day. Scatter a few magazines or photo albums around too. Having these sorts of thoughtful elements in place, help guests know what to do with their time.
4. Remember that things will go wrong. The turkey may burn, the potatoes may be soupy and the pie may get left in the freezer. Don’t let these mishaps ruin the day. Have a good laugh and move on.
5. Let others help. As a host, we sometimes feel the need to do it all so our guests can relax. But more likely than not, your company will find delight in helping pitch in to set the table or washing a few dirty dishes.
The beauty of decorating a Thanksgiving table is that this time of year, nature gives us a free and colorful bounty to work with. I love the intermingling of old and new, fresh and dried, shiny and dull, delicate and sturdy. Nothing is off limits when decorating a Thanksgiving space; in fact, I’d encourage you to mix things up this year. Have the kids go pick leaves, pinecones and sticks from outside. Pair those items with items already available around your home. Candles, stoneware, baskets, linen, burlap, silver and crystal all can work in harmony on your Thanksgiving table.
On our table we use a variety of simple stoneware plates and everyday silverware and paired it with luxurious linen napkins and vintage brass. By not taking yourself too seriously with “matchy matchy” plates, napkins, tablecloths and centerpieces, you not only save yourself money, you create a more easygoing and welcoming environment that encourages comfort and relaxation.
Welcoming guests with a cozy cocktails and charcuterie is never a bad idea. While a cocktail hour prior to the big meal certainly isn’t necessary, having a few finger foods and festive cocktails on hand is a thoughtful touch and a welcomed treat for hungry bellies.
Just remember to keep it simple. Forgo elaborate appetizer dishes that require hours of prep work and lay out simple yet elegant trays brimming with items easily found in your local grocery store or farmers market.
- smoked sausage
- sliced baguette
- apples, pears, grapes
The sense of community and sharing should be at the heart of the meal and part of that is that local produce, foods and recipes are an essential element for me. Each year I serve a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner -- it usually looks just like, or very similar to the one below
- Heritage Turkey
- Country Ham
- Sweet Potato Casserole (*recipe below*)
- Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade (*recipe below*)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing
- Cranberry sauce
- Yeast Rolls
- Apple Pie
- Pumpkin Pie
- Pecan Pie
Up to 2 Days before Thanksgiving:
- Make the Sweet Potato Casserole
- Make the Sausage Stuffing
- Make all Pie Crust
*Cover each dish well with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving afternoon.
Thanksgiving Day Schedule (on the day of the meal) if dinner is at 5:30pm
2pm Start Turkey (cooks 2 1/2 to 3 hours)
3pm Make dough for rolls (rise 1 hr. 30 minutes)
3:30 Take stuffing & sweet potato casserole out of the fridge and let sit on the counter to take the chill off before baking.
3:30 Wash and cut Brussels sprouts
4:00 Cut potatoes and boil the water. Boil potatoes and put them in a water bath (**see end note)
4:30 Shape dough into rolls and let rise on the pan before putting them in the oven.
5:00 Take turkey out of the oven (**see end note)
Put rolls into the oven with casserole and stuffing.
Start making the Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade
Make gravy from turkey drippings.
5:30 Time to eat
~Check appropriate times for your turkey. For some reason people think that turkeys have to cook all day long. NOT TRUE!! I really like Barefoot Contessa's recipe for Roast Turkey. It’s absolute perfection every time.
~ After your potatoes boil you could either leave them in the water till ready to mash or go ahead and mash them and put them in the oven on low heat.
~You can either make desserts ahead of time or if serving pie, bake while eating the meal. The house will smell delicious and guests will happily devour a slice of warm pie a la mode with their after dinner coffee.
Megan's Sweet Potato Casserole
5 pounds small local sweet potatoes (about 10 potatoes)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup local honey
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract + 4 teaspoons Kentucky bourbon whiskey (bourbon vanilla)
2 3/4 cups milk, heated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup chopped pecans + 1/2 cup chopped local walnuts
Wash the sweet potatoes, bake in a preheated 350* F oven for 1 – 1 1/2
hours until they are very tender. Allow to cool briefly before peeling.
Mix the hot sweet potatoes on low speed in a mixer to begin mashing them.
Add the butter and mix until it is absorbed . Add the salt, nutmeg, honey,
and both sugars and mix until they are thoroughly blended. Add the lightly beaten eggs and vanilla bourbon and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the heated milk. When the milk
is incorporated, taste carefully for seasoning. (add more salt, nutmeg, or
sugar as desired)
Butter a 9x13x2 baking dish with the softened butter and pour the sweet
potato mixture into it.
Put the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into
a mixing bowl and mix well. Use your fingers to work the chilled butter
into the mixture until it resembles oatmeal with some large pea size pieces
of butter in it. Stir in the pecan and walnut pieces and mix well.
Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes and bake in
a preheated 375* F. oven for 30 to 45 minutes until the topping is golden
brown and crisp and the sweet potatoes are set but still slightly loose in
the center. Serve hot.
Red River Rockhouse Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade
Half medium yellow onion
1 large shallot
1 12 oz. package uncured bacon
1 lb. Brussels sprouts
Agave syrup (optional)
Cut ends off Brussels sprouts and peel off loose outer layers
Cut each Brussels sprout in half
Slice each half as thinly as possible (Chiffonade)
Dice and separate bacon into pan
Turn on med heat
Dice onion and shallot and add to bacon
Add quarter tsp of fresh cracked pepper
Cook bacon and onions until 80% of desired doneness achieved
Drain bacon and onions (leave as much fat as desired)
Add Brussels sprouts and raise heat to med high while stirring or tossing the mix until the Brussels sprouts at bright green. Keep tossing and let them cook for maybe 30sec - 1 minute. Bright green will be the least bitter and will have nutty sweetness, so don't overlook. For extra sweetness, a drizzle of agave is perfect.
*photo by Tina Brouwer Kraska