Mashed yams and Tim Tams?
November 21, 2010 9:11 PM   Subscribe

"American Thanksgiving" in Melbourne, Australia -- for a few Americans and a bunch of new Aussie friends who have never celebrated, but want to help with the cooking. How should I use the next few days to prepare? A few of the difficulties: I've never hosted Thanksgiving before, in ANY country. I'm not sure how to best coordinate the pot-luck aspect -- trying to shape a decent team-effort menu would be wise. I'm not even sure where the best place is to buy a turkey. Bonus points for menu suggestions that add Aussie flair to the American holiday (let's put kangaroo in SOMETHING), or that go over-the-top American (who says we can't have turkey AND bacon cheeseburgers?).

Ok, so I'm hosting a Thanksgiving-themed eat-and-drink-like-kings get-together this coming Saturday in Melbourne.

I'm envisioning a low-key buffet experience where tons of great food is available at approximately the same time, but not a formal sit-down -- pretty sure I'm not ready for anything that ambitious. My expertise in entertaining is pretty much limited to throwing house parties.

Between housemates, friends and out-of-town guests (from the US) we could have around 15 people showing up. I'm not worried about making sure there is enough of everything for everyone to get a taste -- but everyone should be well-fed.

Lots of people have been asking me for advice on what I'd like them to bring, and I haven't given it much thought. I don't want to force a menu on people if they're the ones cooking, but I also don't want people to all do something easy such that we end up with 15 mashed potato variants. Perhaps the people who claim to be bad at cooking can just bring alcohol.

As for MY kitchen capabilities -- we have a fairly large barbeque out back, 4 gas burners and a medium-sized oven. I've never attempted traditional Thanksgiving fare before, but I'm a decent cook, so I figure that I can handle the turkey (umm, need to FIND one first), stuffing, something with potatoes and something with green veggies.

And perhaps appointing a barbie-master to make those aforementioned bacon cheeseburgers (WHY NOT?).

I'm sure this will all work out in the end, but any advice would be appreciated.
posted by adamk to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you can get a turkey, plan on 2 pounds per person (a bit more if you want leftovers). I'm a fan of brining (soaking in salt water overnight) as it does lead to a juicier bird. Cook the bird partly upside down so the breast doesn't get dried out.

If you're nervous about stuffing the bird, just put a bunch of onions and root vegetables in the cavities and sew them up.

Invest in an instant read thermometer. Take the bird out when you're 5 degrees shy of the right temperature and then cover it with a clean old towel and/or tent with foil, the turkey will continue to cook and then you won't dry it out.

I like to baste in marsala (yummy gravy), but slathering in bacon also works.

Just assign the side dishes to people or ask them to bring their specialty. I've always found that not putting too many rules on what to bring is easier and you still end up with a good variety of sides.

There are lots of good places on the web to seek out turkey advice. NYTimes, Cooksillustrated (subscription required), butterball, epicurious, etc...

Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!
posted by brookeb at 9:18 PM on November 21, 2010

Where are you in Melbourne? I'd expect any major supermarket to stock turkey. Just give your local a bell.
posted by pompomtom at 9:25 PM on November 21, 2010

If you want a traditional Thanksgiving menu, some of the essentials are:

mashed potatoes
sweet potatoes
cranberry (jellied sauce or whole berries)
hot rolls
dressing (don't worry about doing it inside the turkey, there are lots of ways to bake it separate)

football game
love and thankfulness

have fun! don't overthink it... there are NO beans in this meal!
posted by HuronBob at 9:26 PM on November 21, 2010

I'm in the US but celebrated what we called Fakesgiving this weekend with friends. It was a potluck and turned out really well. In our case the host made appetizers, turkey, stuffing, and one pie. Nine guests brought the potato dish, salad, sides, rolls, another pie, a cake, and home made ice cream. Oh, and the host made a punch and other people brought additional wine and beer. We avoided 15 potato dishes by using Google Docs to say what we were bringing (at least to the extent of "some sort of dessert")

To help figure out what to bring, tell people to think of fall recipes or about what their family has at Christmas - I think that will put them in the right mind set. And feel free to ask people what they'd like to bring - that way you can guide them away from potato dishes once quota has been met. Someone who doesn't cook could bring vanilla ice cream - that's bound to go with some dessert.

Aside from the turkey, the most Thanksgiving-est food I can think of is cranberries. How hard are they to find in Australia? And if you have trouble finding pumpkins this time of year, a lot of pumpkin recipes work well with butternut or acorn squash or sweet potatoes.

If you can't find a turkey, maybe you could roast chickens?
posted by maryr at 9:28 PM on November 21, 2010

Response by poster: pompomtom: pretty much where Fitzroy ends and Fitzroy North begins. The two or three supermarkets closest to me (walking distance) definitely do NOT have turkey, but then again they're rather small. Perhaps a tram ride to a bigger store would fix the issue.
posted by adamk at 9:28 PM on November 21, 2010

A suggestion for getting a variety of thanksgiving-y foods without cramping anyone's style. Assign (or ask people to commit to) one of the following categories of food:
Pink! (mostly this is about cranberries and beets, pickled a/o roasted)
posted by janell at 9:31 PM on November 21, 2010

Just celebrated the 4th annual Friendsgiving, which started when I lived in London. It was exceedingly difficult for me to find a turkey that was large enough - I had 20 people, hence 25 lb bird today. 2 pounds per person is probably overkill, but if you keep it between 1-1.5lb you'll be fine.

Feel free to memail me and I'll send over delicious recipes for stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc. Very traditional American midwestern.

As for the turkey: just take a stick or two of butter, soften it, and rub it on the outside (after rinsing and salting the cavities). Forget that brining bullshit, as long as you cook it the right amount of time, your homemade butterball will be the best turkey ever.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:32 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

And I meant to say: your #1 priority is to start calling around to supermarkets to find a turkey. I could only find one at Whole Foods Kensington, the only one outside the United States. Maybe there's a supermarket that caters to Americans? Or a butcher or other specialty shop. Be prepared to pay through the nose.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:34 PM on November 21, 2010

Does the local supermarket stock turkey? I'd go and check. If not have a chat to your friendly local butcher. They'll also have tips on how to cook it.

As an Aussie, I'd love to be invited to Thanksgiving so I could eat American food. Sweet potato as a dessert? Crazy, but I wants me some of that.

Delegation is the key, I'm sure your guests will not mind bringing a plate. The fact that they've got a thanksgiving theme might make it bit easier. As brookeb says assign them starters/side dishes/dessert/drinks.

And have fun!!

More ideas here
posted by WayOutWest at 9:36 PM on November 21, 2010

Perhaps a tram ride to a bigger store would fix the issue.

I'd probably hit up the safeway in Carlton.
posted by pompomtom at 9:37 PM on November 21, 2010

Does Costco stock turkey? I can't recall.
Might be worth calling them and then calling friends who have a membership if you don't.
posted by WayOutWest at 9:38 PM on November 21, 2010

I saw frozen turkeys at the Coles in Fitzroy the other day...just make sure you give them enough time to thaw! (buy 2 days in advance and thaw in fridge)
posted by emd3737 at 9:47 PM on November 21, 2010

Have you tried Vic Market for turkeys? There are a couple of poultry shops in the deli section that sell a range of poultry (I've bought turkey steaks there -- they may have whole turkey this time of year?). They may (maybe possibly) do organic too.
posted by prettypretty at 9:54 PM on November 21, 2010

Kangaroo is pretty much a substitute for beef, but sweeter, leaner, and with more of a tendency to dry out if overcooked. The meat is also quite different in toughness depending on where it comes from on the animal, the sex of the animal, and how old the animal is. Leg steaks from older males are inedibly chewy, fillet/striploin from young females is wonderfully tender, particularly if cooked to just on medium-rare.

The age and sex issues should be taken care of by your butcher or supermarket. They don't stock meat from old males. But they will have at least a couple of cuts, and usually something slightly processed like marinated kebabs or sausages or rissoles. The processed stuff is often not the best meat, so if you can, buy fillet/striploin and do your own processing.

Then on the cooking front you have another issue. Steaks or pieces of roo can be tricky to cook for large dinner parties - getting the timing just right becomes nearly impossible.

To cut a long story short, your best solution would be buy fillet, mince/grind it yourself, then use it in either your cheeseburgers, or in something like a lasagna or meatloaf. Are lasagna and meatloaf acceptable at thanksgiving? Is there a fancier variant?

Alternatively, if you didn't mind letting seared rare fillet sit for a while, you might cook it early, slice it, let it drain, and serve it in a well dressed cold salad.
posted by Ahab at 9:59 PM on November 21, 2010

If you're looking for the ultimate American main course, I have five words for you: Bacon wrapped deep fried turducken. Me either, actually, though I secretly sort of want to try. My family are big on potluck Thanksgivings, and everyone gets assigned a few things--this year, I'm in charge of green bean casserole, cheese-related appetizers, and gingerbread.

Decide what you need to have, and then assign everyone something. So one person gets green beans, one person gets sweet potatoes, one person gets corn, one person gets mushroom casserole, one person brings potato salad, one person brings bread... You make the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and dressing (which is essential and also does *not* go inside of the turkey, because it's damn near impossible to get both turkey and dressing cooked to a safe temperature without making the turkey as dry as shoe leather). You can also do a veg or two if you want, but don't feel obligated. Assign everything you're not making and don't feel bad about it. When you run out of things to assign, tell people to bring either a pie or an appetizer. (Split that--tell half of them to bring pie, half of them to bring an appetizer.) The people who you know can't cook get to bring booze.
posted by MeghanC at 10:03 PM on November 21, 2010

While usually I would say to tell friends to bring thier specialty, if you want more US Thanksgiving-y foods, maybe ask a few friends for something specific, like stuffing? Recipes are easily available online.

Also, I didn't see pies listed up above. Pumpkin is verrry traditional (and declicioso) and pecan is also traditional. Many people I know like to make other pies as desserts as well, apple or apple-cranberry or whatever.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:04 PM on November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving and Christmas have always meant fires and cider and frost and coziness for me, so it was always so weird to hear about Aussies having Christmas barbecues in shorts and all. So maybe in keeping with that, you could smoke a turkey outside instead of roasting it in the oven. Or here's an Australian take on the turkey using native ingredients. Or maybe you could do turkey pie to fit in with their meat pie tradition.

Or dispense with turkey and cook up some (a side of?) emu. Or keep the turkey but make a sausage dressing to go with it that uses emu sausage. Ask your butcher.

They've got native yams there for your yamming purposes.

Instead of yeast rolls or other usual dinner rolls, you could try wattleseed rolls for a minor hint of bush tucker.

And if you've ever ordered one of those cute mini pumpkin pies at the bakery there, you found out the hard way that pumpkin pie means something different and savory there than it does in N. America. You could do their savory kind for something familiar to them or try introducing them to our sweet kind for something new. Here's one Canadian's experience making pumpkin pie for Aussies. Sounds like it went over well.

For one of the desserts you could do a cake using native lemon myrtle and macadamia nuts.
posted by Askr at 10:12 PM on November 21, 2010

IME the best way to engineer the potluck aspect is to cover the main protein (turkey or some sort of fowl) and a few other dishes, then assign sides/vegetables and desserts to friends.

Traditional dishes (understanding that it's spring/summer for you guys right now):
Sweet Potatoes/Yams
Winter Squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc)
Green Bean Casserole - with fried onions on top
Creamed Spinach
Mashed Potatoes or some sort of Gratin
Stuffing - ideally cooked inside the bird, but if you're not doing a whole turkey one can easily just make a big pan of stuffing.
Cranberry Relish - very easy to make with cranberries, orange zest, and a little sugar
Pies. Of any sort, certainly, but different varieties are traditional regionally. I grew up with pecan and sweet potato. Up North I feel like I see more apple and pumpkin. Pie is definitely more traditional at this time of year than cake or individual sweets like cookies, brownies, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 10:22 PM on November 21, 2010

You'll be able to get a much nicer turkey from a local butcher than any supermarket. You will need to order it, though, so call around tomorrow to make sure your order is confirmed. I got a nice free-range turkey from Brenta in Fairfield (which isn't too far from Fitzroy, but there's probably a much closer butcher) last year, and from memory only gave them a couple of days' notice. (I'm making a tofurkey this year, so haven't ordered one.)

You can buy cranberry sauce in a jar and sweet potatoes at any large supermarket (unfortunately probably not at the smaller independent ones in Fitzroy - try the Coles or Woolworths in Barkly Square). Also, cornbread is really easy to make, and it always seems to delight Australians who are attending. If you're looking for any other traditional foods, you could try USA Foods in Moorabbin, but it's quite a hike if you're not in the mood for an adventure.

I usually organise my Australian Thanksgivings by creating a Facebook event with a list of core dishes in the description, and inviting people to "claim" a particular dish to bring, after which I update the description to reflect that.

Finally, just remember to enjoy yourself! Authenticity really isn't important - no one is going to expect a perfect replica of their home Thanksgiving. Just having the event itself and the American company will be enough to make it feel like a real Thanksgiving dinner.
posted by mxc at 11:51 PM on November 21, 2010

Coles sells frozen turkeys (from Steggles, up to 5.2kg, around $6.50 / kg) and free range (~3.8kg, $11/kg). You'll need a couple of these to feed 15 people. Alternatively, consider a couple of turkey breast buffets - also 3.8kg, but you could fit a couple in the oven, and it'd be all breast meat that's easy to carve. Serve with homemade gravy and cranberry sauce (SPC is fine - grab a few jars). If you really want dressing and have the time, this recipe is excellent (substitute an equivalent amount of woodfired Italian bread for the focaccia mix).

Consider larger servings of fewer menu options - you don't need a large number of dishes to create the impression of plenty, just large dishes. Given that the weather is warming up, and that Thanksgiving should take advantage of seasonal produce, I'd suggest:

- a large warm salad - mixed leaves, chunks of charred-sweet roast pumpkin, pine nuts and/or walnuts, pomegranate seeds for brilliant colour, maybe a little fetta, a simple white balsamic dressing - set out on a couple of large bowls, one enormous platter, or a couple of smaller platters. You can roast the pumpkin the night before then warm through at the last minute in the microwave, or do it at the same time as the potatoes (see below);

- seasonal greens - a mix of broccolini and asparagus, dressed with butter, flaked salt, orange juice and parsley

- roast potatoes - parboil, peel, cut into rough chunks, coat with oil and flaked salt, then tip into a couple of foil barbeque trays. Set metal racks on one side of your hooded barbie, close the hood and fire up the burners on the far side, let the internal temp get to 180-200oC, then put in the potatoes and given them an hour, shaking them occasionally. Otherwise, parboil then put into the oven after the turkey is done, keeping the birds / breasts warm in foil while they rest.

For dessert, I'd pass on pumpkin pie and go for pecan pie with ice cream. For an Aussie touch spice up the pecan pie with Bundy rum and / or swap out half the pecans for macadamia nuts. Sarah Lee 1L tubs are on special for $5 at Woolies this week - grab three. The new hazelnut fudge is excellent. Make the pies first - they will keep well in the fridge.

Grab a slab of Sam Adams Boston Lager or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (or one of each!), maybe some A&W root beer, and you're sorted.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:55 AM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are aces. I'll start hunting down some stuff tomorrow, and report back.
posted by adamk at 1:11 AM on November 22, 2010

I'm a vegetarian so it's been a long time since I cooked a turkey but if you get a frozen one, make sure to check inside. There's often a plastic bag of giblets to make gravy with or something. It's a common rookie mistake to cook the bird with it inside and plastic is not a flavor enhancer.

Here's some common Midwest Thanksgiving menu items.
You don't have to do them all.

mashed potatoes with too much buttery goodness
stuffing (best when baked so you get crunchy bits)
cheap dinner rolls
green beans or green bean casserole (ick)
salad (traditionally iceberg)
cran from a can
(cut the bottom and top off and it will
slide out with the can rings showing.
This caused much mocking when we were kids)
jello with cranberries is an acceptable substitute
(use orange/surprisingly good and I'm against fruit in jello, strawberry is too sweet)
yam casserole with marshmallows on top
(not a big fan but very common)
pumpkin or pecan pie

chicken and noodles were common on both sides of my family.
I'm not sure if it's traditional for other people but it always went over well.

I use to work at a pizza place and it's also traditional for it to be dead all day and for people to start ordering pizza around 10 PM when they're totally sick eating of turkey
posted by stray thoughts at 1:35 AM on November 22, 2010

Haven't read the whole thread yet, but I will be doing Thanksgiving just off Johnston Street Collingwood for an American friend. We chatted tonight, I will make a pumpkin pie, we have decided to get some turkey steaks turkey steaks for barbecuing, probably to get the lemon and thyme treatment before hitting the grill. We are thinking cranberry cocktails/as a mixer and possibly some kind of cous cous salad with craisins in it (and lots of chopped continental parsely and a wee bit of mint.)

While it is fun to do traditional, it is just hard work and not that appetising out of season. (Although looking at we could get some storms on the weekend.) Use your barbeque, get people to bring salads, have potatoes done (maybe in jacket, they go well with salads) and enjoy yourself.

If you still want to do a baked meal, do this turkey. My family beg for me to make it again every Christmas. I substitute the raisins for craisins, and the thyme for sage. It is really good. Stuffing under the skin is a little awkward, but very doable, and keeping the cavity empty reduced the cooking time.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:30 AM on November 22, 2010

After you do the traditional American Thanksgiving meal, you can always tell your Aussie friends that there's a huge variety in the foods we serve on Thanksgiving. It is really just a damn good excuse to get together with friends and/or family and eat yourself unconscious. Once you realize that you can have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal without the death of some poor bird, your options really open up. This year, my family is having Pigsgiving, for example.

On Wednesday, I'll swing by our butcher and pick up the 75 - 85 lb pig that we'll roast Thursday. We've asked our guests to bring a dish so I don't have to do the pig and all the other cooking. One family is bringing the most delicious pecan pie in the universe. Another is bringing the potato dish. Another is bringing wine and crackers to go with the cheese. That frees me up to make the squash rolls, roasted vegetables, caramelized corn, pumpkin pie, maple cream tart and other stuff. Everyone will be sent home with roast pig too. Mmmmmmm Pigsgiving may be my new favorite day of gluttony.
posted by onhazier at 6:02 AM on November 22, 2010

If you're going to do green bean casserole, skip the original version made from cream of mushroom soup and go with Alton's Brown's much improved version. I started making this a few years back, and now I get specific requests to make it every year. It also has the advantage that all the ingredients should be available outside the US, though I usually skip making my own fried onions and just go with French's from the can.
posted by ga$money at 7:46 AM on November 22, 2010

I have seen turkeys and turkey buffes in one of the major supermarkets very recently - probably wasn't the small Coles in Fitzroy, but the full-size versions of the supermarkets probably have them - maybe Woolworths on Smith St?

I second the turkey buffets as far easier to deal with.

For a good butcher, try Jonathon's on Smith St.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2010

Sorry...just noting to say that learning kangaroo is eaten blows my narrow American mind.
posted by littleflowers at 12:21 PM on November 24, 2010

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