Thanksgiving nomnoms
November 8, 2014 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan my first Thanksgiving menu! Bf & I are hosting my parents. I want to plan a delicious feast for 4! I don't need to worry about the turkey. I love experimental cooking, so no limits. Bonus: perfect pie recipes.

For the first time, I'm "officially" hosting a Thanksgiving. In the past, I've only done appetizer-level things when parents come over. I am a good cook, like to experiment, and have a captive audience ;) So throw the best recipes for T-giving staples at me!

I definitely want to do fancy stuffing (baked separate from the turkey), garlic mashed potatoes, some sort of squash, and maybe light appetizers, and need recipes for all. I am going to do canned jellied cranberry sauce, my mom is making her tried and true candied yams, and the turkey will be done in a turkey fryer. Otherwise, the menu is open.

I would also like to do a pie or two from scratch. Maybe a couple half-sized pies? Is that a thing? My dad loves apple, so I'd love to do an innovative variation for one of the pies.
posted by DoubleLune to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For the stuffing, I usually make this ciabatta stuffing and it's been a huge hit with my family. It's a bit time consuming but it's pretty worth it.

Pumpkin pie is really easy to make from scratch, and I do it every thanksgiving - it's basically a 15 oz can of pumpkin, 12 oz condensed milk, 2 eggs, pumpkin pie spice to taste (I typically use about 2 tsp), 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt. You mix it all together, put in a 9-inch unbaked deep pie shell, bake at 425 deg for like 15 min, then 350 deg for about 40 min, until knife comes out clean in the center.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by FireFountain at 8:14 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: No recipe offhand, but consider an apple strudel (or multiple individual strudels). Easy to make, and if you want to kick it up a bit, add a little fresh basil or tarragon inside, and melt some sharp as hell white cheddar over top right before eating.

I seem to recommend this a lot, but roasted Brussels! Cut off the stem, slice in half. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, chili flake, and some honey or (better) maple syrup. Roast at 400 for about 20 minutes. Optionally, toss with lardons after roasting. Same method is gorgeous for broccoli or cauliflower, too.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:15 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Fruit salad combining conventional with more exotic (persimmon, starfruit, pomgranate, etc).
posted by LonnieK at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2014

You really can't beat Southern Living's holiday issue. Here's a list of pies, with several versions of apple. Over the years, I've always found their recipes to be excellent, as their rigorous test kitchen makes it foolproof. There's also a tab for sides, and anything else you might need. That Blackberry-Apple Pie, #16, is gorgeous.
posted by raisingsand at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Oh and for squash, maybe mix it up a bit and make a soup? Peel, seed, and roughly dice butternut squash. Toss with S&P, touch of cinnamon, cumin, olive oil. Roast at 350 until cooked through.

Remove squash to a pot, add a garlic clove, cover with 35% cream, bring to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Puree with a stick or in a blender (leave blender vented at the top, cover with towel, only fill 1/3 to 1/2 way, pulse briefly to start and then turn it on--safety!), strain to make it extra velvety. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Garnish with croutons tossed with fresh sage.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes are the best mashed potatoes in the world. I make them every year, and every year people gobble them down and beg for more.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:29 AM on November 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have not yet made it, but I've had this recipe open in a tab for the last few days because it sounds so perfect for fall and harvest season and Thanksgiving: Balsamic & Cabernet Brussels Sprouts with Red Grapes and Bacon

If that's too fussy given the effort required for the rest of the menu, then I recommend just roasting brussels sprouts, halved, in a bit of salt and olive oil until they're just starting to char a teeny bit.
posted by jaguar at 8:30 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Here's a recipe for the easiest pie crust ever. Seriously. It's all just dumping things in a food processor. And there's no "add just enough water until it's just right" step. You just measure everything and dump it in. Super easy. I don't buy pie crusts any more. (The recipe is for one crust, like for a pumpkin pie; if you're making a double crusted pie like apple, you'll need to double the recipe, which I've never tried. Maybe just make two separate recipes, to be safe.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:33 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Mashed potatoes:

- bake or roast, don't boil, the potatoes. You'll get a lighter and fluffier result
- you can roast the garlic at the same time
- if you bake with the skin on, scoop out the innards and keep them warm in a tightly covered pot or dish. Simmer the skins in the butter & cream you're going to be using for about 1/2 hour--this will give you a deeper potato flavour; melting the butter and cream (rather than adding cold) will give you a more luscious final dish
- you can also put the roasted garlic in the butter/cream mixture, mash it up first. This will also help spread the flavour fully throughout
- if you can find it, double cream/clotted cream makes mashed potatoes unbelievably silky and rich

(on preview)

That Pioneer Woman recipe looks nice, but she's wrong about one thing: mealy mashed potatoes are a result of overcooking the potatoes to begin with. Baking or roasting prevents this from happening, and because those are dry heat methods, you get rid of a lot of the moisture--which has the nice benefit of making the starch in the potatoes suck up more of the fats.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:36 AM on November 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

It's perhaps unorthodox as traditional Thanksgiving pies go, but 12 years ago I decided to make a Boston Cream Pie (using Gale Gand's recipe, which is the real deal; ganache and pastry cream, no chocolate frosting and vanilla pudding here) as a change of pace. It became an instant family tradition; I don't dare show up for Thanksgiving without one.
posted by usonian at 8:50 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: You can make the absolute best mashed potatoes thus: Follow the Pioneer Woman's recipe, but with the following changes.

1. Leave out the seasoned salt and reduce the amount of half -and-half.
2. However much cream cheese you add, add an equal amount of sour cream at the same time.

To elaborate on point 1. A bit - salt it to taste, and use however much half-and-half it takes to get things to the consistency you want. You'll just probably need less after adding the sour cream.

And you can use the jellied cranberry sauce if you really want, but fresh cranberry-orange relish is super-easy, takes no cooking, and only takes ten seconds in a food processor. Here's what my mom does -

1. Dump a bag of fresh cranberries into a food processor. Quarter a couple seedless oranges, peel and all, and drop them in too (yes, peel and all).
2. Pulse the food processor a few times until everything is evenly chopped.
3. Taste it to see if you want to add sugar or not. If you want more sugar, add just a little, pulse it in the food processor and taste again. Dump into a bowl and chill until serving.

Bear in mind that my family is a supplier for Ocean Spray, so that recipe is even Cranberry-Farmer Approved.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: 2nd Pioneer Womans mashed potato recipe.

Butternut squash is nice simply tossed in oil & roasted. I have found since moving to the US so few people eat it that way (at least where I am) that my US friends find it a pleasant surprise. Roasting brussell sprouts go great with it too. OK just roast all the veggies, with some cloves of garlic, trust me on this.

Apple & Sausage Stuffing. I make it with pecans not walnuts because of allergies in the family. It is amazing. Tastes even better the next day with the left overs.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Perfect timing. The NYTimes cooking section just rolled out it's T-day edition. I've always had good luck with their recipes:
posted by Toddles at 8:58 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cranberry-apple chutney (like this one) is a delicious and interesting addition to a thanksgiving dinner that complements turkey well (and tends to be a little more universally appealing than straight cranberry sauce). It is also super easy to make.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:02 AM on November 8, 2014

I use the Pioneer woman mashed potatoes recipe as well.

For a perfect turkey, order the Williams Sonoma turkey brine mixture. It's the one with dried apples in it. I always use a cooking bag as well, which tends to make the turkey cook faster than you normally see. I also cook my turkey until it is halfway to final temperature, then drop my oven temp down to 200 and let it finish up slowly. For the final 30 minutes i uncover everything and let the skin get nice and brown.
posted by OkTwigs at 9:16 AM on November 8, 2014

As just a menu-planning note: I'd think about whether you wanted to have winter squash and yams, especially if you're also having mashed potatoes. For me, they both (actually, all three, especially with garlic mashed potatoes) fill the same taste-role for the meal, though I realize that for many people such redundancies are the whole point of Thanksgiving. Something with a bit of bitter, like brussels sprouts or chard or broccoli raab (if you like really bitter), might round things out a bit better.
posted by jaguar at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This green bean casserole is amazing. If you really want to go all out, make your own onion strings too.
posted by dogmom at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2014

I'll second home-made green bean casserole (the serious eats recipe DISAPPEARED last year, when I decided to make it even though everyone said they hated the everything-from-a-can kind).

Unless there's a reason for the canned cranberry sauce, my grandma's recipe for cranberry relish (uh, which I think is actually the one on the back of the Ocean Spray bag) is as follows: bag of cranberries, whole apple, whole orange (neither peeled), cup of sugar, all into the food processor until finely diced.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:49 AM on November 8, 2014

Alternate cranberry sauce recipe:

2 cups cranberries fresh or frozen (if fresh, you'll need to add a little water)
Juice & zest of one orange
pinches clove, star anise, ginger
S&P to taste

Everything in a small saucepan, low heat, let it burble away until liquid is thick and cranberries are soft. Adjust tartness with a little honey if you need to.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:53 AM on November 8, 2014

Seconding EmpressCallipygos' cranberry-orange relish: it's easy, it's delicious, and it'll looks tons more festive on your dinner table than slices of the canned jellied stuff.

Other than that, my only recommendation would be Take It Easy --- you're only going to have four people, so if you go overboard, like with a huge 15 or 20 pound turkey, you're going to be eating that until you come to hate it. There's no need to have every single Thanksgiving dish you've ever heard of! If you insist on more than one type of pie, consider making individual tarts instead.

Oh yeah, and consider your family traditions: some folks are absolutely locked into The Official & Historic Traditional Thanksgiving Menu, and won't accept any variations; some folks accept some variations in the side dishes, and some don't care at all if there's not even any turkey being served.
posted by easily confused at 10:17 AM on November 8, 2014

As the thread's unofficial cranberry sauce expert, I hereby state that fffm's cooked sauce works well too, and is a good homemade version of the whole-berry canned stuff (except, well, better, because it's homemade).

Seriously, the cranberry stuff is easy. Except if you want that clear jelled type stuff that takes the shape of the can, that takes a bit of doing and the canned is easier for that effect. (Believe it or not, I've seen some DIY folk actually advocate making it yourself and saving tin cans and washing them to use as molds for the cranberry jelly for nostalgia's sake, but honestly, no sense going to that length.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ooh! I saw something once for roast butternut squash that looked fancy as hell -

Lay it on its side and make a bunch of cuts along one side, as if you were trying to slice it but aren't slicing all the way through. Slice a couple cloves of garlic - enough that you can shove a slice or two in each of those cuts. Drizzle olive oil over the whole thing and roast it like that.

For four people, though, acorn squash would also work - just get two, and each person gets one half. To roast, chop each squash in half ( cut top-to-bottom rather than through the middle), scoop the seeds out and lay them, open side up, in a roasting pan. Then cut up an apple and take a handful of cranberries and a handful of some kind of nut, and a little brown sugar or honey, and mix that up. Stuff a little in the scooped-out part of each half of squash, drizzle olive oil over them all and roast.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on November 8, 2014

Oh, don't overlook the gorgeous little beauties that are patapan (or pattypan) squash. Get the baby ones, they're lovely and tender. A little thyme, a squeeze of lemon, olive oil & s & p and roast. Nom!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: I highly recommend this bourbon pumpkin tart. It is insanely good and a fun twist on pumpkin pie without feeling like it doesn't belong at Thanksgiving.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:19 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to go experimental, what about roasting and purring the squash and doing them as butternut squash ravioli appetizer? I use wonton wrappers instead of making my own pasta, they're very light, and it cuts out a lot of the hassle. But basically, you peel and cut up the squash into one inch chunks, douse 'em in a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil, and roast at 425 until tender. Throw the roasted squash in a blender or food processor with some chicken stock and make a smooth purée. Put about a tablespoon or so of the purée in the center of the wonton wrapper, spread a bit of egg wash around the edges, and fold over into a triangle shape and seal, pressing out any air pockets.

The best part of this recipe is that you can make the raviolis ahead --- well ahead, if you want to, they freeze quite well --- and then on T-day all you have to do to serve them is put a pot of water on, and while that's coming to boil, melt a stick of butter over medium heat until the milk solids begin to brown --- when they start to go, turn the heat off and add a handful of fresh sage leaves. The raviolis cook quite quickly --- when they float they're ready. Fifteen minutes from putting the pot on until ready to serve. For an appetizer I'd serve four or so per person. If you do make ahead and freeze, lay them out individually on a cookie sheet or something until they're frozen, then you can throw 'em in a ziplock. (If you put them in the ziplock raw they'll stick together).

And though I see you already have 900 mashed potato suggestions, I will nevertheless add that the best ones I've ever made consist of making the potatoes as usual (5lbs of potatoes, milk, stick of butter, salt, pepper) and then adding 6oz of fresh goat's cheese, a pound of bacon, baked until crispy and crumbled, and about half a red onion, minced very fine. They're decadent, but it's the holidays, and trust me, you cannot beat bacon, goat cheese, and onion.
posted by Diablevert at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When we did fancy dinner for 4, the real challenge was to simultaneously check all the "must have" boxes, while choosing interesting recipes, and not making 10 times more food than we needed. When there are 12 people for dinner you can get away with having 2 kinds of potatoes, bread stuffing and rolls, squash and green vegetable, cranberries in relish, sauce and jelly form, and 3 flavors of pies. Everyone picks what they love the most and takes half-spoonful servings of everything else, and it's a feast. But you've got 4 people, and you could honestly get by with mashing only 2 potatoes. So my advice is, make small batches of stuff.

We did a duck instead of a turkey, with a hazelnut+mushroom stuffing. Mashed potatoes with caramelized onions. For a green vegetable, brussels sprouts and bacon. And as appetizer, these snap peas so that ticked the vegetable box also.
I did this Squash with sugared cranberries, using the smallest delicata squashes I could find at the store, so that each person could have a half-squash but letting it still be a small serving. (alternate version)
Then, because it wasn't a pie-necessity crowd, I made martini glasses with half-and half pumpkin mousse and chai mousse, and garnished with a slice of stem ginger cake.

Didn't bother making separate cranberry sauce, made one dessert with three flavors in it instead of multiple desserts.
posted by aimedwander at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is my favorite squash Thanksgiving dish. Bonus is it would keep the squash different enough from the potatoes (for me, at least).
posted by marmago at 11:47 AM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Perfect pie crust via my Danish Grandmother: use the best butter you can find and lots of it and use vodka instead of water (the alcohol evaporates and makes it flakier). Handle the dough as little as possible.

Apparently HER grandmother would dab the pie crust dough with chunks of butter as she rolled it out, like puff pastry or croissant dough. We never had the guts or patience to try it, but I'm sure it was good...

Nth roasted Brussels... We do ours in olive oil, Parmesan, and a but of lemon.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:13 PM on November 8, 2014

A popular dessert here in Oz that would fit right in at Thanksgiving? Sticky Date Pudding. It's a moist dense date and brown sugar cake with caramel sauce. It's sooooo good.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:15 PM on November 8, 2014

Diablevert, those ravioli sound fabulous! I want to make! Could they take a little chili, either in the ravioli or the sage-butter?
posted by mumimor at 12:17 PM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: this apple pie recipe has 6000+ positive reviews and for good reason. i've made it twice now and it's AMAZING. it's a sweet pie, so last year i threw in some cranberries to give a nice tartness to balance out the sweet. i made the pie crust from scratch following this recipe at follow the advice given above - don't handle the dough too much, make sure your butter is cold, your rolling surface is cold, your rolling pin in cold, your hands are cold... you get the idea. don't let that butter melt before it goes into the oven!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 12:22 PM on November 8, 2014

Diablevert, those ravioli sound fabulous! I want to make! Could they take a little chili, either in the ravioli or the sage-butter?

Hmmm. You know, I'm not sure, I've never done them that way. When I think Thanksgiving I tend to think of woodsy-herby flavours. When you say chili, are you thinking of like adding a pinch of cayenne or like chopping up a fresh Birdseye or something? If the cayenne I think a small amount added to the filling would be fine --- half a teaspoon's probably as far as I'd go, otherwise I'd think you'd be competing with the sage and that might clash. If fresh I might mince a chile or two fairly fine and then sweat it down with a shallot until it's soft, then mix that into the purée --- that would give you a bit of textural contrast without having crunchy chunks in the middle of the ravioli filling.

You could also skip the sage altogether and instead infuse the butter with some more Indian flavours --- turmeric, cumin, coriander, maybe a bit of ginger, and serve it that way. Although I preface that by saying that I haven't done it that way myself, but those flavors tend to go well together, so I don't see why it wouldn't work. If I were to try it that way I'd do the sweating the fresh chili and shallot thing, and then add dried spices to the browned butter off heat. Maybe a bit of cilantro or parsley sprinkled on top for freshness. You could also sprinkle the squash with some spices before roasting.

I meant to add --- the brown-butter and sage version is good served with a bit of shaved parmesean or Romano on top.
posted by Diablevert at 1:18 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of just adding a half small fresh chili, not to suffocate the delicate tastes, but just for a little contrast. The butter - sage thing is so nice, and I have a huge sage in the garden. I think I'l start out doing it your way, and then figure out what to do. Thanks for the inspiration!
posted by mumimor at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2014

In the Pioneer Woman vein of things, this is a FANTASTIC pecan pie and a requirement for Southern Thanksgiving.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:01 PM on November 8, 2014

Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for Acorn squash with jalapeño lime vinaigrette. It would be a great addition to a menu that already has mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. The same vinaigrette makes a fabulous dressing for a kale salad, too.

In a similar vein, one year I made a kale salad with apples, pecans, and a cranberry vinaigrette. I believe the vinaigrette recipe was from Saveur.
posted by apricot at 4:31 PM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: I see that some others have suggested from-scratch (or largely-from-scratch) green bean casserole. I've also fine-tuned a version that dish over the years, and it's always a hit. It's entirely from scratch, though -- stock-to-soup-to-beans-to-fried onions (shallots, in my case) -- and therefore rather time consuming. But I basically win Thanksgiving every time.

I you're looking for significantly less effort, but still-unique results, may I suggest the following (vague) recipe?

Horseradish Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Fresh Horseradish, smallish root, finely shredded
Garlic, at least two large cloves, minced
Olive Oil and Unsalted Butter, equal parts (to coat)
Salt/Pepper, to taste
Brussels Sprouts, coupl'a pounds, halved and blanched

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add halved sprouts and blanch until bright green and slightly cooked (1-2 mins). Decant into bowl of icewater, or drain under running cold water. Shake off excess water. Mix butter, oil, grated horseradish, garlic, and salt/pepper in large mixing bowl. Coat cooled/drained brussels in oil/butter/etc. mixture, then place on a baking tray (flat/split side down). Roast at roughly 350F for about 15 minutes, then flip and allow to roast until surface is nicely browned (maybe another 10 - 15 mins).

Really, they're insane. You should probably make more than I'm illustrating above, actually.

Can I offer a word of advice, though? An "important," symbolic meal like Thanksgiving may end up being more stressful than you are anticipating. Even super-experienced, pro cooks can lose it over this meal. (I, for instance, refuse to host Thanksgiving; I'll contribute a dish or two, but that's it.) If you are going to add to the demands of singlehandedly making all the standards by also making all the standards with unique/time-intensive/creative steps to boot, I'd suggest planning this like a major invasion. Start in on some elements literally days in advance, work out how you are going to utilize the oven on the day, etc.
posted by credible hulk at 10:45 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, dude, fffm. That mashed potato recipe variant sounds ssiiicckkkk.
posted by credible hulk at 10:54 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to break our family tradition this year and bake this pie: apple with cheddar cheese crust.
posted by killy willy at 10:03 AM on November 9, 2014

Thanks, hulk. I really like stacking different expressions of the same flavour in one dish, and making potato stock (in this case with cream) is kind of surprisingly awesome.

I just had another idea based on the Grand Budapest Hotel thread--have you considered savoury profiteroles as an appetizer? Perhaps a turkey liver mousse with a little cranberry, or a squash mousse, or something involving cheese. Best thing is, you can make the actual profiteroles well ahead of time--they freeze fine--and just pipe whatever goop into them right before nomming.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:24 AM on November 9, 2014

Response by poster: So many amazing suggestions! I am now in love with Pioneer Woman -- I made her "Perfect Pancakes" recipe for brunch today, and it's my new go-to.

The cranberry sauce is because to me, it's not Thanksgiving without that sweet, cold, smooth feeling of a slice of jellied cranberry sauce. My mom hates it, so I may also do cranberry-orange relish, which she would appreciate.

Sooooo many options. I have the next couple weekends to experiment, I have a feeling I'm going to practice first with mashed potatoes :)
posted by DoubleLune at 12:40 PM on November 9, 2014

Best answer: Best riff on apple pie I've tried: Pecan-Caramel Upside Down Apple Pie. This was from a 1950s recipe when the concept of 'upside down' was novel and exciting. We have moved past this as a culinary trick, but for this recipe it's totally worth a revival.

All you do is heavily butter a pie pan, sprinkle with 1/2 cup of light brown sugar, and dot with a few tablespoons of butter cut into little bits. Lay pecan halves in a nice pattern, flat side up. Then lay your bottom crust on top and proceed with your favorite apple pie recipe. But when you take it out of the oven, before it cools completely, lay a large plate on top, and holding both the pie pan and the plate tightly, flip it over. You will have a lovely caramel sauce and a pattern of toasted pecans on the (now) top of your pie. Very festive.

If for some reason the pie crust breaks in the flipping process, you may decorate it with whipped cream just before you serve it and no one will be the wiser.
posted by ananci at 2:36 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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