Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thanksgiving: Numerous Reasons to Stay at Home

Thanksgiving this year turned out better than I expected. My mom and my father-in-law to be were both out of the country in India, and the usual Thanksgiving planners were either out of town or didn't feel like hosting. Still wanting to do a small intimate family event, we naturally volunteered to do it at our house this year even though I've never so much as cleaned a turkey before. So, for the first time in my life, I actually cooked for Thanksgiving. Although I must make it clear that I had nothing to do with the show stopper of the whole event - the turkey! My wonderful and talented soon to be brother-in-law who is like my brother cooked the entire thing and three types of stuffing while his fiance and I watched like eager hungry students.

We did make really good mashed potatoes, bought some excellent gravy after much research on the best gravies in the market, bought some equally delicious cranberry sauce, got dressed up in nice dresses and pearls, set the table with some of our best silverware, and made sure we picked the best wines for the meal. All in all, it was a huge success and the firepit outside was an added bonus as it was hot enough inside to want to go outside for a bit of fresh air and nothing screams holiday season like a warm and toasty bonfire to sit around sipping wine and telling stories late into the night. Even the light drizzle didn't dampen our spirits since we simply moved our bonfire to the covered portion of the porch and enjoyed the sound of rain mixed in with floating conversations.

We ended up having a really fun, no-stress Thanksgiving where we could actually enjoy the meal, conversation, wine, and the entire night without slaving over the meal. Our strategy was to not put too much emphasis on the food and create a few delicious dishes rather than twenty items. We also split it up so one person wasn't doing everything and it was more fun that way collaborating and cooking all together in the kitchen. We also bought some of the dishes because it made sense. I might decide to make the gravy next year but this year, after asking around, I decided to get the gravy from Boston Market and it was really good and we had plenty to go around. I also bought two kinds of cranberry sauce (with berries and the jelly kind) because it seemed like too much work and the store-bought one was just as good and satisfied everyone especially since some people are picky about having the kind with berries versus the jelly kind. It's almost like oj and pulp versus no pulp - people have strong preferences about these things! The only other dish I bought was the fabulous pumpkin pie from this cute little pastry shop that's famous (like you have to order in advance) for its deep dish pumpkin pie. Why would you ever want to compete with that?

Here's the fifteen pound turkey which was worked by the expert hands of Sid.  He basted it with lots of butter and herbs which helped the turkey soak in all the juices (I hate dry turkey and have had lots of dry turkey Thanksgivings before) while it cooked to perfection!

The roasting pan you pick is very important as this will basically determine how fast and well the turkey cooks.  We had a pan perfect for the small turkey and it had a rack underneath so the drippings could fall out easily into the stuffing we placed a the bottom of the pan.  We also had this high-tech thermometer which you could insert into the turkey and it would actually beep and tell you when the turkey was ready so you could enjoy your wine in peace without having to check on it every few minutes.  I highly recommend this especially if you're not quite sure how to tell if it's perfectly done just by looking at it.

We had three kinds of stuffing.  One that was made in a pan, one that was stuffed inside the turkey (seen here) , and one that was placed at the bottom of the pan so it could play with the butter and drippings also at the bottom.  The stuffing at the bottom of the pan won hands down partially because it was bathed in a butter and turkey dripping bath and although it's not at all healthy, it's absolutely finger-linking delicious!


These gorgeous orange roses were a gift from my soon to be mother-in-law because she's thoughtful like that and believes in small kind gestures which I absolutely love about her.  They were also extremely fragrant which is hard to find these days unless you buy them fresh from a florist.     

I'm  a huge believer in dressing up for meals and creating the right ambiance.  We created the mood by setting the tables with warm autumnal colors, dimming the lights, and lighting candles everywhere. 

Our turkey on its way out of the oven.  It only took about three and a half hours to cook and came out looking perfect thanks to Sid's skills and our high-tech convenient thermometer which as you can see, has a pin on one side that goes in the turkey, and the temperature monitor on the other side can actually stay out of the oven so you can tell how far it's cooked without ever opening the oven door. 

A perfectly golden turkey basted with butter and herbs and the deliciously crunchy and mouth-watering stuffing at the bottom of the pan which was clearly one of the main highlights of the dinner. 

Sitting pretty in the serving dish.  Isn't it just perfect? 

As we were getting ready to carve the turkey, I learned that this is an art in itself because if it's not carved right then, it could turn out to look really ugly not to mention unequal proportions for everyone.  I don't think I'll be doing the carving anytime soon.  However, I did enjoy watching the Mister carve it precisely paying attention to details as is usually his style. 

In addition to the three types of stuffing and mashed potatoes, the spread of sides also included broccoli and chees, green beans and cheese (can you ever go wrong with cheese?), brussel sprouts, and the Boston Market gravy.

Adding a lot of warmth and a bit of holiday cheer to the festivities were the fire pits which lasted nearly six hours.  We had two of these going pretty much before, during, and after the meal so people could sit around the bonfire for a bit, go back in for more food and then, come back out and enjoy the fire again.  This process lasted pretty much the entire night and I absolutely loved it!

The fire pits actually get very warm and we sat around here for hours.  This in my mind, is the picture of a perfect thanksgiving where you can enjoy each others company, food, wine, cheese, and sit around sharing stories with the older and younger generations for hours.  It's also during one of these story-telling sessions that you learn random facts and events about your family.

If you're going to do Thanksgiving then, you must absolutely do it the right way.  For me,this deep dish pumpkin pie from Hollin Hall pastry shop was one of the stars of the evening.  If you live in the DC/MD/VA area, I highly recommend placing this order in advance because it's worth it.  I found out about this place because I was eavesdropping on a conversation between some well-dressed old ladies.  They were all discussing seasonal pies which led one of them to mention, "Susan have you placed your order for the pumpkin pie at Hollin Hall? Don't forget because you know how fast those go".  That was pretty much all I needed to hear to rush home, google the pastry shop, and call in my order.  I've learned that when it comes to well-dressed old ladies, they don't mess around with their pies.  They've been making them from scratch for years and if they're actually placing orders at a shop that too in advance, that means it's pretty darn good.  So I stayed on top of that deep dish pie and all I can say is, it was so worth it!

Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving as much as I did!