I don’t have a lot of family; neither does Terry. His is in Alabama; mine is here, but we’re not close. Since Thanksgiving is Terry’s favorite holiday, last year, we decided to have my mom over for dinner. Then we found out my friend Kasmira and her husband didn’t have plans for Thanksgiving, nor did my mom’s friend… nor did another friend, Drake. So we made a big meal, people brought things, we drank and were merry and Terry and I deemed it the best Thanksgiving we’d had in a long, long time.
This year, we decided that we had so much fun that we’d have to do it again. I’ve met so many people this year– through the blog and through other venues– that I just talked up Thanksgiving and put the word out that I’d take anyone who didn’t have family in town, didn’t want to go out of town, or just didn’t want to deal with family this year. We ended up with a guest list including a ton of local bloggers and Twitter fans, a bunch of foodies, and old friends who came together like one big family Thursday night.
Terry and I originally planned on making the whole dinner ourselves, but everyone we invited wanted to contribute to the meal. It’s more fun that way, anyway– every family has its own traditions, and everyone has their “must haves”. Terry’s “must haves” were the relish tray, his mother’s chicken and cornbread dressing, and a smoked turkey. My “must haves” were green bean casserole and dressing with sage. My friend Maureen is vegan. You get the idea. There was no Martha Stewart-perfect meal here, but instead one that was varied, diverse, and made with a lot of love. Oh, and a lot of bloggers. Almost all of our guests (save Drake, my coworker Steve and his wife, and my mom) are people we met because of this very blog and who have their own blogs or are on Twitter. Strangely enough, no one really Tweeted from the event– we were having too good a time.
Special thanks must go to my friend Bob, who generously let me use some of his pictures of the event, in addition to my own. I was far too busy running around to take a lot of pictures (though I did take a few). I appreciate it, Bob!
We started off with appetizers– hummus, a relish tray, and Terry’s favorite goat cheese dip (this recipe is close to the original Southern Living recipe; add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese to make the version we make. I also use light cream cheese instead of regular cream cheese. As if that makes some huge caloric difference). Ms 5chw4r7z made a roasted red pepper dip, and Drake brought a goat cheese log. I’m not entirely sure how any of us had room for dinner as we snacked and drank wine, beer and the yummy Manhattans Kate made (and she later educated us about bourbon. Ask her sometime, it’s truly fascinating!).
The turkey was a lot of fun to make. Terry mentioned that at one point he made a smoked turkey that involved a lot of butter and a rub. I ran with that, making some lemon compound butter, stuffing it under the skin of the turkey, and rubbing the turkey all over with garlic, chili powder, cumin, and agave nectar before Terry smoked it in our courtyard. He used big chunks of hickory with beer and apple juice in the water bowl. The turkey was amazing: super moist and juicy, and everyone raved– and Bob carved (I didn’t want to, Terry didn’t know how, and Bob volunteered. Brave guy. At least my knife was sharp…)!
Side dishes were a little complicated. Terry made his mother’s chicken and cornbread dressing (which has no sage and a lot of onions) and I made my dressing, which is a riff off of my grandma’s. Hers was a loaf of dressed-up Stove Top. Mine is made with pane toscano and a lot of onions and fresh sage. I made two versions– vegan and “regular”, which contained butter. I thought the vegan version turned out better (and that’s what most people seemed to eat), so here’s the recipe:
Julie’s Dressed-Up Dressing
1 loaf crusty bread, such as pane toscano or boule, torn into pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
5-6 leaves sage, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine, plus extra for topping the casserole
Preheat oven to 325. Saute onions and mushrooms in margarine until softened. Add garlic and sage, and saute until fragrant. In a large bowl, mix bread, pine nuts and cranberries until combined. Add onion mixture and broth and mix until everything is evenly moistened. Pour into a greased baking pan and top with 5-6 small chunks of margarine. You can then refrigerate this until needed (allow to come to room temperature before baking), or bake immediately at 325 for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
I also made two different kinds of green bean casserole– one vegan and one not. The only change I made to these recipes is topping them with fried onions, omitting the breadcrumbs. Maureen loved the vegan version, and everyone else loved the non-vegan version. I’ll definitely be making the non-vegan one again.
Terry made a relish tray (Big Olives, Little Pickles), the dressing (which I will write up at a later date, as it takes some translation and deciphering from a very old piece of paper) and Lime Nut Chill, also known as “the Green Thing”. Southerners love any combination of jello, Cool Whip, and fruit, and this is a dish, though not fancy, that takes Terry back to the happy moments of his childhood.
Terry’s Green Thing
1 package lime jello, dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
1 8-oz block cream cheese
2 16-oz cans crushed pineapple
1 cup chopped pecans
1 8-oz package Cool Whip, or 1 cup whipped cream
Mix dissolved jello with cream cheese and cold water. Beat until well dissolved (a mixer would do a good job of making this fluffy). Add the pineapple, pecans, and whipped cream or Cool Whip and mix until combined. Pour into a serving dish and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
I nearly forgot– I made sweet potato casserole. I’m somewhat famous for this. My sweet potatoes are the kind of sweet potatoes that make people who don’t like them change their mind. It’s good enough for dessert, I swear.
Julie’s Sweet Potato Casserole
5 pounds sweet potatoes
4 oz butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce sweet potatoes and bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Put a baking pan underneath to catch any sugars that will invariably seep out and burn. Allow to cool. Remove skins from sweet potatoes, and mash in a large bowl. Add butter and seasonings and mix until combined, but still chunky. Pour into buttered baking dish and top with crumb topping, which follows. Lower temperature to 350 and bake 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Simply substitute margarine for butter for a vegan version.
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
Mix all ingredients except for walnuts together until a large, chunky crumb is formed– it’s easiest to do this with a fork or your fingers. Mix in walnuts, and use to top casserole. It also works well as a crumb topping for pies.
Jeff brought glazed pork belly and bacon-cheddar biscuits, which were yummy. He also contributed a chocolate torte, which was deemed “sinful” by my mom. In addition to the Manhattans, Kate brought some delicious bourbon-laced cranberry sauce. Bob, our intrepid photographer and turkey-carver, baked an Apple Cider Pie (which he documented here). Craig, AKA Vudutu, and his lovely girlfriend Donna brought an apple-fennel salad. Maureen and Mandy brought vegan gravy, succotash and Quorn cutlets. Steve and Amita brought bread, and Mom brought champagne and a lot of funny stories. The pecan and pumpkin pies were from Bonbonerie (I had no time to bake!). Krista pretended that she hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving a few months earlier. Everything turned out great. As Jeff said, “I would have been content with toast and popcorn, the company was that good.” And it was.
I think this Thanksgiving was even better than last year: more people, more fun, more laughter, and (if it’s possible) more drinking. I can’t wait to do this again next year– with friends old and new.
P.S.– Kate has video of Bob carving, which I refuse to watch. Refuse, I tell you.
P.P.S– if you want Jeff’s recipe for glazed pork belly, go here.