this year, there were some hiccups. not the kind you get after eating too-delicious food too quickly, but the kind that make you take stock of your choices and ask yourself, “was thirteen dishes TOO MANY DISHES for one person to make for two people to eat?”
spoiler alert: it may have been.
i am a person who makes a big deal out of thanksgiving. it’s something i look forward to every year, planning for months, prepping for days; taking great pride in the single-handedness of the endeavor—choosing the menu, buying the ingredients, brining and chopping and roasting and everything down to doing the dishes all unassisted, all of this occurring in the tiny kitchen-part of my studio apartment and a stove with either one or two working burners, depending on the whims of the kitchen gods. over the years, it has become more and more elaborate and unwieldy and undertaking, me pushing the limits further into absurdity, and i think this year i finally flew too close to the thanksgiving sun and broke the damn holiday.
it started off so well. i mean, look at these tiny potatoes!
and a potato butt!
a tiny potato butt!
my biggest problem was i got cocky. i had chosen a couple of dishes that could be prepared the day before, and a couple that seemed very quick and easy, and i genuinely thought i was in great shape, so i allowed myself a leisurely morning of reading and mental unwinding before the big show, and that was my mistake. i’m still not sure why everything took as long as it did or how it all got so crazy towards the end, but suffice it to say, i only made eleven dishes on thanksgiving-proper, and had to finish the final two the following day, to my great personal shame.
but here are the rundowns:
JELLIED CRANBERRY-GRAPE SAUCE
VERDICT: this may be the best thing i have ever made. the photographs belie that fact, because the recipe instructs the chef to press saran wrap (or cling film, jeez) firmly to the sauce’s surface before chilling, which i dutifully did, not realizing that all the wrinkles in said cling film would transfer onto the sauce, making it look like it was still wearing cling film even after it had been removed. NOOB. so it looks uggo, but it was delicious beyond words. i have never made cranberry sauce before, because it seemed like you needed a degree in magic to make, and the stuff in cans is RIGHT THERE, ALREADY MADE and the function of cranberry sauce, in a thanksgiving scenario, is really only for next-day sandwiches. but i saw this recipe, and the addition of grapes was so intriguing to me that i had to try it, and i learned that it is actually pretty damn easy to make cranberry sauce, so i might break all my thanksgiving rules and make this thing every year. everyone i generously (albeit regretfully) shared this with loved it, and many copies of the recipe were subsequently shared.
DUCHESS POTATO CASSEROLE
VERDICT: this was a disaster. i had such high hopes for this one. i mean, potatoes are up there with stuffing in terms of how hard it is to narrow the field because there are so many options and they all sound amazing. but when i saw this one, my heart fluttered with MEANT TO BE because this was what the recipe promised:
it promised there would be a layer of egg whites poofing up and browning beautifully with the added bonus of SHAPES! and i thought, HOW MARVELOUS! because i have all these fun cookie cutters:
and i envisioned a raft of potatoes with pretty little designs of sharks and cats and unicorns traipsing about on the delicate crust and SOMEONE CALL PAUL HOLLYWOOD ‘CUZ I HAVE A SHOWSTOPPER HERE! i even mentioned to my dad that i was going to research what potato ricers were all about and whether they were necessary for optimal potato-ing, or if i could just mash ‘em up like the hobo i am and hope for the best, and then shortly thereafter, a food mill/potato ricer arrived at MY HOME like a thanksgiving miracle! i used it correctly and it was a fun new toy but even with all the right tools and the best of intentions, i still failed in my goal and ended up with a weird baked mashed potato that was dry and blucky. other people said it was fine but i had one portion and then it was dead to me.
BACON-ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH BLISTERED GRAPES
VERDICT: can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes and bacon. like, a LOT of bacon. i think there was a 1:1 ratio of sweet potatoes and bacon, which was maybe more than the recipe called for, but i wasn’t about to skimp on bacon, not me! i used red and cotton candy grapes, and they didn’t all get blistered, but it was probably hard to blister through the protective fatty blanket of BACON.
MASHED CAULIFLOWER WITH PARMESAN
VERDICT: this was a little bland. i mean, i used far more cheese than was suggested (see above note on bacon), and it was still pretty drab. and there was a lot of milky liquid pooling around it, which was unappetizing to mine eyes. the texture was appealing, and once i salted and peppered it within an inch of its life, it was greatly improved, but it was not the crown jewel of my feast.
VERDICT: the stuffing (because i refuse to call it dressing. dressing is what you use to lubricate vegetables and stuffing is the opposite of that), but whatever you want to call it (you want to call it stuffing), it is always the toughest decision for me. cornbread or bread-bread, meat or no meat, fruits, nuts, mushrooms?? i eventually chose this one because i thought it would be just one more level of thanksgiving badassery to make biscuits from scratch and then use those biscuits to make stuffing! the biscuits came out great, which i know because a couple of them did not grow up to become stuffing, but although many leftover-recipients raved about the stuffing, i was more critical. i am someone who really likes texture in my stuffing. give me bursting cranberries and toothsome walnuts and big old hunks of sausage studding the stuffing over a heap of damp compressed bread any day. when it first came out of the oven and i sampled it (as is my right, nay—my responsibility, as chef), i thought it was dry and blah. when it had settled down to room temperature, it somehow moistened and was better, and on the days following, when the flavors got to know each other and blended a bit more, it was better, but next year i’m gonna go crazy with nature’s nuggets, and it’s gonna be bedazzled with chunks.
SPECIAL CREAMED CORN
VERDICT: how special can creamed corn really be?, you may well sneer. but bitch, apart from that cranberry-grape sensation, this was the best thing on the menu. i chose it because it seemed super-easy and i thought it would be smart to have at least one dish i could just throw together while the more complicated stuff was demanding my attention. again, the secret is SO MUCH MORE CHEESE THAN SEEMS REASONABLE. and, like so many things this year, it didn’t photograph as well as it ought to’ve, but i don’t care because i got to eat so much of this, my lactose-intolerant body was all but defeated. i shared a bunch with people who were equally surprised by just how nommy it was, but i shoved the lion’s share into my chubby little tummy.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PISTACHIOS AND LIME
VERDICT: okay, i know i have said this twice already, but BRUSSELS SPROUTS, along with POTATOES and STUFFING, are so hard to choose; each year i need to whittle all the recipes down to one true beau. i never had these growing up and now i can’t get enough of NATURE’S BONBONS, and i’ll eat ‘em any way they come, so it can be challenging to pick just ONE, because apparently, even if you are the one doing all the cooking, and should be allowed to make all the calls, people are not on board with a brussels-sprouts-eight-ways kinda holiday. but this recipe sold me with all the textures and flavors i was missing in my stuffing: chunky nuts, tangy limes, and spicy red pepper flakes. as a bonus, these were excellent cold, for midnight snacking.
BLISTERED GREEN BEANS WITH TAHINI
VERDICT: these were fine. i’m not sure if the ‘blister’ function in my kitchen is busted or what, but these beans, like the aforementioned grapes, failed to blister on me, which is fine—it wasn’t the blistery part that sold me on the recipe, but the fact that i am poor and thanksgiving gets expensive, and i already had tahini, so BOOM. i figured the tahini would make the beans look like someone had thrown up all over them (prediction borne out) so i photographed them when they were just innocent and shiny under a dusting of grated lemon peel and then again after their vegan-puke encounter. they tasted bright and summery but also rich and earthy. AN UMAMI TSUNAMI!
OLD-FASHIONED SQUASH CASSEROLE
VERDICT: another one i’m glad i before-and-aftered, because that cheddar-layer is not joking around. this one had layers of summer squash and cheese and powdered ritz crackers and for some reason, raw chopped onions boiled with the squash. if i were to make this again in a non-thanksgiving context—because, with the possible exception of that crangrape paramour, we don’t do repeats—i would not boil the onions, because why? fry ‘em up in butter, let them get all nice and flavorful. boiling is for eggs and potatoes and sterilization. if you are not a baby or a nursing home, give your chompers something to do.
VERDICT: i chose this recipe because, like a masochist, i was foolishly doing a cookbook for my monthly project and it seemed like a good dish for thanksgiving. and it was! since i already reviewed the dish over on my review for the cookbook, i’m just going to cut and paste what i wrote there:
i liked the vinaigrette, which was, as advertised, simple, but this was not the highlight of my 13-course thanksgiving meal. i side-eyed this recipe from the get-go because—dry-roasting vegetables? no olive oil or sea salt? POURQUOI? so i ended up with a tray of shrivelly wrinkle-shapes that were somewhat revived by the vinaigrette, but i think i’d rather roast them IN the vinaigrette. with plenty of sea salt.
VERDICT: for the first time since i can remember, i overcooked this poor bird. only slightly, but i feel even the smallest thanksgiving failures like an arrow in the heart and this year i was as riddled as st. sebastian. everyone who had some of this bird said i was crazy; that it was delicious and moist and yadda and whatever, and this is not me being coy and self-deprecating, this is me saying that all my friends have garbage palates. JK i love you all. only the very outermost part of the bird was affected, and there was plenty of it juicy and succulent, but i’m an impossible standard-setter, and that’ll never change. i mean, remember last year?
that was a TABLEAU! so it’s more of a comparative failure than a complete one.
aaaand that’s all i managed to get done before things fell apart, so i had to save two of the recipes for the following day. like a failure.
THIS IS THANKSGIVING, PART 2
SWEET POTATO-MARSHMALLOW CROSTINI
VERDICT: is marshmallow ricotta another one of those things that everyone knows about but no one has bothered to tell me? because i am only just now discovering it and I DON’T LIKE SECRETS! this was also good cold, but it wasn’t the most elegant dish—those diced sweet potatoes were very tumblesome. marshmallow ricotta: it’s a thing.
CRANBERRY BRIE PULL-APART BREAD
from Delish: Eat Like Every Day’s the Weekend
drizzled with melted butter and thyme.
stuffed with brie and whole-berry cranberry sauce.
do you see this beauty?
this raft of melted cheese?
i never met a melted cheese i didn’t want to poke.
VERDICT: i mean, duh. is cheese and bread. next time, i will use considerably less melted butter, believe it or not, and maybe hold off on the thyme, or at least chop it SUPERFINE so it doesn’t taste like bits of the forest stuck between my teeth. but as far as cheese and bread and cranberry sauce, you can pry that shit from my cold, dead, festive thanksgiving hands.
so that was thanksgiving 2019, a shame so great i didn’t even manage to write about it until the following JUNE. further grievances: i broke my meat thermometer, and i didn’t get to use my new thanksgiving tablecloth OR the pumpkin dish i bought for the occasion
but it’s nearly time to start planning t-day 2020, so i’ll see you here soon!
links to previous thanksgivings: