“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” — William Blake
It was after speaking to a dear friend of mine who is British and who didn’t have plans to celebrate in a grand way America’s Thanksgiving holiday that I began to ponder the significance of the holiday that occurs every fourth Thursday in November. After all, traditions are wonderful if they foster something that is positive, grounding and room for love and kindness to mix with us as we gather together, but what if we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of simply going through the motions? What if we’ve come to not see the opportunity to come together, celebrate and express gratitude for the small but significant as well as the grand things in our lives? Or worse yet, what if we’ve begun to dread the holiday?
If the latter two are something you’ve been dancing with lately, why not mix it up? Why not change with whom you celebrate and how you celebrate with regards to the menu?
This year I will be celebrating in Bend for the first time, not the first time away from my family, but the first time in hometown in which I don’t feel I have to do anything any particular way when it comes to celebrating one of my favorite holidays, partially because it involves the appreciation of food as much as the communing and gather of those whose company we enjoy. And so I began contemplating last month exactly what I wanted to do, and I came upon the idea of sharing a simply luxurious Thanksgiving menu that while absolutely wonderful for a delicious alternative to turkey, will also be a go-to menu for entertaining at your next dinner party this holiday season.
Let’s talk about how to pull it all together.
1. Determine who will be invited
Friends who are staying in town, neighbors who aren’t having dinner with family, colleagues who are staying close by? Determine how many you can host and begin asking away.
2. Decide if you are cooking everything or if you want others to bring something as well
As the host and as someone who loves to cook, I enjoy doing all of the cooking. In many ways it is my gift to my guests as well as a fun opportunity to make art in my own way (sometimes it looks like a masterpiece and sometimes not so much). And because of this, the menu I have pulled together for you in this post is something one person can easily make without being too overwhelmed and stay within their budget (under $100 if the basics are already in the pantry, refrigerator, etc.).
3. If the host/hostess says there is no need to bring anything, take them at their word
Recently, I was speaking with someone about their Thanksgiving plans, and they mentioned that the hostess didn’t need anyone to bring anything. They had the menu planned and wanted everyone to come and relax. The person I was speaking to was flummoxed; she felt she had to bring something. So (based on how she told the story), she kept pleading with the hostess to let her bring something, anything. First of all, enjoy being a guest and enjoy not having to cook something. You will most likely or have already had your turn at cooking Thanksgiving. Allow yourself the pleasure of being a guest who comes, enjoys, brightens the conversation and has a good time. That is a wonderful gift you can bring your host/hostess.
4. If #3 is the case, bring something as a thank you
I was recently listening to the annual Bon Appétit Thanksgiving podcast, and they shared some great ideas for host/hostess gifts: chocolate, a great wine (not assuming it will be consumed that evening, but it can be), or, I love this idea, ingredients from local bakeries and artisans to make the morning after breakfast or snacks all the more decadent when they wake up after having hosted a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Make the dessert at least a day ahead
The dessert, if a classic pie or tart, can be made ahead of time and set aside in the refrigerator. And while a classic pumpkin pie will always work, why not mix it up a bit? This year I concocted my own recipe for a pumpkin tart with bourbon on a ginger snap crust topped with rum and cinnamon whipped cream. The crust enabled me to reduce my preparation and cooking time, and the filling made not only one 9-inch tart but two additional mini tarts as well. Click on the image below for the recipe and more details.
6. Choose a main entrée that offers an abundance of flavor and won’t break the bank (and preferably is simple to prepare as well)
While I have made a turkey or two (Martha Stewart’s recipe for butter and wine sauce basted turkey is amazing, and I highly, highly recommend), sometimes it’s nice not to have to worry if there will be enough moist meat for everyone and be able to enjoy yourself throughout the day without tending to the turkey worrying if it has defrosted, cooked through, etc. So why not choose something a little different, but just as special?
This year I choose to make marinaded lamb chops nestled on top of pearl couscous with mint, pine nuts and peas. The time needed in the kitchen is minimal, and with each rack of lamb offering 6-8 chops, for a small dinner party, it will cost between $30-40/rack. Don’t forget to budget time for marinading the chops. This can be done an entire day ahead of time or in the morning.
~A moroccan entrée: marinaded lamb chops nestled on top of pearl couscous with mint, pine nuts and peas~
7. Let the Sides Add Balance to the Menu
Determine how you want to feel after the meal. If this is a no-holds-barred situation and everything and anything is going to be served as long as it tastes good, then go for it and indulge, but if you want to be able to walk out of the house afterwards without feeling too guilty, choose sides that add some balance. Instead of potatoes or stuffing (the couscous fills the starch portion of the menu), choose delicious vegetable dishes that aren’t too heavy in sauce, but offer a rich flavor.
This year I choose a new twist on a favorite vegetable side dish: Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta.
8. Don’t forget the appetizer
The appetizer is the first impression of the entire meal and gathering, so be sure to make an impression the sets a celebratory and flavor-filled mood. Whether it is with a cheese platter or one decadent choice of cheese with delicious pairings (Fig Preserve with Brie on Oat Crackers), offer something that is delicious and satiating.
~learn how to assemble your own cheese platter here~
9. Add some bubbly
As you can see above, the bubbly played a role in the appetizer, and as I mentioned in this post, bubbly can absolutely be paired with anything on your menu. After all, this is a celebration and with the many different options available: Prosecco, Cava and other bubbly options besides Champagne, the sparkling wine doesn’t have to cost more than $20. Cheers!
10. Plan an active game and a more thought-provoking game
Perhaps it is as simple as gathering up your friends and guests to go to the local park and play touch-football (I always think of the FRIENDS episode, 3 on 3 on a very small field – anything is possible!) or pulling out the Scrabble and Backgammon boards. Whatever your group might enjoy or be willing to try, come up with a few ideas beforehand to suggest while they are nibbling on the appetizers or waiting for dessert.
11. Be a good listener
Tensions are high this year as family members head home and differing viewpoints sit down together at the table. As is the case, Elizabeth Bernstein wrote a worth-reading article about just this topic and how to successful navigate the conversation and the company.
I love a good, thoughtful toast. Depending upon your personality and your guests, compile a toast that lets each guest feel welcomed and appreciated, sets the tone you want for the evening and reveals a bit of your personality as well. Here is a great article to help you out.
13. Plan the menu a few days in advance and shop at least the weekend before (this year the 19th and 20th).
Now for TSLL Thanksgiving menu that will be served this year:
~appetizer: Fig Preserves and Brie on Oat Crackers with Cava sparkling wine
~side dish: Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
~main entrée: Marinaded Lamb Chops nestled on top of Pearl Couscous with Mint, Pine Nuts and Peas paired with a bottle (1 bottle serves 4 glasses) Beaujoulais
~dessert: Bourbon Pumpkin Tart with Ginger Snap crust and Rum & Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Reduce the stress, amp up the flavor and begin a new traditional with friends and neighbors. Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving if you are celebrating the occasion, and if not, why not have a dinner party this holiday season? Rest-assured it will be a smashing good time, and you will be certain to be able to enjoy yourself as well.
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