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Nov 25, 2011 07:56 AM

Thanksgiving 2011 -- the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Since no one seems to have started this discussion yet, I figured I'd get it going.


Happily, everything turned out well this year. There wasn't any dish that I was upset by, but these were the best of the bunch:

Turkey was dry brined with salt and thyme and cooked spatchcocked. It was moist and tasty and so easy. My favorite method of making roast turkey. Lots of compliments on the turkey.

The brussels sprouts hash were also a big hit, even from brussels sprouts haters. Great epicurious recipe.

The boston cream pie and the carrot cake were made by a friend, who's a fantastic baker and they were wonderful and beautiful. My husband declared the carrot cake the best he's ever had. I believe it's a CI recipe. And my friend knows me well, and brought the extra pastry cream from the boston cream pie as a gift. :)

The banana pudding. Oh dear. After reading a bunch of positive reviews here, I made Paula Deen's "Not Your Mama's Banana Pudding". I made several substitutions (mascarpone for cream cheese, unsweetened whipped cream for Cool Whip), but stayed reasonably true to the recipe. Dang, that stuff is good. It was wiped out.

The full menu:

The apps:
- spicy caramel popcorn
- wonton cups w/wasabi guac and shrimp
- Thai red curry squash soup
- blue and gruyere thumbprints w/fig jam

The mains and sides:
- 19 lb. turkey + two 5 lb. turkey breasts
- 10 lb. honey glazed ham
- classic herb stuffing
- roasted garlic mashed potatoes
- brussels sprouts hash w/caramelized shallots
- roasted cauliflower
- chipotle roasted sweet potatoes
- green bean and pine nuts salad
- bourbon cranberry sauce
- turkey gravy w/roasted shallots
- mushroom bourgignon (for the vegetarians)
- vegetarian stuffing

The desserts:
- boston cream pie
- carrot cake
- banana pudding
- pumpkin spice cookies
- laceys cookies
- a small cheese plate


I totally underestimated how much certain dishes would get consumed. In the past, I've found that people weren't that interested in cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Oh, most people would take a little just to be polite, but I always had a ton leftover. So I made what I thought was a sufficient amount of both, only to discover that they had both been totally decimated before the evening was out. Oops.

The same thing happened with the sweet potatoes -- "oh, not that many people like sweet potatoes". Oops, wrong again. And I had meant the sweet potatoes to have a bit of heat by mixing the olive oil with adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers. However, I was worried about getting it too spicy, so I was cautious with the amount of adobo sauce I added. Well, I was too cautious and there was no discernible bite whatsoever. Someone did say that there was a nice hint of smokiness that offset the sweetness of the potatoes, though, so I suppose it was not totally for naught. :)

The cheese plate. I thought that perhaps people not interested in sweets would like a savory bite after dinner. Nope. Cheese plate was all but ignored as folks tore into the sweets.

The pumpkin spice cookies received mixed reactions. They are a REALLY heavily spiced cookie, which I love, but I think turned a lot of people off.


No true uglies this year. The closest thing was coming THIS close to not having enough space or flatware for the 25 people we ended up having over for dinner. But with good food, good drink and good company, it was a great time.

I love Thanksgiving!

What was your Thanksgiving like this year?

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  1. Wow, that's quite a spread! The bad and ugly weren't so bad, either!

    For us it was nice and mellow. The turkey was juicy and tender, the sides all yummy and dessert scored big points with the man. :)

    The closest thing to a disaster was the minor inconvenience of having to run to Rite Aid in the middle of the day for butane for the torch. No biggie at all.

    I just had an open faced hot turkey sandwich for breakfast (this is the real reason to make turkey, to me,) spoiled the cats with a few bites of plain white meat (the dog got the guts last night.) The man volunteered for work today (2 1/2 times pay and they expect to be slow so they're going to deep fry a couple of the left over turkeys his work gave to employees in the parking lot. I sent an extra pan of stuffing with him.) I'm settling in to get some work done with a nice hot pot of coffee. At this point in time, all is right in my world.

    1. i think the only "uglies" we had this year was the amount of dishes we had to clean up.... and the gut-busting stomach aches caused by overeating in my house. everything else came out awesome and was delicious!! the full menu:

      Gramercy Tavern Bar nuts
      Proscuitto and puff pastry wrapped asparagus
      Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
      Roasted full turkey
      "Turchetta" made with a whole turkey breast and chorizo-cornbread stuffing
      Giblet Dressing
      Fresh Green Bean Casserole
      Mashed potatoes
      Brussel Sprout and Sweet Potato Hash
      Homemade Applesauce
      Cornbread mini-muffins
      Banana bread mini-muffins
      Outback Steakhouse Bushman Bread
      Cranberry/Orange Relish
      Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Topping
      Banana, Chocolate, and Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding
      Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
      Mocha Ice Cream Pie
      Homemade Marshmallows

      It was a feast to be sure!! so much fun to make!

      13 Replies
      1. re: mattstolz

        Ooh, can you tell me about the asparagus app? Did you cook the asparagus first? How did you wrap them? Fully enclosed, or just wrapped around the middle? I guess I'm really asking for the recipe! :) I'm always on the hunt for new and interesting finger foods.

        1. re: TorontoJo

          hahaha its really really simple

          trim asparagus, cut prosciutto and puff pastry into 1/4" wide strips, wrap the asparagus (in a spiral fashion) first with prosciutto and then with puff pastry. bake @400 until the puff pastry is golden brown.

          to answer your questions:

          can you tell me about the asparagus app?

          Did you cook the asparagus first?

          How did you wrap them?
          spiral fashion

          Fully enclosed, or just wrapped around the middle?
          like a corkscrew. not fully unclosed, still a little green peaking through the puff pastry

            1. re: TorontoJo

              I do a dish close to that and serve honey mustard as a dipping sauce--so good.

              1. re: escondido123

                these were gone so fast that i dont think i woulda even had time to put out a dipping sauce! lots of burnt tongues and happy faces with these

                1. re: mattstolz

                  They sound great! I do them with just prosciutto. It's like asparagus candy! Adding puff pastry is a great idea.

        2. re: mattstolz

          i *love* those GT nuts...and the bread pudding sounds RIDICULOUS. care to share that one?

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            The Gramercy Tavern nuts are seriously dangerous. We had those out while putting the finishing touches on everything yesterday and i ate at least a cup and a half of them. not an exaggeration.

            also, the bread pudding was this seriouseats recipe:


            but i changed it up. i used a banana and a half in the custard, and left the dulche de leche OUT of the custard. instead, as i was layering everything, i layered it like this: soaked bread, banana, dulce de leche swirl, bread, banana, dulce de leche...

            oh, also, i stirred ghirardelli dark choc chips into the mix as the bread soaked. probably about half a bag.

          2. re: mattstolz

            I know this thread is a year old today, but is there any way you'd consider sharing your turchetta and chorizo stuffing recipes, MattStolz? Thank you, Ninrn

            1. re: ninrn

              i wouldn't hold your breath waiting for a reply - he hasn't posted since June :(

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Thanks for telling me. I'll go back to the search engines.

                1. re: ninrn

                  you might not have to look too far for the turchetta - there's a recipe right here on Chow!

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Thanks again. I saw that one. I was hoping to find something that wouldn't require deboning a whole turkey.... I guess it would just be a roulade then and not a real turchetta.

          3. No real uglies, but there were a couple of slight missteps. I did something to my pie crusts, and they turned out with a slightly chewy quality that I don't care for - I use the CI vodka recipe, but I think I neglected to process the butter and flour fully in the first step. A friend (who is not much of a cook and has never baked before) decided to attempt a complicated 6-layer chocolate salted caramel cake, without the aid of a candy thermometer. The caramel wasn't cooked properly and basically ran out of/soaked into the cake, which also didn't come out quite right (because she cooked it in pans that were too deep so it was too moist in the center). I'm not quite sure what she was thinking, especially since the cake is ENORMOUS, easily enough to serve 16 people, and we were only 4 - it's going to be in her freezer for a year!

            I also undercooked my potato gratin slightly, but I'm not sure that was entirely my fault. My recipe calls for precooking the potato slices in cream on the stovetop, but I decided to do them in the microwave this year so I didn't have to watch them so closely. They were about halfway cooked when I layered them in the gratin dish, but then I put the whole thing in the fridge overnight. I baked it for oven an hour the next day, but the potatoes never really got any softer. After dinner, I put the dish back in a 300 degree oven for another hour, but they still didn't really soften up. I'm wondering if refrigerating them after the microwaving step somehow set their texture, as it does with apples. The gratin was still good (how could it not be, with 2 cups of cream and a pound of gruyere cheese?) but a little firm for my taste.

            Otherwise, a great day. Enjoying the leftovers now!

            2 Replies
            1. re: biondanonima

              Interesting on the potatoes. I made funeral potatoes but with fresh potatoes that I had cooked until almost fully cooked and cubed them, then refrigerated to bake again and they took like 4 hours in the oven (over the course of a couple bakings) after the initial hour that they baked on thanksgiving to actually be softened anywhere near enough to be palatable.

              1. re: LaureltQ

                Huh, I wonder what that is all about? I will have to see if Harold McGee has anything to say on the topic. Luckily, DH and company didn't mind the firm texture, but I prefer a gratin to be more melt-in-your-mouth. I'll have to try putting the remainder back in the oven tomorrow for an hour or two...

            2. We had a marvelous time, Dad did the turkey on the Big Green Egg, fabulous! Had mashed potatoes, gravy from a packet, Stove Top stuffing, canned green beans with butter and almonds. Jello salad with apples and pecans, squash, pumpkin, and pecan pies (home made). It was special because it was at my parents' house. They had another couple over for dinner, as well. We traveled for two days to get here, will travel two days to go back home, for two days visit.
              Dad has cancer, and it has spread to his spine. He's feeling pretty good, gets tired, though. My husband helped him get a new flat screen HD TV for the bedroom, and is with him now at a buddy's house for happy hour before we go to a Christmas parade.
              When the salesman told him he'd have a good 5 -10 good years with the TV, I looked at Dad, and said, great news! ha! He got a good chuckle out of that! He has a great sense of humor. Doc wants him to walk more, and he says, "Why? Do you want me to die healthy?" He wanted the doc to give him a handicap sticker so he could drive his golf cart in town (only way they will license it here), and the doc refuse, told him to walk.
              So, we've had a marvelous Thanksgiving.

              7 Replies
              1. re: wyogal

                I love your story, even if the focus is not on food. We too had a wonderful Thanksgiving, one for the record books. The turkey was nice (cooked to a nice temperature), the stuffing was typical - good but nothing special, and my Dad forgot to put salt in the mashed potatoes. But my Dad is getting up there, and we managed to get my sister and her family, my family, my Dad's brother and his wife, and one of their kids (my cousin) and his family all in the same place for two days, even though we were coming from four states. A grand total of 15 people, of which 6 were kids under 10, all very well-behaved (my Dad loves kids). We were all so happy to be together, and the day went off without a hitch, with much laughter, fort-building, and no stress. My Dad was beaming at the end of it all, to have all of us under his roof and to have hosted us all for a lovely meal. The food was good, but it was just the backdrop to a loving and wonderful two days.

                1. re: Cachetes

                  Thanks! Yep, all about the family!

                2. re: wyogal

                  What a lovely story. Your dad sounds like a trouper!

                  1. re: Rocky74

                    Amazing sense of humor, went to the parade, he danced a bit to the music.

                  2. re: wyogal

                    happy for you whyogal - i know you're treasuring these moments..... as i'm sure your father is.

                    1. re: wyogal

                      Great Thanksgiving story--helps put things into their proper perspective, wyogal. Sounds like your visit was just what your dad--you all--needed.

                    2. THE GOOD: made up a new sourdough stuffing recipe, and it got lots of compliments. Secret was probably good quality (but slightly stale) sourdough, and the turkey stock I had made a week or two ago, plus leeks, mushrooms, apples, celery, and lots and lots of sage. Carrots, which my sister cut into strips and I blanched with a bit of fresh ginger, mint, and oregano, were also a hit, which I attribute to the quality of the carrots themselves (from my CSA box). I loved the salad with roasted beets, persimmon, pomegranate and three types of local lettuce and shallots and thought it was perfectly dressed (thanks to Stepmom's judicious hand making the salad dressing), but I went overboard on the amount and it didn't disappear as quickly as I would have liked. Butternut and delicata squash soup, a tradition on my menu (Bradley Ogden's recipe from Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, but made with vegetable broth instead of chicken broth this time to keep it vegetarian) was a hit, as it always is (that is one great recipe).

                      Turned Out Good In Spite of Myself: I had one turkey in the oven and one on the grill. Put hubby and SIL in charge of the Webered turkey, and they came and told me, about 45 minutes before the one in the oven was done, that it appeared the coals had died 'while their backs were turned' and they were fairly sure it wasn't going to be ready for dinner, if ever, unless we changed cooking methods. Sigh. But what could I do? I shrugged and said that we'd finish it in the oven for leftovers once the overn was cleared out at the start of the meal, and to leave it on the grill for now. As it turned out, (and as I suspected would happen), hubby and SIL were overly worried and it continued cooking quite well on its own over those not really dead coals, and was done by the time the rest of the meal was served. SIL said it was the best he's ever had, but I think he was just trying to get back on my good side: it was good, but not the perfection of my last webered turkey. My other lucky break was that I had a brain freeze and didn't follow my usual procedure of mashing the potatoes first and *then* adding milk/half and half and butter: I thought I had added way too much milk but I poured a bit off and potatoes turned out perfectly anyway.

                      Other best things: a pecan pie that one of my guests brought, from Destination Baking Company in SF. That was a seriously good pie.

                      But best of all, seeing a nephew who has been in Japan for the first time in two years, having my three year old granddaughter praise the food, and the fact that the family didn't seem to want to leave, and sat talking, with a minimum of family drama but with laughter, interesting conversation, a bit of a port type wine from my father and stepmom's vineyard from the time dinner was over at six until 10:30 at night! I had been up since four and was torn between enjoying the evening and debating how I could politely kick them out...(they were having so much fun I could have just gone to bed and let them keep at it, which was hubby's approach :-))

                      BAD: wish I had been as lucky with the gravy as I was with the turkey and mashed potatoes: I have a lovely new roaster and had made a bunch of stock, and was really looking forward to making a great gravy this year. It was not to be: I more or less followed this recipe:


                      and it was a thick, gloppy mess. Sigh. I used less flour in the roux than called for and it was still WAAY over thickened. What did I do wrong? oh well, others said it had a nice flavor, but I think they were just being polite. Next time, I am going to make gravy in advance. Don't think I can handle making it under stress (though my gravy is usually decent, which this wasn't). , very disappointed...

                      The UGLY: what my hips will look like with all the leftover pie. We ended up with two pumpkin, three apple, and one pecan pie for 18 people (plus pumpkin and apple cupcakes and pumpkin rolls from stepsister), with both ice cream and whipped cream. Much of the family came back over or in from the guest room for breakfast (I live about 100 miles from the nearest family, and almost everyone spent the night at local motels) I kept reminding everyone that, as a friend of mine has declared, the Friday after Thanksgiving is National Pie for Breakfast Day, but other than fighting over the last of that pecan pie, no one took the hint (my fault for making a frittata and roast potatoes for breakfast). Sigh. It will pie for lunch dinner and breakfast again tomorrow. Not that I am complaining.

                      Wouldn't do much differently next time, other than making the gravy in advance...

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: susancinsf

                        the measurements in that gravy recipe are wacky. if you're using 1/2 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), you should be using 8 tablespoons of flour...yet the recipe calls for 3/4 cup of flour, which is equivalent to *twelve* tablespoons. even if you used less than that, you probably didn't cut back by 4 tablespoons - no wonder it was gloppy!

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          yes, that was what I thought.. though I was only more or less following the recipe (which admittedly might have been part of the problem...). I did double the recipe and it did look out of wack to me, and I thought I cut it way back. Apparently not enough...

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Yup. A roux should be 1:1 fat/flour. You should have seen me yesterday making cream sauce on one burner and gravy on the other (both came out perfectly!).

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              so, I have been obsessing about that gravy, in true CH manner, and I am not convinced that it was just the fat/flour ratio. I've made plenty of gravies with similar amounts of flour to what I used here, and have never had this particular issue. For starters, I really don't think the ratio was that much more than 1:1. and, understand, the gravy wasn't just lumpy, it was pasty and very, very thick. Indeed, I decided to use my immersion blender to see if I could smooth it out, and stopped, because it started getting folds like cream just before it is whipped. That doesn't seem like a reaction that just a wrong ratio would cause.

                              Is it possible that there was some other factor in play? Could too much fat in the drippings add to the problem? Some other reaction I am not familiar with?

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                I suppose it's possible that too much fat in the drippings caused some kind of emulsification reaction when whipped with an immersion blender (like making mayo).

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  I don't know what would make the gravy overly thick, but when you mentioned that it was pasty it got me wondering if the flour and fat were heated well enough first. I think the flour needs to be cooked long enough (for a few minutes) to have its thickening properties (not that you didn't have enough thickening) and so it tastes cooked through adn not pasty.

                                  Just a thought.

                                  1. re: karykat

                                    yes, they were. whatever happened, I don't think not heating the roux was the issue, and taste wasn't an issue, it was all about the texture. The more I think about it the more I think some sort of emulsification process was going on, as Ruth suggests....I may have read the immersion blender technique to smooth it out on Chow (?), but I won't ever try that again....

                              2. re: susancinsf

                                Susan, we had almost exactly that stuffing, with rosemary sourdough, leeks, mushrooms, celery, parsley, and thyme in place of sage, plus turkey sausage, and turkey stock. Delicious.

                                And pie for breakfast the day after is a tradition I hold to, that I grew up with, as did my mother. I had a big slice of pumpkin pie with my mug of tea this morning.

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  Suggestion - rather than use a traditional roux, which can be lumpy, why not try potato starch mixed with a little cold water? Not cornstarch, which doesn't reheat well, but potato starch. It thickens upon impact and a little heat, add by teaspoon to get consistency you want. That way you won't have so much extra butter, and the gravy will be less greasy as well.

                                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                    Where does one locate potato starch? Near the corn starch and whatnot in the baking aisle of a normal grocery store? I don't recall ever having seen it, though I have never been looking for it either.

                                    1. re: LaureltQ

                                      If not with the other flours/starches, then maybe in with the Kosher foods?

                                      1. re: LaureltQ

                                        Ask your grocer. I buy a big box every year at Passover and it miraculously lasts a whole year. If you keep Passover, you can also use it to make terrific "noodles" by mixing with eggs and water to make thin crepes, which you can then cut in strips to form "noodles". Actually the crepes can be used to stuff other things as well. If you have a kosher section in your market, they might carry it. Not expensive item at all,will llast long time.

                                        1. re: LaureltQ

                                          Laurel, it's in the spice section and is called Arrowroot. You should be able to find it in a regular spice jar.

                                          1. re: Dansky

                                            Arrowroot and potato starch are different no?

                                            I've used arrowroot before and it was EXPENSIVE and the jar was tiny.

                                            1. re: LaureltQ

                                              yes, they are different. not sure why Dansky said that.

                                          2. re: LaureltQ

                                            At Japanese markets, called katakuriko.

                                            1. re: letsindulge

                                              In Italian it's "Fecola di patata". So now you have 3 different ways to look for it. :o)

                                        2. re: susancinsf

                                          First of all, I thought the webbered turkey was great. I usually don't like white meat, but even the white meat was very juicy. And yes, the gravy was a bit of a miss, and I briefly thought "that's not like Susan to make it that gloppy" but the turkey, potatoes,and stuffing were really so tasty that the gravy wasn't really needed anyway:-) Finally, I DID have pie for breakfast (apple so as to let my husband have a last taste of that wonderful pecan pie since it IS his fav), and I have to say, that pecan pie was one of the best I've ever tasted. Folks in SF, pay attention! Also, you should have kicked us out, but we DID enjoy catching up with all the family and a nice conversation!

                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                            This year I made the best gravy EVER. Couple days before, I roasted turkey wings to make the stock, then, when cool, waited in the fridge.

                                            I use WF stressless, make ahead gravy starter. So terribly easy this way. I used my stock to make this ahead and refrigerated it.


                                            After turkey was done and resting, I used my new Swing A Way fat separator (GREAT) and added the juices to my pot of gravy starter. So excellent!

                                            I wasn't that crazy about my stuffing this year -- made it with sourdough bread cubes but I used Granny Smith apples in it instead of Rome Beauty and it tastes too tart; will go back to Rome Beauty next time.

                                            1. re: susancinsf

                                              FYI: gravy that has too much flour added can be fixed but cooking for a long time (like an hour) and it will come together. But that won't work if you don't have time.

                                              *Do* make the gravy ahead with stock and then mix in the goodies from the pan.