Monday, November 23, 2009

See Kate Conquer: Thanksgiving Dinner at 39 Weeks Pregnant

Well, that's the hope anyway. I figured having an event to focus on – like hosting six friends and two babies for, arguably, the biggest meal of the year – was a good way to keep myself focused on something other than BABY. Of course, that was a month and a half ago before I extended the invitation (with certain restrictions - like water breaking - applying) and before the third trimester exhaustion set in. But! With no exit strategy yet made known to me by my inhabitant, I am proceeding as planned.

Last year's preparations

For some reason, being away from the States last year and this year for Thanksgiving has made me love it even more. Absence simply making my heart grow fonder, perhaps? Or maybe it's that I've had some really great Thanksgivings in recent years... Keith and I hosting my family in Cambridge, MA... being with his family in Frametown, WV and having my first go at 4-wheeling... joining friends for several years running in their traditional get-together. There's no one way to celebrate, and most everyone allows themselves an excuse to be grateful and just a little bit more sentimental than usual. Of course, for others Thanksgiving is just the one-day initiation to a month-plus of stress and obligation. If that's you, then this post has your name on it; I just want to focus on the food today!

I'm serving a turkey breast this year. Whole turkeys are hard to find in my neck of the Swedish woods; I did see them at one store over the weekend, but it had all sorts of additives (salt, sugar, water) in it that I'd rather not have. My mom taught me it's worth investing in meat, be it a Thanksgiving turkey, a Christmas ham, or an Easter lamb. It's kind of the star of the show; why take a risk? So, I'll be heading to Saluhallen, Göteborg's famous indoor market, to get a nice hefty turkey breast (and, I won't have space issues in my tiny oven).

This is my favorite dish. I love stuffing. I could go to Thanksgiving dinner and eat only stuffing. I use this basic bread stuffing recipe from The Joy of Cooking, again something copied from my mother. I add the optional pecans and raisins, and typically use a sweet bread (challah is wonderful!). I prefer fresh herbs to dried - and generous measurements at that - and always, always make extra (this year I'm making a triple batch).

Potatoes, Mashed
I don't have a tried and true recipe I keep returning to for mashed potatoes; instead, I just boil a bunch of potatoes (unpeeled) and add my pick of various dairy to the mashed result: butter, sour cream, crème fraiche, milk, cheese. If it's not Thanksgiving I might add herbs and/or garlic, but for the Big Day I prefer something a bit more classic.

Potatoes, Sweet
I love sweet potatoes. Delicious, healthy, versatile... For Thanksgiving dinner I will slice them in ½ rounds, toss with olive oil and S&P and bake starting in a cool oven. The exact recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine and one of my favorite cooking web sites.

Pecan Pie
It's funny... I don't think we ever had pecan pie on Thanksgiving when I was growing up, but when I do Thanksgiving it's the only dessert I serve. I use this alternative crust option (given about half-way through the recipe) with this filling, adding a layer of chocolate in between, and served with real vanilla ice cream and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. (If you've never taken a look at the cross section of a nutmeg, you gots to! It's really beautiful.)

This is my planned menu – so far – for Thursday. I love dinner rolls, but I don't have a perfected recipe and there are already so many carbs that I'm fairly certain my non-American guests won't notice their absence and I'll save on effort in any way I can this year. I hope to have sauteed kale as another veggie dish, but I've had a heck of a time finding it since last February, when they were selling it dirt cheap by the kilo (I love variations on this recipe). There will of course be gravy, but that's a last-minute thing for me, something I don't quite know how to plan, and instead I just hope for the best! I love sauces and chutneys, so if I can track down some cranberries I'll have those on the side in some simmered, spiced form as well. For wine, I've got a couple bottles of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau (which I am still convincing myself to part with even though I won't be enjoying it in as much a personal way as in an observational one... sigh!), or I might go with some tasty Pinot Noir. For a white option, perhaps a Pinot Gris. Other than the Beaujolais, I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to wine; I asked my dad what he was serving and figured his tastes transcend international waters.

My Thanksgiving Table Favorite

Have I missed something obvious (very probable with my distracted mind these days)? What's your favorite dish, and what quirky item is a Thanksgiving spread never without in your home? Happy Thanksgiving Week, everyone!

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