5 Things I Learned From Hosting Thanksgiving This Year
This year I hosted Thanksgiving for the 9th time... and every year I wish I could remember more details from the previous year: the hits, the misses, what I never want to repeat and what should become a staple of my Turkey Day repertoire! So I'm putting my postmortem out for all to see - and I will be going back to this post next November...
My Top 5 Takeaways From Turkey Day
#1: Use the 'Good China'
This year, for the first time, I decided to break out my grandmother's china. I was nervous to do it before, fearing breakage... but honestly, if hosting all of your friends and loved ones for the major food holiday of the year isn't the 'right time' to bring out your family heirlooms, I don't know what is. I mixed the vintage china with some newly purchased chargers & some more modern pieces (thank you Amazon Prime and HomeGoods!) so it was beautiful but not overly formal. My lovely roommate did the centerpieces and incorporated some of the colors in the china pattern into her floral design to tie it all together. Our pretty table gave a sense of 'occasion' to the meal, and I even got to give my Nan a shout-out during our welcome toast... made it special to feel like she was a part of our tradition, even though she's no longer with us.
#2: Grill the Bird
I have been grilling our turkey for the past few years now, and finally I think I've perfected it. Not only does our little Weber do a stellar job at creating a juicy, smoky, and succulent bird- it's so amazing to have the oven free for all the other dishes! I had my butcher spatchcock the turkey when I picked it up (removing the backbone so it can lay flat on the grill grates) and it only took 90 minutes to cook vs... well, what feels like a gazillion hours in the oven! The secret is banking all of the coals on one side of the grill and placing an aluminum pan underneath the bird on the other side of the grill- legs and thighs closer to the heat because that way the breast doesn't get dry. Get a charcoal chimney and add more hot coals about every 30 minutes to keep the temperature even and make sure the lid is ON in between coal-checks (you're creating an oven effect this way). The last 30 minutes I brushed on a brown sugar & bourbon glaze. So delicious!
#3: Make it 'Lush'
As a dedicated booze enthusiast, I thought it would be fun to include wine & spirits in as many of the dishes as possible. Cooking 'lush' always brings impressive depth and complexity to a dish (plus you get to tipple while you cook- isn't that the best part?) So, pour wine in your cranberry sauce. Poach pears for your salad in port. Slather your turkey with bourbon glaze. We even made a vermouth & herb creme fraiche as a sweet potato topper! My favorite was the cordial 'shot' I made to end the meal... at our Thanksgiving dessert comes later in the evening (everybody needs a break after the feast, so we have a dance party until we're hungry again, and the pie is more of a midnight snack); however, to end the proper portion of the meal on a sweet note I layered Irish cream, cold-brew infused dark rum, and homemade pumpkin spice vodka in a shot glass. We passed them around the table and it was just the kind of fun intermezzo that will become an annual tradition.
#4: Magnums, baby!
In terms of the wine--- because you know I agonized over what to serve--- I discovered that it didn't really matter what was in anyone's glass, as long as it was poured out of a magnum bottle (that's 1.5 Liters, or 2 bottles in 1). We had a magnum of Cava (Spanish sparkling) to start, a magnum of Pinot Noir after that, we even had a magnum of Lambrusco (a fun sparkling red from Emiglia-Romagna in Italy). And every time we popped a magnum everybody oohed and aahed and cheered... it was fun to present the massive bottles, and was appropriately 'abundant' for the holiday to pour them around the table.
#5: Capture the Moments
Something I wish I had done more of! I was so busy cooking, setting up, greeting guests, pouring, plating, etc- that I regret not taking more photos of the night. I have some pics of our dishes... and of the tablescape before everyone arrived. But, I really wish we had taken at least one group photo! Because after all the leftovers are gone and the tryptophan hangovers have worn off... it's really all about the sweet souls that surrounded your table and memories created together. Note to self: next year it might not be a bad idea to tap a photog-loving friend as the designated archivist for the day so I can do my hostess thing and still have lasting images after the party's over.