Maybe you like to entertain in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of fashion. Good for you. That’s not my style.
I’m much more of an OCD, overplanned, to-do listed party girl. There are lots of lists, and sometimes there are charts and graphs. It works for me. Wanna see?
We had a blast this Thanksgiving, and hosting a group of 20 was of course a lot of work, but much more relaxed than it would’ve been, had I not had a plan.
Thankgiving 2013: SxMW
Mixed nuts/ crudités/ dried fruit/ honeycomb
Cheese plate: pimiento cheese/ goat cheese fondue/ blue cheese balls
Cranberry-Orange Jello Shots
Green Bean Salad
Green beans/ spiced roasted pecans/ maple shallot orange dressing
Turkey Two Ways: Smoked & Roasted with Bourbon Gravy
Maple bourbon brine with orange and spices/ bourbon turkey gravy
Maple cornbread/ Italian sausage/ apples/ onions/ celeriac/ calvados
Julienned red apple/ bacon/ Vidalia onion/ shredded collards/ creamy garlic-Parmesan dressing/ thyme
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Riced Yukon golds/ buttermilk/ butter
Individual Sweet Potato Tarts
Riced sweet potatoes/ marshmallow fluff/ pecan tartlet shells
Pumpkin sheet cake/ salted caramel/ mascarpone whipped cream
Here’s how it went down.
2 days ahead, I brined the turkeys. (That’s assuming they’re fresh. Brining is a perfect opportunity to thaw a frozen turkey, but it takes several days.) I used kosher salt, maple syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, star anise and dried peppers.
1 day ahead, I smoked the larger bird using sugar maple wood chunks. I halved it first and removed the backbone and wings, saving them for stock.
Allowed the smoked bird to cool enough to handle, then pulled the meat and transferred it to a casserole dish, for easier reheating on the big day.
I took turkey #2 out of the brine and allowed it to air-dry on a baking rack, uncovered, in the fridge for a day. Then I took its neck and giblets and added them to a pan with the wings, neck, backbone and giblets from turkey #1. I browned them, then made a quick stock for my gravy.
It doesn’t look super-appetizing here, but all that fresh flavorful liquid makes one heck of a gravy once it’s strained.
I boiled and riced the potatoes and sweet potatoes, mixed them with their respective additions (butter and buttermilk for the potatoes; marshmallow fluff, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice for the sweet potatoes).
The mashed potatoes went into the casserole they’d be reheated in. The sweet potatoes were stored in a microwaveable container.
Then I made the dressing up to the point of baking and refrigerated it.
Cranberry-orange jello shots were also a great make-ahead.
Shredded raw collards and julienned red apples got tossed in a creamy garlic Parmesan dressing, then topped with bacon.
Finally, day-of, the table got ‘scaped …
the little table, as well …
the turkey, roasted …
the beans, blanched and tossed in maple-orange-shallot vinaigrette …
the “cheese plate,” assembled …
and the pecan tartlets, filled with sweet potato-marshmallow deliciousness.
I let the short set check out the spread first.
And we kept them happy (don’t worry, it’s sparkling cran-apple).
But most importantly, I enlisted others! You should especially do this if your in-laws from Colorado are experts at making delicious shrubs (infusions for mixed drinks).
Or your mom is in town and she’s good at pretty much everything.
Or your mother-in-law makes delicious pumpkin bars, so all you have to make is the salted caramel with mascarpone whipped cream.
So most of the work for our shindig happened on the day before, or two days before Thanksgiving. Planning is not overrated. Plan more — you’ll enjoy the party more.