An Early Thanksgiving Dinner

I think I may have mentioned a few dozen times that Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal to cook. It’s the ultimate comfort meal but still allows a great deal of creativity. Since my wife and I have no children and our siblings all live hundreds of miles away, gathering folks to come over for this very family meal has often been more difficult than cooking it.

This year, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner—but not on Thanksgiving. We had asked some friends over for dinner on November 3, weeks beforehand. Since I had no recipe or food or wine to test for a story, I decided to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for them. The menu and wine list follows, along with a few recipes.

My philosophy about Thanksgiving dinner is to cook traditional foods, such as sweet potatoes and turkey, but in less conventional ways. For example, the sweet potato dish, a variation on a recipe from Mark Bittman’s New York Times column, contained Thai red curry and coconut milk. I also try to serve only American wines since this is a quintessentially American holiday.

Here’s a rundown of the menu:

  • Hors d’Oeurves are always kept light and simple. You don’t want to fill people up before the main part of the meal. Nor do you want to be baking cheese puffs, for example, while you’re trying to get everything else together. So I marinated some large Spanish olives with thyme, rosemary, parsley, garlic and olive oil (after the brine-packed olives were thoroughly rinsed). This can (and should) be done ahead (up to three days) to let the marinade seep into the olives. The olives, roasted almonds, and some locally raised French breakfast radishes were all served at room temperature. (Make sure you take the olives out of refrigeration an hour or two before serving.) A sparkling wine is always appropriate with hors d’oeuvres but especially on a holiday. We served a 2008 Kluge Brut Rose sparkling wine from the Trump Winery in Virginia, a state that has made massive strides in its winemaking in recent years.  The Kluge is 95 percent Chardonnay and 5 percent Pinot Noir, and partially aged in French oak barrels to give it more body and complexity.
  • Soup is a good idea for Thanksgiving because it stretches out the meal so that everything isn’t unloaded on guests at one time. The soup course also gives you more time to heat up side dishes and gravy. Winter squash and mushroom soups are my favorites. This year I made a wild mushroom and parsnip soup adapted from a New York Times recipe from David Tanis. Soup is often difficult to match with wine. Sparkling wines usually work well. So in this case, you could continue with the Kluge. But I opted for an O.S Winery Riesling from Washington, which has been making some fine Rieslings, The O.S was no exception.
  • The turkey, a freshly-killed, bird from Lancaster County, PA, where so much good poultry is raised, was brined for 24 hours to keep the breast nice and juicy. As is my custom, I roasted the turkey on a Spanek vertical roaster. The Spanek (it has numerous knockoffs) is a metal frame shaped like the Eiffel Tower that fits inside the turkey. The bird sits upright and can be roasted in a conventional oven or in a kettle type grill. For the grill, put the turkey on the lower grate with coals around it.(See details on using the Spanek on this post.) The Spanek doesn’t allow for stuffing, except for a small amount in the upper part of the breast cavity. But since most people don’t stuff the turkey anymore, this isn’t a great loss. A 15-pound turkey takes a little more than half the time of a turkey roasted whole because the metal frame conducts heat through the cavity of the bird. This even heating also makes for a moister bird. Carving is much easier too.
  • Side dishes are often more popular than the turkey itself, at least they are for my wife. I normally make a cornbread stuffing but with different seasonings each year. This year I mixed in locally raised collard greens, andouille sausage and chestnuts. The other sides included sautéed green beans with Fuyu persimmons, a roasted pumpkin salad with pearl onions and bacon, and that sweet potato dish.
  • Wines for Thanksgiving, as I posted earlier, can be difficult because of the myriad of dishes and the tendency toward sweetness. The three wines I chose held up pretty well and included a 2009 Ravenswood Sonoma Zinfandel and a 2007 Concannon Petite Sirah, both very American wines and frequently partnered because they are often grown in the same vineyard and because the Petite Sirah gives the Zin more color and tannic grip. (Petite Sirah, incidentally, is not related to Syrah or, as was once thought, Durif, which is a cross between Peloursin and Syrah.) There was a Syrah in the mix, however, from Keswick Vineyards in Virginia.
  • Desserts are often in the form of cobblers or crisps. This year, it was a crisp with of locally grown cranberries and a variety of local apples (Golden Delicious, Jonathan and Winesap). The crispy topping included pecans. Store-bought frozen vanilla yogurt made it all come together. 

Hors d’Oeurves

  • Roasted Almonds
  • Marinated Spanish Olives
  • Locally grown French breakfast radishes
  • Kluge Brut Rose, 2008  (Virginia)

Soup

  • Wild Mushroom & Parsnip
  • O.S. Winery Riesling, 2011  (Washington)

Turkey

  • Naturally Raised Lancaster County Turkey, Spanek Roasted
  • Giblet-Onion Gravy with Sherry Vinegar 

Sides

Dessert

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