Sunday, November 28, 2010

Foodbuzz 24x24: A Family Tree Thanksgiving

From lower left clockwise: Madison, Lynn, Carl, Katie, Toby, Phillip, Melissa and Helena

Thanksgiving is my Superbowl Sunday. 
It's the day I come to play and I come to win. (cue the song "You're the Best" by Joe Esposito from the Karate Kid soundtrack) It's also my holiday to entertain as I usually go away to see my family at Christmas. There are no second chances on Thanksgiving. Only mishaps you can laugh at later.
Thanksgiving seems to be one of the only holidays where the plan is to solely spend time with your family. Well, spend time with family and eat. You're not expecting presents or wondering what you're going to get - you're expectations quite simply are to break bread with your loved ones.  
When you plan an event at your house it's always a good idea to write down the original objective. Not really to remember the event, but to see where you end up after the first idea. This always happens to me. I'll plan a gathering at my house that is completely different than the first intent.

Our plans centered around spending time with family that we haven't seen in a long time. On my husband's side there are three brothers: Carl (my father-in law), Jerry and Terry. These three brothers have been through a lot together and we wanted to plan a Thanksgiving to get the brothers all back together again. However, a death in the family and other obstacles prevented Jerry and Terry from attending. The upside was that Jerry's son Phillip and family were still able to attend. 
 Helena, Katie and Madison wait patiently for Carl to carve the turkey

The Pendergrass Gathering was still on...

So Phillip, Melissa and their three girls (Helena, Katie and Madison) and two dogs arrived Thursday morning. There was knitting, chasing dogs, Barbies and Battleship playing. The girls were a blast. We loved spending time with Phillip and Melissa - having another young couple to talk to and catch up with. My husbands parents, Carl and Lynn, also arrived and got to take part in the fun.

However, Thanksgiving is also about the food so let me take a quick break and tell you about this journey. It is my experience that when you work (this includes in and out of the home) it usually gets hectic around the time you are trying to make plans for Thanksgiving. So instead of being able to focus on turkeys, stuffing and table arrangements in your spare time, you also have to focus on work.  This was my plight. The corporation I work for always helps sponsor a local walk to benefit the Chattanooga Homeless coalition. Normally that wouldn't be a problem. 
The walk is Thanksgiving morning.

So instead of waking up early to put the bird in the oven, I wake up extremely early (4 a.m.) to go to the event and then arrive back home at 8:30 a.m. to start with Thanksgiving. This is a recipe for disaster, right? Not really. The week before I prep everything. I make the pie crusts a week early and then I make the pies the day or two before. I even chopped the carrots, celery, onion and garlic and put them in ziploc bags ready for when I assemble the dressing the night before.  The dressing, sweet potato casserole and everything else on the menu are assembled and put in their pans the night before. On Thanksgiving all I had to do was place pans in and out of the oven and the only two dishes that are made the day of are mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

The finished product - our Thanksgiving spread.

Let's meet our cast of characters - The Menu.

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter
Italian Sausage Sourdough Dressing
Sweet Potato Casserole with Mascarpone & Romano Cheese
Bourbon Gravy
Pomegranate Glazed Ham
Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce
Classic Smashed Potatoes
Roasted Green Beans
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie
Pecan Pie

Toby my husband presenting the buttered bird.
The Turkey Preparation is something I found in Gourmet magazine right before my first Thanksgiving. It was an article with Alton Brown on how to cook a turkey without it getting dry. No stuffing, no basting and starting off with a high heat to seal in the juices and then dropping the temp down to finish it off. It has always provided the juiciest bird every year. In fact, I've passed it along to friends and my sister and everyone loves it. So basically I rinse and dry the turkey. Then I chop some herbs (rosemary, sage, and parsely), grate some lemon zest and put into about 2 sticks of softened butter. Then I cover the bird. with the butter. 
Then put roughly chopped orange slices and onions in the cavity (don't pack) and put in a 500 degree oven for 35 minutes. When finished drop it down to 325 degrees for a couple of hours. An aluminum foil helmet can be made and placed on top to prevent burning of the breast.
The finished bird.

Ham glazed in Honey and Pomegranate juice.
 Most of the time I don't have a ham along with turkey. Since there were more people I decided to add it in. The only issue: How do you cook everything when the turkey is still in the oven and you don't want everything to get cold waiting for the ham? I improvised and warmed the ham in the microwave... Before you throw stones at me, the ham only needed to be warmed in the oven. So I put a Pomegranate and Honey Glaze on it, placed it in a glass Pyrex dish and cooked it on one of my microwave presets. It worked and everything got to the table at the same time. 

Let's talk table setting.

In a previous post I discussed how I decided to make a Toile-burlap table runner for Thanksgiving. This was the basis for my decorations. I decided against flowers for the table and wanted to keep it natural (why yes, a metallic pumpkin is indeed natural and quite fun now that you mention it)  What I did add was a find in my local organic grocery store - Lady Apples. These cute miniature apples were the perfect decoration to just toss around the table for a harvest feel and went perfect with the burlap.

The best part was that everyone decided to start eating them and before you know it they were gone. The girls thought they were just about the cutest thing ever.

Miniature trees to hang thoughts on what you're thankful for
All good things must end with pie.
Apple, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie

All good Thanksgiving meals end with pie. I love everything about pie. I love making pie and I really love eating it. There are so many different ways to change up the Thanksgiving pies but in the end I decided on keeping it traditional.

I made my favorite - apple, pumpkin and pecan pie. One time my friend Becky, who is a Research and Development manager at a large food company told me that the best recipes were the ones developed on the back of the packaging. So for the pumpkin and pecan pie - that is exactly what I used. However, my pie crust recipe that I will use for the rest of my life will be Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee recipe. If you use it you won't be sorry.

Apple Pie with a leaf crust. Just use a leaf cookie cutter and cut out the shapes and lay in a pattern on top.
My apple pie is another story. Apple pie is something that needs to be fine tuned. I found in my pie making past that I either didn't bake the pie hot enough to get the juices bubbling or the pie would be too juicy and runny. For me the one of the most important things in apple pie is the thickening agent. I use cornstarch. I mix it in with the brown sugar and spices and combine with the apple slices. When it bakes it thickens the juices and the pie is just perfect. 
Another thing I always do is use different cookie cutters to create a fun top crust. It's creative and easy and makes a beautiful final result.
We commemorated this Thanksgiving with a fun Family Tree collage of pictures that we took. 

In so many households, families have scattered to the winds. It's important to have holidays that celebrate getting back together and reconnecting and getting closer with our loved ones. In the best case scenario we don't wait for these holidays to happen - we make them happen on our own. We are so blessed to have had this opportunity to have a great time with family. 
Sweet Potato Casserole
 6 large sweet potatoes
6 oz of Mascarpone cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
4 oz of unsalted butter
1 tbsp Italian seasoning (rosemary, basil, parsley)
Roast the sweet potatoes at 400 degrees for a couple of hours (until soft and cooked through) Remove the skins and put the sweet potatoes in a mixing bowl. Add the cheeses, seasonings, butter and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and place in a greased glass baking dish (13x9) Sprinkle 1 tbsp of romano cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes (heated throough and bubbling on the sides)

Apple Pie
1 bag of Granny Smith Apples peeled, cored and sliced
1 recipe pate brisee
1/2 tsp Allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg

In a 9 inch pie dish place the crust. In a bowl combine the apples, spices, cornstarch and brown sugar. Toss with your hands until its all incorporated and apples start to get syrupy. Place in the pie dish. Take the second half of the pie dough and roll out. Take a favorite cookie cutter and cut out shapes for the top of the pie crust. Fan out the cut-outs to create a great design.  Beat the egg with 1 tbsp water and brush on top of the pie. Sprinkle brown sugar on top. Bake a 375 degrees for 50 minutes. You should be able to see the fruit bubbling up through the crust and the top a nice golden brown.

Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce
2 pints fresh cranberries
6 oz Pom (or other pomegranate juice)
1 cup sugar

In a skillet on medium high put the juice and fresh cranberries in until they start to boil and the cranberries split apart. Add the sugar and stir. Cook until the mixture reduces down and get's thick like preserves. Put in a bowl. You're done!

Pomegranate Honey Glazed Ham
1 Spiral Pre Cooked Ham
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup Pom juice

Mix the juice and honey together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cook until the mixture reduced down and gets thick. Cover the ham with the glaze and place in a pyrex 13x9 dish. Cook in the oven according to instructions or place in the microwave on a meat preset time.


  1. Love the story and the wonderful meal. Happy Holidays!


  2. delicious presentation looks like you all had fun

  3. What a lovely meal. The pies are beautiful as is the family.

  4. What a gorgeous meal! Looks like it is straight out of a magazine!

  5. Your table setting was beautiful; I especially love the trees. Everything looks delicious, especially all those pies!

  6. omg the food is fabulous and I love that pie!

  7. I love your idea to write down the thing you're grateful for to hang on the tree- many people verbalize what they're thankful for, but what a special idea to commit it to writing. I am so doing that next year!

  8. What a wonderful post- great food and a big side of fabulous memories!


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