06 December 2006


M’s friends had been asking for a Thanksgiving dinner for a while, and so after M got back from his trip to South America, we decided we had to do it. The clincher for me was when I found the cranberries: a Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t have seemed very thanksgivingy without it, and even just seeing those cheerful bouncy berries made me want to build a tableful of food around them.

I spent the whole day of the dinner party cooking, and shopping for a few cooking/serving items, as our kitchen at the moment, while supplemented with the wedding gifts I was able to bring over, consists of exactly six each of forks, plates, and glasses, and seven people were going to be eating. So I bought some extra wine glasses and back-up paper plates, plus a pie plate and rolling pin to make the pie, and two serving dishes, which were necessary if I wasn’t going to serve the meal out of pots and plastic bowls.

I had a schedule that planned out every single minute of the day, starting at 8:00 in the morning! Of course, several of the key recipes were coming out of the yellow Gourmet, with the addition of my mom’s cranberry-apple-pear relish, a back-of-the-box cornbread recipe that I had hung onto, and the green beans with almonds that didn’t really need a recipe. The difficult bit was sorting out what I would serve in lieu of turkey; I finally hit upon stuffing the stuffing into eggplants instead of the turkey, which although it involved juggling a couple of different recipes and hoping they would come out all right in different formats, was a smashing success.

Now, keep in mind that the guests were all Spaniards and Catalans, and the American-style Thanksgiving plate disrupts some of their firmly held notions about how a meal should be eaten. Namely, that one should not combine multiple courses onto one plate, and that one should never combine sweet and savory items, especially fruit-based items, which should be reserved for the fruit course after the main course.

Nevertheless, everybody was game and wanted to know about all of the various things they would be eating, until they got tired of explanations and wanted to dig in instead. Cranberries are difficult to explain; as far as I can figure there’s not even a translation for them in Spanish or Catalan. The word that is evidently used in American movies for cranberries actually refers to blueberries, and also a sweet, soft red berry that is picked in the mountains that sounds like it has little to do with cranberries.

Anyway, here is a photo, and a description of the menu:

Hors d’oeuvres (entirely purchased…I couldn’t have been that ambitious): rosemary crackers and mini toasts with an assortment of cheeses, three varieties of hummous, and a quartet of tapenades, as well as olives.

Cornbread with honey butter: Like I said, a back-of-the-box recipe. Buying the cornmeal was a little bit uncertain, because here it’s all labeled for polenta, with various cooking times. I opted for quick-cooking polenta meal, and it seemed to work well. This is not a familiar kind of bread in Spain, which is why I made it, and everyone was so intrigued by it, they ate it all up.

Cranberry-apple-pear sauce: This is the sauce that my family will devour gallons of around Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Just the right balance of sweet and tart. Plus, it’s just so darn pretty! Also very enthusiastic reviews from this group.

Green beans with roasted almonds: The name says it all. This was the least popular of the dishes, judging by what people left on their plates. Probably because the beans were just tender, still crisp, and my experience with vegetables in Spain is generally that they are boiled within an inch of their lives. Also, I added some lemon juice, and I think next time I would go for a different flavor, maybe thyme or rosemary, or just plain garlic.

Buttermilk mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots: What would Thanksgiving be without mashed potatoes? Yum.

Stuffed eggplants: This was the trickiest recipe, especially since I was sort of making it up as I went along. First, I halved and roasted the eggplants until I could gouge out the insides. Then, I made the “Classic herbed stuffing” recipe from the Gourmet, with the addition of sautéeing the cubed eggplant insides along with the onion, celery, herbs and bread (and I added carrot). Then, after the stuffing was done and cooled, I jammed it into the cavities of the eggplants, and roasted them again for about a half hour before dinner time. They were super delicious, very Thanksgiving in flavor, with a nice presentation. The only thing I might change next time is to put a bit of broth in the bottom of the pan, so that the bottoms of the eggplants don’t dry out, which they did a tiny bit.

Apple pie: I used an all-butter pie crust recipe I found online from Bon Apetit magazine, and the apple pie recipe from the Gourmet. Sooooo good! I was nervous about the crust, since I had never made one just with butter, and there are dire warnings about melting the butter with your hands or overworking the dough, so I was constantly shoving the butter and the dough in its various stages back into the fridge (the kitchen was broiling, what with all the cooking). But it turned out beautifully, melt-in-the-mouth and crisp on the outside. I totally botched rolling out the bottom crust, because it stuck everywhere when I tried to transfer it, but I just sort of patted it into the pie plate, and since it was the bottom it didn’t matter. When I did the top crust, I worked faster and it turned out fine. The filling was a combination of granny smith and gala apples, which was a good mix, just the right level of sweet/tart mixed with the lemon juice and zest, sugar, spices and flour. With the guests, a total hit, and when M and I got to share the last slice the next day, I think it tasted even better.

So there you have it, my first solo flight for a Thanksgiving supper.

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