So it was a shock when I attended the first Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s family and they didn’t serve dessert. No pie—an outrage! My solution? Never attend Thanksgiving dinner again without a pie in hand. My mother’s Traditional Pecan Pie is my hands down favorite—so good, in fact, I’ve noticed even the most disciplined dieters can’t resist a bite or two.
Of course, I’ve hosted many of my own Thanksgiving dinners over the years. Over time, I’ve created some of my own traditions, many of them variations of family recipes or those gathered from friends. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some of our staff’s tried and true family recipes that never fail to please a crowd. Who knows? Maybe some of them will make it onto your Thanksgiving menu this year.
TIPS FOR SETTING A FESTIVE TABLE
Amy DiTomasso, owner of Sugar Chic Designs, a Chicago-area boutique event design studio, offers these tips for setting the perfect holiday table.
Go for the unexpected
Who would ever think to dress a table with deer antlers? “The antlers are a great conversation piece,” says Amy. Then instead of candles, Amy topped a pair of candlesticks with white hydrangea. An unexpected and lovely touch.
Play with textures
Amy repurposed a calf-hair rug to cover the table. At each place, she arranged a mother-of-pearl placemat, an animal print charger, a porcelain dish, and a green succulent to finish the look. The pop of fresh green adds a bit of intrigue to the table.
Mix old and new
To continue the rustic elegance at each place setting, Amy swapped the silver knives for more casual wooden-handled steak knives. The surprising modern touch adds a Western feel to offset the more traditional tableware.
We’ve pulled together a complete menu for your Thanksgiving feast. Each recipe has a few new twists to spice things up a bit, except for the Traditional Pecan Pie. Why mess with something so perfect already?
Turkey Garnished with Crispy Leeks
6 lbs. organic local turkey breast
1 lb. organic butternut squash, sliced in ¼-inch thick round slices
3 lbs. wild mushrooms, washed free of dirt
1 lb. organic leeks, cut very thin
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons corn starch
In a large hot sauté pan, place the butter, allowing it to brown slightly. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook on high heat till tender. Season turkey breast with salt and pepper, and in a large hot sauté pan, place the breast skin side down. Roast it until the skin turns a nice caramel color. Turn over and place into a 500-degree oven. Cook until the breast reaches 145 degrees. Remove from the oven and place on a large plate to rest. Cover with foil. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Brush the squash with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven for 5–8 minutes until tender. Toss the leeks with just enough water to coat them lightly. Now toss with the corn starch. Fry the leeks in a 375-degree fryer for just a few minutes until nice and crispy.
Assemble by placing the squash on the bottom of a large platter; then layer the mushrooms on top of the squash. Slice the turkey breast thinly and arrange on top of the mushrooms. Garnish with the crispy leeks. Serves 8.
Sweet Potato Praline Casserole
5 lbs. fresh sweet potatoes, boiled, drained, and mashed (about 6 cups)
²/³ cups sugar
²/³ cups butter, melted
¹/³ cups heavy cream
½ teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a two-quart baking dish. Potato mixture: beat eggs, stir in potatoes until blended. Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Spread in casserole.
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¹/³ cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
¹/³ cup butter, cut in small pieces
Mix sugar, flour, and nuts in bowl. Work in butter with hand blender. Sprinkle over potato mixture. Bake 60–70 minutes until topping is browned and bubbling.
Traditional Pecan Pie
²/³ cup sugar
dash of salt
½ cup dark corn syrup
½ cup light corn syrup
¹/³ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup pecan halves
9-inch pastry shell
Beat top six ingredients thoroughly. Pour pecan halves into bottom of unbaked 9-inch pastry shell. Pour fillings on top of pecans. Bake in moderate oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Cool. Serve with a dollop of your favorite vanilla ice cream and enjoy.
2 lbs. cranberries, washed (about two bags)
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut up in 1-inch chunks
2 Bosc pears, cut up in 1-inch chunks grated zest of one orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups raisins
1 cup golden raisins
2 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
Microwave in large bowl, covered with saran wrap, until berries burst, about 20 minutes. Optional: Add ½ cup Grand Marnier. Chill. Serve in a pretty glass bowl. This will thicken as it cools.
Heavenly Brussels Sprouts
1 tablespoon salt
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
¼ cup cream sherry
½ cup heavy cream
black pepper to taste
Dissolve salt in enough water to cover the Brussels sprouts in a bowl, and soak the sprouts in the salty water for 1 hour. Drain. Then, toss the sprouts in olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper to coat. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Cook bacon in frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown at the edges. Reduce heat to medium; stir in the shallot, then cook until shallots turn translucent, about 5–6 minutes. Stir in the sherry and cream until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil, and stir until reduced by half. The thickened sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
While the sauce is cooking, lay the Brussels sprouts, cut sides down, on baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven until the sprouts are browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the browned sprouts to the sauce, toss to coat, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
16 oz. jar Pigtale Twist Buttery Caramel Sauce (available at Sunset Foods)
16 oz. vodka
16 oz. espresso, Kahlua or triple strong coffee
¼ cup Madagascar vanilla extract
8 6-oz. Martini glasses
2 saucers (circumference large enough to accommodate the diameter of each glass)
decorative colored sugar in fall colors
2 oz. additional vodka for dipping glass rims
Pour one jar Buttery Caramel Sauce into a pretty pitcher. Refill the empty jar with vodka and pour into the pitcher. Refill the jar once more with espresso and pour into pitcher. Add vanilla and stir. May be made
a week in advance, covered and stored in the fridge until ready to serve.
—Words by Kerrie Kennedy; Photographed by Jim Prisching