My most recent Thanksgiving dinner proved mildly disappointing. The hosts—a couple of my parents’ college friends—took an untraditional route by serving Swordfish and Brussell Sprouts. Don’t get me wrong—I love swordfish—but Thanksgiving is Turkey Day, not Fish Day. Call me sentimental if you want, but a Thanksgiving dinner without dishes like sweet potato or stuffing or cranberry sauce just seems wrong.
Turkey-less and dejected, my family and I decided that we would have a real Thanksgiving dinner when we got back to St. Louis. I’d like to share with you a couple of the recipes that stood out to me during our feast. Each of these dishes changed only slightly, and yet they all seemed wholly different. In many cases, the revamp was the result of a simple, one ingredient addition, but it made all the difference in the world.
First, we had what I think was the most delicious gravy, ever. The gravy is made in the roasting pan for the turkey, so it gets to absorb all those juices that got caked on to the bottom of the pan. The key was the recipe’s call for a half cup of dry vermouth, which added great depth and flavor. I found myself taking more turkey for the sole purpose of ingesting more gravy.
The sweet potatoes were phenomenal as well. What made them stand out was their presentation. By serving the sweet potato in hollowed out orange halves, you end up with a beautiful dish that keeps the potatoes nice and citrusy.
Also, the cranberry sauce got a nice upgrade with pomegranate seeds. They added a natural sweetness and a great crunch. I used half a pom, and kept the other half for myself… don’t tell anyone.
I guess there are two lessons to be learned here. First, meet your guests expectations. For example, if you’re known for your amazing hamburgers and you host the annual fourth of July party, don’t serve Jambalaya. The second lesson is that there is always a easy and simple way to upgrade even the most institutionalized dishes. Just because something is a common dish doesn’t mean that the recipe is set in stone.
Gravy (makes about two cups) Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
The pan used to roast the turkey (keep all the juice in the pan, you’re gonna be using it)
½ cup flour
½ cup vermouth
1 ½ cups of Turkey Stock (you could prepare it yourself using the giblets or just use chicken broth, which is definitely easier)
Fine Sea Salt (I just used kosher salt)
1.) Pour drippings from the roasting pan after roasting the turkey into a liquid measuring cup. The fat will rise to surface and separate from the turkey juices.
2.) Separate the fat from the drippings. Keep the drippings in the measuring cup, but place the fat in another container, reserving a ¼ cup of the fat for the roux.
3.) Place that quarter cup of reserved fat in the roasting pan.
4.) Place the pan over two burners and turn the heat to medium.
5.) Stir in the flour and cook, stirring the roux constantly for about 3 minutes.
6.) Add the vermouth and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom.
7.) Add enough stock to the drippings to make 2 full cups and add this to the pan.
8.) Cook, stirring frequently until the gravy thickens. This took me about 8 minutes, but all stovetops are different.
9.) If needed, add more stock to thin out the gravy. Add the pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Sweet Potatoes (serves eight) (adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Parties!)
5 large sweet potatoes
4 large oranges
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1.) Halve 4 oranges and juice them, reserving a ½ cup for the potatoes.
2.) Bake potatoes for about an hour until very soft and tender (check with a knife)
3.) When ready, take potatoes out of the oven and scoop out the insides (you can wait for them to cool), placing them in a bowl
4.) Add the OJ, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinammon, salt, and pepper. Using an electric mixer, beat the potatoes until this is all combined.
5.) Place potato mixture into the hollowed-out orange halves. Dot with marshmallows if you want. Then place in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until heated through.
I had more potato than orange bowls, just FYI.