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Feature Tue Nov 25 2008

My First Thanksgiving

Last Saturday, five days before the official Turkey Day, I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner.

Both my Mom and mother-in-law have their own long-established Thanksgiving traditions, and chances are slim that my husband and I will ever host the real Big Dinner. Thing is, we relish opportunities to wow friends and family with delicious, home-cooked meals. So this year, we collaborated with my dear friend, Claire, and sister, Jenny, to whip up our own early-bird Thanksgiving feast for friends, borrowing some dishes from our Moms' playbooks and creating a few new traditions of our own.

We also picked up a few pointers I'm happy to pass on to fellow first-timers.

1. Get creative with a couple special dishes. Our menu heavily relied on standards we knew how to prepare and we knew our guests would love: turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, candied yams and dinner rolls. For star standouts, we chose chestnut and mushroom stuffing and chocolate pecan pie, both of which cost a little extra time and money to prepare but were worth every penny.

2. Create a work plan. We've all hosted that unforgettable dinner party where the first guest arrives - on time - we're still in scrubby clothes, and the food is far from finished. It's hard to be thankful for friends and family when the potatoes are still boiling and your hair is wet. Which leads me to the next lesson ...

3. Don't rely on recipes' "active time" claims when creating your plan. When I put together my work plan, I made the mistake of trusting the chocolate pecan pie's suggested 75-minute prep time, without bothering to read the recipe start to finish. The pie featured a homemade crust, which, if you know anything about pie, is relatively simple to make - but time consuming. This being my second pie ever, I didn't know anything about pie. Thus, I neglected to factor in time to chill the pie dough in the refrigerator for an hour after mixing and an hour after rolling. As if this didn't throw a big enough pie in my face, the recipe claimed the pie needed four hours to cool. All of a sudden 75 minutes was more like seven hours! Fortunately, I was able to speed up the chilling and cooling times using a nifty modern appliance: my freezer. Needless to say, I recommend reading recipes thoroughly before making your game plan for the day.

4. Prep as much as possible ahead of time. I toasted the bread for the stuffing the previous week and stashed it in an airtight container. Cranberry sauce was easy to whip up two days before. If I had a Mulligan, I'd have made the pie a day or two earlier, too.

5. Don't try to be Superwoman (or Superman). If people ask if they can bring anything, tell them yes! Claire supplied the rolls and green bean casserole (perhaps the easiest and most wrongly-right Thanksgiving dish of all time.) My sister made the candied yams. Everyone else brought wine. With a few dishes off my plate, and booze arriving proportionate to the number of guests, I was able to breathe easy and focus on being thankful for good food and friends.

Want one more tip? Here's my Chestnut-Mushroom Stuffing recipe, which drew inspiration from both an Epicurious recipe and the back of the vacuum-packed chestnut box (available in the produce section at Jewel).

Chestnut Mushroom Stuffing
1 package pre-sliced white button mushrooms
1 large yellow onion
4 stalks celery (I used stalks from a package of celery hearts; you may need to use fewer stalks if you use regular celery.)
1 box vacuum-packed, cooked, unseasoned and unsweetened chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 stick butter
1 large loaf of crusty bread, cubed, lightly toasted, and cooled (I used a Tuscan loaf from Jewel's artisan bread section.)
2 cups chicken broth (You may substitute veggie broth to keep this vegetarian-friendly.)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper, ground
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (remove leaves from the woody stems)
1/2 tsp dried sage

1. In a large saute pan, melt half a stick of butter. Add mushrooms and saute until lightly browned.
2. When mushrooms are lightly browned, melt the remaining butter in the pan and add onions, celery and chestnuts. Saute on medium to soften the onions and celery.
3. Combine the cubed, dried bread and the vegetable mixture in a large bowl.
4. Pour the broth over the bread mixture and stir to combine.
5. Add the two eggs and all of the seasonings, include salt and pepper.
6. Stir the stuffing until the lovely mess is well combined. Pour into a buttered casserole dish and bake on 350 for about 45 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and stuffing is still moist, but not wet (like bread pudding). Serve hot.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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