I know it’s been a while since we celebrated Thanksgiving, but our neighbours down South still have a ways to go before celebrating their Turkey day so this article might be helpful! I also use a lot of these tips and dishes in my Christmas menu. Each year we host a Friendsigiving and our 1+den condo fills to the brim with laughter, warmth, and of course the smell of a delicious feast. This year was no different. When I come up with the menu I take into account a few factors:
- Dishes that can be started ahead of time and will still taste great on Thanksgiving
- How to best incorporate seasonal flavours and local ingredients in as many of the dishes as possible
- Minimal dishes that require time in the oven (which will be taken up most of the day by the Turkey)
Over the years I’ve learned a few trade secrets when it comes to holiday meal-planning. Making multiple salad and veggie sides may seem like a good idea while menu planning but on the day of guests tend to go for the classics and you’ll end up with tons of soggy salad leftovers. Also dry-brining makes a huge difference and this step should never be skipped when prepping your stuffed turkey!
My Thanksgiving typically starts off with a delicious fall soup that I prepare the day before and simply re-heat the day of and top with sour cream and fresh chives. This year I made a Carrot, Apple, Squash Coconut Curry soup that featured a medley of seasonal squashes. Although I didn’t record the recipe this time around, I found one online that’s pretty similar if you’re interested in trying it out. I promise not to wing it next time I make a tasty fall soup so that I have my own recipe to share with you.
The Potato Dish
Next up is our crowd-pleasing double stuffed potatoes with bacon, chives, and smoked cheddar. My husband Dave usually handles this side-dish and we like to change up the filling slightly each year. To make: simply roast baking potatoes, scoop out the potato and mash with sour-cream and butter. Then add in whatever toppings you would enjoy on a baked potato. Re-fill your potato shells, and after you take out your turkey put the potatoes in for 15 minutes to re-heat them.
We typically serve two types of stuffing, both gluten-free. One is a vegetarian stuffing and the other features chicken liver. Both are full of seasonal fall flavours! The reason for serving two is that I love chicken liver in my stuffing (it’s what I grew up on) but only a few of our guests enjoy liver as much as I do. Check out the recipe for both here.
The Classic Sauces
I also always make my own gravy and cranberry sauce. My cranberry sauce has a twist on it, it’s a Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce. Not as sweet as your typical cranberry sauce and much more flavourful. If you’re not a huge fan of cranberry sauce, try it out and it might just make a cranberry sauce lover out of you! It worked on my husband who claims to have never enjoyed cranberry sauce before trying mine.
And now the guest of honour, the Turkey King who made the ultimate sacrifice for us to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast. I’ve compiled all my best tips for making the perfect stuffed turkey every time, you can find them here. I always have a blast prepping the turkey a few days before when we dry-brine it, which ensures it’s super juicy and tender.
The final course is always baked pumpkin and apple pies with maple cinnamon whipped cream and vanilla ice-cream. Each year we go apple-picking before Thanksgiving and bake pies together with our friends. Then we freeze them to have them ready for our respective Thanksgiving dinners. It’s one of my favourite Thanksgiving traditions: visiting the orchard and coming home with over ten varieties of aromatic apples. Hilarity ensues as we all try to bake the perfect pie from scratch without following a recipe. Let’s just say some of us have a heavy hand when it comes to the dulce de leche.
My family hosts a large Thanksgiving party with 40+ guests and although it’s a blast to spend the holiday with so many great people, what I miss is being able to sit around the table and eat with my loved-ones. That’s why Friendsgiving is so important to me.
Thanksgiving doesn’t feel complete unless I’ve had a chance to dine comfortably seated around the table.
That’s when I take a moment to look around at everyone enjoying their meals and really feel grateful to be sharing this life with such caring and thoughtful friends. Andrea recently wrote a great post about being present in the moment. So much preparation goes into the holidays, and then they can feel as if they go by so fast. I find this especially true at big guest-list events where you’re surrounded by people and noise but don’t get many opportunities to have meaningful conversation. It can feel as though you’re having the same small-talk over and over again with a new face.
What I find fascinating is that even before the event is done we’re already talking about what we’re doing for the next holiday that’s coming up.
I understand why it happens, we’re all excited for the next holiday that brings with it it’s own set of traditions. With busy schedules it’s important to have guests save the date early. But being present in the moment is invaluable. Taking a moment to appreciate the fruition of your hard-work and to reflect on what you actually love about how the day is un-folding helps make the occasion meaningful in your memory. This year I was blown away by how delicious the turkey tasted and couldn’t wait to share my tips on the blog. I was grateful that we had started TorontoFitchicks and that I now have a creative outlet to share my stories and tips with a larger audience. I also really enjoyed playing Jackbox Party games after dinner and made a mental note to have a new large-group friendly board game for our next gathering. It has been a while since we invested in a new one!
As I get older, celebrating each holiday and honouring family traditions while also creating new ones has become very important to me. I enjoy the prep, the planning, the shopping, the cooking, and the baking that goes into hosting a holiday dinner party. I look forward to the unique features that make each holiday special. I appreciate that time with your loved ones is precious and that they won’t always be around for special occasions.
Thanksgiving 2018 will be remembered as having the juiciest and most tender King Turkey. Elowyn couldn’t get enough, “More turkey, come on guys!”. The pie pumpkins were also uncharacteristically sweet and delicious which resulted in a perfect pumpkin pie. Finally, we were the best dressed group at the apple orchard in our plaid uniform.
I would love to hear about your favourite Thanksgiving sides in the comments (=