Well here we are at the last and final chapter of the Thanksgiving trilogy. Getting the meal on the table. You have to do some menu planning yourself at this point. Your turkey, gravy and stuffing will be wonderful, but you still need to think of your vegetable dishes. Now just keep in mind that you're not trying out for an episode of Master Chef here. You're serving people you know and love, and you should know what they like as far as food goes. Oh sure, I've tried to serve up homemade cranberry relish and sweet potato souffles over the years. Only to have my exotic and labour intensive creations come off the table untouched. And full dishes mean empty bellies. Epic Fail! I would be run out of town tarred and feathered if I didn't serve mashed potatoes and plenty of them. New recipes are lots of fun to try out, and I don't discourage that. Just not on this day. Serve what your people love and just make it taste really good!
Another logistical reality is your stove. I am confined to just 4 burners and one oven. So as much as I love roasted squash, the high temperature required to properly bake it would ruin my turkey. I know one burner will be taken with the potato pot. I have three left, so here are my three standards that everybody loves:
Baby carrots with a maple syrup glaze
Steamed cauliflower with cheese sauce
Brussels sprouts with crumbled bacon, brown butter and toasted almond slices.
Easy peasy too.
In the morning, fry up half a pound of bacon. Or the whole pound and use half for breakfast. Drain and crumble the other half and set it aside.
Toast about a cup of sliced almonds in a skillet. Watch them like a hawk because they'll scorch in the blink of an eye!
Finely chop lots of fresh parsley. This will be used to garnish almost everything. Just to let people know you care!
Prepare all of your vegetables early and let them sit in their assigned pots in salted water so all you have to do is turn on the burners.
Peel and quarter your potatoes. I use 2 potatoes per person and throw in a couple more in case anybody is really hungry. For the Brussels sprouts, chop off the bottom tough stems and peel off any loose leaves. Plan on 4 sprouts per person. Take the leaves off the cauliflower and cut out the stem, but keep it whole. I use a 2 pound bag of baby carrots. That feeds a lot of people.
Here comes the timing part:
1/2 an hour before you plan to eat, turn the potatoes on high heat and let them boil for 20 minutes until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Make sure you have twice as much water as potatoes in the pot, or they are fully covered by at least 2 inches of water. By the time they are cooked, the turkey should be out of the oven. Put it covered with tin foil on a cutting board to rest. Throw away the vegetables and herbs in the roaster if you used a homemade rack. Pour all of your drippings into a big Mason jar.
15 minutes after your potatoes start to boil, turn on your carrots and your Brussels sprout pot. Leave both of these pots uncovered. Covered pots will make these two vegetables taste bitter.
Drain the potatoes and get ready to mash them. I use about 1/2 cup of butter at room temperature and about a cup of milk, or less if you're not doing very many potatoes. I use an electric mixer for this, but some people prefer a hand masher. Use whatever you like. Add a bit of salt and pepper and put a pat of butter on the top. Cover them and set them in your turned off (but still warm) oven.
By this point, your carrots and sprouts should be just about tender. Drain the carrots and add 1/4 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of maple syrup and some pepper. Swirl it all around and put the lid back on and set the pot in the oven with the potatoes.
Melt 1/2 cup of butter in a skillet on Med heat and let it bubble until it turns golden in colour, about 5 minutes. Add your crumbled bacon and toasted almonds to it. Drain your sprouts and add the butter mixture to the pot. Swirl it all around and cover it and set it in the oven with the potatoes and carrots.
Now turn on your cauliflower and while that is steaming, start making your gravy. See why I made another post for that? Am I losing you yet? This is still fun! Gravy needs lots of attention, so you might want to make your cheese sauce early before you drain your potatoes. Silly me.
Here it is:
2 tablespoons of butter melted, 2 tablespoons of flour. Med heat here. Whisk into a roux and add 2 cups of milk and a pinch of dry mustard powder, lots of pepper and a very tiny dash of cayenne powder. When it comes just to the simmer, take it off the heat. Add 1 cup of any grated cheese you like. I like Gruyere, but old cheddar works fine too. The cheese will melt into the sauce,whisk it all up and just put it aside.
By now your carver should be well into the task. People can help you now. Just as the carver is finishing up, put all the vegetables into serving bowls. Sprinkle the carrots and potatoes with the parsley for garnish. Serve the cauliflower still whole and pour your cheese sauce right over the top of it. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika for garnish. It will break apart easily with a spoon if you've steamed it for about 15 - 20 minutes.
Be sure to remember dinner rolls and cranberry sauce or the people will be quietly looking all around the table for them, but will be too polite to ask. I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to serve the cranberry sauce, only to see it in the cupboard a week later. And when I mention it, I find out they were all talking about how I missed that, so the dinner wasn't perfect!
Serving up Thanksgiving dinner is so much fun and everybody will help you get it on the table. Oh and just while I think of the table, this is the day to bring out your very best stuff. Linens and china if you have it. Wine glasses and flowers too! Take the time to set a beautiful table. The more attention to detail you pay, the stronger your message will be. Which is this "I treasure each and every one of you. I am proud to have you at my table. And most of all, I am thankful to share this day with all of these people that I love."