The Holidays Growing Up
Growing up I always looked forward to dinners at my grandmother's house. Whether it was Sunday dinners, a random Tuesday night, and the holidays were always my favorite. Meals with her are always an event. You feel like you need to dress up just to experience her dinners and it's always a multi-course ordeal.
Like most families, gathering around food is a tradition. As a kid, I always thought it was so weird if my uncles or aunt didn't come home for one of the holidays. Like seriously? You guys are going to miss this?!
I would always be so excited for her meals or shocked (even when I knew it was coming) at her beautiful roasted ducks or extravagant cheese boards. Even when I know what to expect, I still get excited.
My favorite course is the hors d'oeuvres. Yes, dinners at my grandma's include hors' d'oeuvres honey! She makes a huge italian-style cheese board with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, mozzarella cheeses, parms, a stinky cheese option, and loads of different peppers, sundried, spicy, peppers stuffed with cheese and more salami. It goes deep! The hors d'oeuvres table will also include these amazing stuffed mushrooms and an oily, italian seafood salad with fresh shrimp scampi, baby octopus, calamari rings, and mussels drenched in a tasty lemony, oil that you can use the crusty baguette to slop up.
The hors d'oevres course usually lasts like a good 1hr-1hr 1/2, while we wait for some family guests to arrive. It's full of conversation and drinks have already started flowing at this point.
She keeps the prosecco on deck.
Love of Hosting
One thing I picked up on after all this time is my grandma's love of hosting. She might drop a complaint here and there when the day of these dinners comes around and she's feeling the slight pressure (that she puts on herself), but she totally loves it.
I can count on one hand how many times thanksgiving was at someone else's house...the number is 1, I can only remember one time we switched venues. She just nails it every year and somehow she always gets the timing just right when cooking so many entrees in her little kitchen.
The second year in my apartment, I hosted my first holiday party (2018). I felt like I was ready to exercise what I've observed from my grandma after all these years...in moderation; I was in no way cooking a multi-course event in my apartment. I'm leaving that to the pros for a little.
Right before my party, my grandma gifted me a GORGEOUS China tea set and 3 silver platters! A few items belonged to my great-grandma and some items were gifts to my grandmother. The silver platters were super rusty and me being a novice at this didn't even know where you could find the solution to shine silver, so I found a short-term DIY version that ended being great for party day.
How to Shine your Silver
Using scalding, hot water, baking soda, and aluminum foil, you can short-term shine your silver. I boiled a huge pot of water and did my best to dip my silver platters in the pot. Take a piece of aluminum foil and drop it in the hot water. Using a utensil, work the aluminum, softly, onto your silver, without scratching your dishes! The spots that the aluminum touch will turn back quickly. The reaction between the aluminum and the hot water gets that tarnish right out!
In 2018, we threw our first holiday party. It was the first time I had people in my new apartment and the first time I was hosting an event and serving stuff I cooked. The first year I went crazy thinking of what to cook for the party. I was still fresh with cooking and really just starting to get my feet wet. I prepared white chocolate dipped strawberries, brownies, cereal and marshmallow treats, a cheese board, tomato and mozzarella skewers, steak and goat cheese crostinis, and bite-sized chicken and waffles. Wow! I guess I actually made a lot of pretty amazing options.
The night was absolutely amazing. Everyone I invited came and the one ask was for people to bring 1 bottle per person; and then I had free booze for the night.
For my second party, I worked really hard to secure food and liquor sponsors. The time between my two parties, I worked with a lot of brands through Brunch with Sam and had received a lot of press releases and pitches, that I felt like I could swing back around to all those people and ask them to sponsor our party.
I ended up securing 4 sponsors for the party! The French Cheese Board, Whitley Neill Gin, London Essence Co. Tonic Water, and Four Roses Bourbon. The PR company I got in contact with hooked me up with 4 brands they represented. I simply told them my idea and just asked if they would like to be a part of it.
Their contribution was beyond generous. I had bottles of bourbon and gin for a good 2 months after the party.
Since I had no clue how much alcohol they were willing to send, I still asked people to bring 1 bottle per person so you can only imagine that I had lots of alcohol. My mom had to come over to me during the party and whisper, "do you have pitchers of water? I think people are getting too drunk." Whoops!
My First Bird and Painterland Farms
If you follow me on instagram, then you definitely know of Painterland Sisters and the Painterland Farm! It's located in northwest Pennsylvania and is the only organic dairy farm in their township sitting on 5,000 acres and growing. My two friend's and their family fully operate the manual and business labor of their farm. I bought my first turkey from their farm to prepare for Thanksgiving last year.
I don't cook a lot of meat, as you know, so I was definitely nervous, anxious, scared, and didn't want to ruin it so it was inedible! I did about two weeks of research before Thanksgiving. I read recipes from everyone you can think of. I learned what spatchcocking was. I learned that you get different results with your turkey skin whether you use butter or oil. I even bought a thermometer to help me determine when the bird is finished cooking. That was my security.
A turkey baster was the first piece of equipment I knew I needed. It's almost mandatory for a Thanksgiving dinner. Helps you keep your bird moist during cooking, allowing you to grab the delicious juices that dripped off.
This option comes with an attachable brush so you can brush the juices back onto the birdie.
This was my saving grace. How else are you going to know when your turkey hits the recommended 160 F to show you it's cooked? I now use this thermometer for a lot of my baking. When you need water to hit 110 degrees to proof yeast, the thermometer comes in good hand.
I love this cooking pan. When roasting a full bird (duck, chicken, turkey) this rack helps air and heat get to all sides for an even roast. The bottom pan will catch all those delicious oils and fats, I absolutely love it.
This cutting board is made with bamboo and has these grooves to collect the liquid.
I ended up following the recipe by Mark Bittman, NYTimes Food Editor. His recipe is a 45-minute spatchcock turkey. Not going to lie, the 45-minute cook time totally threw me off. I honestly don't even know how long my grandma cook's her turkeys since we usually eat duck for the holidays and those little guys cook close to 45-minutes. Anyway, it totally worked out!
I went with a rosemary-orange combo with fresh squeeze oranges, orange slices, orange zest, and rosemary springs. I highly, highly recommend this mix. To get the skin crisp, I used a combination of both some rosemary-garlic-butter (that I mixed myself) and a little olive oil and salt.
For the gravy, I made a regular, degular gravy recipe using juices from turkey, orange squeeze and zest, and more rosemary. I don't have a recipe to share for that since I ended up just mixing ingredients together and using a little cornstarch to thicken it. Voila!
This turkey recipe will probably be my go to that'll I use for the big bird. I loved it so much. It turned out absolutely amazing and the flavors were great when creating leftovers.
I turned the rest of this turkey into a Turkey Gumbo. You can find the recipe, here.
Since last year's dinner was just two of us. We didn't go all crazy with multiple sides and courses. It was very simple with green beans and brown rice, which tasted crazy good with the gravy I made; full of orange zest and turkey fat, and a small personal cheese tray for myself.
I hope you enjoyed this year's Thanksgiving post!
Like many of you, it'll be a different kind of Thanksgiving this year, but still the same kind of love. Sending you all positive vibes and joy and I hope you have a great holiday!