My close friend, and neighbor from Utah, visited us with her husband this Thanksgiving break. I've hosted plenty of potlucks over the last few years, but it had been a while since I planned and cooked the entire meal by myself. I was so excited about having her over that I made and scratched and remade my menu list a hundred times. It was just a party of four for dinner, of which two don't eat turkey. So I wanted to keep the menu simple, finishable (if there's such a word), yet complete with all the traditional favorites such as cranberries, and squash, and the usual. This definitely saved me from the much feared holiday cooking nightmares! We leisurely enjoyed multiple courses over 3 hours, breaking in between to make room for more.
**My friend's hubby took food pics on his camera, which I forgot to transfer. Sharing the few that I had.
After ogling over hundreds of recipes and ideas online, here's what the menu was decided to be:
1. Brie-cranberry mini tarts - I've become addicted to Pinterest lately. I had pinned this simple fix-up appetizer recipe which not only tasted delicious, but also looked beautiful. I left out the pistachios from the original recipe, solely for forgetting to buy them. But it didn't make a difference to my guests. You can never go wrong with ooey-gooey baked brie with fruit relish.
I tried the Spicy Pepper Cranberry Relish recipe from this NY Times article. Boy, was that a hit! I used regular green jalapenos instead of red, and added 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice instead of water+lemon juice. The orange juice enhanced the sweetness while adding acidity. The amount of pepper scared me at first, but they provided just the right amount of kick after taking out all the seeds. This recipe is a keeper.
2. Arugula-pear salad with feta cheese and honey vinaigrette - For something green on the table, I went with my favorite salad greens paired with pears (funny I should use them together) and feta cheese. The dressing was very simple - honey, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt & pepper. Honey is perfect with the fruit, and it tames the peppery flavor of arugula.
3. Roasted butternut squash soup with sage - What's Thanksgiving without the season's favorite? We make squash soup frequently during winter. It's always a simple fair with sauteed onion, garlic, sage, paprika, and salt & pepper. Roasted squash is so creamy by itself, it never requires anything additional. Oh btw, I made the soup in my new Vitamix - that's going to need its own post.
4. Potato salad - I asked husband for a suggestion on the potato dish. What did he come up with? Deli style potato salad with mayo! Of course, I could have made creamy mashed potatoes, or a fancy gratin. But who ever laid the rules and said we couldn't have this salad instead? :P. No complaints, though. I love it myself and so did my friends. The salad had boiled red potatoes with skin on, chopped red radish, spring onions, lots and lots of fresh dill, a dash of paprika, mayo, mustard sauce, and good ol' salt & pepper.
5. Shell pasta with basil pesto - Going down the menu items, I realize how easy everything was! The pasta was our last vegetarian course before the dessert. I pretty much just put everything together, yet it was quite elegant. I prefer simple butter/olive oil dressing or pesto in pasta over tomato sauce. I bought ready-made pesto, mixed it with perfectly cooked (yes, I actually got compliments on that!) pasta, added lots of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, olive medley, and topped it with feta cheese. This Mediterranean affair was quite delicious.
6. Husband's special shrimp - The most exciting item on the table for the non-vegetarians was husband's 'world famous' shrimp. He makes this shallow fried shrimp marinated in coriander, garlic, and his mom's special masala for his friends all the time. I don't know what magic he puts in it, but that one dish always seems to take over ALL the other things I toil over! My friend's husband went gaga over the shrimp dish. Well, happy guests make me happy.
7. Chocolate-pumpkin pie - Thanksgiving is incomplete without pie, make that pumpkin pie. My original plan was to set up our unused fondue for dessert. Some delicious dark chocolate fondue with fruits, marshmallows, and simple cake. But I couldn't resist making pie when I came across this Triple-Chocolate Pumpkin Pie recipe on Pinterest. Tell me that wouldn't entice you!
I grossly simplified the recipe though. My pie had a store bought graham cracker crust (yeah, judge me!). The basic pie filling recipe came from the pumpkin puree can (the standard recipe with 1 can pumpkin puree, 1 can evaporated milk, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, and spices). I melted 4 tablespoons of butter and 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate in the microwave - a shortcut I use instead of using double boiler. Just melt the chocolate for 40-45 seconds each time until it's completely melted. Half of this chocolate mixture went into the pie filling. Once the pie was baked and cooled, I poured the rest on top to form a nice chocolaty crust. I think I'll never go back to the non-chocolaty pumpkin pie after having this!
All in all, the Thanksgiving dinner was a success. The preparation was fret-free, and the outcome was delicious. Most of all, it was the company whom we shared the meal with made it very special. Yet another year great year and wonderful people in our lives to be thankful for! Hope you all had a very special time as well!