Thanksgiving Feast

The Thanksgiving Feast was a great success -- thank you to all my guests for coming! I always enjoy holding a Thanksgiving get together with friends and family every year, it always brings me happiness to cook for the people I love :).  Another big reason is because being Chinese-American, my very Traditional Chinese parents do not celebrate Thanksgiving!   I would always remember getting out of school for Thanksgiving break  yet never going anywhere while all my other friends went out of town.  The day of Thanksgiving I'd watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade with the gigantic Turkey float and that was the only turkey I usually had for the day.  One year my mom made a turkey -- I remembered it being in a bag and we had two weeks worth of leftovers since only the three of us ate it.

But then one year during high school, I had a close friend invite me over to have Thanksgiving with her family.  It changed my life -- I finally understood why this American holiday was so coveted by so many: there was so much AMAZING FOOD.  I mean there were four different kinds of pie alone, not to mention the countless sides surrounding the gigantic turkey and the delightful appetizers before -- it was beautiful.  It wasn't until then that I finally understood the term "comfort-food". One of the few times of the year when family gets together and creates one gigantic meal filled with love and memories, creating food that truly brings you comfort to your heart and soul when you eat it.  The anticipation of waiting to sit down and finally digging into the collection of wonderous glorious Thanksgiving food is always my favorite part of the meal -- I always plan out my method of attack (potatoes and gravy in the middle, protein on one side, vegetables and misc on the other-- potatoes and gravy go with everything) and always make sure to save room for dessert.

I will be making this a two part post since I made quite a long menu -- I tend to go overboard at times -_-.  I will be featuring appetizers and cookies  today and the sides tomorrow.   In planning this party, a lot of these items were able to be planned and prepped beforehand so you are not rushing around the day of.  I will show my prep list later on.   Here is the menu that I've planned:

Appetizers

  • Rosemary Basil Bruschetta
  • Sweet Potato Phyllo Cups with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Applewood Smoked Bacon
  • Magic Salad
  • Devil Eggs Two Ways - Caviar and Dill + Garlic and Peppercorn

Desserts

  • Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake
  • Fruit Salad with Ginger and Mint
  • Three Kinds of Cookies - Double Chocolate with Peanut Butter Chips, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Cranberry Almond White Chocolate

Let's start with the Appetizers!

Ingredients for Rosemary Basil Bruschetta: (serves 12)

  • 6 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
  • 2 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade (I used Thai Basil)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large bowl mix the vinegar, oil and sugar together until sugar is dissolved.  Combine the remaining ingredients and toss well.  Place in glass container, cover and allow mixture to marinate for 1-2 days. You can make this up to two days ahead of time.

The day of the party, buy some fresh baguettes and slice them at a diagonal.  Brush with olive oil and bake at 350F for 10 minutes or until a light golden brown.  Set aside and cool.  Serve with tomato mixture and garnish with chopped basil.

Prep Time: 10 minutes    Total Cooking Time:30 min

When picking appetizers for your party, remember to pick items that can be pre-made and assembled quickly the day of the party.  These phyllo cups are a great example.  You can make the phyllo cups up to 5 days beforehand -- I did it 3 days before and after baking I kept them in an airtight container until the day of the party.  I bought the pumpkin seeds pre toasted, but if needed you can also toast nuts 4-5 days beforehand.  I baked the bacon and made the sweet potato puree the night before -- you can make the bacon bits up to 3-4 days before hand keeping them refrigerated in an airtight container.

Ingredients for Sweet Potato Phyllo Cups with Applewood Smoked Bacon and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds: (serves 12)

  • 12 - phyllo sheets, thawed
  • olive oil to brush
  • 3 sweet potatoes, chopped 1" cubes
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 6 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon, cooked
  • 1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, garnish

For those of you who have never used phyllo, it must be thawed before using.  Do not try to unroll it while it's frozen or the dough will crack -- (I have been impatient and tried this before).

Preheat oven to 350F.  Take any sized muffin pan and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Once the phyllo dough is thawed, be sure to keep the dough moist with a damp kitchen towel -- it dries out very easy.  Brush phyllo with oil or butter and using a pizza cutter cut the dough into equal squares similar to the size of the individual muffin tins.  Place two seets of phyllo in each tin and lightly press down.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

For the puree, place the diced sweet potatoes in a large pot of water.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium, cook until soft, about 15 minutes.  Drain and shock with cold water, this will help retain the bright orange color of the potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a food processor and blend in the honey milk and cinnamon.  If the mixture is too thick simply add more milk until you reach the desired consistency.  Place mixture in glass airtight container and refrigerate.  This can be made up to two days ahead.

Prep Time: 10 minutes   Total Cooking Time: 1 hour

The day of the party all you'd have to do is spoon the sweet potato mixture into the phyllo cups and bake at 350F for 5 minutes to reheat.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, some bacon bits, and sliced scallions and voila you are done!

I love deviled eggs, the eggs can be boiled and peeled 2 days before hand and the mixture can be made and piped the day of.

Ingredients for Garlic and Peppercorn:

  • 6 eggs, hard boiled
  • 1 large garlic clove crushed
  • 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp green peppercorns crushed, for garnish
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Ingredients for Caviar and Dill Eggs:

  • 6 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp caviar plus more for garnish
  • 2 tsp dill, chopped plus more for garnish
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste

For the eggs, you can pick to cut them horizontally or vertically, whichever you prefer.  I chose to cut mine horizontally -- you would have to slightly cut the base of the eggs so they are able to stand up.  Separate the whites and yolks in large bowls, be careful not to rip the whites.  Carefully place the whites in a cold water bath.  Meanwhile blend the yolks with the ingredients and taste with salt and pepper.

Quick Tips on How to Properly Boil an Egg:

  • Always cover the eggs with COLD water before cooking.
  • Bring the water to a boil and quickly remove from heat.  Allow the eggs to sit for 20 minutes before peeling under cold running water.
  • Eggs that are very fresh tend to be harder to peel, use older eggs if possible.
  • Placing the eggs in a ice water bath may also help with hard to peel eggs.
  • Store peeled hard boiled eggs in a large bowl of cold water, can keep for up to a week.  It is preferable to peel them when you want to use them.

When ready to serve, remove the egg whites and drain on paper towels.  Carefully assemble them on a plate and pipe the two different types of egg fillings.  Garnish and serve cold.  I cut the eggs the night before and made the mixture with the yolks the day of.  Then all I had to worry about was just mixing the yolks and piping my eggs.

Prep Time: 20 minutes   Total Cooking Time: 50 minutes

Now, onto Desserts!

Cheesecake are one of my favorite desserts to make because honestly, who doesn't love cheesecake?  It can also be made several days in advance and kept covered in a freezer, I made mine 3 days in advance.  This cheesecake is nice and creamy with hints of cinnamon and pumpkin.  I was going to make a maple cream to go with it but ran out of time and went with what I thought were butterscotch but turned out to be peanut butter chips, it actually worked out really well!

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake: (Serves 12)

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cakes

  • 6 graham crackers or 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

 

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

 

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Grease the bottoms and sides of the 9-inch springform pan.  Cover the outside of the pan with aluminum foil, making sure to seal the bottom so water does not leak through when you place the cake in a waterbath.  Prepare a roasting pan with 4 inches of water that is deep and large enough to hold the cake pan.  If you are using whole graham crackers, place them in a large ziplock bag and with a rolling pin (I used a wine bottle) crush the crackers until they form fine, uniform crumbs.  Pour crumbs in a bowl and measure out 1 cup.  Add the melted butter and mix evenly with crumbs.  Pour the mixture into the pan and press the crumbs evenly onto the bottom of the pan using your fingers.  Bake the crust until it turns slightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.  This process allows the crust to dry out so it does not abosrb too much liquid from the filling, leaving you a crunchy crust opposed to a soggy one.

Beat the eggs thoroughly until yolks and whites are well blended.  It is important they are at room temperature so the eggs do not clump with the cream cheese which results in white specks in the cheesecake.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla.  Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat on low speed until mixture is well blended, about 1 minute.  Make sure that every bit of the mixture is well beaten, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the flour and blend well at a low speed and then add half of the eggs until well incorporated then add remanining half and repeat.  Add the cinnamon, ginger and dark rum and mix just until incoporated.  Add the sour cream and pumpkin until the filling is an even golden orange color.  Set aside.

Pour the filling onto the prebaked crust, using a spatula to scrape all of the mixture from the bowl.  Put the filled springform pan in the roasting pan and slide the roasting pan onto the oven rack.  Slowly fill the roasting pan with water until it reaches about 2 inches up the sides of the springfoam pan.  This process is known as a water bath, it prevents the cheesecake from cracking and gives an even, delicate and moist texture to the cheesecake. 

Bake undisturbed for 551 hour and 20 minutes.  If the cake looks like it is firm, give the pan a gentle shake to see if the batter moves.  Be careful to not splash any water onto the cake! If the top is wobbly, put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, repeat process until cheesecake is done.  Remove the cheesecake together with the water bath onto a wire rack.  Allow the cheesecake to cool for an hour then lift the springfoam pan from the water.  Remove the foil and allow the cake to cool for an hour longer.  Seal tightly with plastic wrap and store in the freezer.

The day of the party, take the cheesecake out of the freezer and allow it to defrost in fridge.  When ready to serve, run a knife along the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake, keeping the knife tightly pressed against the side of the pan.  Release the pan sides and carefully lift off.  Using a thin knife, loosen the crust from the pan bottom and slide onto a serving plate.  For the best results, allow the cheesecake to sit at room temperature a couple hours before serving so the cheesecake can "ripen".  You can make cheesecake up to a month ahead of time, once defrosted it can last in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Prep Time: 1 hour   Total Cooking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Now On To Desserts!

Preheat oven to 350F.

Ingredients for Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats, uncooked
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Beat the butter, sugars and vanilla on medium speed using handheld mixer.  Beat in eggs until light and fluffy.  Mix in flour, baking powder and salt on low speed until well incorporated.  Stir in the oats and chocolate chips and form dough into 2 inch balls.  and place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes until edges turn a slight golden brown and center is soft.  Set aside and cool on wire rack.

Ingredients for Double Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granualted sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Reese's Peanut Butter Chips

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  In another bowl, mix the flour cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Incorporate well and slowly blend into butter and sugar mixture.  Once dry and wet ingredients are thoroughly mixed, fold in the peanut butter chips.  Roll cookie dough into 2-inch balls and place on a greased cookie sheet, leaving about 2" of space in between each.  Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Ingredients for Cranberry Almond White Chocolate Chip Cookies:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup almonds, slivered

In a large bowl cream together sugars and butter until mixed well.  Add in egg and beat until light and fluffy.  In another large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt and slowly incorporate into the wet mixture.  Fold in the oats and cranberries until well incorporated.  Roll dough into 2" balls and place on cookie sheet 2" apart.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Set aside and cool on wire rack.   Makes about 3 dozen.

Cookies are always great to make for parties because cookie dough can be stored in the freezer for a long period of time.  The day of the party or even the night before, all you have to do is cut the dough and bake! You can make different cookie doughs and store them so you will have a variety the day of the party.