Hosting Our First Thanksgiving

Since Tom has a big family,  around 30 members and with our place being small, I didn’t think we will be hosting Thanksgiving. Not to mention cooking that dreaded turkey! But we did this year. I also figured that since half of the family members can’t come, it’d be an opportunity for me to practice.

The Thanksgiving wreath I made using stuff I bought from Salvations army (wreath and fruits), crafts from Michaels (pine cones, glitter and ribbons) and fallen leaves Evan helped me pick up from around the neighborhood.

The cooking part was not too bad, really. In fact I had a beautifully cooked turkey complete with garnish which I had wished I had taken a picture of but was too shy to do with guests looking on. If there were things I would do differently was to cook it an hour later (it was cooked early partly because I had always thought our oven was 30 minutes delayed everytime I bake whole chicken) and omit garlic salt on the skin since I had brined the turkey.

Crumbs and croutons from bread for the stuffing and graham cracker crumbs for the pumpkin pie crust.

What was hard was the shopping for extra plates, bowls, accessories and ingredients. It took me a week to assemble everything. By the time Thanksgiving came, I didn’t want to step inside a store anymore. I had probably visited 14 stores in all (Target, Pier One, Walmart, Asian market, filipino store, 2 Albertson’s,  Michael’s, Ikea, World Market, Whole Foods, Krogers, Marshall’s, Trader Joe’s). I was telling Tom, of all the holiday parties he volunteered hosting, he had to choose the most traditional one that would require a Turkey, turkey platter, turkey roasting stuff, gravy boats etc. – something we would probably use once a year, granting his other siblings don’t host it in the coming years.

I traveled 6 miles to get this lemongrass for the turkey.

But Thanksgiving is probably good too, because during Christmas time, for one thing, there would be gifts to contend with which would without exaggeration would take up half of our living room.

Another tricky thing about Thanksgiving is that it has to have it own decor. Like a lot of americans, Tom’s family is pretty traditional that it is a major faux pas if Christmas decors are used for Thanksgiving. I never had decorated during Thanksgiving before so I had to come up with a few accents for the occasion.

Evan helping me make graham cracker crumbs for the pumpkin pie.

It occurred to me to buy the food already cooked but I wanted the experience of cooking traditional Thanksgiving food, yep including the daunting turkey. But as a precaution we also had baked ham on the menu just in case of a turkey fail. For appetizers I made lumpia shanghai (filipino springrolls), cheese & crackers platter. For side dishes I cooked stuffing, mashed potatoes, habichuelas (my family recipe made of northern beans and chorizo bilbao), salad greens, with the cranberry sauce and gravy. For dessert I baked fluffy pumpkin pie, made filipino buko (young coconut) fruit salad and my sister-in-law brought cupcakes, cookies and date bars.

Cooking the habichuelas.

For next Thanksgiving I would just buy ready cooked mashed potatoes and stuffings. They were too much trouble, plus I never knew what a stuffing are supposed to taste like since I never liked them – just some mushy bread crumbs. Unless, I experiment with a non-traditional recipe. However, the cranberry sauce turned out to be really good – have to say it was the best I tasted, it went perfectly with the buttery mashed potatoes.

Cooking the cranberries.

Except for the turkey, I cooked everything the day before and what a difference it makes having clean kitchen! When it was time to clear out the table to make room for desserts, we had an almost empty counter to put them. Also we didn’t need coolers for the drinks because the fridge wasn’t overflowing.

Filipino buko (young coconut) salad.

It was probably my most well prepared party. Still there is room for improvement. I have figured out a way how to warm up food. After the turkey is done, I have 30 minutes to get everything to the table. So an hour before food should be taken out of the fridge. Once the turkey is out warming up can begin using the microwave, then transferred to the oven set in low heat (covered in foil) while other dishes are still in the microwave since microwaved food cool down pretty fast. Of course, there is the pot for dishes like stew.

The nice thing about having a party in a small place like ours is that, everybody get to stay and chat in one room. The teen-agers who usually have their own clique and go to another room to fiddle with their iPhones or play video games, stayed in the dining room to join the conversation. I even remarked to Tom that nobody was even watching tv. Which was remarkable and a nice change.

I was told by my guests that they loved the food and can’t wait to come back for our next Thanksgiving. It was exhausting, and there were mornings prior I thought I couldn’t get up because I was so tired but I honestly am looking forward to doing it again.

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6 Responses to Hosting Our First Thanksgiving

  1. Ed says:

    Looks like a good Thanksgiving was had at your place! I have never owned a turkey platter or gravy boat. I just go with what I have.

    We did our’s backwards to yours. We cooked the turkey the night before and deboned it. Then on Thanksgiving day, we just cooked the side dishes and right before we were ready to eat, I sliced up the turkey and nuked it in the microwave.

  2. Loraine says:

    Congratulations! Seems like you did a great job…I wonder where did you get the idea of lemon grass in turkey?

  3. geri says:

    Ed, I could never imagine preparing the dishes on the same day, I would be a nervous wreck! How was the smoked turkey? I got lucky with the turkey platter, got it on sale for $9.99 at World Market. I am very surprised to learn that I actually am not the last person to own a gravy boat hahaha

    Loraine, I initially got the idea from a filipino friend to cook a turkey like Andoks Lechon manok but decided to play it safe (since it was my first time) and used Manang Kusinera’s recipe
    It turned out picture perfect. But next time I would probably be more careful about sprinkling garlic salt on the skin (I was generous with it) because the meat itself is already a little salty from brining. I saw a recipe from Albertson’s about using butter, garlic and rosemary for the skin, I might try that too. Btw, I cooked a 13 pounder.

  4. Ed says:

    Honestly, after eating smoked turkey, I don’t think I will ever go back to roasting them in the oven. I just love that smokey flavor which intensifies after it cools. I most look forward to my turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving or since I cooked mine this year a day early, on Thanksgiving day. It just doesn’t get any better. I gave most of the leftovers to my parents but kept a leg quarter and turned it into turkey salad sandwiches that makes me wish I could eat them for all three meals a day. A past favorite it to make turkey pot/shepards pies with them.

    The one secret, other than smoking, I’ve learned over the years is throw the weight and time tables in the trash. Instead buy an instant read digital thermometer and cook that bird until the inner thigh just barely reads 165F (USDA recommendation). That guarantees a moist bird every time no matter what the cooking method.

  5. MC says:

    you passed the test with flying colors. we’ve been deepfrying our turkey for 2 years now. less energy consumption, plus it’s really yummy too – not greasy at all.

  6. geri says:

    Ed, now you make me curious as to what smoked turkey would taste like. If a smoker grill isn’t just too big I would consider buying one but we don’t have room in our house.

    MC, oooohhh, deep fried turkey sounds delicious. I would choose deep fried turkey anytime over roasted =)

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