Nearly a week has passed since Thanksgiving, but considering how much time home cooks spend planning and plotzing about it, the statute of limitations on reshashing its highlights and lowlights isn't up yet (or at least I'm hoping so, since I just returned to my computer yesterday morning.)
While I was visiting family in Michigan for the holiday, I ran into Zingerman's Ari Weinzweig, who told me he typically skips out on Thanksgiving, since he spends every other day of the year serving hungry guests and cleaning up the mess they make. But food reviewers rarely have the chance to fret about hors d'oeurves and scrub saucepans, which is partly why Thanksgiving's a not-to-be-missed occasion for us critics. Although my mother hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, she generously allowed me to participate in its preparation.
Many of my contributions were successful, but a few experiments didn't go exactly as planned. I've included a few details below, but would love to hear more about the edible standouts of your celebrations. Tell us in the comments section where you went right -- and how you went horribly, irrevocably wrong.
What worked: Pinot Gris, A to Z Wineworks, Oregon
I was assigned the job of buying wine, but my flight didn't land until nearly midnight on Thanksgiving Eve, which meant my shopping was confined to grocery stores. The Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, Mich. has a slightly more conventional wine selection than the Whole Foods near my home in Seattle, but its domestic shelves carried most of the big, under-$15-a-bottle names. The white-favoring crowd at my parents' house appreciated A to Z's reliably clean Pinot Gris, which delivered a punch of acid necessitated by the rich food.
What flopped: McClure's Spicy Bloody Mary Mix, Michigan
With dinner planned for 5 p.m., I figured an afternoon cheese graze, propped up by bloody Marys, made more sense than a proper lunch. But as much as I like McClure's mix, the thick salad of pickle brine and tomato paste (and enough chunky white garlic to make an observer incorrectly guess that the concoction is swamped with horseradish) was a browbeater for palates about to be overwhelmed by Thanksgiving's many flavors.
What worked: Brussels sprouts, Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well
My mom had planned to roast Brussels sprouts, but decided she'd be too busy with potatoes at roasting time, so decided to delegate sprout duty. I asked whether I might fry the Brussels sprouts with bacon instead, which turned out to be the very preparation advocated by former New York Times dining critic Sam Sifton, who my mom had come to like so much over the course of planning her Thanksgiving meal that he's now known around the house as "Sam." I also received dispensation to purchase better bacon, since my mom had bought a package of Oscar Mayer strips. The dish looked gorgeous, and guests loved the salty bits of pork.
What flopped: Stuffing with sausage, origins unknown
With so much pork on the table, it was hard to believe the room had hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner just a few months prior. But we might have skipped the whorls of over-seasoned Italian sausage in the stuffing, made according to a recipe my mom found "in a magazine somewhere." Just awful.
What worked: Pecan pie brittle, Saveur
I'd always assumed candy was best left to cooks with candy thermometers, but the pecan pie brittle recipe included in Saveur's Thanksgiving issue seemed astoundingly easy. I would have been satisfied with the fun of watching sugar melt and harden, but the resulting brittle was terrific. After a meal of mostly soft foods, its texture was much appreciated, and its flavors were unmistakably Thanksgiving-y.
What flopped: Pumpkin hand pies
What flopped: Pumpkin hand pies
Pumpkin hand pies were among the desserts served last month to Southern Foodways Alliance sympoisum-goers at Dockery Farms, a former cotton plantation recognized as the birthplace of the blues. The pies were a fine match for whiskey, and I was determined to serve them for Thanksgiving. But when I asked an event organizer for the recipe, she e-mailed, "Those pies are made by a little lady in Blue Mountain, Miss. Her recipe is closely guarded. I will ask her if she would PLEEEAAASSSEEEE share it!" She wouldn't.
So I concocted my own recipe, working from a fried peach pie recipe in the Lee Brothers' Southern Cookbook, a pumpkin empanada recipe from Lisa Fain, a Hubig sweet potato pie recipe adaption published by the New Orleans' Times-Picayune's Judy Walker and a bourbon-heavy pumpkin pie recipe I found in an old community cookbook from Kentucky. The pies looked cute, but the crust didn't flake and I probably should have applied twice as much filling. Fortunately, the accompanying buttermilk ice cream - which I purchased a $20 ice cream maker to produce, after my husband refused to spend an hour rolling a coffee can in pioneer style - was excellent.
How was your Thanksgiving? What worked? What flopped?