In my early university days I dabbled in the kitchen as my "productive" form of procrastination from studying for my economics exams, while my college roommate would find any excuse not to write her English essays, that usually meant cleaning the flat. So between the two us, we not only had the cleanest apartment on the block, but also a refrigerator full of botched recipes of everything imaginable. I was terrible in the kitchen back then. In fact, I nearly set our university apartment on fire.
However, over the years my culinary skills vastly improved, thanks to my perpetual need to procrastinate. So much to my delight that I even splurged on a 10-piece All-Clad set with my first paycheck and convinced my family to let me cook my first Thanksgiving dinner in 2004. A bit apprehensive initially, but they were happy that I found a new hobby, although I am fairly certain my older sister had a back-up plan to make a last minute run to Boston Market (equivalent to a Nando's) in case of a disaster. Thanksgiving dinner was a major success! Since then I've cooked every Thanksgiving dinner for my family until Keenan and I moved abroad.
It's no exaggeration that I look forward to cooking the Thanksgiving meal more than actually eating turkey, mash, and all the trimmings. This year was no exception. After weeding through epicurious.com for hours, I picked a menu of Italian-inspired recipes for this year's Thanksgiving dinner.
Pancetta-Sage Thanksgiving Turkey: As last year's turkey was a bit on the dry side, I tried a new technique this year by smothering the turkey with a butter mixture of pancetta, sage, rosemary, and shallots (don't ask how much butter!), tucking the butter beneath the skin and generously seasoning the cavity and body of the turkey with salt and pepper. To add another layer of fat, I covered the turkey breast with bacon, followed by a generous olive oil rub. I then placed foil on top of the breast for the first 40 minutes to prevent the breast from cooking too quickly and drying out the breast. I diligently basked the turkey every 15 to 20 minutes and brushed the turkey with melted butter with 30 - 40 minutes. The result? By far, the best turkey I have roasted to date. The turkey breast was moist and packed with flavours of sage and the perfect amount of saltiness from the bacon.
Italian-sausage Bread Stuffing: I normally make a vegetarian stuffing but this year I changed it up a bit since we didn't have any vegetarian guests at dinner. I always make stuffing from scratch, toasting my own baguette instead of using store-bought packages. While the French baguette was toasting in the oven, I browned the pork sausage and placed in a large mixing bowl. Then using the same pan, I sauteed the onion, celery, and garlic seasoning it with salt and pepper. Then it was time to mix -- some heavy cream, eggs, and chicken broth, more salt and pepper, and into the oven it goes for 45 minutes or so. If you like the top to be slightly toasted, remove the foil after 30 minutes. Very tasty.
Green Beans with Pine Nuts and Lemon Zest: The easiest recipe ever. Blanched the green beans and soaked it in a cold water bath to retain the crispiness. Then I drizzled the green beans with lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and salt and pepper. That's it -- easy. The toasted pine nuts added a nice texture and flavour to this easy and elegant dish.
Brussels Sprout with White Bean and Pecorino: I have never been a fan of brussels sprouts but always have this veggie as a must on the Thanksgiving menu. Each year I try to mix up the recipes, last year with a brussel sprout-cauliflower gratin, and the year before, steamed brussel sprouts with bacon. This year, I added white bean to the brussels sprouts and some Italian percorino to round out the flavour. My favorite brussels sprout recipe so far, liked the beans more so than the brussels sprouts.
Mashed Potato with Gravy: As long as you don't skim on the fat i.e. butter and milk, you can't really make a bad mashed potato. Keenan made the mashed potato and I saw how much fat went into that pot! You really don't want to know... The result: silky, creamy, and oh-so addicting mash. He also carved the turkey. Check out his Movember mustache...makes him look six years older.
Tiramisu: One of my friends made a delicious tiramisu for dessert. The luscious espresso-infused sponge cake was layered with delectable mascarpone and topped with cocoa powder. The secret: Baily's Irish Cream. It was amazing!
My Thanksgiving Plate paired with an excellent Barolo for the perfect Italian-themed Thanksgiving. The best part, besides spending the evening with Keenan and friends, was watching classic American football on Thanksgiving day. We watched the Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers game live via the NFL GamePass, but couldn't stay up for the San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Raven Game (aka Jim Harbaugh vs. John Harbaugh) as we fell into a tryptophan-induced sleep.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones! Be thankful every day for life's many blessings. I was telling my older sister in Hong Kong that it is holidays like this one that I wish we didn't live on three different continents. Keenan and I are incredibly thankful for friends and family on both sides of the pond.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!