Our First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday that has not traditionally been a favorite of mine.  However, that has all changed because this year we hosted our first Thanksgiving!  It took this holiday to a whole new level for me since feeding other people is just about my favorite thing to do, and we had a fantastic time.  We hosted 14 adults and a couple of babies.  It was wonderful to have so many loved ones in our home, all enjoying a delicious meal and quality time together.

Since this was my first time hosting, I was happy to have free reign over menu planning without preconceptions or expectations.  I wanted to serve mainly traditional Thanksgiving fare, but slightly more elegant variations on the old favorites.  Our complete menu was as follows:

Caramelized Onion Dip with Crudités
Red Pepper Pesto Crostini
Caramel Corn
Stuffed Mushrooms

Side Dishes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Sage Butter Crumb Topping
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Sausage and Cranberry Stuffing
Butternut Squash Cheddar Bread Pudding
Blackberry Cranberry Sauce
Herb and Cheese Rolls
Honey Yeast Rolls
Garlic Herb and Honey Butters

Main Course
Roast Turkey with Cider Shallot Gravy

Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Cranberry Almond Caramel Tart

For me, appetizers are a very important part of Thanksgiving.  I think time spent mingling and snacking before the meal is really enjoyable.  Of course they are also very helpful in the event that your meal takes longer than expected to bake.   These red pepper pesto crostini are a favorite appetizer of mine.  They are simple, elegant, and tasty!

You know I just couldn’t resist an opportunity to include my caramel corn 🙂   Even better, I have a ton left over!  Not for long…

This caramelized onion dip was fantastic.  I kind of didn’t want to share it with anyone – but I did.  And of course, the stuffed mushrooms didn’t last long – everyone’s favorite!

I made these glittered votive holders to double as both table decor and place cards.  I didn’t want the meal to seem too formal though, so I left the candles out on the appetizer table.  Then when we were ready to eat, I lit all the candles and told guests to take their candle and put it where they wanted to sit.

The sweet potatoes were a huge hit.  Even though I am starting to like sweet potatoes in some forms, I wasn’t a big fan of this dish, but everyone else seemed to love it.  I had several people tell me it was their favorite side and we had almost no leftovers.

The roasted garlic mashed potatoes on the other hand, were my favorite dish of the whole meal.  I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to make mashed potatoes without adding the roasted garlic.  It put them into a whole new category of awesomeness!  (I’m sure the use of cream instead of milk didn’t hurt either 😉 )

The butternut squash and cheddar bread pudding was certainly the most unexpected dish in the spread.  I think some people may have been a bit hesitant to try it, but I had several guests comment that they really liked it.  I thought the flavor of the sharp cheddar was an interesting and winning combination with the squash and kale.

I tried my hand at making a homemade, non-processed version of green bean casserole.  Overall it went over very well and people seemed to enjoy it.  I liked it, but there are a few adjustments and tweaks I would like to make before I make it again.

This blackberry cranberry sauce has been on my mind ever since I heard about it last year, and I knew I would make it for my Thanksgiving.  It was delicious as expected, and flavorful without being too sweet.   And thankfully fresh blackberries just happened to be $1 per container, so inexpensive as well!

I made these herb and cheese rolls well in advance of Thanksgiving, and just kept them in the freezer until the holiday.  They were fun and simple to make, and had great flavor from all the herbs.  I also made a double batch of my honey yeast rolls since they are my favorite.  Both varieties went over very well and we had maybe two rolls leftover.

Maybe my favorite thing about the whole meal (a tie with the garlic mashed potatoes) was the garlic herb and honey butters that I made to go with the bread.  The herb butter was truly unbelievable.  I could truly have been content eating just rolls and the herb butter all day – it was that good.  I often tell Ben that I wish I could make the delicious butters we get in fancy restaurants to go with bread, and I think this actually has those beat.  I will be making it again soon!

And now, on to the main course – the turkey!  This was my first time making a turkey and since it is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, I was fairly nervous about messing it up.  However, it was just as easy as roasting a chicken, and turned out fantastic!  We brined it overnight, and then added aromatics to the cavity before roasting.  The only difficulty I had was lifting and moving it, since ours was a 24-pounder!   It had great flavor and stayed nice and moist.  I love how beautifully it browned.  I forgot to get a photo of the gravy, but it was delicious as well.  I used mostly the pan juices from the turkey as well as a bit of chicken stock, some cider and sautéed shallots with a roux to thicken the mixture.  In the past I have skipped the gravy on my plate, but I may be a convert now.

After the meal I ended up with six people sleeping in my living room in no time, so I’d say it was a success 🙂  Some people were too full to even consider dessert, but of course I had saved room since it is always my favorite part.

We had a classic pumpkin pie, and though I have made it many years now, I think this was the best one yet.  I tried a new recipe for the filling and it was fantastic.  I also loved the addition of the cute little pie crust leaves on top of the pies.  Normally I try not to buy such unitasker items for my kitchen, but I’ve wanted these forever and think they were totally worth the money.  I love the festive touch they add!

I also did pecan pie, which was the original recipe that inspired the variation of the double chocolate pecan pie.  This version was great as well, though I think I personally prefer the chocolate.  Everything is better with chocolate, right?

Though not pictured again, I also made the caramel apple cheesecake pie.  I think that was the favorite dessert of the night – unsurprising to me, as it is just plain awesome.

The cranberry caramel almond tart was a nice way to round out the dessert spread.  I loved the contrast of the semi-tart berries against the sweet caramel.   Next time I think I would increase the amount of cranberries because I think they didn’t quite play the starring role I had hoped for.

I made sure to stock up on disposable containers for guests to take home leftovers because I did not want to be loaded down with the whole meal at the end of the day.  And of course, you know I couldn’t resist some Thanksgiving themed sugar cookies as favors for guests to take home.  I decorated them like maple leaves and acorns, and thought they added a nice touch at the end of the evening.

Of course I couldn’t resist a picture of me with my little turkey.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(For those interested in recipes, I will probably post most of them next year, just prior to Thanksgiving.  I think most people are moving on to holiday baking endeavors for now, but these recipes will be shared eventually!)

62 Responses

  1. What a fantastic post! Your Thanksgiving spread is not only impressive and gorgeous, but it sounds like it all tasted amazing as well. I will be tuning in next year for the remaining recipes – I’m particularly interested in the sweet potatoes with sage crumb topping and the blackberry cranberry sauce, both of which look divine. Your compound butter is such a nice presentation, and the autumnal-decorated cookies are a sweet parting offer for your guests. All-in-all, it sounds like a highly successful Thanksgiving!!

  2. Wow! Im practically drooling. I think you’re awesome!

  3. All of your food looks beautiful. Happy Thanksgiving (belated)!

  4. What an impressive spread! You are so talented. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. PEFECT celebration! 🙂

  6. Bravo! I can’t imagine how you did all of that, but it looks absolutely wonderful. I think it’s the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever seen, & I want to try some of the recipes when I have my dad here for an early Christmas dinner on the 19th!

  7. Absolutely beautiful….the food looks so delicious!!

  8. Annie – WOW! You are amazing! That looks fabulous!

  9. Ack. You did this all on your own!?? Simply amazing! How do you do it??

    And the cranberry caramel almond tart looks fabulous. I might have to go raid my refrigerator now…

  10. Annie, it all looks wonderful! Your turkey is perfectly browned and beautiful! Quick question – is the butternut squash bread pudding from Bon Apetit? If so, I have that recipe torn out to save… I am so intrigued by it, and I’m looking for a chance to make it.

  11. I love your website… you always have such yummy recipes posted! I was wondering if you would tell me where you got your kitchen table. I am in the process of looking for a new one and I LOVE yours. Please let me know if you get a chance! Thanks!

    • Hi Summer,
      If you are referring to the table pictured in this post (technically our dining room table), it is from Pier 1. We just got it a few weeks ago on sale, $200 off – it was a pretty good deal! Chairs are from Target. Actually, our true kitchen table is also from Pier 1 but was discontinued long ago. Hope that helps!
      🙂 Annie

  12. Wow, great job! I’m so amazed! How do you do it all with a small baby and being a resident? I have a good friend who is a resident at the Cleveland Clinic, but she has no spare time. All she does is complain about how far behind she is with studying!

  13. all i can say is WWWOOOOOOWWW!!! that is amazing! how did u end up making all of this ?!?! im callin you wonder woman from now on 🙂

    Everything looks soooo good! Lucky people!

  14. I’ll look forward to the cranberry caramel almond tart recipe! Everything looks wonderful. Congratulations on a first Thanksgiving well done. 🙂

  15. Everything is beautiful! The food looks delicious, and the formal yet relaxed atmosphere is captured well in the photos.

    Your son is an absolute doll, and he looks just like you.

    Great job. I think you should post the recipe for the dip, since appetizers are much needed for the upcoming holidays – especially new year’s eve!

  16. I really really want to make the herb biscuits! Yum!

  17. What a beautiful spread! I’m happy your first hosted Thanksgiving was a success!

  18. Fabulous spread- I need to get it together and start making my own rolls. From there, blended butters are a clear win.

  19. Everything looks so lovely! How exciting to host your first Thanksgiving in your new home! Did you do a lot ahead of time? I’d love to read about your timetable…especially with your work schedule! Also, would love the specific butter recipes you used. I planned on having the same 2 types for Christmas and also perhaps adding some pumpkin flavor to the honey butter. Love the table and chairs as well! Your son is such a handsome cutie pie! I love that age when you can still dress them up like that:) Love the pic of you both! Swweeeet!

  20. Congrats on a successful first turkey day! Looked like you hit it out of the park. I don’t think anyone who reads your blog regularly is surprised. Funny, I recognize some of the dishes from Bon Appetit, I think. I was looking thru 7 years of issues last week for ideas. Turkey looked great. I love to brine, but I am a convert on a dry brine with salt on the breast overnight. Was yours a wet brine? And your crusts looked great. I made Dorie’s last week and I just had bad luck with them.

    • Ariana,
      Yes, I used a wet brine. It was very simple, and seemed to do a great job. Sorry to hear your pie crusts were disappointing. I haven’t had much luck with Dorie’s recipe either, but my modified version of the Williams Sonoma recipe has never failed me.
      🙂 Annie

  21. What a fantastic celebration! You did an amazing job!

    I’ve always been a “visitor” on Thanksgiving, either with my parents house or friends of my in-laws family. I look forward to one day having a celebration of our own! This post (and future recipes) will definitely be a reference for me!

    😉 amy

  22. What a fantastic spread! Your turkey looks perfect! I’m hoping to host next year 🙂

  23. Everything looks wonderful! I’m an appetizer gal, and am definitely going to try your crostini. Flavoring butter is one of those things that I love, but I never think to make, and yours looks so simple yet elegant!

  24. Wow, what a beautiful job you did! I am sure all your guests were happy to be eating at Annie’s house for Thanksgiving. All the food looks so delicious and I love how organized your are, which always makes the party day go smoother. Great job!

    P.S. Your little “turkey” is getting so big, he is such a beautiful little boy.

  25. Annie, your dinner looks fantastic. You certainly have a lucky, well fed family.
    If you have a chance, I’d love to see a post on how you planned your menu and scheduled your time to get everything done. I’m not even sure where I would have started.

  26. Oh Annie, I thought that I had a great deal to make! Don’t know how you did it but it certainly looks wonderful!

  27. wow…GREAT job…on your first thanksgiving hosting! Everything looks SO amazing and elegant. Well done!

  28. Wow! Truly amazing as usual. How in the world did you get all of that ready???? I want to know more about hwo to pull something like that off and my food be so yummy! 🙂

  29. What a fantastic delicious spread! That cranberry sauce looks delicious and I can’t get over how beautiful your butter looks…:)

  30. Annie….you’re my hero!

  31. I’m so impressed! Each dish looks awesome but what astounds me more is how you pulled it all off! I would love if you would post some time a play-by-play of how you prepare a big meal (multiple course, many dishes). For me, growing is a cook is growing in my culinary skills in individual dishes, but also how to coordinate and plan so that things all come together. How many days ahead did you start to make this dinner?

  32. Everything looks delicious! I can’t wait to host Thanksgiving, but unfortunately that won’t be until 2011!

  33. Wow – seriously wow! This is such an incredible spread! Everything looks absolutely stunning. I can’t believe you made all of this yourself! You must have been so happy to host your first Thanksgiving in your new home. Andrew looks so cute in his little sweater vest! I love little kids dressed up around the holidays 🙂

    I saw an earlier comment requesting the dip; I’d love to see the recipes for the garlic herb and honey butters (if you get around to it of course!). I’m making honey yeast rolls for a pre-Christmas dinner with my in-laws. I love how you piped the butter into the dishes – what a great idea!

  34. I love the idea of the blackberry cranberry sauce. You have to share that one. I eat cranberries at Christmas, too.

    I miss you Annie,


  35. Everything looks delicious and you are amazing for pulling together such a tasteful and elegant spread. I would love to know your schedule for how far in advance you make things. I can’t even wrap my head around how you would schedule all these things.

    Also, no stuffing? 🙂

    • KB, I’ve had several requests like this now regarding my planning strategies. I will try to get something posted in that regard sometime soon. Also, yes, we did have stuffing! How could I forget?! I didn’t get a photo because stuffing isn’t very pretty (at least mine wasn’t), but I can’t believe I left it off the menu. I’ll fix that!
      🙂 Annie

  36. agreed! you must post a timetable of how you cooked so many beautiful and delicious things (while enjoying your toddler and not pulling out your hair!!). love your blog, thanks for the MANY great ideas 🙂

  37. Oh good, stuffing is my favorite part! Thanks for addressing the planning part. I got married this summer and I know having to host Thanksgiving is only a year or two away.

  38. Can I come to *your* house for Thanksgiving next year?!

  39. Wow…that’s a lot of food you made. It all looks delicious, though! I’m coming to your Thanksgiving next year, haha.

    By the way..your website is fantastic. I found it through stumbleupon.com and I have a feeling much time will be spent going through your recipes 🙂

  40. Looks like you did a beyond GREAT spread–I am sure your family will request you do it for years to come! 🙂 Do you by any chance have the recipe for the sweet potato dish and the butternut cheddar dish?! Thanks!

  41. Absolutely beautiful spread of food!! I love the fancy butters; I bet they tasted so good! Wish I could have been a guest! 🙂

  42. I’m loving your blog – been reading for a couple of months now and it is my favorite cooking/recipe blog. I’d really like the recipe for the herb and honey butters – i’d love to make them for xmas dinner. also the herby & cheese rolls and the butternut squash bread pudding would be great too. Thanks!!

    • Becky, I’ll do my best but I’m trying to focus on other holiday goodies now and don’t want too many post-Thanksgiving posts taking over the blog. The herb and cheese rolls can be found here (I cut into 16 instead of 36). A link to the bread pudding is farther up in the comments, as someone else asked for it as well.

  43. Yum! This all looks so delicious and I’m excited to try some of the recipes for Christmas dinner! I really wanted the herb and cheese roll recipe and I see you left a link for it in a comment yay!!! Thanks so much! You are amazing!!! 🙂

  44. Wow! You’re incredibly talented. Blessings to you and your wonderful family.

  45. Hi Annie,

    I would like to try making mashed potato as your photo of mashed potato looks very delicious. Can I request for your recipe for mashed potato?

    Lots of thanks! 🙂

  46. I see. Thanks anyway! 🙂

  47. Would love to try those sweet potatoes! Do you think you will be posting that recipe anytime soon? Everything looks delish

  48. Hi Annie – can you pls share how you made the carmelized onion dip? It sounds wonderfully refreshing for veggies!

    • It’s an Ina Garten recipe. I found it in one of my cookbooks (can’t remember which) but it is also available on FN.com.

  49. Thanks Annie — I’m thinking it might be the Pan-Fried Onion Dip. If so, it looks amazingly delish!

  50. Annie, did you post your caramelized onion dip? It sounds delicious!

  51. Hey Annie, I just read the comments about the onion dip. 🙂 No need to respond. Thanks!

  52. I really hope you share your pumpkin pie recipe this year! I’m in charge of dessert this year for our family’s thanksgiving and all the recipes I’ve tried of yours have yet to fail me so of course I would love to try your pumpkin pie. Everything on your spread looked so delicious though, I bet Thanksgivings at your house are the greatest!

  53. geez!! Your Thanksgiving dinner looks AMAZING! I am so glad that I stumbled across your website.. it’s perfect! Since I am getting a late start, I had better get off of here and start really planning before my head spins off!

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