Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday. I love everything about it — the food is always delicious, the company is always enjoyable, and the smells are always amazing. Cider with mulling spices is the perfect example. The blend of cider with cinnamon, cloves, orange, and allspice is so magnificent that I don't care if anyone drinks the cider, I just adore the smell. The minute somebody mulls cider for the first time, I know it’s fall and I start looking forward to Thanksgiving.
I host Thanksgiving dinner every year, and the traditions and memories we’ve created are truly irreplaceable. Our family’s most beloved tradition is one that I began several decades ago. Bruce and I had a number of friends who didn't have a lot, or any, family nearby. So, I invited them to our house for what I called a “Strays Thanksgiving.” It was so wonderful that we invited them again the next year, and then again the year after. It quickly became a cherished tradition for each guest. Even as everyone’s family began or grew, we all joined together for our Thanksgiving meal. It’s a tradition we’ve maintained to this day.
We’ve created so many fond memories. I remember when my children were very young and all of the kids played under the table during the meal. Now they’re all adults, many of whom bring their own children to our annual dinner. It’s such a joy to watch a new generation of little kids crawling around on the floor. What started out as just a few stray friends has now grown to approximately 24 guests!
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into this day, and I begin cooking about a month ahead of time. One dish my guests always look forward to is my stuffing. Because I have several vegetarians at my table, I want to make sure they have a complete meal as well. I create one bread mixture and then divide the base, combining the majority with turkey stock and placing it inside of our turkey and combining the other with vegetarian stock and baking it inside acorn squash halves to create four meat-free entrees. It’s proof that you can please everyone some of the time! If you’re searching for something new to try this year, I’ve included my recipe below. It’s always a crowd-pleaser.
But those aren’t our only Thanksgiving traditions. After the meal is over, we throw a big party. All of our friends come over to our house to eat pie and drink. It’s truly a blast, and always a very special day for our family. I love kicking off the holiday season with a big party and attending various gatherings throughout December. When I’m invited to someone’s house for a holiday event, I always bring a gift. I try to know as much about my hostess as I can before choosing my gift. If I know she enjoys cooking or baking, my go-to hostess gift is always an apron. If she doesn’t cook, or I don’t know if she does, I’ll often bring a beautiful platter filled with cookies.
Also, I never hesitate to give a foaming hand soap because you can use them immediately and everybody has a guest bathroom. We have a new feature on our website called Choose Your 3 Pack that allows you to select any three of our foaming hand soaps for only $38. We’ve designed the page so that you can see what they will look like together before you make your purchase. It’s a beautiful, foolproof hostess gift.
Deborah’s Stuffing, Two Ways
Fills an 18-pound turkey, plus four vegetarian entrees.
Bread mixture to use in both types of stuffing
1 1-lb. loaf white bread, cut into ¾” cubes and spread on baking sheets to dry overnight
1 1-lb. loaf focaccia bread, cut into ¾” cubes and spread on a baking sheet to dry overnight
2 Tbsp. butter
1 ½ lb. fresh chestnuts
8-10 oz. white or cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 large leaks, washed thoroughly, white and light green parts chopped. Discard the dark green leaves.
1 bunch celery, stalks washed and cut into ¼” dice. Save the leaves and stalk ends for turkey stock.
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh sage, or 1 tsp. dried
1 Tbsp. coarse salt
Stock for turkey stuffing
Celery leaves and stalk ends (see above)
1 onion, peeled and cut into four pieces
1 bay leaf
Giblets (neck, heart, gizzards. Set liver aside for another use.)
Tips of turkey wings
For vegetarian entrees
1 Tbsp. olive oil for baking sheet
2 acorn squash, washed, cut in half from stem to end, seeds scooped out and discarded
1 cup dried cranberries
1 Tbsp. olive oil for bread mixture
8 oz. canned or store bought vegetable broth
The day before.
Bread: Cut bread into cubes and set out to dry overnight.
Chestnuts: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using a small sharp knife, score the round side of each chestnut with an X. Distribute on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or more, until the shells have pulled away and the nutmeats have softened. Pour nuts onto a towel, wrap tightly, and press down hard to help crack shells. Remove nut meats, chop, and set aside.
Turkey stock: Place onion, bay leaf, celery leaves, 6 peppercorns, giblets, wing tips, and 2 tsp. salt into a large pot with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for one hour. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard vegetables. Remove neck and save for another use. Dice giblets and set aside to add to turkey gravy.
For the turkey stuffing
Melt butter in a large stock pot. Add mushrooms, leaks, and celery; sauté until wilted. Add
white bread, focaccia, roasted chestnuts, sage, and 1 Tbsp. salt. Mix well. Transfer five cups of the bread mixture into a large bowl and set aside for the vegetarian entrees. Add the prepared turkey stock, ½ cup at a time, to the bread in the stock pot, mixing after each addition, until the bread is moist but not wet. The bread is now ready for stuffing into the bird or heating separately in a casserole.
For the vegetarian entrée
About an 1 ½ hours before dinner, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; place each half of the acorn squash onto the baking sheet cut side down. Bake for 1 hour, or until a fork easily pierces the skin and flesh of the squash. Remove from the oven. Using a spatula, flip squash halves over. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
While squash is baking, mix cranberries and olive oil into the vegetarian stuffing bread. Add vegetable stock ½ cup at a time until the mixture is moist, but not wet. Taste for seasoning. Fill each squash half with the bread mixture, piling it high, and bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Don’t Forget to Try
Many of the items in our new Fall Harvest collection are based on an image of a turkey that’s been in my database for years. I spent a long time creating my version of that stately turkey, and I’m so pleased with how it looks — it’s beautiful. If you’re hosting a party or serving drinks before/after dinner, purchase some of our Fall Harvest cocktail napkins for a seasonal touch. And for the meal, I recommend our Fall Harvest bistro bowl and/or our Fall Harvest large platter. Our bistro bowl is a great size for side dishes, such as wild rice or roasted vegetables, and the platter can hold anything from dinner rolls to a selection of desserts, plus it’s a wonderful statement piece for your Thanksgiving table.