So if I were a real life-style and food blogger this post would have come well before the holidays, just in time to make you feel guilty for either not planning anything fabulous or to make your traditional plans feel even more pedantic than they really are. Alas, I am not a real life-style or culinary guru, so I am writing about my Thanksgiving feats after actually having achieved them, I prefer to keep it real.
That said, let's get into it. So this season I have been overwhelmed with work, as has my boyfriend, so planning anything in advance for Thanksgiving really wasn't on the table. I was invited to several "Friendsgivings" which momentarily sparked my creative side, but ultimately I never actually RSPV’d nor attended any of those events. Long story short, I was pretty much set on not cooking at all for the holiday season.
But then, one Sunday night, after two (cough cough) glasses of wine one night, and a issue of Bon Appetit, I realized that's not me, that is not the aspiring TV personality deep down inside, that person would never let the months of November and December go by without some grand epicurean endeavor.
I checked the calendar and texted a few friends and so it was decided. I would cook a Gaysgiving. That’s a Friendsgiving with all your gays, in case anyone was wondering –picture picky eaters, lots of shade and way too much wine…
I originally thought about hosting the affair in my home. I got lost in the idea of an autumnal tablescape with eclectic dishes, jewel tone glassware, and a lush flower and foliage arrangement… you know, the usual. Sadly, my dreams were not to be this year as my dining room tops out at 6 guests and I had at least 10 on the invite list for this last minute dinner. You see, after a 2013 personal life meltdown, a crisis if you will, I was taken in by a group of gays here in Baltimore who really have no peers. Without these folks I would never have made it through as fabulously as I did, and I would never have met the love of my life but for two of them in particular. I could wax poetic for about the quality of my gays, but I'll spare you for the moment. The point is, these people are everything to me, they are my family, and so I wanted nothing but to cook an amazing dinner of Thanks for them, ALL of them. Fortunately, Mama, the matriarch of the group, has a lot more space and conveniently, lacks entirely in culinary skill. Perfect match, my food, his house, done deal.
Unfortunately, my boyfriend would be out of town, which meant two things; dealing with his FOMO (he has insane fear of missing out) and I had a lot more free time in the kitchen in the week leading up. If I planned it right I could do everything in advance making game-time prep a breeze. I hit up the market on Sunday morning, and ended up with far too much produce...this was a good start. With the dinner scheduled for Wednesday night, an intentional pre-game to the biggest night out of the year, I dedicated Tuesday evening to the majority prep work. The first thing I had to do was plan the meal.
I had already ruled out the idea of doing a turkey simply because of time constraints. Further, stuffing and gravy were out of the question as they contain gluten and I need to be on a beach in a tiny speedo in less than a month, so just, no. With the restrictions piling on I decided I needed to approach Gaysgiving strategically. How was I going make 8 hungry, cultured, opinionated, and slightly tipsy gays happy with meal rooted in such a a specific cultural tradition like Thanksgiving?
I quickly decided I was going to honor Thanksgiving, check the cultural boxes, achieve the flavor heights and meet health conscious requirements of my guests by approaching things a little differently. I would use traditional flavors, in non-traditional dishes, and avoid gluten and grain altogether. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, I would do a buttery spud concoction with the additional of ample cheese and seasonal vegetables. Instead of stuffing (no self-respecting gay has had stuffing in like 5 years) I would do a squash hash with sausage, checking the autumnal box several times. Instead of bland roasted veggies I would make them savory, sweet, or creamy. And the coup de grâce? Instead of turkey and cranberry sauce I would do pork chops with a cranberry-black pepper glaze. In the end, I designed a meal that would taste like Thanksgiving, but look nothing like it.
My Tuesday prep was successful; I left work eagerly on Wednesday with plenty of time to prepare for transport and was in the host's house by 6:30. The guests arrived and we enjoyed a spirited, well lubricated, and satisfying meal celebrating our gratitude for having each other.
Obviously the night continued with a living room Adele sing-along (Hello), an uber ride to Steam Punk Ally, and a few hours dancing in Grand Central…but where else would you expect Gaysgiving to end up.
Lesson Learned? Don't drink wine on an empty stomach while cooking, and don't be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to holiday cooking.
Disclaime:, I was preoccupied with my prep and my company so I did not take the same care with pictures this time.
Cayenne Roasted Rainbow Carrots:
This dish is the embodiment of flavorful juxtaposition pairing the sweet and earthy carrots with the spicy and floral glaze, a study in contrast if you will...
2lbs carrots - tops trimmed, cut in half, and then halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 table spoons honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place carrots in oven safe roasting pan. Combine cayenne, honey and evoo in a microwave safe mug. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir to ensure evenly combined. Brush carrots with liquid solution and roast for 40 minutes, tossing and brushing every 10 minutes until tender and crisping at the ends.
Sage Sausage & Butternut Hash
It was a risk to remove stuffing from the table this year, but I got lucky with this dish and it received the most rave reviews. Both sweet and savory in the same bite, it has all the feel-good fall flavors with the added richness of the pork sausage. I’ll be doing versions of this throughout the season.
3 small or 2 medium/large squash - peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
3 onions - diced
1 tablespoon ground sage
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 lb ground pork sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
In a large sauté pan over medium to high heat, warm olive oil and cook onions until caramelized. Once translucent, add the sausage, breaking it up with a spatula, and cook until browned. Once cooked, remove from pan, leaving the sausage oil in the pan. Turn up heat, add the squash, dust with the garlic and ground sage, and sear the squash in the oil until soft and crisp on the edges. Remove from heat. Combine browned sausage and fried squash in large mixing bowl.
Mashed Redskin Potatoes with Cheddar & Charred Leeks
I was doing away with so many of the Thanksgiving staples, and I was eliminating grain entirely, so I needed to keep at least one white starch in play. That being said, I am a sucker for butter, and what better vehicle than mashed potatoes? Added the red skin variety, shard cheddar cheese, and charred leeks lent great depth of flavor to this indulgent classic.
6 red skin potatoes
12 russet potatoes (or other waxy types)
2 whole leeks - cleaned and sliced into rounds, separated
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese - cut into small chucks
2 sticks of butter - room temp
1 1/2 cups heavy cream - room temp
Sea salt to taste
Peel the russet potatoes. Cut red potatoes and russet potatoes into even size pieces. Place in cold, salted water in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender. While the potatoes come to a boil, heat some evoo in a sauté pan. Once hot, throw in sliced leeks and cook until they begin to burn. Once the potatoes are tender, strain and return to boiling bot. Add cream, butter, and cheese, and mash with a fork or potato masher. Once smooth (or as rough as you like it) add the charred leeks. Serve immediately.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon-Herb Aioli
I recently made a delightful discovery that livened up one of my already favorite vegetables. We recently had dinner in NY at a Spanish place that served Brussels Sprouts tossed with sundried tomatoes and a paprika aioli. It was brilliant, the use of mayo as a vehicle for moisture and flavor was incredible. This technique avoid olive oil which can burn in a hot oven, can make the leaves soggy (you roast bare in this case), and ultimately, is less “sticky” and doesn’t help the flavor remain on the vegetables all that well. Mayo holds herbs and seasonings well, is savory as a base requiring no additional salt, and can be adapted to fit any cuisine – just toss in whatever you like once you’ve roasted and done!
2lbs Brussels Sprouts - trimmed, halved, and washed
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoon dry herb mix - basil, oregano, tarragon, fennel seed, thyme
Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place sprouts on non-stick tray (with parchment or foil depending on your tray). Roast for 2 minutes until "al dente" or cooked to your taste. Meanwhile, combine mayo, lemon juice and herbs in the bottom of a large bowl. Once sprouts are finished, add to the mayo mixture, and toss until evening coated. Serve immediately.
Cranberry Glazed Pork Chops
This dish was born out of necessity. Due to my work schedule I simply did not have time to cook a turkey, not to mention I don’t really even like it. For this meal I decided to substitute Pork for Turkey, and skipped the traditional cranberry sauce all together, opting to use it in the preparation of the protein instead. Not only did this meet my time constraints, but it also kept things lively on the table, and no one had to pretend to enjoy the bitter, and brightly colored jelly of years past. Brining the pork in garlic and herbs lent a familiar note to the meat, and ensured it would be fork tender when cooked. I reduced dried, sweetened cranberries in red wine and balsamic vinegar, then pureed them with a healthy dose of black pepper, thus achieving a risk and unique, savor and sweet flavor with which to glaze the pork.
4 bone-in porterhouse pork chops
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
2 cups (approx.) water
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
½ cup red wine
2 table spoons balsamic vinegar
In a large freezer bag, combine rosemary, juniper berries, salt, and garlic pepper. Add the pork chops and fill with water (roughly two cups until the chops are immersed but the bag is not overflowing. Shake gently to mix herb and salt solution creating a brine. Place in a large plastic bowl and keep in refrigerator overnight.
Once ready to prepare, remove chops from brine, pat dry, place on a place and allow to come to room temperature while you pre-heat and prepare the glaze. Preheat oven to 400F.
While oven heats, and chops come to temperature, place wine, balsamic and cranberries in a small sauce pan. Cook over medium/high heat (careful not to scorch so STIR!!!) for 15 minutes until reduced by half. Put in a blender, or use an immersion blender and puree while you add the black pepper. Return to warm pan while you wait to glaze.
When oven is hot, sear the chops in a hot sauté pan with EVOO over medium heat until just browned on each side. Place in oven safe casserole and brush the top side with cranberry glaze. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Using tongs, turn over and glaze the other side, return to oven and cook for 15 additional minutes until the internal temperature is at least 145F, or more to your taste.