For close to a decade, my dear friends Toph and Josslynne Welch open their home every November and host a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. The premise is simple: the hosts cook the turkey (plus some appetizers, a few sides, a couple desserts…) and the guests bring everything else. Josslynne says, “New York is a transient city, we created this party almost 10 years ago when we realized all of our friends scattered for the holidays; it is a wonderful opportunity to gather around a table to share the food and the people we love before the holiday crunch.”
This annual event, affectionately known as The Turkey Party, occupies a most-revered spot on my social calendar. It is a chance for friends to come together, celebrate the advent of the holidays and, best of all, feed each other delicious food.
In the early years, we stuck pretty closely to standard Thanksgiving fare and family recipes, impressing each other (and ourselves) with our burgeoning dinner party skills. Now that we’re older, wiser and much more comfortable in the kitchen, the Turkey Party has become a great excuse to try a new recipe or reinvent a family classic. Our hosts generously encourage us to try new things, “We want the flavors of each dish to be reminiscent of something mom made, but nothing you’ll find at her table three weeks later when the real deal rolls around.”
This year’s menu was particularly delicious. There was turkey two ways (a classic roast and a stuffed roulade), two kinds of stuffing, cranberry compote and relish, potatoes (mashed and sweet) and a dizzying array of vegetables. For dessert, we had our choice of a pumpkin cheesecake with caramel sauce and maple- whipped cream, upside down apple cake, buttermilk pie or chocolate silk cake. As Darth Vader would say, “Impressive. Most impressive.”
I asked some of my friends to share the back story of their dishes with me. I hope you find their answers as interesting and inspiring as I did.
Jono Jarrett made a brightly hued Cranberry-Orange Relish, from a recipe he found in the November 2009 issue of Gourmet Magazine. Zesty and tart, this simple blend of finely-chopped cranberries, whole oranges and apples was the perfect counterbalance to the rest of the meal. Jono said, “I wanted a refreshing side dish to a traditionally rich meal, also something fresh and uncooked that I could make ahead of time. My Thanksgiving “tradition” is to seek out new recipes. In this case, it was a new cranberry sauce.”
Madhu Puri prepared her mother Joyce’s Cream Cheese & Chive Mashed Potatoes. Madhu loves them because they are creamy but hearty, so they stand up to the gravy. A little history on the recipe from Joyce herself: “I saw recipes using broth for mashed potatoes to cut down on the calories, but I didn’t care for broth. I came up with the idea to use cream cheese, which has fewer calories than butter. I also add warm milk if the potatoes are too thick, to make a nice smooth mashed potatoes. This is my secret, now everyone will know it.” Thanks Joyce!
Kara Pugh brings her Grandma’s Sweet Potatoes every year she’s able to attend. This is a dish loaded with nostalgia. It tastes like school plays and sledding and Barbies – but in a fabulous, buttery sort of way. This is Kara’s go-to dish for her “friend family” gatherings because “not only is it addictive with the butter-salt-sweet thing, the taste reminds me of past holidays with family.”
Ben Savlov, Madhu’s husband, makes a chestnut stuffing based on a recipe he found in a Gourmet Magazine from the early 90s. It is ridiculously good and we not-so-subtly insist on having it every year (when did we turn into the annoying uncle?). Chunks of hearty 7-grain bread mingle with meaty chestnuts, dried currants and fresh parsley, sage and thyme. This dish is earthy, rugged and little bit fancy, just like Ben.
Sure, the Turkey Party might not be a national holiday like Thanksgiving (not yet anyway, we’re working on it), but it’s a tradition for us nonetheless – and just as meaningful.
Joyce’s Cream Cheese & Chive Mashed Potatoes
8 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3 inch cubes
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup whole milk, warmed
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil potatoes in salted water until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander and transfer to heatproof bowl.
- Add butter and cream cheese to potatoes. Using a handheld electric mixer, beat potatoes on medium speed until all ingredients are incorporated and only small lumps remain.
- Pour in milk and continue to beat on high speed until potatoes achieve a smooth and creamy texture. If potatoes are too thick, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.
- Fold in chives, salt, pepper and serve.
Grandma’s Sweet Potatoes
6-8 sweet potatoes or yams
1 – 1 1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 300°. Poke holes all over sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes or yams for 30 min or until soft.
- Let potatoes cool so you can handle them. Peel off skin. (You can work up through this step the night before and refrigerate the sweet potatoes if you need to.)
- Slice potatoes in to 1/2 – 3/4” thick medallions.
- Working in several batches or with several skillets (cast Iron is best). Melt 1/4 stick of butter in pan(s) over medium heat. Line bottom of pan(s) with single layer of medallions. Fry in butter on both sides until desired darkness (some people prefer the crunchy darker parts). Season with salt and pepper.
- Add 1 Tbsp of maple syrup and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar. You can increase amounts if you like things sweeter. Stir pan around until all the sugar is dissolved and everything starts to caramelize.
- Transfer to serving or baking dish to cool and repeat until all potatoes have been pan-fried. Salt and pepper more to taste and serve. You can reheat if needed, but these are best served right away.
Click here for more great Thanksgiving one-click recipes!