A chronology of overeating
The two dogs wait patiently for turkey
A perfectly savory spread: olives, marinated mushrooms, salami, prosciutto and gougeres
Bread and assorted cheeses
Thanksgiving at my parents’ house is a daylong eating marathon. Like any long race, it has its highlights (Mom’s sausage stuffing) and lulls, upsets (such as the year underdog canned cranberry sauce vanquished the gorgeous homemade cranberries with orange peel) and victories. The marathon begins at around 11, when the family starts filtering in. The first 20 minutes are a sort of frenzied blur, as my sister, mom and I carefully prep and arrange the appetizers on the prettiest platters we can find, stuffing in bites of everything except the fresh vegetables. When all the snacks have been plated with the proper garnishes an hour or so later, we have lost interest and moved on to the first cocktail of the day, having had our fill of food long before anyone else even got a look at it.
The rest of the day continues much like this–in gluttonous fits and starts. The big meal, which is always scheduled for 3 pm, inevitably gets pushed back as it falls much too close to another snacking frenzy. And although all of us insist we’re far too full for dessert right after the meal, by around 7 pm a craving for a little sweet miraculously appears. I suppose we could try to pace ourselves a bit better, but there’s something really freeing about the reckless way we eat on Thanksgiving.
Naturally when planning my three appetizer contributions, green stuff didn’t factor into the equation. I knew there would be some sort of vegetable platter to counter whatever salty, fatty noshes I came up with. Plus, when else but Thanksgiving is it perfectly acceptable to bring three brown appetizers? I have gone the primarily savory route with all three of my snacks because my family is decidedly a savory one. When given the choice between overeating savory appetizers or depriving ourselves to allow more room for dessert, we almost always choose the former. Maybe that says more about our self-control than our preference, but I still maintain that we prefer savory.
All of these noshes can be prepared ahead of time, which makes them ideal for a family holiday, since you won’t be taking up any of that coveted oven or counter space. These snacks can be plated quite prettily too, so you can work them into any holiday table.
Thanksgiving appetizer project, phase 1: Herbed spiced almonds and cashews
Start time 8 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 22
I almost wish I had prepared these three or four days in advance instead of two. In my opinion, they just get better and better with each passing day.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (about 2 cups) raw unsalted mixed nuts (I did almonds and cashews)
Method: Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium saucepan, heat everything except the nuts for 2 to 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar melt and the herbs become fragrant. Toss the mixture with the nuts to combine.
Spread the nuts out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake for about 12 minutes (tossing after the first 6 or 7 minutes) until the nuts look golden and your house smells like slightly spicy Christmas potpourri.
Allow the nuts to cool completely. They can be prepared up to 4 days ahead of time.
Thanksgiving appetizer project, phase 2: Bacon-wrapped breadsticks
Start time 9 pm, Wednesday, Nov. 23
These are truly a crowd favorite. I learned the recipe when I worked for Now Serving, a catering company in LaGrange, Ill., in college. They couldn’t be easier to make, which is a good thing because they are almost always the first appetizer to go.
16 slices thin-cut bacon
2 cups light brown sugar
16 thin breadsticks, broken in half
Method: Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the middle. Cut the bacon strips in half. Sprinkle about 1 cup of brown sugar over a large plate or platter. Roll each strip of bacon generously in the brown sugar, and wrap it around the breadstick, leaving a small “handle” at the bottom. Place the finished bacon sticks on a rack fitted over a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (trust me, the cleanup will be quite agonizing if you don’t line the pan–think sugar tar.)
Bake the breadsticks for 18 to 20 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and the bacon has cooked. You may want to rotate the rack 180 degrees after the first 10 minutes to ensure even browning. Remove, and after about 5 minutes, rotate them to prevent them from sticking to the rack. Move to a platter once they’re cool enough to handle. Serve at room temperature.
Thanksgiving appetizer project, phase 3: Manchego and black pepper gougeres
Start time 10 pm, Wednesday, Nov. 23
These little one-bite puffs made from pâte à choux dough are typically made using the traditional Gruyère, but this time I wanted to try something a little different. The salty, nutty sheep’s milk Manchego and the subtle heat of lots of freshly ground black pepper makes these the perfect salty bite with a slight twist.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 or 5 large eggs
1 cup Manchego cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Method: Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange racks in the upper and lower third. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
Combine milk, butter, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drop the heat to low, add flour all at once, and stir vigorously until well incorporated. Cook, stirring constantly, until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom of the pan, about 3 to 5 minutes.
One way to know it’s done is if you shake the pan vigorously the dough should come together and form a large ball.
Transfer the dough to a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat in eggs one at a time on medium-low speed, incorporating each one completely before adding the next.
You might not need all your eggs to finish the dough. To test it, turn off the mixer, and streak your forefinger deeply through the dough. The dough should just come together to form a crease after you remove your finger. If the two sides stay separated, it isn’t quite ready. Begin using this little test after adding the fourth egg.
Reserving 3 tablespoons of Manchego, add the remaining Manchego and all of the Parmesan cheese to dough. Mix on low until incorporated.
Drop tablespoon-size rounds of dough on the prepared baking sheets, about 1/2 inch apart. Dab the top of each dough round with your finger after dipping it in water to smooth it out. Evenly sprinkle the reserved Manchego cheese over the top of each round.
Bake, rotating halfway through baking time, until puffed and golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Note: One mistake I’ve repeatedly made with gougeres is slightly underbaking them because I’ve judged based on the color of the outside of the pastry as it bakes rather than tearing one open to make sure the interior is fully cooked. The only way to prevent this mistake, unfortunately, is to sacrifice one or two to be sure the inside is done. The consolation is you can eat what you’ve sacrificed.
Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.