It’s not that I lack the motivation to photograph and post a Thanksgiving menu two weeks before the holiday occurs, but my best menus evolve in their own time, and this year that time was not well in advance of Thanksgiving. Maybe you read about my early Thanksgiving plans or saw sneak previews on Instagram and were like, “Where is this menu???” It was being planned and prepared! Kudos to all of you who were in charge of menu planning, bringing a contribution, or every detail from the place cards to roasting the turkey to assigning desserts. As far as I’m concerned, we were all in the same boat. Despite all the satire, stress, and materialism that accompany the holiday, I hope you found the bright side of the day no matter what happened in or out of the kitchen.
Regarding my menu, though, I have some good news for you. 1) I’m ready to reveal it in its entirety to the world and 2) it’s totally and completely suitable for Christmas or a winter dinner party. My goal was to consolidate Thanksgiving favorites into a few dishes and to go a little non-traditional. Except for my sister and her husband, who would be spending Thanksgiving in Paris sans mashed potatoes and stuffing, everyone in attendance would be celebrating an actual Thanksgiving with all the traditional fare. For once, I think I nailed the amount and variety of food, not overstuffing everyone or spending tons of money on food that would go to waste.
Winter Dinner Party (serves 6 to 8)
Roasted butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and parmesan
Duck confit with mustard vinaigrette
Traditional stuffing from scratch (recipe below)
Sweet potato and greens gratin
Cranberry sauce with figs and red wine
Light red wine (a Bordeaux or Pinot Noir) or dry cider beer
Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake
While this isn’t a “super easy” menu that everyone seems to promise these days, there are many make ahead components. The soup, gravy, cheesecake, and even the bechamel for the gratin can be made far in advance and frozen. Both appetizers plus the cranberry sauce are quick and easy. There are no fancy, intimidating (for both you and guests) cocktails–just simple, straight up favorites, poured right from the bottle. The one bit of planning advice I learned is to purchase the duck legs in advance online, or call your butcher well ahead of the date you need them. I lucked out with mine, if you call driving and hour and a half in rush hour for eight duck legs luck.
And speaking of duck, the confit, my first, doesn’t actually require much explanation aside from the recipe. I used the wintry dry brine from the recipe but omitted all sauces except the simple glaze used in the final roasting, instead opting for a straightforward mustard vinaigrette (the leftover vinaigrette is excellent on plain, warm beans of any kind for a light lunch). The recipe specified that the duck legs should be “submerged” before turning skin side up. I’m not sure if it was due to the large size of my roasting pan, the weight or specific fat content of the duck I purchased, or another factor, but the fat rendered did not fully cover the duck legs. I added about an hour and a half to the initial, skin-side-down cook time in case the duck wasn’t cooked through. I also didn’t want to risk chewy skin. The good news is that the extended cook time didn’t remotely dry out the duck, even though I’m not sure it was necessary, once I realized all fat had been rendered.
Aside from the duck confit, the stuffing was the star of the show. I never thought this would be a good thing, but it tasted exactly like Stove Top, with bigger, rustic chunks of bread, fresh herbs, and no weird ingredients or preservatives. It was worth every minute of effort and all three sticks of butter (double batch), which is why I decided to share the recipe over all the others on the menu. Will I be eating stuffing at every holiday I host no matter what time of year from here on out? You better believe it.
- 1 large, round loaf of crusty bread, such as Pain de Campagne or sourdough (about 1 lb.)
- ¾ C unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
- 2½ C medium chopped yellow onions
- 1½ C celery slices, ¼" thick
- ½ C chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 T finely chopped fresh sage
- 1 T finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 t Kosher salt
- 1 t ground black pepper
- 2½ C vegetable broth or stock (preferably homemade)
- 2 large eggs
- A day before preparing stuffing, set bread out at room temperature, unwrapped, overnight. The next morning (or up to 24 hours later) tear bread into approximately 1 inch chunks and spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 250 degrees (F) for an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on sheet, then transfer to large bowl or container (see notes).
- Melt butter in a skillet over medium high, then add onions and celery. Cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, until beginning to brown. Allow to cool slightly in the pan off heat for about 5 minutes, then pour evenly over dried bread, and add herbs, salt and pepper to the mixture. Toss gently with clean hands (or a large spoon) until uniformly incorporated. Pour 1¼ C broth evenly over mixture, then toss again.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Whisk remaining 1¼ cups broth and eggs in medium bowl. Generously grease a 9 x 13 pan with about a tablespoon of extra butter, while you wait for bread mixture to cool slightly. Once cooled, drizzle broth and egg mixture over bread and gently toss with hands or fold with rubber spatula until evenly mixed. Pour bread mixture into greased pan, cover with foil, and bake until at least 160 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes (see notes).
- To serve stuffing the same day, remove foil and cook an additional 40 minutes. Otherwise, cool uncovered at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. On day of serving, bake uncovered at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes (immediately from refrigerator), until slightly crispy on top (or to your preference).
Make sure the vessel you place the dried bread chunks in is large enough to handle tossing with all the other ingredients. I used a large roasting pan. A stock pot would also work.
The original recipe advises parbaking stuffing to 160 degrees for 40 minutes. My oven usually runs low, but after 40 minutes the stuffing far exceeded 160 degrees (or my thermometer is broken). Therefore, I suspect 35 minutes is plenty of baking time to cook the eggs, but double check using an instant read thermometer if you have doubts.
Use any leftover rosemary for sweet and spicy roasted cashews!
Recipe lightly adapted from Bon Appetit, Nov. 2012.