Christmas in July is a thing. Especially, it seems, in some parts of Australia. And it makes sense to me: July is the Winter in the southern hemisphere and winter has always been so strongly tied to Christmas.
So we Americans thought, if its Christmas in July, then it should probably be Thanksgiving in June too! Once Pretty Boy and I committed to Thanksgiving in June being a thing, we committed and decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner. We wanted to do a very traditional Northern Thanksgiving for 8, so this is the menu we came up with:
- Turkey (Alton Brown)
- Wild rice and mushroom stuffing (family recipe)
- Cranberry conserve (Ina Garten)
- Green bean casserole (Alton Brown)
- Mashed potatoes and gravy (Alton Brown and Alton Brown, respectively)
- Bakery rolls (purchased, grocery store bakery)
- Sparkling apple juice
- A&W root beer
- Pumpkin pie (combination of this Smitten Kitchen recipe with this Smitten Kitchen technique) with whipped cream
- Bourbon pecan pie (Paul Wayland-Smith, The Delta Queen Steamboat Company)
We started preparing Wednesday for dinner Saturday night. I had the whole thing scheduled – empty fridge then most of the shopping Wednesday plus some early kitchen prep work like washing and chopping vegetables and roasting pumpkin, the rest of the prep work Thursday and Friday night so getting the turkey in the brine and making pie crust, oven and stove schedule for Saturday to make sure everything got in (oven: 8am pies, 10 am turkey, 2 pm casserole and stuffing, and rolls just before dinnertime; stove: 7:30 am bourbon pecan pie filling, 10 am cranberry conserve, 1 pm mashed potatoes, 2 pm gravy), and last minute shopping Saturday before dinner. Pretty Boy ran out to get more cream, the bakery rolls, and cutlery. He decided last minute that our plastic stuff wasn’t going to cut it. Since we only have cutlery for 4, that meant buying another set of 4.
Shopping started with the turkey because turkey is usually only widely available around Christmas time, and a frozen turkey would take some time to defrost, and Thanksgiving dinner hinges on the turkey. Luckily, I found a turkey on my first stop at our local butcher’s. It was the one and only turkey they had lurking in their freezer chest. I was hoping for a 4-6 kg turkey… but instead, the one and only turkey in the butcher’s freezer was 8 kg. That’s about 15 lbs. It was HUGE! We cooked a 15 lbs turkey! It was almost as long as our oven is wide. I followed AB’s recipe pretty closely. Modifications include omitting stock, allspice, and ginger from the brine, doubling the apple and onion inside the turkey, and roasting in a fan forced oven at 180C for 3.5 hrs.
The turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the green bean casserole recipes were all new to me, but I have great trust in AB. I followed the mashed potato and green bean casserole recipes almost exactly, though half my tray of onions for the casserole burnt and the other half never browned. I blame the fan-forced oven. I used homemade beef stock in the gravy instead of chicken broth and choose rosemary for herbs. I’d made the wild rice and mushroom stuffing, cranberry conserve (though I didn’t know it was Ina Garten’s recipe until this time around), pumpkin pie, and pecan pie before. Having good recipes from sources I trust is always key to successful dinner parties. I didn’t alter the proportions of any of the recipes much, and I think they were all meant to serve around 10-12, so we knew we’d have leftovers. And I have a bad habit of putting more veggies into everything. Recipe says half an onion, but I like onion, why not the whole thing, half the ingredients later and I’ve effectively double the yield of the recipe.
Of course, the food was set up buffet style. I have pretty strong feelings about appropriately picking buffet versus table set depending on the number of people. 4 or less is a pretty perfect dinner group size if I’m going out OR eating in and then if I’m hosting, I can manage table set food. If there are 6 people, that’s about the maximum size I would be comfortable with going out or serving table set food at home. For dinner parties of more than 6, I’ll always serve buffet style.
It was a great dinner. We invited Pretty Boy’s three moto friends and their girlfriends/partners, because we’d been wanting to have them over and because they are the most Aussie people we know! It was really fun watching and listening to them eat food and dishes they’d never had before and marvel at me whipping the cream by hand right in front of them. One guy was pretty sure he’d never had turkey before that night, and the green bean casserole and pecan pie were big hits among the Aussies. Pretty Boy couldn’t get over the gravy and all of it!
Pretty Boy’s friends definitely aren’t cookers, so I think a lot of what we did was lost on them, but they definitely appreciated the end result anyway. It was a lot of work, but Pretty Boy and I had a good time with it all. With careful kitchen management and planning, everything went smoothly and was done on time! I think our biggest advantage was being able to host Thanksgiving dinner on a Saturday instead of Thursday, without any worries about traveling family members, store closures, crowds, weather, traffic, or any of the rest of the stuff that comes along with Thanksgiving in the USA. I don’t know if I’m ready to volunteer to host any big family Thanksgiving dinners back home anytime soon, but if I ever had to, after this experience, I’m pretty sure I could.