Poor Thanksgiving, that quintessential American Holiday, is so often left by the wayside as we rush from the sugar high of Halloween head long into the madness of Black Friday. In our rush to plan ahead, we sometimes forget to savor the joys of Giving Thanks. I’m all in favor of thinking ahead and making plans – the holidays are hectic enough, it’s best to have a plan – especially with all those office parties and pot lucks coming our way as we count down the shopping days in our hunt for the perfect gift. But if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to slow it down a little. With the holiday just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about what to serve beyond the usual suspects. After all, Thanksgiving is a day of grazing.
To celebrate Thanksgiving a few years back, we had a big family gathering – just like in the “old” days. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, every extended branch was there in some capacity. It was a warm and wonderful get together. A day spent eating and chatting and eating some more. Growing up, Thanksgiving was one of my all-time favorite holidays. The house smelled wonderful – the spice of fresh-baked pumpkin pies and the aromas of a large stuffed turkey roasting in the oven. Oh, those were the days, before “deep-fried” turkeys and turkeys roasted inside a bag while the stuffing is baked in casserole dishes. Dad would start his stuffing the day before by making his own seasoned bread cubes. He was usually up long before the sun, chopping and cooking up his wonderful giblet stuffing. The huge bird was then “stuffed”, its skin rubbed with lots of butter that had been seasoned with all sorts of things – poultry seasonings, smoked paprika (for that deep golden color) and a blend of herbs that were a well guarded secret. It took hours upon hours for the turkey to roast to a beautiful, deep, rich caramel color with crisp skin and moist meat. The air outside was brisk, while the kitchen (and for that matter the entire house) was warmed by the oven. I so enjoyed watching Dad lovingly tend to his bird. He seemed to know instinctively when to baste and when to build that perfect “tent” of aluminum foil to protect the bird toward the end of a long roast. Oh the wonderful smells of Thanksgiving – nothing else compares! Back then, Mom and Dad did it all. By the time we sat down to a long line of tables, Dad was exhausted but beaming with pride. And what a spread – mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, stuffing, turkey, candied sweet potatoes, warm breads with lots of butte. Cranberry jelly always adorned the table, although few really seemed to eat it much. (When I first ventured out on my own, I had Cranberry Jelly on the table despite the fact that NO ONE in my home ate it. The jelly was simply a part of the Thanksgiving Table, and so it was there, untouched). Let’s not forget the big bowls of black olives – perfect for sticking on the ends of our fingers!
These days, when we get together everyone brings a dish or two to share. It simply makes things easier on everyone. I went just a little nuts with appetizer table – everything had a turkey theme – from the veggie platter to the cheese spread and spinach dip. It was fun. And that’s what the holidays are all about – lots of good eats, lots of family love, lots of fun – those are the ingredients for warm memories!
Let’s start with the veggie platter. There really isn’t a “recipe” for the veggie platter. It’s less about amounts and more about arrangements. The best way to make a Turkey Veggie Platter is to get a large assortment of vegetables – the more colorful the better. Don’t worry if your platter doesn’t look like the ones in the magazines and such. Make it your own – and above all else have fun. Kiddo was in charge of last year’s platter. He looked at the picture, read the instructions and then did his own thing. Although it didn’t look anything like the photo example, it was adorable. (The photo on the left is the example, the photo on the right is Kiddo’s master piece).
Line a serving platter with lettuce leaves. Place celery sticks around leaves in a circular patter, leaving about 1/4 of the platter open for the “turkey”. Lay carrot and asparagus tips over the celery, leaving part of the celery exposed.
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red bell pepper
Yellow bell pepper
Green bell pepper
Slice the bell peppers crosswise and then cut each circle in half. Cut one 1/2″ piece off of one of the red pepper slices and set aside (this will be used for the face). Set aside the bottom part of the peppers for the turkey’s body.
For the feathers: Cover a platter with the leaves of lettuce. To make the turkey’s feathers, start with forming a circle with the cucumber slices towards the bottom of the platter. Above the cucumbers, form a semi-circle with the red peppers, then the yellow peppers, then the green peppers. Place the baby carrots vertically above the last row of peppers.
To make the turkey’s body and face: Break two toothpicks in half. Put two of the toothpicks where the eyes will go in the yellow squash. Push the black olives onto the toothpick making sure that the toothpick doesn’t go all the way through. Cut a triangle out of the leftover bottom from the red pepper. Attach with a toothpick below the eyes. Attach the reserved red pepper piece to the left of the yellow pepper “beak”.
For the Legs: Cut the piece of celery in half lengthwise. On each piece, carefully slice lengthwise from the end of the celery piece to almost the center. Do this twice on each piece. Place the celery in ice water and place in the refrigerator until the ends curl. When curled, nestle the un-curled end under the cucumbers.
Serve with vegetable dipping sauce on the side.
Smoked Turkey Cheese Ball
2 packages (8 ounces each)
6 ounces deli smoked turkey, finely chopped
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (white, yellow or a blend of both)
2 Tablespoons chives, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons port wine
In a small bowl, beat the ingredients for the smoked turkey ball until well combined. Shape into a ball; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm.
Place ball on a platter or serving dish. Decorate as a turkey. Cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
1 Baby Orange Bell Peppers (feathers)
2 Baby Yellow Bell Peppers (feathers)
1 Baby Orange Bell Pepper (turkey head/neck)
2 Slices Cucumber (hat)
1 Marinated Roasted Red Pepper from a jar (turkey wattle)
1 Baby Carrot (beak)
2 Whole Cloves (eyes)
2 Walnut halves (wings)
For turkey tail feathers, cut bell peppers into strips, trim into shape of feathers. Wrap “feathers” in plastic and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Using the best shaped orange bell pepper, form the turkey head and neck. (If possible, find a pepper with a nice shape and leave it whole). For beak, cut a small triangle from carrot. Insert a toothpick into one end of the carrot, and attach to turkey face. Insert whole dried clovers on either side, just above beak. Cut the wattle from a strip of roasted red pepper, pat dry. Drape wattle over the beak. If necessary, secure with a small piece of a toothpick and hold with cream cheese.
Slice a round from a cucumber for the brim of the hat. Slice a slightly thicker round for the top of the hat. Trim as necessary to create a Pilgrim hat. Secure to the top of the turkey’s head with tooth picks, trimming as needed. Set the face aside.
To Assemble: Remove the smoked turkey ball from the refrigerator, unwrap and place on a small serving platter (just large enough to hold the cheese ball). If necessary, smooth ball into desired shape for the turkey’s body. Insert tail feathers as desired. Place the head onto the body, press to secure. If the wattle won’t stay in place – don’t go nuts – just go without.
Press walnut halves into each side of turkey for “Wings”.
If not serving immediately, wrap gently with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready.
For serving, place in the center of a larger platter round, surround with crackers and a cheese spreader.
Note: The decorations for my turkey have evolved over the years, from crackers and pecans for feathers to colorful bell peppers. My first “turkey” did not wear a hat. Mine are just suggestions. Create your turkey ball any way the mood takes you.
Spinach Dip in a Sourdough Turkey Bowl
Ingredients – Spinach Dip
1 Package Dry Vegetable Soup Mix
1 Package Thawed, Well Drained Chopped Spinach
1 Can Water Chestnuts, Chopped
16 oz Sour Cream
1 Cup Mayonnaise
Ingredients – Turkey Bowl
1 Large Sour Dough Round Loaf, hollowed
Cocktail Bread for serving
For Dip: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving, but best if chilled overnight.
To Serve: Cut the top “round” from a large round loaf of sourdough bread. Set top aside. Scoop out the soft sourdough bread to create a bread serving bowl. Fill “bowl” with spinach dip. From the top section, cut out the shape of a turkey’s head, beak, wattle and feet. Use two small pieces of the soft bread to roll into eyes. Secure eyes, beak and wattle into place using toothpicks. To form the feet, cut little “V’ shapes to make the claws. Tuck feet under the main bread-bowl body. Fill cavity with spinach dip. Place head over dip filling. Arrange soft bread from hollowed out “body” and cocktail bread or baguettes to form feathers around the body.
Be creative – have fun – make it your own.
These little “Gobble” up appetizers were as much fun to make as they were to eat. I hope they find their way to your Holiday Buffet Table and that you enjoy them as much as we do.