Thanksgiving Recipe Testing: Pear & Beet Salad, Freezable Biscuits, and Pumpkin Mousse Parfait

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This year, I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner for sixteen people. Let me say that again. This year, I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner for sixteen people. Pardon my French, but holy s**t what the f**k am I thinking?

Sorry for cursing (do you say cursing or cussing? I say cursing) but this is a bit scary. Last year was the first time I ever cooked a Thanksgiving dinner (remember?) and this year the guests have TRIPLED. It’s as if I wrote a book on food or something and all of a sudden people expect me to know what I’m doing. Hello! Did you read the title? Amateur Gourmet… not Competent Gourmet. Not “Cooks For 16 People” Gourmet.

Ok, ok, so it’s not all that bad. I leave for Florida on Saturday (this dinner will take place in Boca Raton, where my parents live) and I have five whole days to get things ready before the big night on Thursday. I’m already coordinating a game plan, a carefully scheduled program that I plan to follow to the letter in order to get things done ahead of time. When I finish it, I’ll post it as a PDF to the site: it’ll have a full menu and all the recipes typed out. My strategy is to do as much ahead as possible so that the only thing I’ll have to do on Thursday is cook the turkey, heat up the soup and side dishes and prepare a salad.

In anticipation of all this, I’ve started testing recipes here in Brooklyn to see how they’ll fare next week. Tonight I share with you my conclusions and seek your feedback on my plan thus far.

Subject #1: Beet Salad with Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese

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Logic: A beet salad is autumnal; it’s easy to prepare the components ahead, especially if I use canned beets as I did tonight.

Canned beets? Are you kidding?: No–I’ve often found that canned beets are a fine substitute, though not nearly as good as the real deal. But when you’re cooking for 16 people you make concessions.

What went in the salad?: Beets from a can sliced in half, some slivers of red onion, a Bartlett pear sliced thinly all tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Then, once on the plate, I added chopped toasted walnuts and pieces of good blue cheese.

How did it taste? Craig and I both really enjoyed this salad though we both agreed it’d be better with real beets. The question then arises: can I roast beets a day ahead and store them for the next day? How does one store beets once they’ve been roasted? And how many beets per person?

Prognosis: This will likely be the salad I serve with Thanksgiving dinner.

Subject #2: Freezable Biscuits from Food & Wine

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Logic: Last year it was popovers, this year it’s biscuits. People love something hot, bready and buttery at the top of the meal and this should put a smile on everyone’s face. The recipe comes with three variations: Sweet Lemon Poppy, Herb-Gruyere, Savory Cranberry-Walnut. The best part is, the recipe (which is on pg. 202 of this month’s Food & Wine) says: “The unbaked biscuits can be frozen: Freeze biscuits in a single layer and transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag for up to one month. Bake straight from the freezer, adding a few minutes to the cooking time.” So my plan is to make all three versions, freeze them and bake them just before people sit down to dinner.

Tonight’s experiment: Tonight I made one batch of plain biscuits and froze half. I baked the half I didn’t freeze and I’ll bake the frozen ones tomorrow straight from the freezer to see how that goes.

How did they taste tonight? Super buttery and super good. I think it’ll be nice to have the various flavors since Craig and I were both reaching for jam and honey to give the biscuits a sweet boost.

Verdict: These are a sure thing unless the ones I bake from the freezer tomorrow are deeply flawed. Note to self: you’ll need lots of cookie sheets for Thanksgiving to get all these biscuits baked at the same time.

Subject #3: The Barefoot Contessa’s Pumpkin Mousse Parfait

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Logic: The first idea was to make a huge assortment of pies and cakes (and I still plan to make some), but I think it’d be nice to serve everyone an individual dessert at the table after the turkey. This, at least to my mind, is a perfect solution: an ice cream sundae like parfait with pumpkin mousse, whipped cream and crushed up ginger cookies. To quote The Barefoot Contessa, “How bad could that be?”

My experiment: I made one batch on Tuesday and tasted one cupful on Tuesday night and then, to see how it survived a night in the fridge, I had one on Wednesday. It was so good that–

Hey, that’s the verdict. I didn’t ask for the verdict yet. Oh, sorry.

Verdict? It’s so good, I’ve already eaten three. I served this to guests for the premiere of “Project Runway” and everyone loved it. And it survives beautifully in the fridge so you can make it a day ahead. Your guests will love it.

I bet you want the recipes! Don’t worry, they’re coming tomorrow with my PDF. Stay tuned for that. Any tips, advice, and/or warnings thus far would be most welcome in the comments…. now I’m going to go put a bag over my head and practice my lamaze.

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