Before the Big Meal... (Updated with recipe)

If you're like me, you wake up on Thanksgiving morning and skip breakfast, anticipating that you'll need to 'save room' for the Big Meal. OR, maybe you are busy cooking, preparing the feast of all feasts, and forget to eat yourself! Here's a solve for both scenarios: Appetizers!

During the first formal Thanksgiving Dinner that Nubia and I hosted, as we were mapping out the menu, she turned to me and said, "Oh! We can't forget about the appetizers?". Which, during any 'regular' dinner party would make sense but I felt that we should 'get straight to the main course'. Welp, you guessed it, she won and as starters we gave our guests Spicy Chipotle Crab Dip; Cornbread Bites; and Collard Green Spring Rolls. For context, the theme for our menu that year was Thanksgiving With A Kick!

Serving an appetizer gave us an opportunity to introduce traditional flavors in unconventional ways; helped us start the main course 'on time' as we were able to satiate early arrivers and most important, helped us 'slow down and savor' the time with our guests.

So, what appetizers am I planning to serve before the Big Meal this year? Check them out below:

Gougeres with Mornay and Bacon (Cheese Puffs)

These perfect little bites use a classic recipe for choux pastry which can be used for anything from cheese puffs, to cream puffs to eclairs and even churros!

I'm adding Gruyere to the dough and filling the hollow puffs with cheese sauce, before topping them with bacon.

Ingredients

Pâte à choux

1/3 cup water

4 tablespoons milk

5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 cup all purpose flour

3 eggs

1/2 cup gruyere

1 qt cheese sauce for filling

Instructions

1. Combine milk, water, butter and salt in a pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

2. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat, add in all the flour at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a smooth consistency.

3. Return pan to heat to cook out the flour, stir consistently until the the paste comes together in a ball and a skin forms on the bottom of the pan.

4. Allow the mixture to cool, then add in eggs gradually and mix in parts until all the eggs have been incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

5. Stir in gruyere.

6. To form the puffs, transfer to a piping bag or use a spoon to form 2" tall domes onto a parchment lined sheet tray.

7. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes

8. Once puffs have cooled, cut a tiny hole in the bottom using a pairing knife and fill with cheese sauce.

Spiced Candied Nuts

Since the meal is so filling, I thought a lighter appetizer would be nice for some. I'll mix together nuts (including walnut halves, pecan halves, whole cashews, whole almonds, and pepitas) with garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, salt, and pepper, then toss them in a simple syrup made with butter, water, and brown sugar. Once mixed, I roast them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to make sure they're roasting evenly and not burnt. This can be done a few days in advance to save room in the oven for the more important dishes (Mac and Cheese!).

Twice Baked Potatoes

I've posted this one before but these are too good and too easy to pass up. Take small Idaho potatoes and bake until tender. Then, once they've cooled, cut about 1/3rd away from the top of each, then use a spoon to scoop out the cooked flesh. Mash the scooped potatoes with heavy cream, butter, salt, pepper, and fixins, then add back to the potato skins and bake until golden brown. And if they're any left over once the turkey is served, this one can serve doubles duty as a side dish!

Twice Baked Potatoes

(Yield: 8 Servings)

INGREDIENTS

8 Idaho Potatoes

2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated

6 fl oz heavy cream, hot

4 egg yolk

salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces butter, softened

fresh chives or scallions, minced

Bacon, cubed and sauteed until crisp

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Wash potatoes and pierce with a fork

2. Bake in 425 degree oven for 50 minutes or until very tender

3. Remove from oven and allow to cool

4. Remove the top 1/3rd of the potatoes by slicing them lengthwise. Scoop out the potato pulp, but be sure to leave some pulp inside the potato shell to serve as a support for the filling

5. Use a potato ricer or masher to mash potatoes while still very hot. Mix with butter, salt and pepper.

6. Incorporate the egg yolk and hot heavy cream, mixing until smooth

7. Spoon the potato mixture into the scooped out shell

8. Sprinkle the potatoes with cheese. Return to the oven and bake until they are heated through and lightly browned on top.

9. Finish by sprinkling with bacon bits and fresh chives

*For an even more hands off procedure, mix cheese, bacon, and chives in with butter salt and pepper.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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