At the age of 25 I became Head Person in Charge of Family Meal Celebrations for my side of the family. With this auspicious title came a whole lot of knowledge. Like, cooking a meal for 20+ people can be very time consuming and expensive. The first year I cooked Thanksgiving, midway through the afternoon I locked myself in my bedroom with a glass of wine and cried. In trying to give everyone a nice meal I’d spent an enormous amount of money and run myself ragged.
NOW, after a bit of practice, I know that it doesn’t have to be like that. Meals are special because we spend them together, and simple food prepared with a little care is just as delicious as a table full of complicated dishes that take days (or weeks!) to prepare. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a holiday feast. And it’s totally fine to ask people to help and bring the dessert. The secret to happy celebrations and good food is community, and I’d much rather have a simple dish of vegetables and herbs, made with outrageously fresh and delicious produce that was grown lovingly by a local farmer than a feast fit to be photographed in a magazine that brought me to tears to prepare.
If complicated recipes are your speciality and joy, that’s fantastic. Show off your skills! But if you find yourself easily overwhelmed by hosting and preparing large events for friends and family, or like many of us don’t have the means to fund an extravagant dinner, I encourage you to instead focus on highlighting the fresh and wonderful flavors of local meat and produce with simple preparations. By all means, have a few fancier dishes if you like (you can try my stuffed pumpkin, or this turnip green soufflé from Signal Mountain Farm). Just remember your friends and family will enjoy their time with you more if you aren’t wondering if it’s possible to sneak out the basement door and go to a motel before they see you, which has never happened to me before, ever.
Here’s another plus to choosing simple fare: it’s often healthier. At the end of a big meal, I want to feel GOOD, and the starchy, decadent offerings at many holiday spreads can be delicious, but altogether too much for me. To combat this, I like to make as many side dishes as possible vegetable heavy with just a touch of decadent ingredients, so they still feel like a treat, but won’t leave me lethargic and unable to enjoy myself later. These sweet potato wedges from Mark Bittman fit the bill (I find I don’t need to use as much ham as he does). Try roasting carrots with cumin seeds and then sprinkle with a touch of goat’s cheese and a spritz of lemon. Or cook up the recipe below for roasted cabbage with bacon and mustard.
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your time with your community is wonderful and delicious.
Roasted Cabbage with Bacon and Mustard
I like to make this recipe with small cabbages, so everyone gets their own. This is probably owing to a childhood obsession with anything miniature, but it also makes portioning for range of appetites very easy.
Brush the mustard and fat mixture over the cabbage wedges and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Wrap the individual wedges in foil (for small cabbages, “reassemble” the cabbage and wrap the individual cabbages in their own piece of foil) and roast for about 30 minutes, or 20 for small cabbages. Serve each wedge sprinkled with bacon pieces.
Make it vegan: omit the bacon and instead use your favorite cooking oil