First off, I need to apologize for how long it took me to get this written. I’ve been in the throes of opening a show ever since Thanksgiving (which entails quite a bit of craziness), but I’ve wanted to give an update as to how everything went, especially given the complexity and breadth of the menu I’d planned. Most fortunately for me, we got an oven and stove in my apartment a week before the holiday, so I no longer had to worry about where to cook everything. Really the most important piece of advice I can give when it comes to serving large holiday meals is to plan and cook in advance. While I’d written a shopping list and plan of action far in advance, when it came to the week before Thanksgiving, my planner was no where to be found…so I ended up frantically rewriting both my shopping list and action plan on a napkin in a cafe (how J.K. Rowling of me…also, I did end up finding my planner, after the fact).
I started my week off by taking a long, late afternoon trip to the shuk (the outdoor market, where produce prices are best). After experiencing the absolute craziness that is the shuk on a Friday, it was delightful to be able to go on a Monday afternoon and meander up and down the stalls, looking for the lowest prices. While this dinner was not exactly cheap, I was still amazed at the sheer amount of produce I could get for a relatively small amount of money. Two boxes of mushrooms for example cost about 10 NIS. I think potatoes (or maybe onions) were 4.50 NIS per kilo. After loading myself with as many kilos of produce as I could carry, I (foolishly) walked home (which was about 2 km, not a bad walk, just not when you’re carrying your weight in veggies), and resolved to get the rest of the produce the next day.
I started out, as I usually do by making the cornbread. I also caramelized onions for as many dishes as I remembered needed them (aka I forgot and had to caramelize more the next day), baked the sweet potatoes, and roasted the huge hunk of squash I got for the pumpkin baked ziti. Because my beautiful, new Vitamix had to remain in the US, I didn’t have a blender or food processor of my own, which did make preparations a little tricky. A friend of mine had an immersion blender with food processor attachment, which she kindly let me borrow, so I spent the better part of a day making anything and everything that needed blender, from soup, to the pumpkin, to the french onion dip, the cashew ricotta, the sweet potatoes, hazelnuts, and caesar dressing. Unfortunately, this blender wasn’t exactly what you’d call powerful, so I had to take breaks quite frequently in order to not kill the motor (and then be completely out of luck). This definitely put me a little behind schedule because despite all my planning, I woke up bright and early Thursday morning, only to cook literally until the last moment, with maybe an hour break.
Due to time issues, I decided to bake off the stuffing, rather than attempting to fry it while I had hungry guests over, which I think turned out for the best. I also decided to make broccoli instead of brussel sprouts, because I could only find those in the freezer section, and nobody wants frozen brussel sprouts on Thanksgiving. I also couldn’t find fresh or frozen cranberries anywhere, so I used dried cranberries in the apple sauce (as detailed in the soufganiyot post). The last thing I had to coordinate was the reheating of all the food. I live too far from where the dinner was being hosted to have food stay warm, but two of my friends live closer and graciously warmed food in their ovens. I cooked the tempura at my friend’s place in order for it to be hot and crispy when I served it.
As I expected, literally everyone was running late (we’re on Israeli time after all), but it gave us a chance to complete some last minute preparations. Our guests were a nice mix of Israelis, Europeans, and Americans. I was so happy to be surround by such wonderful, caring people. From my friends who insisted on helping and got the food set up more quickly than had it been just Cathleen and I, to the friends who made me drink, and the friends who made me sit down and eat. Quite a few jokes were tossed around about me actually being a Moroccan mother (whereas in the US we would just say Jewish mother), or else asking me if I thought I made enough food (there was a tray and a half of ziti leftover and I was still worried). In fact, the only thing we actually finished that night were the latkes, though the soufganiyot came close.
I do think the soufganiyot trifle was the surprise hit of the evening. Initially I’d planned to fill some with apple sauce and some with a macadamia nut creme, but due to my makeshift filling equipment (ziploc bag with the corner cut off), the creme wasn’t cooperating as a filling. In a stroke of genius (aka great way to salvage dessert mistakes), I decided to turn it into a trifle (pulled the same stunt last year when I had an excess of chai cake). I cut each soufganiyah in half, arranged them on the bottom of the bowl, and proceeded to layer the soufganiyah halfs with the macadamia creme. Right before serving, I dusted the whole thing with powdered sugar. It was so good, some of my friends even went back for thirds! All in all, it was a wonderfully successful meal, with great company, a mix of traditions new and old, and last but not least, I made it all vegan!