At Capital City Weekly, when a staff member retires, relocates or celebrates a birthday, potlucks tend to be a great theme. A cornucopia of fabulous food, good conversation and getting to know one another better is always a good excuse to take time off work.
Likewise, I believe that Thanksgiving is the ultimate potluck.
To make the holiday a happy and ultimately relaxing day, take advantage of the potluck theme. It makes it easier on the budget, gives you time to enjoy the holiday, and it enables guests to prepare their signature dishes.
Overall, most people appreciate sharing their definition of Thanksgiving through a medley of dishes.
Getting back to signature dishes, it makes for good conversation pieces.
Courtesy photo When sharing a Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, having a potluck-style meal is easy on the pocketbook and a time saver, as well as lends itself to conversation topics.
My favorite symbolic dish is roasted acorn squash or sweet potatoes, oozing glossy butter and melting with brown sugar and grated nutmeg.
My dad simply splits the squash in half, seasons with salt and pepper and perhaps a dollop of golden butter, a sprinkle of dark brown sugar and pops it into the oven. Roasting the squash or sweet potatoes slowly brings out the deep organic flavor of vegetables from the earth-it's a masterpiece of simplicity.
On the sugary side, my mother makes a strawberry Bavarian dish, which is actually
Jell-O with frozen strawberries and whipped cream all mixed together. For some reason, beyond all food snootiness, I look forward to the scoop of pastel pink goodness wobbling on my plate every year.
Concerning the fateful green bean casserole, I make it every year without fail. It's not at all high on a foodie level, but it's tradition. Some people make it with fresh green beans, some with frozen. I prefer frozen French-style green beans and lots of crispy fried onions on top. As always, my sister and I impatiently dig in, cooing happily over the predictable dish as onlookers wrinkle their noses in dismay.
My claim to fame is a plethora of desserts, and always over the top. Why not? It's Thanksgiving for cat's sake!
Last year I made a rendition of rich pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon-graham crust from the yellow "Gourmet" cookbook, and a dark chocolate-bing cherry torte, infused with port wine and cloves. For a fun take on pudding, I labored over a blackberry curd from Alice Water's "Chez Panisse" dessert cookbook and served it in little wonton spoons. It was violet hued, soft and surprisingly with blackberry juice. And, we still had pecan pie with ice cream.
I'm not doing that again; it was fun for one year.
When I was a child, I remember visiting church friends for Thanksgiving, and every year the wizened host offered her signature homemade crescent rolls that tasted like clouds in the heavens.
Using our age as an excuse, we stuffed our mouths full of the yeasty bread encrusted with homemade berry jams, until we could barely breathe.
"You aren't going to have room for anything else," she said with a chuckle as we pathetically shook are heads adversely.
As I'm not too great at the techniques of yeast bread, I've never been quite able to replicate them. But, I have acquired a fast recipe for fluffy buttermilk angel biscuits without all the hassle.
Over time, I've learned there are significant aspects of Thanksgiving etiquette to follow:
Don't labor over fussy appetizers; save your appetite for the "real deal."
When people offer to help, don't turn them down.
Two medium size turkeys are much better than a huge bird. Remember, a bigger bird means an older bird, which equals a tougher and stringy turkey.
If you're deep-frying a turkey-be very careful as grease fires are a big hazard on Thanksgiving in some states. One year I spent the holiday with friends in Portland, Ore. and three houses down a neighbor's porch had caught on fire for that very reason. The streets were lined with curious onlookers and wailing fire trucks.
Plan your Thanksgiving meal early in the day rather than later-that way guests can enjoy the fruits of their labors all day and you aren't up late doing dishes.
Listed below is a recipe for Angel Biscuits adapted from my grandma Zerelda LaForce, who is originally from Texas and knows her quick breads.
What makes these biscuits so light is the addition of yeast as a leavening, and the rich flavor comes from buttermilk.
The consistency is somewhere between a roll and a biscuit, but without the work of a yeast bread dough. I love the biscuits served warm with honey butter or strawberry jam.
Grandma's Fluffy Angel Biscuits with Honey Butter
Makes 2 dozen
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup cold vegetable shortening (you may substitute unsalted butter if desired)
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
Melted butter for brushing biscuit tops
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Sprinkle yeast over water and stir to dissolve; let stand until creamy and bubbly looking, about 5 minutes. Combine buttermilk and yeast mixture.
2. In a medium bowl, cut shortening into flour mixture. Pour in buttermilk-yeast mixture until a sticky dough forms. If too sticky, add in another handful of flour.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead a few times; roll to a ½-inch thickness. Cut out with a 2 ¼-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter; place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1-inch apart.
Let sit for about 30 minutes or until slightly risen. Bake until golden on top and done in the middle, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven; brush lightly with melted butter, if desired. Serve warm.
½ cup of salted butter, softened and at room temperature (very important)
¼? tsp. vanilla extract
½? cup of good honey
In a small bowl mix the butter, vanilla and honey until uniformly blended into a smooth paste.
Place in a nice serving crock; do not refrigerate. This butter is also delicious on pancakes, popovers and waffles.
Abby LaForce is a staff writerat Capital City Weekly and ownerof Abby's Catering Co. in Juneau.