When my daughter, Cecilia, was still living at home (she is now almost 25 and working as a biomedical engineer for the Feds in Birmingham) our little family had a tradition of inviting everyone to our house on Thanksgiving night after they had finished their stressful meals with their own families. These affairs usually drew 30-50 people, most of whom would show up bearing some kind of culinary or boozy contribution in addition to the plethora of culinary contributions and a punchbowl filled with a lethal libation I would concoct.
For the two days leading up to these blowouts I was a stressed-out wreck as I ran around shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning, making perfect flower arrangements, and, well, just making everything perfect. I would completely lose site of the meaning of sharing thanks and a nice meal. By the time the first guest rang the doorbell, my husband, Andrew, and Cecilia would be contemplating my murder as I shouted for them to get the door as I dove in for a much-needed shower.
The parties were always great fun but the next day never really was. I would awaken to a trashed house and yard, piles of dishes, and a refrigerator jammed with zip-top bags filled with mostly unidentifiable things.
We don’t do that anymore.
This year we are having a seated afternoon dinner for eight, my idea of keeping things super simple. In addition to the ubiquitous turkey there will be one starter, four sides, and one dessert, maybe two, if my niece shows up with a store-bought pie. This is as simple a gathering as a lunatic like me can commit to. This feels luxuriously manageable as opposed the psychosis-inducing lunacy I used to pull off.
We will start the meal with Chef Tory McPhail’s (formerly of Commander’s Palace) obscenely good, super easy Oysters and Absinthe Dome. The recipe is below, and you can see me making an adapted (even easier!) version of it on IGTV here. Last week I wrote about my dad’s Oyster Dressing tradition so that scared goo will make an appearance on my table, per usual.
My sister, Beth, is on a Keto diet so she is bringing a Twice-Baked Cauliflower Casserole and a Keto Pumpkin Cheesecake. My mother-in-law in law will bring Mirliton Casserole Made with Venison because my brother-in-law is a hunter and that’s what’s in her freezer. My nephew is showing up with something, as is my niece. The tradition of fried turkey is a carryover from the days of the Great Big Blowouts when the oven could not be spared for the bird and Andrew would hang out in the yard cooking one up with the guys. He is also a fan of Green Bean Casserole but I’m still a bit too fancy to cook with canned soup so I’ll be making a version I found a few years ago on the Slap Ya Mama Seasoning website.
Easy, peasy—at least by the standards of a woman who finds it hard to resist going over the top. Happy Thanksgiving from my kitchen to yours!
Oyster and Absinthe Dome
- 1 (9″ x 11″) sheet frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farms brand, thawed and chilled
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 slices bacon, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup absinthe, pastis, or Herbsaint liqueur
- 20 medium Gulf oysters (one pint), shucked (1/3 cup of the liquor reserved)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 (9-oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tarragon
- Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Using a 3″ cookie cutter or a drinking glass cut 4 circles from the puff pastry. Form the remaining pastry into a ball and reserve it for another use, if desired.
- Transfer the puff pastry circles to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and brush each circle with egg mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set the puff pastry domes aside.
- Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the absinthe or pastis. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the oyster liquor and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cream has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Add the oysters, artichokes, and tarragon to the reduced cream mixture and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oysters’ edges begin to curl, about 2 minutes. Divide the oyster stew between four 6-oz. ramekins or bowls and top each with a puff pastry circle.
- Serve immediately to great applause.
If you are looking for a kinda strange distraction, Monkey Shoulder’s ultimate cocktail machine will be bouncing around New Orleans over the next few days. The Monkey Mixer, which can hold up to 2,400 gallons of liquid, resembles a cement truck, complete with a rotating drum, or in this case, a cocktail shaker. You can find the Monkey Mixer at the following locations where you can grab a cocktail right from the truck:
- Today (November 23): 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
- The Virgin Hotel: 550 Baronne St.
- Tomorrow (November 24): 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
- Kimpton Fontenot Hotel: 501 Tchoupitoulas St.,