Thanksgiving is a holiday that has not traditionally been a favorite of mine.  However, that has all changed because this year we hosted our first Thanksgiving!  It took this holiday to a whole new level for me since feeding other people is just about my favorite thing to do, and we had a fantastic time.  We hosted 14 adults and a couple of babies.  It was wonderful to have so many loved ones in our home, all enjoying a delicious meal and quality time together.

Since this was my first time hosting, I was happy to have free reign over menu planning without preconceptions or expectations.  I wanted to serve mainly traditional Thanksgiving fare, but slightly more elegant variations on the old favorites.  Our complete menu was as follows:

Caramelized Onion Dip with Crudités
Red Pepper Pesto Crostini
Caramel Corn
Stuffed Mushrooms

Side Dishes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Sage Butter Crumb Topping
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Sausage and Cranberry Stuffing
Butternut Squash Cheddar Bread Pudding
Blackberry Cranberry Sauce
Herb and Cheese Rolls
Honey Yeast Rolls
Garlic Herb and Honey Butters

Main Course
Roast Turkey with Cider Shallot Gravy

Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Cranberry Almond Caramel Tart

For me, appetizers are a very important part of Thanksgiving.  I think time spent mingling and snacking before the meal is really enjoyable.  Of course they are also very helpful in the event that your meal takes longer than expected to bake.   These red pepper pesto crostini are a favorite appetizer of mine.  They are simple, elegant, and tasty!

You know I just couldn’t resist an opportunity to include my caramel corn :)   Even better, I have a ton left over!  Not for long…

This caramelized onion dip was fantastic.  I kind of didn’t want to share it with anyone – but I did.  And of course, the stuffed mushrooms didn’t last long – everyone’s favorite!

I made these glittered votive holders to double as both table decor and place cards.  I didn’t want the meal to seem too formal though, so I left the candles out on the appetizer table.  Then when we were ready to eat, I lit all the candles and told guests to take their candle and put it where they wanted to sit.

The sweet potatoes were a huge hit.  Even though I am starting to like sweet potatoes in some forms, I wasn’t a big fan of this dish, but everyone else seemed to love it.  I had several people tell me it was their favorite side and we had almost no leftovers.

The roasted garlic mashed potatoes on the other hand, were my favorite dish of the whole meal.  I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to make mashed potatoes without adding the roasted garlic.  It put them into a whole new category of awesomeness!  (I’m sure the use of cream instead of milk didn’t hurt either ;) )

The butternut squash and cheddar bread pudding was certainly the most unexpected dish in the spread.  I think some people may have been a bit hesitant to try it, but I had several guests comment that they really liked it.  I thought the flavor of the sharp cheddar was an interesting and winning combination with the squash and kale.

I tried my hand at making a homemade, non-processed version of green bean casserole.  Overall it went over very well and people seemed to enjoy it.  I liked it, but there are a few adjustments and tweaks I would like to make before I make it again.

This blackberry cranberry sauce has been on my mind ever since I heard about it last year, and I knew I would make it for my Thanksgiving.  It was delicious as expected, and flavorful without being too sweet.   And thankfully fresh blackberries just happened to be $1 per container, so inexpensive as well!

I made these herb and cheese rolls well in advance of Thanksgiving, and just kept them in the freezer until the holiday.  They were fun and simple to make, and had great flavor from all the herbs.  I also made a double batch of my honey yeast rolls since they are my favorite.  Both varieties went over very well and we had maybe two rolls leftover.

Maybe my favorite thing about the whole meal (a tie with the garlic mashed potatoes) was the garlic herb and honey butters that I made to go with the bread.  The herb butter was truly unbelievable.  I could truly have been content eating just rolls and the herb butter all day – it was that good.  I often tell Ben that I wish I could make the delicious butters we get in fancy restaurants to go with bread, and I think this actually has those beat.  I will be making it again soon!

And now, on to the main course – the turkey!  This was my first time making a turkey and since it is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, I was fairly nervous about messing it up.  However, it was just as easy as roasting a chicken, and turned out fantastic!  We brined it overnight, and then added aromatics to the cavity before roasting.  The only difficulty I had was lifting and moving it, since ours was a 24-pounder!   It had great flavor and stayed nice and moist.  I love how beautifully it browned.  I forgot to get a photo of the gravy, but it was delicious as well.  I used mostly the pan juices from the turkey as well as a bit of chicken stock, some cider and sautéed shallots with a roux to thicken the mixture.  In the past I have skipped the gravy on my plate, but I may be a convert now.

After the meal I ended up with six people sleeping in my living room in no time, so I’d say it was a success :)  Some people were too full to even consider dessert, but of course I had saved room since it is always my favorite part.

We had a classic pumpkin pie, and though I have made it many years now, I think this was the best one yet.  I tried a new recipe for the filling and it was fantastic.  I also loved the addition of the cute little pie crust leaves on top of the pies.  Normally I try not to buy such unitasker items for my kitchen, but I’ve wanted these forever and think they were totally worth the money.  I love the festive touch they add!

I also did pecan pie, which was the original recipe that inspired the variation of the double chocolate pecan pie.  This version was great as well, though I think I personally prefer the chocolate.  Everything is better with chocolate, right?

Though not pictured again, I also made the caramel apple cheesecake pie.  I think that was the favorite dessert of the night – unsurprising to me, as it is just plain awesome.

The cranberry caramel almond tart was a nice way to round out the dessert spread.  I loved the contrast of the semi-tart berries against the sweet caramel.   Next time I think I would increase the amount of cranberries because I think they didn’t quite play the starring role I had hoped for.

I made sure to stock up on disposable containers for guests to take home leftovers because I did not want to be loaded down with the whole meal at the end of the day.  And of course, you know I couldn’t resist some Thanksgiving themed sugar cookies as favors for guests to take home.  I decorated them like maple leaves and acorns, and thought they added a nice touch at the end of the evening.

Of course I couldn’t resist a picture of me with my little turkey.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(For those interested in recipes, I will probably post most of them next year, just prior to Thanksgiving.  I think most people are moving on to holiday baking endeavors for now, but these recipes will be shared eventually!)