DIY meal preparation is overrated (sometimes)
by Gay Lyons
Before long, I’ll start planning the annual family Thanksgiving. My biggest challenge is usually resisting the urge to substitute a new recipe in place of an old favorite. An article in the 2006 issue of Gourmet urges me to try some “creative vegetable side dishes.” I’d love to oblige, but I know my family well enough to know that they would not be happy if I replaced roasted sweet potatoes, spinach and artichoke casserole and carrot soufflé with chestnut and potato puree, green beans with ginger butter and red-wine braised cabbage and onions. And what would they think if the traditional cornbread dressing were replaced with chestnut, prune and pancetta stuffing?
As usual, I’ll be subcontracting some of the meal. I don’t enjoy baking, so I buy bread and desserts from the experts at our wonderful locally owned bakeries. I don’t bother trying to pawn them off as my own—as if anyone would believe me anyway. I’m happy to give credit where it’s due. We’re fortunate to have some talented bakers in this town.
There are several places I recommend for tasty bread. Hillside Bakery prepares handcrafted, organic artisan breads, which are sold at the farmers’ market at Laurel Church of Christ on Tuesdays and Fridays at 3 p.m., the farmers’ market at Jackson Square in Oak Ridge Saturdays at 8 a.m., Butler and Bailey Market in Rocky Hill, and Three Rivers Market (Knoxville’s Community Food Co-op) on Broadway. Hogan’s Bakery creates all-natural artisan breads, which are available in a number of area supermarkets, including Kroger and the Fresh Market. VG’s Bakery (11552 Kingston Pike, 671-8077) bakes soft, fluffy yeast rolls, good year-round but especially during the holidays.
VG’s is also on my short list for desserts. If you’re buying yeast rolls at VG’s, it’d be difficult to walk out without a pie or cake. Chocolate blackout, German chocolate, Italian cream and carrot are good holiday cakes. VG’s pies include pumpkin, pecan, coconut and chocolate cream. Rita’s Bakery (3028 Tazewell Pike, 688-5484) offers red velvet, coconut and Italian cream cakes and pumpkin, pecan, German chocolate and chess pies. They also have a pumpkin roll, a pumpkin cheesecake and festive Thanksgiving cookies. Magpies (112 S. Central Street, 673-0471) is supplementing its wedding and celebration cake menu with some special holiday items, available Nov. 20-22 only. It’s offering carrot, Italian crème, coconut and red velvet cake, pumpkin and pecan pie, the very popular triple-nut cranberry pie and pumpkin cheesecake. All of these are small bakeries. And they don’t take short cuts. So place your order early if you want to be assured of having the dessert you want.
If you prefer not to cook at all, you can still put a home-cooked meal on the table. You can buy a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 10-12 at Creating Dinner, a new locally-owned business at 10412 Kingston Pike (670-0008) in the Bill Jones Music Building. Normally, at Creating Dinner, patrons assemble meals such as honey and lime Thai pork medallions and French country baked turkey to take home and serve or to put in the freezer. Creating Dinner does the shopping, chopping and cleaning up. You get the fun of cooking, with little of the work. If you want a completely labor-free experience, Creating Dinner will assemble your meals for an additional charge.
Creating Dinner’s Thanksgiving menu includes either a turkey breast (which you’ll bake according to their directions) or a spiral sliced ham (which is already fully cooked). The meal includes two dozen yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin or pecan pie and your choice of two side dishes: cornbread dressing, yam and apple casserole, squash casserole, green bean casserole and broccoli and cheese. Based on my sampling, the casseroles are the simple, home-style kind. Cost for the entire package is $79.95, everything on the Creating Dinner holiday menu can be purchased a la carte.
If you want to go out for Thanksgiving dinner, I recommend the special prix fixe ($35) Thanksgiving menu at Northshore Brasserie (9430 S. Northshore Drive, 539-5188). The meal starts with appetizers, including oysters on the halfshell, lobster tartlets, mussels Brittany and roasted butternut squash soup. Entrée choices are maple-roasted turkey with cranberry fig compote and giblet gravy, honey-baked ham with orange fennel marmalade, baked mountain trout with roasted beet and caramelized onion risotto, and grilled flatiron steak with apple thyme bordelaise sauce. The side dishes include apple, sage and sausage stuffing, mascarpone whipped yams with cinnamon crust and toasted hazelnut haricot vert. Chocolate pecan pie, pumpkin pie and carrot cake complete the meal.
Aha! I’ve just found a way to have a Thanksgiving meal Gourmet would be proud of and serve our traditional family favorites. My family is celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday this year. That means I can enjoy dinner at the Brasserie on Thursday and serve another one at my house the next day. I’m thinking this could be become a new Thanksgiving tradition.