"Easy and light appetizers to have around noon to 3 pm (we're shooting to eat around 4) - thoughts? Maybe a warm dip with crudite and something else? There will be two hungry boys watching football all morning and afternoon!"
I love the idea of a warm dip with some vegetables to go alongside. There is a really good warm white bean dip with spinach and ricotta that we made around the holidays last year. It requires a food processor. Are you going to invest in one of those? I suppose you could also use a hand mixer, too.... For the other appetizer, I'd also keep it light - you don't want to spoil your appetite, after all. Mom suggested the Archer's Farms (Target) line of appetizers, but those are too doughy and rich for a pre-feast snack in my opinion. Ideally you want something that you could make ahead of time. What about some sort of spiced nuts? Those are great for eating while watching the game(s), but they're pretty light and can be made a few days ahead of time.
"Katlyn usually does a salad course at home - last year they did a pumpkin and sage gnocchi but she said it was very filling - so we're thinking a seasonal salad. She suggested something with fennel - still looking for a good recipe. I liked that salad we made once with jicama."
Are you talking about the jicama salad that mom made one year with the little Christmas tree cut-outs? Yeah, that's cute. You could do the same thing, but with leave cut-outs instead. Or forgo the jicama, use shaved fennel (and some radicchio perhaps), toasted walnuts, pomegranate arils (yumm), and a light citrus vinaigrette. You're into arugula, too, so that would be a good base.
"3 Cranberries (or maybe just 2 - we might not do a jellied cranberry): cranberry relish and cranberry conserve (is this what we serve warm?)."
I'd go with just the two cranberries unless Rob or someone else just has to have the canned stuff. For Thanksgiving we don't ever serve the conserve warm, but I like it at room temperature or heated when I have leftovers. I think it's good to have things that you can serve at room temperature since refrigerator space may be tight.
"Whole turkey. (Ah! I have no idea how to do this or what tools I will need! - What should I stuff inside it? Oh jeez - I really hate dead animals - Rob will have to do this!)"
A whole turkey seems like a lot for four people, but I guess someone requested the dark meat. Anyway, I've heard really great things about Alton Brown's turkey recipe. (I mean, it has 2507 reviews and is rated 5 stars.) He brines the turkey. Pretty much every resource I read suggests that a whole turkey should be brined to ensure that the breast meat doesn't dry out. A Kosher bird (which has been injected with a salt solution) would have the same effect. Just be sure that if you buy a frozen turkey that you leave enough time to let it thaw in the refrigerator. And I agree that the only things you should stuff inside it are aromatics - onion, carrot, celery, a halved apple, etc.
"Gravy. (I also have no idea how to do this, nor do I know how i will serve it!)"
Typically once you find the turkey recipe, the gravy recipe is right alongside. If you want it to be a bit more flavored, then you can seek out a specific recipe with particular flavor variations (pepper, apple, spice, mushroom, etc.). Dad makes our gravy kind of strangely - without butter, owing to Nama's Kosher cooking - but in general I think I've got the idea down. Once the turkey has roasted, you skim off the fat, leaving behind only pan juices. Then you add turkey (or chicken) stock to the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (called fond, if you're snooty and/or French) and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits. Meanwhile, you make a roux in a saucepan with skimmed fat/butter/oil and flour and cook it until the floury, starchy appearance has gone away. Then you add the turkey stock mixture, whisking constantly, until the gravy is thickened. And I agree with mom's suggestion to serve it in a dish with a spoon on the side.
"Rolls. (I don't really see why rolls are necessary, but Katlyn and Rob seemed offended when I suggested we leave them out - with all this food, is bread and butter really necessary?!)"
Maybe not for you (or me), but for them bread and butter may be necessary. Whole Foods makes good whole wheat rolls. Just think of it as buying bread for the leftover turkey sandwiches.
"I don't know if we need something else during the main course - jeez, there's definitely enough food! - but I feel like we're missing something 'fresh'... does that make sense? I like the 'freshness' of the cranberry relish - everything else is very 'cooked.' That's why I like that we have fresh green beans at home - would that be too much?"
Well, technically the green beans are cooked, but I get what you mean about needing something crisp. I just did a search on Epicurious for green beans and then narrowed the results with "Thanksgiving" and 39 results came up. Most are a variation of green bean + crunch element (nut, etc.) + aromatic (citrus, herbs, etc.).
- Ice cream (maybe rum raisin or the autumn spice was good too!)
- Either apple pie or apple pear or something like that
- Pumpkin cheesecake - Rob just wants something with pumpkin and I don't like pumpkin pie too much...
- Some sort of warm cocktail!"
Sounds good. How was the autumn spice ice cream? I'm still waiting on your recipe notes.... What about this Rum Raisin Apple Pie? If you don't want to make the pumpkin cheesecake, you could make pumpkin ice cream instead. Here's one with gingersnaps to get the full cheesecake experience. David Lebovitz also has a recipe and I like his idea about adding candied walnuts to it. Or you could add crystallized ginger (too weird?)! For the third dessert you could then do something with pears. Like a pear crumble or a pear cake. I don't know too much about warm cocktails, but I was just thinking about it and what about some sort of mulled wine? Or mulled hard cider? I'm pretty sure these drinks actually exist - plus they would make your house smell wonderful!
P.S. What are your thoughts about chocolate desserts at Thanksgiving? I posed the question at Serious Eats today and got mixed responses?
Okay, that is all. xxoo