My husband Randy and I love the time we spend in our Colorado mountain home, but as Thanksgiving draws near, our focus shifts to family gatherings.
Each year, shortly before Dallas-area oak leaves turn red and yards overflow with colorful chrysanthemums, we return home to share this beautiful season with loved ones.
One of the things I cherish most about Thanksgiving is its simple focus on family and friends gathered around a table to celebrate the blessings of the year. While the menu in many homes may include a heavy dose of football, I crave the togetherness of a beautifully appointed table filled with family-favorite recipes, and the laughter and shared memories that inevitably ensue.
I’ve long been known for my tablescapes, and Thanksgiving provides the perfect occasion for me to shift into overdrive when it comes to creating a table setting that encourages guests to linger. This year’s design begins with a length of deep-coral fabric accented with touches of gold, loosely arranged down the center of the table, and topped with several lengths of silk autumn leaf garland, entwined with a string of battery-powered mini-white lights. Various sizes and shapes of pumpkins, substantial, caramel-hued candles, and a cherished pheasant statue complete this nature-inspired centerpiece. For variety, consider adding fresh apples, lemons, and squash to the arrangement.
Make-ahead recipes are my solution to keeping our Thanksgiving feast manageable and stress-free. Pumpkin, butternut squash, and pecan pies are baked the day before and chilled to ensure the pastry remains flaky. My sweet potato and apricot casserole is assembled one or two days ahead and chilled, then baked just before serving. I make cornbread for my much-loved Southern Cornbread Dressing early in the week and do all the chopping of celery and onion in advance so the ingredients are ready to assemble in a matter of minutes.
When it comes to creating cherished memories for family and friends, I’ll be serving a Thanksgiving menu rich in tradition as we gather around a beautifully decorated table.
In a year when so many have lost so much, our family has much to be thankful for. For more Thanksgiving inspiration, please tune into my holiday television special A Home for Christy Rost: Thanksgiving this November on KERA Create channel 13.3.
Christy Rost is a lifestyle authority, author of three cookbooks, public television chef on PBS stations nationwide, and longtime resident of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. For additional recipes and entertaining tips, visit her website at christyrost.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost.
SOUTHERN CORNBREAD DRESSING:
• 2 1/3 cups flour
• 1 2/3 cups yellow cornmeal
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 3 eggs
• 1 2/3 cups milk
• 1/2 cup canola oil
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and oil. Gradually add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until it is mixed.
Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool. Cornbread may be made two days ahead.
• 1 recipe cornbread, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
• 4 slices wheat bread, set aside to dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 1 1/2 cups celery, rinsed and chopped
• 1 1/2 cups onion, peeled and chopped
• 1 large apple, rinsed, cored, and chopped
• 1/2 cup golden raisins
• 1/2 cup dried cranberries
• 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
• 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 2 eggs
• 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
In a very large mixing bowl or roasting pan, combine cornbread, wheat bread, celery, onion, apple, raisins, cranberries, sage, and thyme. In a small bowl, whip the eggs with a fork and stir in the chicken broth. Pour most of the broth over the cornbread mixture and toss well to moisten. Add the remaining broth if the dressing feels dry.
Spoon the dressing into a large, lightly greased casserole dish, cover with foil, and chill until ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350 F and bake, covered, 45 to 50 minutes until it is hot and steamy. Uncover and bake 10 minutes more to brown the top.
Yield: 12 servings
Chef’s note: The dressing may be covered and chilled overnight in the refrigerator before baking. It may also be made ahead, frozen, thawed, and baked.