Last week, I had my work team over for dinner. I proposed it a few months ago, thinking that by November, Theo would DEFINITELY be sleeping. Bedtimes would DEFINITELY be easy. And since it was on a Friday, when I’m not at work, I could spend the whole day cooking. That would be fun, I thought. Guess what? ALL OF THOSE THINGS TURNED OUT TO BE TRUE.
My family and I are recent converts to Thanksgiving. We only moved to the US when I was 13, and had no history of celebrating it before we moved there. For the first few years we were there, we went to the Italian restaurant at the end of our street for dinner that night. Then I spent the next few years at friends’ houses, celebrating with their families, and it was always a lovely evening, but didn’t mean that much to me. Then, while I was in the UK at university, my parents started hosting annual Thanksgiving feasts for their friends, and when they moved to London about five years ago, they decided to start hosting them here. It’s now one of my absolute favourite evenings, with their friends, my friends and some family all round a table eating some very excellent food.
So when I was deciding what to do for this group of work friends, I thought Thanksgiving was a winner. Then, of course, I started looking at recipes and realised exactly how much work goes into making a traditional meal and I realised that with a small child, that much cooking time really wasn’t going to be a good idea. So, I went for low-key and low-stress instead.
With my recent purchase of a slow cooker (excellent purchasing decision, by the way), and my decision to forgo turkey (I don’t actually really even LIKE turkey, so scrapped it), it actually turned into a very relaxing day of cooking. Everything was easy to prepare and there was very little slaving over a hot stove. I even had lots of time to play with Theo throughout the day. Win! If you fancy preparing a low-key, low-stress Thanksgiving meal, here’s what we had…
I made two mains, as we had one vegetarian at the meal (this also meant that all of the side dishes, including the gravy, were veggie): Spinach, feta and ricotta puff pastry rolls, and sticky slow roast lamb.
Both dishes went down a treat. I bought a HUGE piece of lamb, and there were about 2 small bites leftover at the end. The entire veggie dish got gobbled up. When I made this, there seemed to be a lot of the spinach mixture leftover at the end, so I think I probably could have rolled the pastry out a bit thinner or something to make it all fit. But to be honest, I had the mix spread on toast for lunch and it was excellent, and the rolls tasted great as they were, so it wasn’t too big of an issue.
I made three side dishes: stuffing, cinnamon squash and macaroni and cheese. These were all delicious, but they each had their issues.
The stuffing was made in the slow cooker, but about half an hour before it was due to finish, I decided I wasn’t happy with the texture of it at all, so it ended up having the final thirty minutes in the oven.
The cinnamon squash did not need as much butter as I used – my squash was swimming in it at the end! The recipe calls for a stick of butter, and I just guesstimated how much that was in UK butter terms. Yeah. Definitely not right. Tasted amazing, but not very appetising to look at! I strained the squash before serving and that worked a treat.
And the macaroni cheese was delicious, but more like a macaroni pie – if I was to do it again, I’d do the prep on this much later and not let the pasta sit in the sauce for most of the day. The reason I did it is because Theo was asleep, and Peter offered to help, so I just took advantage of that and let him do it while I took a nap. A pretty good reason, right? And it still tasted great, but it didn’t really turn out as the photo above suggests.
I totally cheated on the dessert. I asked everyone to bring along a tub of ice-cream, and then brought out loads of sprinkles, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, etc, and we had a mini ice cream sundae party. I don’t think anyone was disappointed by this dessert and it saved me loads of time and hassle, so definitely a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.
All in all, I was so thrilled with how the food came out – everything tasted great, which was a relief, as I’d never tried any of the recipes before. They were sooooooo easy to make, and the two mains in particular were incredible, and will definitely be made again in the near future.
Because I wanted to eat at 8, I worked backwards to plan all my timings – if you are interested, I’ve included them below. There were a lot of individual things to do, but the longest anything took to prep was 25 minutes, which was for the spinach and cheese pastry.
And guess what? My friends came by, Theo played with them, sitting with them to read, doing ‘cheers’ with their prosecco glasses as his water glass, helped me show them around the house, then had a bath, drank his milk and went to sleep with no problem whatsoever. And then he slept until 6am. I swear, once I had planned the meal, and knew how easy all the timings would be, his sleeping was the only thing worrying me about the whole evening. My team is not exactly a quiet group of people, and I was worried that the combination of excitement from new faces plus the noise from downstairs would result in no sleep and me getting totally stressed out. The fact that he was such a delight was amazing, and makes me think maybe I need to do things like this more often…
Prep squash and put in fridge (10 minutes)
Cut up bread and leave to get stale (5 minutes)
Grate cheese (5 minutes)
8 Cinnamon squash goes on to slow cooker (cook for 3 hours)
1120 prep pastries and put in fridge (25 minutes)
1145 prep mac and cheese (20 minutes)
245pm prep lamb (5-10 minutes)
310 prep stuffing
330 stuffing in slow cooker
530 set table
555 lamb second step (1 minute)
7 bedtime starts (Peter did his bath so I could be downstairs)
7 pastries/macaroni out of fridge
730 lamb out of oven (put lid back on to keep warm)
730 Heat oven up to 200
735 Macaroni cheese/pastries/stuffing into oven
755 make Gravy (oh, I cheated here too and bought vegetarian gravy granules)/shred lamb
8 table (that was the plan, and we weren’t too far off it! I think in the end we started eating at around 10 past)