Thanksgiving is the ultimate potluck dinner for my family. My aunt and uncle host three generations for the long weekend, and the number gathered around the table varies from 12 to around 20 over the course of three or four days. My clever Aunt Joan has figured out a good system for feeding this crowd for several days running: she makes a casserole for Wednesday-night dinner and she takes care of the Thanksgiving turkey; all other cooking tasks are delegated to the houseguests.
Her hosting example has taught us all how to be a Good Houseguest. The rules are easy: make your bed, take yourself out for a walk now and then (even better, take a few of the assembled small children with you), don’t wait to be waited on – whether for breakfast or cocktails – and do not forget to ask “what can I bring?”
Here’s what I bring: Anne Byrn’s Cranberry Tart from (the aptly named) What Can I Bring? Cookbook. And here’s why:
- It can be made a few days ahead. There’s no crust, so nothing gets soggy. This makes for ideal leftovers, too – though there rarely are many to spare.
- It’s portable. The filling firms up as it bakes, so nothing sloshes around in the back of the car while we battle holiday traffic.
- It’s seasonal. Fresh cranberries just shout “Thanksgiving.”
- It looks so pretty. Those bright red cranberries liven up one’s dessert plate next to pumpkin, pecan and apple pies. (My other aunt’s and cousins’ pies are all delicious, but let’s face it – rather brown.)
- It’s simple. Did I mention no crust? Did you understand this means no rolling, and no lattice-making? And other than the cranberries (which I usually grab when they first appear at the grocery store, and stow in my freezer til baking day), the other ingredients are already in my fridge or pantry.
- It’s requested. Last year’s Cranberry Tart was so delicious, everyone asked me to bring it again this year!
Anne Byrn is known around here as “The Cake Mix Doctor” – and her newest book, The Cake Mix Doctor Returns, is a current New York Times bestseller. She’s a wizard with a box of cake mix – a pinch of that, a bit of this, and it becomes an extraordinary and truly homemade dessert. But she’s just as brilliant at cooking and baking from scratch; her food is exactly what I like to eat – fresh, homey and delicious – and the recipes in What Can I Bring? are all smartly designed to be toted with you.
Even if you haven’t been asked to bring dessert for Thanksgiving (in which case your host or hostess should learn a few tricks from Aunt Joan), these recipes will enliven any potluck you attend this season.
Try the Big Green Salad with Orange, Avocado and Red Wine Vinaigrette, which adds a little tropical fiesta to any mid-winter dinner, and is a perfect foil for the beef bourgignon or other hearty fare your host is likely serving. (The addition of parmesan cheese to the vinaigrette is brilliant and unexpected. And it’s now a trick I use all the time. Thank you, Anne!)
Or tell your weekend hostess you’ll bring a big pan of Chicken Enchiladas to serve for the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving lunch. Anne’s sauce is salsa- and broth-based, so it’s not too creamy (a nice break after holiday food indulgence) and the bright Mexican flavors are a welcome change of pace after a few days of turkey sandwiches and leftover mashed potatoes. Like most of the recipes in this very smart book, the Enchiladas can be made ahead and left in the fridge for a day, or the freezer for longer. This means you can do the work at home and just put the pan in your hostess’ oven before lunch – providing her with both a meal and a mess-free kitchen, gifts she will really appreciate after doing endless dishes for what feels like days on end.
Check out the chapter called “It’s a Gift” for thrifty and delicious food gifts– all of which are great choices to bring your holiday hostess. If you brought me a pretty jar of Vidalia Onion Marmalade, I’d pour it over cream cheese, open up some crackers, and skip fussing over appetizers on Friday night after the Big Feast. If you brought me a Sour Cream Cinnamon Streusel Loaf, I’d leave it out for my guests’ breakfast and sneak back to bed with my coffee (hey, the hostess deserves a holiday weekend too). If you brought me a tin of Anne’s Sweet and Spicy Pecans, I’d probably hide them in the cupboard so I could eat them all myself while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” a couple weeks later… but I’d definitely invite you back for Thanksgiving next year.
Click here for the Cranberry Tart recipe