Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Since Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday (how can I not love a day all about cooking, eating, and hanging out??), I always get very excited when the end of November rolls around. With most of my friends being foodies also, the last few Thanksgivings have ended up being cooking marathons, when we try out as many cool recipes as possible.

This year, however, I celebrated a quieter Thanksgiving with my sister. With just the two of us, I vetoed the idea of buying a turkey (much to her dismay) and instead we made Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken instead. That recipe is truly amazing! Ok, so you do need to plan ahead and salt the chicken (use the term “dry brine” to impress your friends) two days in advance, but the resulting product is more than worth it. Juicy, flavorful, with a super-crispy skin – basically, everything you want your roast chicken to be.

As for sides, we went with a spinach salad with persimmons+blue cheese+candied walnuts (recipe follows), some beautiful golden-crusted brussel sprouts a la Heidi of 101 Cookbooks (although we did put in less cheese, opting for a lighter side dish since we had so much chicken to deal with), and a chestnut and wild mushroom stuffing a la Jardinière (to which we added a bit of sausage).

(Unfortunately, I had high hopes for the chestnuts in the stuffing and while the dish tasted great, the chestnuts didn’t really add much so I would probably skip the chestnuts next time. As long as you have a good selection of wild mushrooms – we combined cheap non-wild creminis with dried porcinis and a couple of chantrelles – the stuffing will taste amazing anyway.)

2-3 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1 ripe persimmon, peeled and chopped to bite-sized pieces
1 4-inch section of an english cucumber, chopped to bite-sized pieces
1 chunk of pungent blue cheese (we used a local Point Reyes Blue)
2 handfuls of candied walnuts (recipe below)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Candied Walnuts:
1 cup walnuts
2.5 tbsp sugar
2 pinches of kosher or sea salt
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Make the vinaigrette: Put vinegar in a large bowl and while whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Make the walnuts: Add walnuts to a large, dry skillet in a single layer. Toast over medium heat until you start to smell the toastiness and the nuts start to look a bit more brown. Once the walnuts look toasted, sprinkle salt, cayenne, and sugar over the top and toss to coat all over. The sugar will start melting and clinging to the walnuts, which is what you want. Turn off heat right after you see the sugar melting. Transfer the walnuts to a large plate, so they’re in a single layer. Set aside to cool.

Add in the spinach, persimmons, and cucumber and toss to coat lightly.

Crumble as much blue cheese on top as you like. Top with candied walnuts.

(Makes about 2 servings)