And you thought cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your in-laws was daunting.
Imagine if you were a culinary student preparing a holiday feast for the president of your school and a cadre of brainy law students - a formal sit-down dinner for 23 served in a grand Main Line mansion.
"Well, we don't want to screw up," understated Devon Montgomery, one of the dozen Drexel University culinary students who volunteered to chop, reduce, fold, whip, roast, garnish and serve for the turkey-and-trimmings dinner held this month at the Orchards, the official residence of Constantine Papadakis and his wife, Eliana, in Strafford.
Although Thanksgiving isn't observed in his native Greece, Papadakis has taken to the American tradition of giving thanks. "Greek families use any excuse to get together and eat. There's always something on the table," said Papadakis, who started the annual Drexel feast at his home six years ago.
"Some of the students aren't with their families and this is a way to feel connected," said Papadakis, whose warm manner could put even the most nervous student at ease. "This is a way for us to share our home, and what Drexel means to us, with them."
It also offers the culinary students a chance to show off some of their moves to other Drexelites. "We're very proud of them," Papadakis said.
The student diners are selected for a different reason each year, for example, their foreign-born status or membership in student government. This year, 21 law students earning a 3.0 GPA or better from the university's new Earle Mack School of Law took seats at the table.
"I had no idea that the culinary school was such a talented resource," said Barbara Mallory Sampat, a Willingboro resident who is pursuing a degree in health law. She was pleasantly surprised with the sophistication of the Thanksgiving feast: "The taste and presentation of every course was superb."
Like the guest list, the menu changes yearly. "This year, we put the emphasis on local products and healthy cuisine," said chef/instructor Adrienne Hall, who supervised the meal prep and service along with chef Andrew Miller, a food science graduate student.
Other than an array of excellent breads and flaky herbed biscuits - Montgomery's contribution to the table - the menu offered none of the traditional calorie-laden dishes like bread stuffing and mashed potatoes.
The meal started with a tender salad of organic lettuces, grown in Drexel's city garden, tangy with paper-thin slices of Red Rome apples tossed in a goat cheese vinaigrette.
The main course was turkey breast, brined in buttermilk (cut by students earning a grade in a butchery class), served with pan gravy, cranberry compote, braised winter greens with leeks, Kennett Square black trumpet mushrooms and chanterelles, and spaghetti squash baked with garden herbs and roasted garlic.
The gravy was the exception to the healthy rule, a serious step above the usual flour-thickened pan juices. Instead, the students prepared a turkey veloute, a velvety mother sauce made from simmered stock, thickened with a roux and fragrant with butter.
Other than the rainy weather - "It rains every time we do this," hospitality student Alexandra Totokosopoulos said - the evening's repast went off without a hitch.
The table was set with Wedgwood china (service for 80), chosen for its Drexel colors (blue and gold); pumpkin-shaped candles; and fresh flowers in clear glass vases filled with cranberries for a seasonal note. A selection from Chaddsford Winery accompanied the meal.
Once the law students arrived, the culinary students sprang into action: chilled salad plates were adorned with the tossed greens, apple slices placed just so. After a welcome from the president and his wife, Hall announced the first course, and the feast began.
The job of plating main courses for 23, including two vegetarian options (cheese manicotti topped with a fresh tomato sauce whipped up on the spot), was done assembly style, each plate wiped and garnished. The tangle of golden spaghetti squash, winter greens and turkey breast looked as good as it tasted.
For dessert, baked Bosc pears were topped with a dollop of cream-cheese whipped cream and served with ginger biscotti.
"They did a really good job," chef Miller said.
Anna Lynn, a student in charge of cutting and caramelizing leeks, admitted that the entire event "was kind of intimidating at first."
But she rose to the occasion and, in the end, shared her perspective like a true chef: "Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday," Lynn said. "It's centered around food - really, what's not to like?"
Makes 2 cups or enough for 10 servings
3/4 cup goat cheese
1/2 small shallot
5 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 cup neutral oil
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to
Honey to taste
In a blender, chop the shallot with the vinegar. Add the cheese and slowly pour in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust the flavor with honey or more vinegar.
226 calories, 2 grams protein, trace carbohydrates, trace sugar, 24 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 42 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
Makes 60 five-inch-long biscotti
1 cup unsalted butter
11/4 cups sugar
1 cup crystallized ginger,
pulverized in food
41/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons natural almond
1 cup toasted almonds,
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy, and add sugar and crystallized ginger. Cream again until fluffy.
Sift all dry ingredients together, except nuts. Set aside.
Add eggs to butter mixture one by one, scraping the bowl between each addition; add the extract.
Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Add nuts.
Form into sausagelike rolls about 2 inches in diameter and spread 4 inches apart. Bake for about 25 minutes.
Cool 5-10 minutes. Cut on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Lay them on baking sheet and bake 5 minutes until dry and lightly golden brown. Flip the biscotti to toast the other side.
Cool completely and store in a tin.
104 calories, 2 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 50 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Makes 12 servings
12 medium-size firm pears,
such as Bosc
10 ounces local honey
4 ounces whole butter or
Smart Balance, melted
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix honey, spices, salt and butter in a bowl and set aside.
Peel pears using long, even strokes; keep whole and leave the stem intact. Dip into honey mixture to keep from oxidizing.
Place dipped pears in roasting pan, add the remaining honey mixture, and roast, turning and basting the pears until soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Cool pears and remove the core from the bottom with a scoop, leaving stem and pear intact; place back in the roasting pan. Rewarm gently just before serving. The pears will be tender, glossy and flavorful - don't waste the delicious honey pan drippings.
225 calories, 1 gram protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 1 quart or 16 servings
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 pint organic cream
Paddle the cream cheese in a mixer until it is lump-free. Add sugar, and cream the ingredients until fluffy and fully amalgamated. Scrape into another bowl and set aside.
Without cleaning the mixer bowl, change to whip attachment, pour in the cream, and whip the cream until soft peaks form.
Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese, return to the mixer bowl, and whip until homogenous and firm.
Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
For a sweeter taste, cool leftover pear-honey drippings and add it to this mixture.
Per quarter-cup serving:
165 calories, 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, 57 milligrams cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup canola oil
4 large shallots, roughly chopped
5 pounds kale, tough ribs
removed, and chopped
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook until wilted. Lower the heat.
Add the kale to oil and toss; add salt. Add water.
Cover and steam until tender, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Per serving (based on 8):