A Tropical Thanksgiving

By staff November 1, 2005

For sun-drenched transplants and visitors, Thanksgiving in Sarasota begs a tropical adjustment to tradition. We asked the hospitality experts at the Ritz-Carlton to fashion the perfect Florida-style Thanksgiving, and they assembled a feast of flavors, served against a sunset, Gulf-front backdrop at the idyllic Members Beach Club on Lido Key.

The menu, created by the Beach Club's chef Dakota Weiss, pastry chef Stephane Cheramy and executive chef Frederic Morineau, builds on the holiday's customary lineup with indigenous and island-style ingredients: oranges, mangoes, blue crabs, and even Jamaican Blue Mountain espresso. Still the centerpiece, the turkey gets a kick from jerk seasoning and a soothing balance from a side of mashed boniatos, or Cuban sweet potatoes, prepared with coconut milk.

But for all its tropical flair, this dinner isn't a burden to prepare, allowing hosts plenty of time to celebrate with family and friends. "You can't make Thanksgiving difficult," Weiss stresses.

A seaside table should be simple but elegant, say our experts. Among their tips: Limit your color scheme to one or two hues and let the colorful food take center stage. Add a few family heirlooms-an antique gravy boat or Grandma's sterling dressing spoon-to suggest the proper sense of occasion, and let fresh local flowers or pretty shells complete the Florida picture.


Roasted Heart of Palm, Yellow Tear Drop Tomato and Mango Salad with Toasted Coconut Vinaigrette

Boniato Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Chayote Squash Gratin with Pumpkin-Seed Crust

Sautéed Bora Beans and Haricot with Toasted Coconut and Curry

Pumpkin Soup with Citrus-Infused Brown Butter and Cream

Whole Stuffed Blue Crabs

Jerk-Rubbed Roasted Turkey with Spicy Gravy and Citrus Brioche Stuffing

Coconut Pecan Pie Martinique Island Cream and Caramelized Pineapple

Sweet Potato Pie, Confit Kumquat and Espresso Bittersweet Mousse

Roasted Heart of Palm, Yellow Tear Drop Tomato and Mango Salad with Toasted Coconut Vinaigrette

3 pounds hearts of palm

2 pints yellow tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise

2 each mangoes, small dice

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Extra virgin olive oil

Toasted coconut vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Toss hearts of palm with enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper and roast in 350-degree oven until golden brown. Cool.

Once cooled, toss with tomatoes, mangoes and cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Toasted Coconut Vinaigrette.

Toasted Coconut Vinaigrette

2 cups toasted coconut

1 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic

1 can coconut milk

1 cup oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients together in blender and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Boniato Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds boniato* potatoes, peeled

½ pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled

2 cans coconut milk

½ pound butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut up larger potatoes so that all are about the same size. Cover both types of potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain very well. Place the potatoes, cream and butter in a mixer fitted with a whisk and beat until well combined and the desired consistency is attained. Season to taste.

*Available locally in specialty markets, these white yams are also called Cuban sweet potatoes.

Roasted Chayote Squash Gratin with Pumpkin-Seed Crust

1 pound chayote squash

1 pound zucchini

1 pound yellow squash

1 quart heavy cream

4 eggs

1 cup Parmesan cheese

3 cups pumpkin seeds

1 bunch parsley

1 cup breadcrumbs

3 cloves garlic

Slice all squash and place in one large bowl. Whisk together cream, eggs and Parmesan and add to squash. Mix well. Pour into casserole dish, using all liquid. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour or until knife-tender.

Add parsley, breadcrumbs and garlic in bowl of food processor and pulse until well blended. Sprinkle mixture on top of baked casserole and return to oven and broil for five minutes or until slightly brown on top.

Sautéed Bora Beans and Haricot with Toasted Coconut and Curry

2 pounds Bora beans (can use Chinese long beans)

1 pound haricot vert

1 can coconut milk

1 cup toasted coconut

1 bunch thyme

Lemon wedges

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch beans in boiling salted water, shock in ice water. Drain.

Sauté beans in a little olive oil over medium heat. Add coconut milk.

Toss with lemon and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pumpkin Soup with Citrus-Infused Brown Butter and Cream

1 yellow onion

2 pounds pumpkin

4 quarts chicken stock

1 quart heavy cream

3 tablespoons ginger (fresh!)

1 teaspoon allspice

1 cup sugar

Salt and nutmeg to taste

Sweat onions and pumpkin until golden brown. Add chicken stock and cream and simmer for 45 minutes. Purée and add sugar and spices; season to taste.

Citrus-Infused Brown Butter

1 pound unsalted butter

Zest from 3 lemons

Zest from 3 oranges

Zest from 3 limes

Place all ingredients in skillet over medium heat. Cook until butter turns desired shade of brown. Strain. Reserve.

Cranberry-Kumquat Sauce

4 cups cranberries

1 pound kumquats, sliced and cooked in equal parts sugar and water

2 cups port wine

4 cups water

Add all ingredients to sauce pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add more sugar if needed.

Jerk-Rubbed Roasted Turkey with Spicy Gravy and Citrus Brioche Stuffing

1 10- to 12- pound turkey

2 cups jerk seasonings

½ pound butter

Rub turkey with butter and then add jerk rub. Cover with foil. Bake in 350-degree oven until internal temperature reads 130 degrees. Baste turkey with pan juices. Continue to bake without foil until temperature reads 150 degrees. Remove from oven and allow turkey to rest at room temperature until internal reading is 165 degrees. Reserve pan drippings for gravy.

Citrus Brioche Stuffing

1 pound brioche, cubed

4 ribs celery, small diced

2 yellow onions, small, diced and caramelized

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 cups cranberries

Segments and zest of 2 oranges

1 cup sherry

1 cup orange juice

1 bunch thyme

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Place stuffing in casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes, until heated through and golden brown on top.

Spicy Gravy

½ pound butter

1½ cup flour

4 quarts chicken stock

Pan drippings from turkey

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook until desired color is reached.

Whisk in chicken stock and pan drippings. Season to taste

Whole Stuffed Blue Crabs

1 pound each: cooked lobster, crab and shrimp

1 cup cream cheese

4 eggs

1 cup Panko crumbs

1 orange, zested and juiced

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Crab shells*

Add all ingredients to large mixing bowl and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound portions into hollowed crab shells and bake in 350-degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown.

*Ask your fishmonger to prepare the crabs for you. Cut the top off and discard all insides (save the meat!)

Making It Home

Tips from the Ritz on a successful seaside feast.

Vacationing without your priceless family heirlooms? Public relations director Liza Kubik says prop-shop loaners or thrift-store finds can lend ambiance in a pinch.

Bring youngsters into the act, says catering services director Kim Pate. One family celebrating a Ritz-fixed Thanksgiving carved squash animals with the kids, then decorated the table with their creations.

To minimize sand-related stress, chef Dakota Weiss advises preparing the meal a day ahead, making dishes that can be easily packed and served (like cold soup) and pre-carving the turkey.

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