moules frites, redux

In the comments of yesterday’s post, someone asked why she feels a need to make so many dishes for Thanksgiving when she’s only feeding a few people and always ends up with leftovers that end up getting thrown out four days later. Now, I’m sure the question was rhetorical yet I can’t help but chime in because I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately: Why is it that hosts feel so compelled to over-feed? Why is it that I feel bad when I only have served just enough food?

potatoes on the ready

Yes, I know these are first world problems, but they’re not bad things to consider in this season of indulgence. The average American’s Thanksgiving intake measures about 4,500 calories, or over twice the recommended daily allowance of a full-grown adult. Our tables flow with an amount of food that would feed most families in the world for a week, many longer. We stumble away from them drunk, stuffed, our waistbands snug. We actually think that what the potatoes might benefit from another stick of butter.

baked pommes fritesbaked pommes frites

I’m not trying to be a pill. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, and always has been. But when friends came over for dinner last Friday, the thought of one of those typical, multi-course, showy heavy meals was appalling. (Also, we only had about an hour to put the whole thing together.) As always, Julia Child’s mussels steamed in white wine and my baked pommes frites–along with a big salad and that tart I’d baked the night before–saved the day, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I hadn’t cooked enough. Even though everyone left here full. Even though nobody really enjoys leaving a meal feeling like they put on 10 pounds. How ridiculous have we become?

mussel brothmoules mariniere

What I should have been more concerned about was excess of the wine variety. I mean, seriously people. When in the history of Ever has Alex and friend running out to the liquor store for more bourbon and, oh, a bottle of prosecco at 11:15 p.m. ever been a good idea? Is it any wonder that I “broke” NaBloPoMo that night? I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Ah well. At least one dinner this week wasn’t over-the-top.

steamed mussels

[Recipes for Moules a la Mariniére and Baked Pommes Frites from the archives]

Thanksgiving Q&A: Between now and Thursday, I’m still answering, or trying to answer, as many Thanksgiving-related cooking questions you can throw out at me in yesterday’s entry. Keep ’em coming!

One year ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake

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28 comments on moules frites, redux

  1. I am loving your recent posts, so inspiring! I had to email myself a bunch of your recipes over the last few days! Thanks…. I will let you know how the tart goes, I am going to attempt it this weekend thanks to Pie Crust 101!

  2. We do the over indulgent Thanksgiving feast every year – more out of tradition than anything else. Normally, during a plain old regular week, I cook just enough for us with minimal leftovers. Bounty and abundance has been drilled into my brain as being the “perfect Thanksgiving dinner.” Darn society and marketing!

    Happy Thanksgiving :-)

  3. jessica mae

    hi deb-

    i made one of your cranberry sauces last night (the one with the julianned orange zest). i incorporated a few suggestions from one of the commenters (cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla- oh my!) and it tastes AWESOME. it is still really liquidy though, even after simmering and cooling. is there anything i can do to thicken it up?


  4. deb

    Hi Jessica — Has it been refrigerated yet overnight? I find that mine always comes out of there even thicker than I want it, because all of that sugary syrup jellies. If so, hm, let me keep thinking and I’ll get back to you!

  5. siewyuk

    love your blog : ) i know exactly what you mean….i used to ask myself that question after yet ANOTHER massive eating spree, and packing little containers of leftovers for guests to take home…well, nowadays, i try to serve just enough food so people leave happy but not like they have to roll all the way home, and i am SO glad i did that! saves me $ too!!

  6. jessica mae

    you know, i am a complete idiot, no, i hadn’t put it in the fridge yet (it was a late night so it was just done cooling when i got up early this morning. for some reason i assumed it would thicken up as it simmered. i’ll check on it later and let you know. i also made your cranberry, caramel and almond tart. seriously? the caramel sauce alone is worthy of a repeat.

  7. deb

    Jessica — Not an idiot; I should clarify in those directions that to get really thick, it needs to get really cold for a while. Thanks for the input. Glad you like it!

  8. Deb, I couldn’t agree with you more that our glutony has gotten out of hand where Thanksgiving is concerned (heck, where any day of the year is concerned). I enjoy cooking for others as much as the next gourmand, but I really rather despise Thanksgiving for this very reason. It’s just so unnecessary. I’m sure I’ll have rotten eggs thrown my way for saying that. Still, the stuff you’ve been coming up with all month makes a person want to throw a huge party just to have reason to try everything! Love the photo of the mussels!

  9. Those mussels look amazing! I know what you mean about dinner parties (I’m not hosting Thanksgiving, but it’s the same idea) — I’m always worried that people won’t get enough food, even if it’s a multi-course meal. I end up serving far more than I would ever eat for dinner on my own!

  10. ekgfrompdx

    The funny thing is, at my house, if I just served mashed potatoes and my mom’s wonderful gravy everyone would go home happy. Still, at least four side dishes, two kinds of yams/sweet potatoes, a plethora of pies… ridiculous!

  11. ann

    I think the need to overfeed is the evil twin of a hostess’s worst nightmare: running out of food and guests leaving hungry.

    That said, I told my Thanksgiving guests to bring tupperware so I can send some leftovers home with them. Aren’t leftovers the best part anyway?

  12. Yes! I started worrying last night I wouldn’t have enough food, as our guest list continued to grow after we had finalized the shopping list and menu. The last few times I have hosted other dinners for this family, we have scraped to the bottom of the bowls of almost every dish, which is great because I don’t love to eat leftovers for days. I don’t want people to leave the table hungry, but I can’t stand overindulgence on my own part, and don’t really feel the need to aid others in it. I finally told myself that if it doesn’t look like enough food, I’m just cooking a heaping bowl of rice as an extra side.

    That should help soak up all the wine I bought!

  13. Anna

    Last year I was so tired and stuffed from merely THINKING about all the traditions we simply MUST uphold, that I proposed to my mom a ‘divide and conquer’ of sorts: classic, everybody loves ’em, mashed potatoes and Sunset’s artichoke parmesan stuffing with turkey and trimmings on Thursday, and leftover turkey, gravy, and cranberries rejuvenated by the appearance of cinnamon-roasted sweet potatoes and homemade rolls (this year, panmarino, thanks Deb!) The grandparents are so happy to be with seven of their grandkids and eating real food that they don’t mind eating basically the same meal twice in a row. Love your site; it’s in my dailies! :-)

  14. C’est Kim


    I will definitely try this emal, it sounds PERFECT. I wish I could “get away” with not cooking a turkey (poultry bores me) for TG but let’s not even go there. Question: Due to too many dishes and too few burners, I want to make mashed potatoes in advance and reheat them, either micro or crock pot. Thoughts?

    Thanks and Happy TG!

  15. 4,500 calories is the reason why I’m riding 30 miles tomorrow morning on my bike. :)

    Hope you and Alex have a great Thanksgiving! And say hi to “A” for me if you see her.

  16. 4,500 calories! Are you serious? My gawd. Well, like Howard I’m squeezing in some exercise while the turkey is in the oven and on Friday — all those calories must be like jet-fuel in my body.
    The mussels looks fantastic, though. You could serve me that any time and I wouldn’t complain about too little food. It’s so good.

  17. I’m also thinking some of the same Thanksgiving semi-kill-joy thoughts that you are; with only a small group of 4 of us, I had to put myself in check as I was thinking of producing 3 pies. It’s a fine line between showing generosity with food and being over-the-top, and I know I often tilt the wrong direction when playing host.

  18. I just read in the NY times that the average person eats like 4,000+ calories through the Thanksgving meal. I’d gladly eat that many and then some if you were making the meal. Sigh, your photos make me hungry!

  19. Helena

    This makes me long for the time my husband and I spent in Brouge a couple of years ago. Although I was recovering from the stomach flu, I ate my fair share of moules frites. Thanks for bringing it all back!

  20. At this point, I’m trying to think about what to cut back. I had actually planned to make 3 pies for 6 people, excessive as it may sound — but a little while ago, two of the six called to say they were sick and couldn’t make it. So I’m cutting out one pie, at least — but I’ve still got a HUGE turkey, cornbread-sausage stuffing, baked sweets, brussels sprouts, a lovely green salad, plus hors d’oeuvres, in quantities that could probably serve at least 10 — for just four people. Sigh. If anyone needs a place to go, send them my way.

  21. Hi, Deb. I am sure you are too busy these days to get to many comments on older recipes on your website, but I just wanted to let you know that I submitted an illustration of this fabulous recipe to They Draw and Cook (

    I have been a huge Smitten Kitchen fan for years, and love your book. Thank you for sharing your talent and enthusiasm for cooking with all of us.

    Here is a link to the Moules Frites illustration: