Thursday, November 19, 2020

Things I Love to Eat: Our Thanksgiving Recipe Favorites

Here it is: Our family's favorite holiday eats. Linked here are recipes, special items, and inspiration for your own holiday table.

Main Course: Bird or Beast?

Almost everyone grew up with their own holiday traditions as to what graced the table come mealtime. As a kid with divorced parents, the spread differed greatly between my mom's family and my dad's. I recall only one Thanksgiving meal with my dad's family. It included StoveTop stuffing and I thought it was very tasty. I remember my mom (in private) not being quite so impressed. All of my other childhood Thanksgivings were spent with my mom's family: first at my great-grandmother/grandfather's home and later, at my grandparents' table. My mom is one of six kids and, during the holidays, it was always crawling with uncles, aunts, and cousins. Whether we celebrated at GGMa/GGPa's or at Grandma and Grandpa's, my grandpa (himself, smoking a chain of cigarettes) would smoke The Bird in his GIANT, home-built, brick smoker. I believe this is the reason that all other turkey has been ruined for me forever because after you've had Grandpa's Smoked Turkey --no other poultry will ever come close. After a time, Grandpa stopped smoking the turkey. I don't remember why, but odds are, it had something to do with one or more of my uncles pissing him off. When it was the "new rage," a couple of these same uncles took over and deep fried the bird (not bad). We even had a Turducken one year. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that the final product was not worth what appeared to be a great effort to execute. 

When I became a grownup with my own family and home (and traveling long distances for Thanksgiving was no longer an option), I tackled the job of roasting a turkey for the occasion. I relied on Martha --her brining process (we had to purchase a 5 gallon bucket from the hardware store our first year), fresh rosemary and other herbs, lemons, and butter (so much butter). My oven wasn't big enough for the bird and all the sides --so I trekked the beast back and forth between my friend Gretchen's house (2 doors down and out of town every Thanksgiving) and my own. I started the process days in advance by ordering the animal, brining overnight, waking at dawn, setting timers, basting, foiling over the breast as to not dry it out, adjusting the temperature, more basting, yaddy, yada... For all my efforts, we enjoyed turkey* [read that with a tone of boredom]. It wasn't dry or anything --but it wasn't very special either. It was turkey. Turkey (unless it comes out of Grandpa's magic smoker) is just not an exciting protein. I said it. It's not a secret. 

2008: FIRST Turkey  |  2009: BEING a Turkey  |  2010: FINAL Turkey

At some point, I got wise and started ordering/buying a spiral ham to serve alongside the turkey. At least with ham you have the maple-brown-sugar glaze and lots of salty goodness. Am I right? In recent years, since moving to the east coast, we have enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving with my cousin (yep --one of the ones that swarmed our grandparents' house way back when) and his lovely family. Brad makes an amazing bird. Do you want to know his secret? He uses one of those big plastic baking bags and his turkey ends up incredibly moist and practically falling off the bone. It's delicious! This year, Covid has us apart at the holiday so I've been forced to do the only reasonable thing: order smoked turkey from a Charlotte favorite --Midwood Smokehouse

All-Day Grazing (AKA Appetizers)

Of course, before we get to the actual dinner (Wait. Raise your hand if you were you raised in a pack of maniacs who refer to the Thanksgiving meal as "lunch." What is that even about? I don't care what time you sit down to eat... if there is an entire fowl on the table, that is DINNER. I digress.) must start the grazing phase very early in the day. Back when I was still making the bird, I obviously needed a lot of fuel and nourishment to get me to the finish line. While I may no longer be undertaking the main event, I still pride myself on my champion-level snacking abilities. My go-to appetizer is Deviled Eggs. This oldie never goes out of fashion. Of course there's always a Cheese & Charcuterie spread. Back in the days of grandma and grandpa, we just called it cheese and crackers (plus smoked oysters from the can that we ate with toothpicks). Vegetable Crudite is a nice touch to make family and guests feel like you care about their health --but don't skimp on the homemade ranch dressing (1 packet ranch seasoning to 1 16oz. container of sour cream). I got really fancy a last year and made HBH's Pull-Apart Bread with brie, cranberries, pecans, and brown sugar. Wow. Winner. Did I mention the brie?

I can't stress this enough: Put butter in your Deviled Eggs.

These always look best when they are CROWDED. Choose a platter with sides/walls.

Make it a little "messy" --and separate colors

This picture does the BRIE absolutely no justice.

Sides, Sides, Sides

I'm pretty sure you'd get kicked out of the world if you didn't serve mashed potatoes and gravy with your Thanksgiving dinner. I'm serious. The world would no longer have you. I don't have much to say about making mashed potatoes --other than: butter and whole milk are our friends, as is salt. Good lord, please don't under-season your potatoes. As for gravy, I have a lot to say about it --but no practical advice. The quality of your gravy will make or break the entire meal. If you are someone who can execute on a good old-fashioned pan gravy --from the drippings, with a flour slurry, cheers to you! This knowledge is perhaps the greatest culinary gift passed down to me from my mother. Unfortunately, I've tried explaining how to do it to other people and the truth is, there are no measurements you can rely on. You just have to feel your way through the situation given the circumstances of the moment. I wouldn't say it's magic, but it's close. Whatever you do, don't come at me with any jarred bullshit. Of course, without actually making the bird this year, it's literally impossible for me to make any gravy. I've outsourced that too (along with the potatoes). Thank you, Midwood Smokehouse (who I'm sure know their way around a slurry). 

Stuffing has long been one of my favorite sides at Thanksgiving. It might have to do with the recipe my family always made which calls for about 6 sticks of butter. Raise your hand if you cook your stuffing inside the cavity of your turkey. Great. Now, you monsters --go sit in the corner. No pie for you. I've enjoyed lots of tasty stuffings over the years. I like the kind that has sausage in it. Because, sausage. Just please cook it in a casserole dish and let the edges crisp up and brown nicely. Apparently, Oyster Stuffing is pretty common out here in the southeast (or is it the south --or just the east?). In any event, I'm a big fan of oysters in any form so I feel like I should tackle that at some point. The problem is, I don't think my family will appreciate it as much as I will. If I go this route... can you share a recipe?

We can't go any further without addressing the Green Bean Casserole and Marshmallow Sweet Potatoes (AKA Candied Yams). Both are definitely delicious and absolute staples on the traditional Thanksgiving plate; however, what the actual hell? Can you name a single person who prepares and serves these dishes on any other day of the year? What is that about? One year, I made sauteed har co vaiir with white wine and toasted almonds instead of the casserole. We don't talk about that. Beans that still look and taste like beans are for another day.

Very suspect of those GREEN beans...

Food Network's Corn Pudding was added to our Plate about a decade ago. It's creamy, cheesy, and full of fat --which is why we only have it twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. This recipe is also one that can be easily tackled by the youngest of kitchen helpers (all the ingredients come from a can or package)--so apron those kids up and get them contributing to the meal this year!

When my cousin, Brad (of the famous Bag-o-Turkey), hosts Thanksgiving, his mother-in-law brings her Apple Salad. You guys. This dish adds so much brightness, crunch, and fresh-sweetness to the rest of the meal, that I may have flipped cartwheels the first time I had it. In fact, I'm fairly certain that the salad is now referred to as "Tammy's Salad" because I sort of claim most of it for myself every year. I've never asked for the recipe. There's something about not knowing it that makes it feel/taste even more special/festive. Is that weird? This one might be similar. Does your family serve Apple Salad for the holiday? Sadly, Midwood Smokehouse does not. 

Brad's Thanksgiving Spread (featuring "Tammy's Salad")

People have feelings about cranberry sauce. If you've ever hosted the meal for a group, you understand the critical decision to include both a can of gelatinous-style-cranberry sauce and (I hope) a dish of homemade cranberry sauce simmered until bursting with fresh orange juice and zest, sugar/maple syrup, and a dash of cinnamon. Can you guess which is my preference?

The Thanksgiving meal is incomplete without rolls and lots of soft butter. Just ask my nephew who despite all of the heaping serving dishes on the table, ONLY eats the rolls. Raise your hand if your family has a discerning foodie of your own. Ok. You can come out of the corner now and join us at the table to enjoy this amazing meal. Look! I even bought butter shaped like a turkey this year (to smother over the jalapeno cornbread that Midwood is offering instead of rolls). 

Check your grocery store "seasonal" end-cap for these!

Whatever your family is making/serving this year --I'm sure it's going to be delicious. Remember to save room for dessert on Thursday: A plate full of Cool Whip with a sliver of pumpkin pie! Also, let this be a reminder to snap a few family photos (even though it's likely just going to be the usual suspects). You might end up with a great holiday card option because kids LOVE taking family pics, am I right?

Unbridled enthusiasm from my nephews

Because so few of us are gathering with others, everyone is sure to have leftovers for days and I think we can all agree that that is the best part. I know I look forward to healthier times when our neighborhood can get back to our annual "Thanksgiving Morning Kickball" event --where the grownups sip Bloody Marys, the kids overeat donuts, and someone always ends up crying. Good times!

Cheers to you and yours!

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  1. Love your rundown this week! The apple salad sounds a bit like my mom's woldorf salad, which include copious amounts of Miracle Whip and far too many walnuts for my liking. Do walnuts tear up the roof of your mouth like they do mine? Happy eating, Tam!!!

    1. Yes! The salad is very much along the lines of a Waldorf —but sweeter and maybe yogurt instead of miracle whip? Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!

  2. Do I get a prize for making it to the end?! Haha, loved the post and hearing about the similarities and differences in our traditions. As for the apple salad... as Cindy mentioned it looks like Waldorf? This is not something we ever had for Tgiving growing up (and I, too, had divorced parents with different traditions - but neither did Waldorf). BUT my mother-in-law does serve it! And I love it! PS good basic homemade cranberry sauce is vastly preferred here. PSS I'm looking forward to using my new convection oven with probe for The Bird this year.

    1. Ha! Yes, prizes for all who make it this far. (Apparently, I had a lot to say.) The apple salad is very similar to Waldorf. Have you ever had oyster stuffing? I look forward to hearing about your bird on Thursday!