I’m always interested in what other people serve at the Thanksgiving feast. Our dishes don’t vary much, but sometimes we add something new to the menu, or we’ll drop something that’s not that popular. So this week, I’d like to share with you what’s on our menu this year, and I’ve got a couple of recipes for you that I really like, and a new one I’m trying for the first time.
We like to hang out together all day as the dinner cooks, but we’re not the type of folks who go for formal appetizers, so we just have a cold cuts and cheese and crackers tray and a pickle plate out on the counter. For the pickle plate, I’ll bring jars of pickled beets, pickled spicy green tomatoes, some black and green olives, and either Joel or I will open jars of dilly beans and kosher dill pickles. I’ll also be bringing jars of my home-canned, charred salsa and green tomato salsa to go with tortilla chips. There will probably be potato chips and dip, too.
This year, I’m bringing a bottle of champagne and a bottle of either my raspberry cordial or blackberry cordial, or maybe both, to make pre-dinner champagne cocktails. For the kids, I’ll make a lemonade-based punch. At dinner, we always open bottles of sparkling cider.
There’s turkey, of course. We cook one at home for leftovers to feed the out-of-towners who stay at my house (our daughter, Amy, her husband, Solo, and his mother, Theresa). Amy usually arrives a day early to help me with all the cooking. For the last two years, my daughter-in-law, Tori, has cooked the turkey for the big family feast, and she’s done a marvelous job. I taught her how to roast a chicken, told her to treat the turkey like a really big chicken, and she’s come through like a champ two years running. This works well because we eat the feast at Tori and Joel’s house, and I don’t have to cook the turkey at my house and worry about then transporting it. I have transported the entire dinner before, and I don’t like it! I have also tried cooking it at someone else’s house, and I don’t like that, either. So now, we divvy up the cooking, and it works well.
We are turkey traditionalists. We season the bird with butter and herbs and roast it at 325 degrees in a big, old-fashioned, heavy-lidded, enamel roasting pan. I like to mix fresh herbs from the garden—chopped thyme, sage, hyssop, and tarragon—into softened butter, and this goes under the skin of the breast and all over the bird outside. I sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I baste if I think about it, but the lidded roaster keeps the bird moist while producing a crispy skin, so if I forget to baste, it’s no big deal.
I stuff my turkey with cornbread stuffing. I make extra stuffing in a large casserole dish, and we take the casserole dish to the feast. The stuffing that cooks inside the turkey stays at home for leftovers. Tori doesn’t make stuffing, and her parents, who always feast with us, like a sausage and carrot and bread dressing, so they make and bring their favorite dressing. Everybody has what he or she enjoys most.
Amy and I make most of the sides. Amy has been crowned Mashed Potato Queen. She has cooked and mashed the potatoes every year since she was a teenager. Usually, she cooks the Yukon Golds I’ve grown in the garden. But this year, all my Yukon Golds were volunteers (from a row Dennis didn’t dig the fall before!) and they matured so early that we had to eat them all this summer. I have some garden reds, and I bought a 5 lb. bag of Golds, so we’ll mix them this year. A handful of salt goes in the cooking water. If this sounds like a lot, consider that if I don’t stop her, Amy fills my 13-quart stock pot with peeled and cut potatoes! She puts lots of butter in them, and fat-free half & half to balance the fat in the butter. She uses my old potato masher to break them up after draining, and then in goes the butter, and after it melts, the “cream.” Then she uses the mixer to whip them up. They are always light, fluffy, and creamy. The key is to not overcook them. Over-boiled potatoes will be gummy and gluey, no matter what else you do to them afterwards.
I make gravy from the turkey drippings. I used to make turkey gravy with flour, but since I have stopped eating wheat, I’m reverting to cornstarch. My mom had a funny rule: cornstarch for light-colored gravies from poultry drippings, flour for dark-colored gravies from beef and venison. (Of course, it was always flour for milk gravies, but that’s another story.) I don’t know where she came up with this rule, but she never deviated from it. At any rate, cornstarch makes a good, clear sauce for a light meat like turkey, and my turkey drippings are rich with butter and herbs from the herb butter I slather the turkey with, so it makes a delicious gravy no matter what you use to thicken it.
Some years, I make a puffy, sweet potato casserole. My husband likes those overly-sweet yams with marshmallow topping, but he is the only one who does, so I don’t make it. My kids don’t like sweet potatoes any way I fix them, but the puff is sometimes popular with other guests, and I really like it. The recipe is at the bottom of this post.
This year, my son asked for a dish I love: Roasted Roots. I have to thank my dear foodie friend, DeAnna, for introducing me to Roasted Roots some years ago. This is a simple and easy dish, but you do have to have time to prep the vegetables and the oven space to cook it. Tori and Joel have double ovens, so one oven will be free to roast the root vegetables and after that, to brown some homemade sourdough brown and serve rolls. You can use any kind of root vegetables in Roasted Roots. Our favorites are sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and onions, a cup of each vegetable, cut into chunks. If you can get tender baby beets, there’s no need to peel or quarter them, just trim off the stem and root ends and scrub well. If the beets are big and you can tell they’ve been out of the ground for a while, put on some rubber gloves, peel them, and cut them into approximately 1-inch chunks. Peel the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, and cut them into chunks the same size as the beets. Cut the onions into quarters, and then halve the quarters. Put all the vegetables on a cookie sheet (or two, if you’re making a big batch) and throw on at least 6 garlic cloves, still in the paper. (The paper helps keep them from burning.) Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and toss them to coat. I also like to mix a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or my homemade apple scrap vinegar with the olive oil before I toss the vegetables in it. The vinegar really brightens the flavors, and the sugar in the vinegar helps the vegetables brown. Spread them out in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have fresh herbs available, sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary are very good, tossed on top of the roots about 15 minutes into the cooking time. Roast at 425 about 20-30 minutes, stirring at least once about halfway through, or until the beets, parsnips, and carrots are tender. They are the hardest vegetables, so if they are tender, everything else will be done too. The vegetables should be tender but should have browned and developed a crunchy outer “skin.” Remove the herb sprigs before serving. If you have more herb sprigs, a fresh bunch makes the dish look pretty.
We don’t make the traditional green bean casserole, but we do sometimes have green beans. I like fresh green beans blanched and then tossed with mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter. But this year, Joel is making the green beans. He’ll probably use frozen beans, and he plans to crisp up some bacon and onions and sprinkle them on top of the cooked green beans. They’ll be delicious.
I usually make some kind of fresh bread for Thanksgiving dinner. I grew up with those packaged brown and serve rolls (my mom was not much of a bread baker), but I love fresh bread. It’s one of the things I miss most about going gluten-free. For the past several years, I’ve alternated between a loaf of herb bread–easy in the bread machine–made with herbs I picked from my garden and dried over the summer, and sourdough biscuits or rolls. My old bread machine finally died this summer, so it’ll be sourdough rolls this year. My sourdough starter also died because I didn’t use it or feed it enough, so I had to make some fresh starter. The recipe for the starter and the brown and serve rolls comes from Tina Harrington’s Facebook page, Cooking on the Sagebrush Sea. The recipe will appear at the end of this post.
I grew up with canned cranberry sauce, but the first time I tried homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce, I was hooked. I make it every year, following the directions printed on the plastic bag of cranberries. It’s just cranberries, water, and sugar. So simple, but so delicious. Some years, we make a fresh cranberry, orange, and apple relish as well. It’s just equal parts chopped cranberries, peeled oranges, and shredded apples, mixed with just enough sugar, a half cup or so, to sweeten it to taste. The problem with this relish is that it doesn’t keep well as a leftover, unlike whole-berry cranberry sauce, which will literally last months in the fridge. (Yes, I’ve found it after 6 months in the back of the fridge and it is still good–a tribute, I guess, to the antioxidant power of cranberries.) For this reason, you don’t want to make more of the fresh cranberry relish than you think you will eat on Thanksgiving Day.
At this point, we come to desserts. Amy and I bake the pies, and this year, my granddaughter, Kaedynce, will be helping with the pie-baking. I have made so many kinds of pie for the feast over the years, including pecan, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, and the traditional pumpkin. But there are two pies that everyone always wants: pumpkin, of course, and sour cream apple.
I grow pie pumpkins, and I roast and puree them for pumpkin pie filling. I use the same recipe I grew up with—it’s on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can—with one other exception besides growing and roasting my own pumpkins. Goldie, my sister and pie baker extraordinaire, taught me to double the spices the recipe calls for. Oh, yeah. It’s fantastic! And the home-grown, fresh-roasted puree puts the whole pumpkin pie deal right over the top. It is sacrilege to put anything except freshly-whipped cream, just barely sweetened and with a touch of vanilla, on top of that pie. So that’s what we do.
I owe the sour cream apple pie recipe to my good friend, Wes Reid, who brought me one years ago that his partner, Lori, had made for us. I fell in love with the thing, made it for Thanksgiving that year, and then the whole family fell in love with it too. Now, it’s the first dessert to disappear. Sour cream apple pie is in the chess pie family, and it’s topped with a cinnamon streusel that gets crispy under high heat during the last few minutes of cooking. This is a custard-type pie made with sour cream, eggs, and shredded apples, and while it sounds odd, it is absolutely the bomb, sweet and tart and tangy, and very easy to make. You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post. My thanks to Wes and Lori for passing along this recipe from Lori’s family to ours.
I usually make at least one other pie or dessert. This year, I’ll be making my new love, pear mincemeat in a gluten-free pie crust. Follow the links to previous posts that contain these recipes. Pear mincemeat (no meat) is spicy, tart-sweet, with a great hit of citrus from the whole lemon ground up with the pears and other fruit. It’s a wonderful filling for the gluten-free crust. I like to make turnovers because they’re handy, literally, and bake up nicely, but a pie would be just as tasty. I’ll see how busy I am on baking day. A pie it’ll be if I don’t have time to form turnovers. If I make turnovers, I’m thinking I might make a fresh lemon glaze to drizzle over them, to pretty them up a little bit and tempt someone who might be scared of the idea of “mincemeat” or gluten-free.
It’s standard to ask a question at the end of a post, in an attempt to generate more comments. I see it so much, it sort of feels like a cheap trick to me, and I’ve resisted the trend until now. But now, I’m asking because I’m genuinely interested: What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year? And if you’d like to share recipes or stories, so much the better.
And now, the recipes, in the order they were mentioned above. I hope one or more of them makes it onto your Thanksgiving table, either this year, or in the future.
Sweet Potato Casserole
2 ½ lbs sweet potatoes
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 T. unsalted butter, melted (plus more for the pan)
2 T. dark brown sugar
1 t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place scrubbed sweet potatoes on baking sheet, poke with fork three or four times. Bake for 45-60 min. or until tender. Set aside to cool.
Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Scoop potato meat out of skins and into bowl. Mash potatoes until smooth. Add eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Whisk mixture until smooth.
Butter 8X8 casserole dish or pan. Pour sweet potato mixture into pan and sprinkle top with pecans. Bake for 30-40 min., until a bit puffy. Serve immediately.
Sourdough Starter and Brown and Serve Rolls
Sourdough Starter: Mix 1 cup white all-purpose flour, 1 cup lukewarm water, 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. active dry yeast in large bowl. Leave out on the counter (or in warm place), covered with a cloth, until bubbling and yeasty smelling. When mixture is frothy, scrape into a jar or lidded crock and refrigerate. Starter is ready to use when a clear liquid has risen to the top of the jar.
It’s best to take the starter out the night before you plan to use it and feed it. To feed starter, place in large bowl and stir in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour. Cover and let sit in a warm place overnight to activate yeast cultures. After measuring out the starter called for in the recipe, put the “fed” starter back in the jar or crock and back in the fridge. Use your starter frequently, or at least feed it, or it will die.
Sourdough Brown and Serve Rolls
1 cup milk, scalded then cooled
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup of activated (“fed”) sourdough starter
2 small or one large egg
4 ½ cups flour (white or whole wheat)
Mix milk, salt, sugar and butter in a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat until the butter melts. Let this cool to room temperature. Add yeast and let proof five minutes, then combine with other wet ingredients and 2 cups of flour in bowl of stand mixer. Let knead on the dough hook for ten minutes. Add remaining flour in ½ cup increments until the dough just comes together. Turn out into a greased bowl, and proof (raise) for an hour. Make into rolls (makes about three dozen rolls). Place in greased pans a quarter inch apart, and let raise another 45 minutes.
For Brown and Serve: Preheat oven to 250*F and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool, and wrap and freeze (or refrigerate). When you want to serve these, take them out of the freezer and let them thaw for ten minutes, then bake at 425*F for 5-10 minutes.
Note: An egg wash makes breads brown beautifully. Simply beat up an egg with a spoonful of water and brush it onto bread before baking. For the brown and serve option, use the egg wash prior to the second baking/browning.
Sour Cream Apple Pie
One 9” pastry shell, unbaked
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups finely chopped or grated peeled apples (tart pie apples are best)
Mix dry ingredients, beat in egg, sour cream, and vanilla until smooth. Add apples, mix well, pour into pastry-lined pie pan. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for additional 30 minutes.
While custard is baking, mix the topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup softened butter
Mix well and sprinkle over pie. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard. Cool completely before cutting. Store in fridge.