Friday, November 11, 2011

What Makes Your Thanksgiving Menu?

LUCY BURDETTE: Many years ago, my sister Sue and I were headed toward what was shaping up to be an "orphan" Thanksgiving-that is, no way (and no real urge) to get home, but in no position to host the holiday ourselves. Sue's college roommate's mother (who later became our stepmother but that's a big digression) invited us to join their family. It was a lovely invitation and an even lovelier day.

Except for one thing: Being good southerners, this family served-oh the horror, oh the disappointment-RICE with the gravy instead of mashed potatoes.

And that Reds, brings me to today's question. What one dish could you absolutely not do without on the Thanksgiving holiday? (For me, it's those mashed potatoes, absolutely drenched in gravy. And no giblets please...)

RHYS BOWEN: The one dish I could absolutely definitely do without would be candied yams with marshmallow topping. I only ate it once, and I was pregnant at the time but I spent the rest of the day barfing... so never again. My favorite part of the meal is the stuffing, if it's really good. John does a great sausage stuffing with lots of sage and onions. Yummy.

LUCY: I'm going to skip the candied yams just hearing about that Rhys! I make a darned good stuffing too--cornbread and sausage, yum!

JAN BROGAN: You know Lucy, I would have said the mashed potatoes myself, (I live for potatoes) but my sister-in-law did Thanksgiving last year WITHOUT the mashed potatoes, (no rice either) and it was still fabulous. In fact, she did a very streamlined meal that made me rethink my own tendency to make a zillion different dishes.

But the one thing that I've never forgotten is another sister in law who served cake - YES CAKE!- Instead of pies. And I've never gotten over it. And frankly, I'd rather the pies be the EXACT same selection that my Aunt Clare used to serve. So I always volunteer to make the pies - even when I'm hosting and doing the main meal.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: You girls are picky - I'm just happy when someone else cooks for Thanksgiving and invites me! 'em, need 'em, gotta have 'em. I don't care if they have pineapples, pecans or marshmallows, whether they come from a can or from a farmstand, brown sugar or straight. Did I mention I like the yams?

Now, stuffing, I just don't get. Bruce has tried to tempt me with his stuffing (a touch of chicken liver - ick!) And he has sung the praises of Bell's Seasoning - which comes in a cool package but reminds me of my grandmother's snuff - but I remain steadfast. Pass the yams, please.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm a Southerner! At at least as close to the South as Texans are willing to admit. We don't say YAMS--they are SWEET POTATOES! And I do like them, although without sugar added. And we don't say stuffing, we say DRESSING. And it must be made with at least half cornbread. That, I think, is the sticking point for me. No cornbread dressing, it's not Thanksgiving. Oh, and I've made a cranberry relish with orange zest, honey, vinegar, mustard seeds, and chopped jalapenos for years. I know it sounds really weird, but it was a recipe from Gourmet, and it's fab. Can't do without.

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm with you, Rhys. I hate THOSE potatoes.

The problem with Thanksgiving is that the entire meal is sacrosanct. In my house it's roast turkey (wings reserved for yours truly), Pepperidge Farm stuffing with celery mixed in, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans. I absolutely won't do without canned whole cranberry relish, please, and still canned shape if possible. And a homemade pumpkin pie with real whipped cream.

I'm with Jan on the cake. CAKE for TG? Should be illegal.

LUCY BURDETTE: Although girls, I cannot help but mention that I came across an amazing looking recipe for southern caramel cake with southern caramel frosting, and I immediately thought: Thanksgiving! I'd do the pies too, of course. The only thing that holds me back is the Crisco in the icing...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I have to sympathize with Rhys - during one pregnancy, Thanksgiving dinner was the last meal I had before my morning sickness kicked in at 6 weeks (which it always did, like clockwork.) I couldn't even HEAR the word turkey without tossing my cookies for the next few months.

That charming anecdote aside, at our house we MUST have Bird's Eye green Beans and Spaetzel. This is one of those quirks Ross brought to the marriage. On my side, I must make home-made dressing, using the same recipe my mother and grandmother used. I'm sorry, Hallie, but pre-made stuffing is an abomination unto the Lord. Pecan pie. Ross makes a wonderful pecan pie.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I could live on stuffing forever. FOREVER. Bread, butter, celery and gobs of salt? Sigh. I'm longing for it, even thinking about it. My mother used to carefully make two kids of stuffing--plain (yum),and oyster, (yuck), which none of us kids would eat.
It wasn't til years later I found her putting the same stuffing in both turkeys.
Wait! I yelped.(I was about 20 years old.) You're putting oyster stuffing in BOTH turkeys!
She shook her head. Yup, she said. Been doing it for years. You kids never knew.

Your turn Reds: What Thanksgiving dish can you never do without? And by the way, if you have Thanksgiving conundrums, here's a link to the New York Times Thanksgiving hotline.


  1. I love turkey but I could live on cornbread dressing and gravy! I also can't do without cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Cathy AJ

  2. I never understood the concept of stuffing, but all three of my daughters are incensed if it is not included in Thanksgiving dinner. I've gotten to the point where I buy the box and just let them make it.

    Love everything else about the holiday, including being together for no other reason than to share a meal. My oldest daughter's birthday is on Thanksgiving this year, reminding me of the Turkey Day I spent having an inedible hospital dinner 41 years ago. Anything is better than that!

  3. My dad made the dressing at our house. Sauteed onions and celery in butter. Dried slices of white bread and cornbread. Eggs, salt, and SAGE. LOTS of sage. He mixed it in a huge stainless steel bowl and we'd all take turns tasting it until it was "just right." I still ask, "Is that enough sage?" when I make it now.

    I can't believe no one mentioned green bean casserole with mushroom soup and those crispy onions on top! (Not a fave but always a tradition!) And giblet gravy for the dressing and mashed potatoes.

    Pies: pumpkin, pecan, and a meringue--either chocolate, lemon, or coconut.

    But there is one thing that defines Thanksgiving in my family: homemade yeast rolls, using my grandmother's recipe. We use the same recipe for the early morning cinnamon rolls, and then have rolls hot from the oven for the main meal. Even though we've simplified the meal, I STILL make the rolls because it's just not the holidays without them.

    And now I'm all nostalgic. I love hearing y'all reminisce. Happy Veteran's Day and thanks to all who have and continue to serve and to their families!

  4. Ok, my sister in law has spoiled me over the past few years! She's a whiz at cooking this meal. She adds in cream cheese to the mashed potatoes.. and that's heavenly! Then my sister makes the green bean casserole with shredded swiss cheese added to it. Yum!!

  5. Good question and one we are struggling with this year. Should cut fat and sugar from the menu but not sure we can change tradition. My husband always makes homemade cranberry sauce. We have butternut squash on Thanksgiving and save the mashed potatoes till the next day. And gotta have the green bean casserole. We don't need two pies for the three of us, but my daughter doesn't like pumpkin.
    And I really, really miss getting together with my family. About the only bad thing about moving from Ohio to Arizona.

  6. No longterm traditions since I need to mix things up, but recent favorites include garlic-brined chicken (not turkey) and green beans with shallots and morels. And I have to have roasted new potatoes. Okay, now I'm thoroughly hungered (is that a word) and have to rustle up lunch.

  7. Absolute must haves: cornbread dressing and pumpkin pie.

    Of course, since we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last month, with those two dishes included, I'm all ready for round two. In fact, I think I might make up some cornbread dressing today.

  8. Those yeast rolls sound amazing--and how clever to eat them twice in one day! we did have green bean casserole in the old days, but it seems to have gone by the wayside. Another old fave that's lost steam is the creamed onion dish.

    And I have to confess, I am considering a key lime pie...

  9. I gained five pounds reading that, and now I'm STARVING. I want that recipe Deborah Crombie mentioned for "cranberry relish with orange zest, honey, vinegar, mustard seeds, and chopped jalapenos."

    I'd have to say that turkey, pumpkin pie, family, and friends are the essentials for me.

  10. Vegetarian stuffing. I make it myself so I'm sure to have SOMETHING to eat that day. ;-)

  11. nelizadrew - that's why I make sure there's tofu turkey! (homeade - I can't stand the bought kind).

    But I have to admit, I need pumpkin pie, too!

  12. My friend Annie has each guest select a "must have" favorite. I think it started with her children and widened to include all guests. I always make sure pumpkin pie is one of the items. I know turkey is expected, but one year she had ham instead, and that was awfully good with the sweet potatoes and cranberries.

  13. Rhys and Hallie, I'm with you on the candied sweet potatoes -- sick on 'em once as a kid and the thought still makes me gag. Glad to hear others will eat them for me. And I don't mind a cake -- made a fab pumpkin spice cake w/caramel sauce one year -- as long as there's plenty of pie. Pecan and apple-cranberry for me, pumpkin for everyone else. Oh, I love pie.

  14. I can’t do without the late night, cold turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and mayo.

    Unfortunately, (or fortunately if you consider the work involved) my youngest son likes to play chef so he does Thanksgiving now.
    Hot bread, turkey, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, gravy, two kinds of stuffing, whole and strain cranberry sauce, broccoli and brussel sprouts, pecan pie, coconut custard pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and wine.

    He makes his own bread to make the stuffing. Needless to say, this aging Mom can’t eat what she used to, so I have to decide what to cut out and they eat later, so no cold turkey sandwiches until the next day.

  15. Late to the party, but another Southerner chiming in--

    Cornbread dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce for me!

    And for several years now I've veered from tradition and my family loves that I make Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake for dessert. (And of course pecan pie, too!)

    We're rather gypsy-like, with family scattered all over, so new traditions are pretty much embraced. I'm originally from New Orleans, and my mother, like Hank's, used to (actually) make 2 dressings--one being oyster, for my dad, and the other for us kids. Hank's story made me roll with laughter!

    Karen in Ohio, Happiest of Birthdays to your daughter!

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