Giving Thanks

There’s a lot to be said for the traditional trappings at Thanksgiving: the goopy sweet potato casserole with tiny, burnt marshmallows on top; the sodium-soaked green bean casserole topped with tinny-tasting fried onions; gelatinous slices of canned cranberry “sauce”; boxed-broth flavored stuffing with the consistency of packing peanuts.

Wait, no… There isn’t.

Happy Turkey Day
Image courtesy of Flickr user jeffbalke.

Sure, everyone looks forward to the traditions at Thanksgiving each year — gathering with your close family or friends, stuffing your face, coming down off your food high in front of the Cowboys game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, making turkey and cranberry sandwiches for breakfast the next morning, and eventually deciding that you don’t want to see another turkey until, well, next Thanksgiving — but no one said the food had to be traditional, i.e., boring and flavorless.

Why not start a new tradition for Thanksgiving? Why not prepare some easy yet amazing, simple yet delicious dishes that inspired by the season, not by the collective subconsious? Below are some of my favorite recipes; hopefully they’ll inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

Instead of bland, flavorless cornbread stuffing, give one of these phenomenal stuffings from Bon Appetit a try: Wild Mushroom & Spinach Stuffing or Bacon, Apple and Fennel Stuffing. The latter is particularly fitting for the season, with succulent little fennel bulbs and crisp apples. And the former can easily be adapted for vegetarian or vegan friends and family.

Instead of dumping out a can of cranberry sauce and listening to it slide sickeningly out of the tin with little belches before landing on the plate with a sound that can best be described as “giving up,” why not just make some cranberry sauce from scratch? It’s easier than it sounds, trust me. Try this: Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney. Apple cider vinegar, ginger and onions give this sauce a tangy bite that gives way to the sweetness of the pear, cinnamon and orange zest. An extremely well-balanced recipe if I’ve ever seen one.

Instead of that godawful sweet potato casserole that only the folks sitting at the kids’ table enjoy, try this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers: Molasses Glazed Acorn Squash. My love for acorn squash is exceeded by very few other foods, and for good reason. It’s gorgeous to present, naturally sweet (even better when roasted), and extremely good for you. No tiny marshmallows needed here.

Instead of serving your family and friends a week’s worth of salt in one fell swoop with that soupy green bean casserole, give this amazing Brussels sprouts recipe a shot: Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Chili and Cumin Seeds. Unlike most Brussels sprouts recipes which call for heavy cream, bacon, butter or pork fat, this recipe calls only for olive oil and allows the sprouts to shine while allowing you to have a healthy yet hearty dish.

Of course, there are some Thanksgiving food traditions that aren’t to be meddled with: sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie, the triumverate of Thanksgiving desserts that should grace every sideboard or kitchen counter. But that’s just me.

What about you, sweet potatoes? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Would Thanksgiving be meaningless and empty without a certain dish or two?

16 thoughts on “Giving Thanks”

  1. The above list of traditional foods is why we almost completely boycotted Thanksgiving!! But, I said to myself, why give up so soon when there are so many other tasty options!?
    So I am breaking the family mold– no green bean casserole for this household, only Bacon wrapped fresh green beans in a delectable sauce, Brine soaked Turkey, Sour Cream fan rolls, etc….
    We will post the ranch recipe results soon….


    Prairie Ranch

    Wild Horse Hope Ministries

  2. I am going to get berated for this comment… but oh well…

    How about sparing a bird this year and trying something vegetarian?

    Hazelnut Crusted Field Roast from Whole Foods or Celebration Field Roast are excellent meat substitutes and are surprisingly good.

    Those are two options for vegetarians or those wishing to forgo tradition.

  3. I’m following the NPR story from Monday and switching to Maine lobster as an entree. Sides TBD at this point… still need to go shopping.

  4. I was never a fan of brussel sprouts either Jeff, then I started seeing recipes that cook them with bacon or pancetta – now I’m a raving fan.

  5. @ 6th Warder: I have to hear how this lobster Thanksgiving turns out… It sounds smashing!

    @ Jeff: We’re going to sit down and have a long talk about the awesomeness that is Brussels sprouts. And then I’ll make you some. And then you’ll be singing their praises from the rooftops and you’ll be in love forever (with the Brussels sprouts, not me…). And one day we’ll laugh about your callous and naive hatred for the noble sprout. 😀

    @ Sharon: WORD, sister. Preach it!

  6. Brussel Sprouts without bacon or ham are just little tiny bitter cabbages. For those that don’t eat bacon or ham, there is no salvaging the little tiny bitter cabbages.

  7. My dear Eric, such closemindedness does not become you! Give the lil’ cabbagelets a chance in the roasting pan before you count them out. Roasting is the magical touch to make almost any veggie tender and delicious.

    Ok, so we have a few traditions. My husband and I have started frying our turkeys, although we usually let the moms do Thanksgiving turkeys and we fry Christmas turkeys. I’ve started getting my turkey from a local (well, Hempstead) family-run poultry farm and wow, what a difference.

    My mom makes this stuff, Strawberry Pretzel Salad (handy that so many people on the internet make this), and it is only a salad in the 50’s sense of the word, but it is laced with crack in every bite and we now have to make 2 pans to keep up with everyone. We make this at Christmas as well.

    And of course I make the pumpkin pie, because I am not afraid of using extra spices, as so many recipes are.

    I also always make my own cranberry relish from scratch, because it’s worlds better than anything you’d buy in a store. It will also go quite well on the leftover turkey sammiches I’m going to construct on Friday with the homemade bread I’m planning on making. Oh, yes.

  8. I’m sorry, I love you my sweet potato, but I just really like the gelatinous cranberry sauce in a can!!
    My mom used to make me grind up cranberries and orange zest and all that (I’m sure that duty will go to another minion this year) but I always preferred the can. Call me crazy! (Because I am!)
    Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have fun!

  9. Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without that horrific GBC. I’m disgusted at the ingredients in the canned mushroom soup and don’t even want to read the list of the “fried onions” that go on top, but, I figure, once a year isn’t going to cause cancer to mestasticize or anything like that, so I just go for broke.

    No canned cranberry sauce – I make mine from scratch and it’s delicious!!!

    Gotta have roasted sweet potatoes – just a bit of olive oil and kosher salt and there’s no need for any sugar at all. Caramelization takes care of that!

    Then there’s the family recipe for dressing – the best this side of Luby’s!

    On another note, roasted brussels sprouts are fantastic! They don’t even need pork fat to be good, but pork fat does make everything taste better. Sorry vegans….you won’t be taking away my pork fat anytime soon.

  10. *sigh*

    There sure are some terrible recipes on Thanksgiving, that’s for sure – however, GBC was reborn to me a few years ago when ATK did a fantastic take on it. It takes all day to cook (or at least it feels that way), but making one’s own cream of mushroom soup does quite a bit to add to the flavor while limiting the ‘salt bomb’ quality .

  11. But…but…”sodium soaked green bean casserole” is one of my guilty favorites!

    Does it make it better or worse that I add cheddar cheese to the “traditional” back-of-the-Durkee-can recipe?

    I stay away from the jell-o/ whipped cream/ fruit monstrosity at all costs…[shudder]

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