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post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 
So thanksgiving is quickly approaching us, so the question of the day is how do you mix the holiday up? What exotic twist do you guys apply to the traditional "thanksgiving" dishes? I grew up with parents that always made a plain dinner so recently I just started making home made gravy, from stock fat and a thickening agent. So basicly I would find any different traditions or dishes interesting.

thanks in advance:chef:
post #2 of 63
Thanksgiving is the one holiday we don't mess with. We make the same things every years because we all like them. I have one sister that always tries to "shake things up", and it just irritates the rest of us. One year she put garlic in the mashed potatoes (not good with turkey gravy). Last year we made the mistake of letting her do the green bean casserole. She "tweaked" it and no one was happy. No one said anything to her face, but there was talk of where we were going to bury the body. We always have turkey (masterfully cooked by my brother-in-law). Sometimes we have duck too. There's always a second meat as my step dad doesn't like any kind of fowl. This can vary from ham to prime rib to BBQ ribs. Then there's mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry fluff (a salad made of ground raw cranberries, crushed pineapple, grapes, marshmallows, whipped cream and walnuts or pecans), and either green bean casserole or scalloped corn. Other dishes may be added, but the core things never change. There's always pumpkin and pecan pie, and whatever other pies or desserts anyone feels like bringing. Olives, both black and green and and pickles. There's enough chaos and insecurity in the world. Thanksgiving dinner is not to be messed with. The sister who always wants to change things says we always eat the same thing every year. The rest of us say "Yeah, that's the point".
post #3 of 63
I'm always over in the US at Thanksgiving but there are only 4 of us so I don't buy the whole bird. I find the smallest crown I can and roast that. We have roast potatoes, veggies, cranberry sauce, gravy and Yorkshire pudding!
Not a fan of turkey to be honest, would rather have roast beef but when in Rome and all that, we like to join in the celebration.
Definitely going to try and make a green bean casserole this year.
post #4 of 63
We always try to make a meal made almost entirely from foods indigenous to the Americas. Not very hard, I must say, as most traditional Thanksgiving foods feature indigenous foods.

I hate that yucky green bean casserole the fried onions that everyone makes and do one that my Mom always made with french-cut beans, ricotta, sour cream and Swiss cheese. I know, not indigenous, but everyone likes it so I keep making it.

Other dishes I like to include are: spicy succotash, fresh corn spoonbread, or macque choux. Wild rice is also really yummy cooked with wild mushrooms and cattail roots (when I can sneak into the swamp and dig some up.)

My partner complains that Thanksgiving dishes while always good with complex flavor, tend to be too heavy on the carbs. Well, why not just eat more turkey to balance it all out?
post #5 of 63
For the past few years, we've had a pescatarian guest, so we do sauteed marinated squid! Not that I'd expect anyone to do only that, but the year I did that plus turkey, all the squid got eaten up! :lol:

People who come to my house expect me to do something "different" and I'm happy to oblige. The year I had to make everything kosher (no dairy products, no pork), I made mashed sweet potatoes with coconut milk instead of butter/cream. Wow, was that good! And when I was expecting a vegan to join us, the soup was a mushroom-chestnut puree (mushroom stock, mirepoix, lots of fresh and dried mushrooms, all blended together).

I too like to make succotash, with beans, corn, and squash (the Three Sisters) plus Jerusalem artichokes and lots of chopped onions. When I made it in a kosher version, I added chopped kosher smoked turkey; when I can use nonkosher ingredients, it's either smoked pork or smoked turkey. Even in a vegetarian or vegan version without the meat, it's substantial enough to be a main course.

Now I have a stovetop smoker, so I'm thinking about making a smoked turkey breast instead of a whole bird (too much for just the few of us). I've been practicing and had some really good outcomes, esp. since I've got a farmers' market nearby where I can get excellent fresh turkey.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #6 of 63
I'm one of those that fall into the "don't mess with it" crowd. I cook/smoke the turkey on the weber. We serve mashed potatoes, dressing, corn, another vegetable, usually beans of some sort buth changes up a little, homemade noodles (if we are with my parents as my dad makes the noodles), cranberry relish, gravy, pumpkin and pecan pie. Pumpkin pie is always on the menu but sometimes we change up the pecan pie. The one place where things change up and we get creative is with the relish tray. Pickled eggs, pickled beets, pickled onions, dilly beans and other various items make the rounds.

We change up Christmas dinner quite often but Thanksgiving is very traditional in our family. We still don't let dad forget the year, when we owned the restaurant, he did a turkey roll and an abridged menu for T-day. We closed the restaurant and the last thing he wanted to do was cook. He never made that mistake again!!! :D
post #7 of 63
I'm in the "don't mess with a good thing" group. Our Thanksgiving dinner is pretty much the same every year (I fear a lynching if there were any major changes) and includes oven roasted turkey, dressing, mashed and sweet potatoes (not the marshmallow type, but cooked with orange slices, brown sugar and butter) home made gravey, buttercup squash, rutabega, home made jellied cranberries, cranberry relish and, of course the pies - pumpkin, butterscotch and apple. To top off the meal, there's plenty of hot coffee, Frango mints and salted nuts. :crazy: The meal is the same regardless of the number of family and friends are together.
post #8 of 63
Why sugar with vegetables?

Being from outside the US, and not brought up in the tradition of Thanksgiving eating/cooking, I can't understand why sugar is involved with the cooking of say, sweet potato or pumpkin. It's just an honest question, I'm curious is all...my palate can't begin to imagine the result of that combo...maybe I should just try it :) and hush up lol
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #9 of 63
You've brought up a subject i've often wondered about DC. BTW this is not a rant, and i'm certainly not knocking the food in America. I've enjoyed enough of it for years.

...But I do wonder why so much of the food is sweet... It seems sugar is added to things i wouldnt ever expect. ie sliced bread is actualy sweet. (Unless of course you but artisan breads ) And far more sugar than seems required is added to recipes.

I do like glazed carrots, but on the whole, veges with sugar and marshmallows just seems a bit OTT.

My youngest (16) is on holiday from school for a fortnight, and he's been creating some lovely dishes. His Risotto Milanese the other day was fabulous. He made sweet potato pie today which was a great success, but we all agreed it was way too sweet. I dont think the pie would suffer from reducng the sugar by half, as its basically a custard. But if you know better, do tell.

Finally, I just googled Thanksgiving to see when it was and i find that Canada has one too on the 12th October. News to me. So happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian friends on Monday.

Do you celebrate the same as Americans?
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
post #10 of 63
I come from a diverse background. One way my family mixes it up each year is by incorporating different ethnic dishes. Usually, we have a bunch of different cultural palates being represented but I could imagine it being fun to focus on one culture each year - say this year we'll put an Italian spin on the meal, next year it'll be Spanish...something like that.
post #11 of 63
I don't mess with the Thanksgiving recipes much. that's for other times of the year and for dealing with leftovers.

Seriously, why do so many people only cook turkey once a year? Lots of good ways to eat it and reasonable pricing is available year round if you frequent ethnic markets.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #12 of 63
>and reasonable pricing is available year round if you frequent ethnic markets. <

Or even supermarkets, Phil.

Day in and day out, turkey is probably the least expensive protein going. Last whole turkey we bought, sometime back in early summer, was 78 cents/lb. Friend Wife recently bought a turkey breast and paid 98 cents---about what we pay for chicken. I'll be smoking that this weekend.

We do eat it year round, except at Thanksgiving. Only time we have turkey then is if we're invited to other people's. At home we do Thanksgiving based on it's orgins---a celebration of the bounty of the earth. Generally that means dishes based on fish, game, and edibles we've foraged, and veggies from our own garden or otherwise locally grown.

I do find it a source of some amusement that the Thanksgiving dishes we associate as "traditional" mostly date from the post-WW II period.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #13 of 63
I don't mess with the "core" things for Thanksgiving. These are turkey, turkey gravy, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans with slivered almonds, rolls, pumpkin pie and whipped cream (I don't always make all of these). I'll usually do a few things extra that are different--side dishes or desserts or something like that.

As far as sweet veges--I am not a fan of adding sugar to veges, though I add a little maple syrup to sweet potatoes. Marshmallows--never, though my wife is used to those. She can make her own stuff if she wants to use marshmallows :smiles: I find a lot of pies are made too sweet for my taste--especially pecan pie, for some reason.

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite desserts, if it's made the way I like it. I like to eat it warm, with whipped cream on it.
post #14 of 63
When I lived in Atlanta I had a large group of friends that were from other places also, so for Thanksgiving I would invite them all over (anywhere from 15 to 30 people throughout the day). I would make the turkey, the gravy, and the dressing, then I asked everyone to bring their favorite dish from their home Thanksgivings. Used to be a blast seeing what people brought.
post #15 of 63

We have the same menu our parents had. Once a year is not exactly repetitious. We have a farm-raised, fresh turkey with my mother's Missouri/southern dressing of stale cornbread, bagged croutons, herbs, and Brazil nuts smothered in my Mother-in-Law's giblet gravy. Mashed potatoes, candied sweets (no marshmallows), green beans (no fried onions), and pumpkin pie.

This is a tribute to our family heritage, and we ain't going to fool around with it. It would be disrespctful.

Mike :mad:

In 2005, Rotary celebrated its 100th anniversary, with 40,000 people from all over the world at their International Convention in Chicago - where Rotary was founded.

My Hinsdale IL Rotary Club hosted a catered barbecue for about 400 people from overseas and then, as a special event, invited about twenty people from overseas to a member's house for a traditional and complete... American Thanksgiving Dinner. :peace: (This was in June.) Our club provided the whole thing, as described above. We brought the dressing and gravy. It all went over very well, although the weather wasn't quite typical. :rolleyes:
travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #16 of 63
If it ain't broke...don't fix it!

I've been making Thanksgiving dinner for the past 45 years. The only time anyone complained was when I decided not to make a certain dish, or if I tinkered with the recipe. The family expects at least 2 turkeys. One for dinner, the other(s) for the leftovers. Everyone looks forward to enjoying the time-honored recipes...no "gourmet specialties" or "designer foods"...just everything the way it's always been. I have the rest of the year to "impress?" people with new or different offering. But we don't mess with Thanksgiving.
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
post #17 of 63
Other than tweaking the stuffing recipe that I got from my mother it is traditional turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry.
post #18 of 63
I've messed with Thanksgiving. Well, sort of. My wife's family, as I've mentioned before, is not very adventurous when it comes to food. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners usually involved dry, overcooked turkey, canned veggies, instant potatoes and such.

It has been a long, slow process [ we celebrated our 22nd anniversary a bit over a month ago ] but things are improving. Real mashed potatoes, fresh veggies and such. Last year at her sister's house I did the turkey for T-Day, with a garlic herb butter rubbed under the skin, the cavity filled with rosemary sprigs, citrus and more garlic. Not too much though, I don't want to scare them! They liked the stuffing done outside the bird with a turkey stock, baked in a pan to provide lots of nice, crispy crust to go with the savory softness.

This year Christmas dinner is at our house. Still over two months away, but I'm already starting to fret and fuss about it. I'm thinking that in addition to the turkey I want to put a beef rib roast into the mix ...

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #19 of 63
This thread reminds me of how my brother-in-law and I "messed" with T-day. My mother traditionally cooked whole fresh cranberries with sugar for the cranberry side. Sometimes she'd make cranberry relish with oranges because my sister liked it. my brother-in-law and I, rubes that we are, like the jellied cranberries in a can. (Stop laughing, I can hear you way over here.) My mother, although she's mellowed some, was a person who if you didn't like the same things she did, considered you to be the equivalent of a communist. She flat out refused to get us our cranberries, so we brought our own. She wouldn't let us put them on the table, we had to keep them in the kitchen. Eventually she gave up and let us have them on the table. Sort of. While everything else was presented on Lenox china and lead crystal, our poor cranberries languished in a Tupperware bowl. But at least they were on the table. Now we have T-day at my brother-in-law's house. Lenox china gave way to chinette as no one wants to do all the dishes. Everything else comes to the table in whatever we can fit it in. Except our jellied cranberries. They are presented on a long polished chrome tray with gold handles in all their perfectly sliced glory. We won the great cranberry war.
post #20 of 63
Mike I both agree and disagree with this statement. I agree that I am a traditionalist then it comes to T-Day, meaning I follow my families traditions, but really the traditions do not go that far back. Thanksgiving has only been observed since 1863 when President Lincoln started the tradition, but it did not become a federal holiday until 1941. As far as tradition goes, I imagine our modern, "traditional" Thanksgiving is a far cry from what the pilgrims ate on that first "Thanksgiving."
post #21 of 63
>observed since 1863 when President Lincoln started the tradition,<

A common error, Pete.

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day proclamation did, indeed, lead to it becoming an annual, national holiday. But the fact is, George Washington had issued a similar proclamation, naming November 26 of that year as the date.

In both cases, however, Thanksgiving Day was not a day of feasting and celebration. It was a day of prayers and spirituality.

The main imputus to Thanksgiving as we know it came from FDR, who, among other things, promoted the idea of a turkey dinner as part of his own economic stimulus package. It was a way of helping out the turkey farmers, who were not doing well at all.

BTW, despite what we learned in school, it is doubtful that wild turkey was part of the harvest festival held by the pilgrims. Waterfowl were the more likely birds served.

And, while we're talking about "traditional" Thanksgiving Day foods, the ubiquitous green bean casserole was invented in the '50 by Campbells, as part of their constant barrage of ways to use their condensed soups as a gourmet ingredient.

>I imagine our modern, "traditional" Thanksgiving is a far cry from what the pilgrims ate on that first "Thanksgiving." <

It is. But you don't have to imagine it, Pete. That meal is fairly well documented.

Among the things they didn't have was cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (there was no sugar available to make them). Pumpkin was certainly part of that meal (which was more a state dinner than a tranksgiving celebration), but not in the form of pies or sweet puddings.

Waterfowl and upland birds were on the menu. Turkey is not specified; so, while possible, food historians consider it unlikely. Although Winthrop had detailed four hunters to go into the woods specifically to harvest provisions for that meal, it's more than likely they brought back venison rather than wild turkey.

Ovens hadn't been constructed yet, which means fowl was either stewed or spit-roasted; thus, no dressing (stuffing).

Potatoes---both Irish and sweet---were non-existent. Irish potatoes had not yet migrated to North America, and sweet potatoes were a product of the Carribean, with whom trade had not yet been established.

And, most assuredly, there was no green bean casserole! :thumb:
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #22 of 63
Interesting, the intensity of responses this thread has evoked. Lot of fun.

KYH - thanks a lot for the historical background; I enjoyed it very much.

Pete - as far as my family - and my wife's - goes, there is plenty enough background to be traditional! :lol: You should try adding sliced Brazil nuts to your dressing (maybe not if your tradition uses oysters) and maybe make a little adjustment to your tradition. :p

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #23 of 63
Nobody touches my sage stuffing, at Thanksgiving!!!! :p:p My grandfather, on my Dad's side was big into oyster dressing. No one else really cared for it, so there was always a small dish of oyster dressing sitting along side the big dish of sage stuffing.

Actually, while I prefer simple sage dressing on T-Day, I don't mind changing it up every once in awhile, though that is what I consider Christmas for since dressing usually makes an appearance there also.

And while I might be a "traditionalist" when it comes to T-Day, I am not a die hard fanatic about it. In fact, one year, after working the restaurant for most of the day on T-day my wife and I went out to eat. Having seen my fill of turkey and all the trimmings we opted for Benihana's for our Thanksgiving dinner!:peace:
post #24 of 63
In response to DC Sunshine and bughut: not all Americans like supersweetened vegetables! :lol: In fact, some of us can't fathom the "too much of a good thing"-ness of candied sweet potatoes or casseroles with marshmallows on top. :eek: Someone in the family introduced a mashed sweet potato casserole topped with what's basically a streusel -- nice texture contrast, but still waaaaaaaaaay too sweet for me. The sweet potatoes with coconut milk I mentioned upthread had Asian junk-food candied lemon (from Aji Ichiban) added -- which is much more lemon than candy, so it made a nice tart contrast.

As for what's "traditional" -- I'll bet that in many families it doesn't go back much more than one or two generations, and that most families personalize the feast more than they realize. While part of the whole idea of T-Day is to blend into the "American way of doing things" (or "Canadian" for that matter), many still find comfort in keeping something their family had in the "old country," wherever that was, however long ago.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #25 of 63
One other thought from the iconoclast: when I was in culinary school, I was assigned the turkey for our T-Day buffet. I boned it out and stuffed it with a stuffing that started the usual bread-and-herbs way, but also had cranberries and chorizo for the sausage. So it ended up like a ballotine. I loved it -- and I got a good grade, too. :D

In fact, I loved it so much that I did pretty much the same thing that year at my in-laws, although I used lots of mushrooms instead of sausage. They were polite, and everybody ate plenty, but I think they expected the usual whole bird. Oh well.

But one of the neatest things is to borrow from others' traditions, I think. Like having PA Dutch 7 sweets and 7 sours alongside your usual standard stuff. Or prosciutto bread instead of dinner rolls. Just a little change-up can make what may have become a boring meal into something a lot more fun (at least for the cook!).

BTW: This year my pescatarian friend suggest we do Jamaican or Mexican, like jerk fish or chiles rellenos. Sounds good to me -- but I still might have succotash on the side. :lol:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #26 of 63
Leave my sweet potatoes in caramel sauce with marshmallows alone!! :lol: Once a year I like it that way.
post #27 of 63
The "History of Thanksgiving" part of this thread is a little garbled. There was something of a tradtion of Thanksgiving -- with a meal much like the one we now have -- by the early nineteenth century. In the mid 1820s a fairly influential magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale started camaigning for a national day of Thanksgiving based on the Plymouth Colony tradition.

In 1863, Lincoln declared the third Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving, partly as a morale booster during the dark days of the war, partly as a way to unify the country, and partly (no doubt) for all the reasons advocated by Hale. But had the tradition, or one much like it, not been common, Lincoln would not have had much effect. He made it more popular, yes. But mostly he standardized a date.

In 1939, Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday of November -- additionally, federal business was suspended for the day (and later for the weekend) giving the holiday another dimension.

As for the menu -- that's been around for a couple of hundred years too. Not that different ethnicities didn't add some traditions, but the turkey - pumpkin thing has been around since dirt. Always a good, traditional choice, Turkey got a substantial boost in the late eighteenth century from Franklin, and became THE TRADITION in 1854 when Governor Bradford's (Plymouth) papers were recovered from the Brits.

In case you cared,
post #28 of 63
I agree with everyone who says Thanksgiving dinner is nothing to mess with. Stuffing, my favorite and even better the next day cold, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries (nothing fancy, straight from the can and sliced), turkey and gravy and sweet potatoes. I am not a sweet person. I would much rather have the savory than the sweet but my mom's sweet potatoes......forget about it. Topped with brown sugar, butter and marshmellows burnt but not too on the dark side. I look forward to the appetizers too. Spinach dip, pizza puffs, and pigs in a blanket.
post #29 of 63
When I say that I am a "don't mess with it" kind of person, I'm talking about me, personally. I have friends from many different backgrounds and they celebrate T-Day with foods they are familiar with. I am all fine with that. I am also perfectly fine with others wanting to change it up a bit or a lot. Personally, I like our family traditions and usually about mid October as the weather starts to turn colder, I start looking forward to our Thanksgiving feast. I never find it boring, even when cooking it, nor do I find it repetitive since we only have some of these foods once or twice a year. For me there is something comforting in having the same meal every year. But again, this is my personal preference. But I am also easy going enough that if I were at someone else's house for T-day I would be thrilled with whatever they served for dinner.
post #30 of 63
I would be really surprised to find 2 families' Thanksgiving dinner almost exactly the same. Even turkey and dressing, which are almost universal--almost--there are so many different family-traditional ways to make them. I stick to my "traditional" ways for the things I consider essential.

When I cook a ham, I make it the way my mom makes it. On the fatty side, I cut through the the fat in a criss-cross pattern, press brown sugar onto it, and stick a whole clove into each square (each square being about 3/4"). Then I bake it. That's my "traditional", but not everybody's. I like it so much this way that I almost always cook it like that, whatever time of year.
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