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Help give my Thanksgiving a kick in the pants

Every year of my entire life, the menu has been the same: pale turkey, soupy green bean casserole, cranberry sauce from a can, canned yams with marhsmellows, stove top stuffing, broccoli and cheese rice casserole, potato salad, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes with no flavor at all, mac and cheese made with velvetta and NOT baked, and of course, from a can pumpkin pie.
Now, I love my family. I really do. But after 25 years of the same menu, I felt it my duty to waken up my family's taste buds before they go to waste. I have already searched chowhound for previous posts, so please don't suggest that. What I need are new recipes, mainly side dishes, that are not listed above, or at least kicked up a bit.
This is what I have already: Maple Roasted Turkey with cornbread stuffing (Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen), newly reformed Greenbean casserole (from the latest Cook's Illustrated), Roasted Banana and Sweet Potato Casserole (Tyler Florence's Eat this Book), Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes or Potato Pancakes (can't decide), homemade Cranberry Orange Sauce.
I would love any and all vegetable recipes, any good starch recipes including but not limited to rice and potato recipes, and any new dessert/pumpkin recipes. Please help. If I see another Jello mold or bean salad this year, it could get ugly. Thank you.

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  1. I am going to try Rose Levy Berenbaum's pumpkin pie using fresh pumpkin. People often say canned is better, but I bake a sugar pumpkin for some ravioli and boy was it delicious. Rose's recipe (in her Pie and Pastry Bible) caught my eye because she has you sprinkle ground ginger snaps and pecans on the bottom of the pie crust before adding the filling to give a nice little crunch and some extra flavor. Corn pudding is also a favorite of mine and I'm happy to share my recipe. I've been meaning to try a recipe I found for pumpkin canoli, which sounds interesting. And last year I made the sweet potato pie recipe from November's Gourmet (likely available on Epicurious) with a ginger snap crust. It was to die for. Everyone liked it more than pumpkin. Have fun spicing things up-- sounds like you're off to a good start!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Procrastibaker

      Procrastibaker--I did a whole analysis last year; a pumpkin pie made with roasted pumpkin made the CI way (long/involved), then one made with Libby's pumpkin puree. The latter was better--to my great surprise. Sum: Don't waste your time (like I did).

      1. re: Funwithfood

        Try using coconut milk instead of evaporated milk for a wonderfully subtle change of taste. People notice the difference in the taste in a good way!

    2. My two cents: don't stuff the turkey. Bake that cornbread dressing on its own in a pan...much better that way--crustier, crunchier, and easily made ahead of time & cooked on T'giving AM. If you make a pan of cornbread for breakfast once a week for the next few weeks, you can stick the leftovers in the freezer. I have a big sack of "saved-up" cornbread hanging around for just this purpose. Try putting 1/2 cup toasted pecans into the cornbread dressing, too. Another good side-dish option for turkey is dirty rice AKA rice dressing...or, homemade yeast rolls instead.

      A pecan pie might be nice, too...and buy some good-quality ice cream to go with the pie.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Hungry Celeste

        Amen on not stuffing the bird. I like to add crumbled browned sausage to my conrbread dressing. Ooh and the family might think it is heresy but a really good rich spoonbread instead of potatotes with lots of butter and gravy is my all time favorite side for roasts.

        1. re: Candy

          Candy, would you consider sharing your recipe for a good, rich spoonbread? I've never made it but would love to if I had a recipe from a good CH source.

          1. re: queenie

            I'll do a couple I like on HC as a seperate post.

          2. re: Candy

            What kind of sausage do you like to use? I was thinking Italian, but since I am doing a Maple Roasted Turkey, breakfast sausage could be interesting too...thanks for the suggestion!

            1. re: foodrocks

              I like bulk breakfast type pork sausage but I imagine italian could be good as well as a really good chorizo in a chornbread dressing

        2. Right on! Good for you. I have a wonderful recipe for apple cranberry chutney, I either got it from someone here or on the craigslist forum. I would be happy to share. Also delish is Ina Garten's mashed butternut squash, really delish. She is good for any kind of holiday recipe, her stuff is too full of fat for everyday but for the holidays I find her right on.

          1. Canned whole cranberry comes alive when mixed with chopped walnuts and drained mandarin oranges, and I'll also recommend the rutabagas mashed with butter, s & fresh ground pepper.

            1. I made this recipe last year and everyone loved it.

              Scalloped Corn and Broccoli

              1 can creamed corn
              2 eggs
              2 Tbsp. flour
              1 tsp. salt
              1 box chopped frozen broccoli (thaw)
              1/2 cup grated cheese

              bake at 325 for 1 hour
              Its easy to double, triple etc. this.

              1. Good for you! Do you like cornbread?

                Sweet Cornbread
                1⁄2 cup butter (1 stick)
                1 cup sugar
                2 eggs
                1 cup yellow cornmeal
                1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
                2 tsp. Baking powder
                1⁄2 tsp. Salt
                1 cup milk
                1⁄2 cup steamed sweet corn (off the cob)

                In a mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs; beating well. Then add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and heat oven to 375 degrees. Fold the steamed sweet corn into the batter and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

                1. Buy a bag of fresh cranberries and follow the directions on the back of the bag for cooked cranberry sauce. Add a stick of cinnamon and instead of using water substitute and equal amount of cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel. You can make it a good week to two weeks in advance. Great stuff!

                  Nyleve's chipotle sweet potatoes which are a gratin of peeled and sliced sweet potatoes with heavy cream that has had a chipotle or so pureed into it and poured over the sweets and baked until tender and creamy are awfully addictive.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Candy

                    This is a really good recipe for cranberry sauce and so, so easy! http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip... I've never used hazelnuts, because they are tough to find in my hometown where we usually have the Thanksgiving dinner!

                    1. re: Katie Nell

                      I love the uncooked cranberry sauce made by whirring them in a food processor with orange peel. It's fab. I'll post the recipe if you want but there are probably loads on line - Epicurious, etc.

                    2. re: Candy

                      Cranberry Sauce - I also use the recipe from the back of the bag, then add lots of slivered candied ginger, and toasted almonds when I serve it.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I cook it in orange juice, reduce the amount of sugar called for on the back (by roughly 25%) and add ginger while it's boiling stove top. Leave the hunks of ginger in while it cools and pull them out before serving. Mmmm.

                    3. This pumpkin cheesecake recipe on epicurious is really good and would definitely be a good departure from pumpkin pie, although my little brother would mutiny over no pumpkin pie! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                      I also have the best recipe for apple dumplings you could ever ask for... if you're interested, I'll post it.

                      Good luck with everything! Every year, for as long as I can remember, my grandma cooked a very bland Thanksgiving meal. One year, my grandma wasn't feeling well, so my mom and I decided to do Thanksgiving dinner and have the whole family over. We didn't do anything really out there, we just "kicked it up a notch", so to speak... you know roasted garlic mashed potatoes instead of lumpy bland mashed potatoes, oven roasted brussel sprouts with sea salt instead of steamed over-cooked brussel sprouts, homemade cranberry sauce instead of canned cranberry sauce, and so on and so on. Anyway, after dinner, my grandma said, next year she thought she just wanted "normal" food again!! So, now we usually do two Thanksgiving's... one with grandma and "normal" food and one without grandma where we make whatever we want!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Katie Nell

                        Would love the apple dumpling recipe if you don't mind posting. Thanks!

                        1. re: ScarletB

                          Ditto on the recipe. What do you serve it with?

                          1. re: foodrocks

                            I forgot to look it up last night, but I will soon and I will just do a new topic for it... it definitely deserves one anyway! I usually serve them with good vanilla ice cream, but they're good by themselves too!

                        2. re: Katie Nell

                          Ditto on that pumpkin cheesecake on Epi. I got it from a Gourmet mag a few years ago. I used part low fat cream cheese, and some other lower fat ingreds and it was still amazing.

                          1. I'll be making pumpkin date bread pudding(a variation of the one we made at Sea Salt) &/or pumpkin cake with a thin layer of fig jam & caramel mascarpone filling.

                            People respond so much better to pumpkin desserts when it's not the same old boring pie,cheesecake,bread..etc.

                            Even pumpkin flan or brulee would be good.
                            If interested in the recipe let me know.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sugarbuzz

                              Yes! Please! All of those recipes sound so up my alley, especially the pumpkin brulee and the cake. I agree with an earlier post, my brother might hurt somebody if we don't make a traditional pumpkin pie. But I hope if I make one of my desserts on the side, someone will notice and catch on. Thanks!

                              1. re: foodrocks

                                I'd love the recipe for that pumpkin cake as well - sounds amazing. I'm doing Thanksgiving for the first time this year and am looking to riff on the favorites as opposed to stick to them... thanks so much!

                            2. Good for you! It's so hard to change family tradition, even a little bit. I cooked Thanksgiving last year for my family for the first time and tried to spice things up a bit as well, while keeping the family favorites that are actually good. I know you said no more jello molds, but my family makes a cranberry mold with Russian creme that is fantastic and eaten heartily for days after. I can post the recipe if you'd like. Last year I made a different pumpkin cheesecake than listed above and it was fantastic. Here's a link to the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                              I also made for dessert a nice apple cake with caramel sauce that was in our local newspaper.
                              What else? Oh yes, I made an apple cabbage slaw from Epicurious for a different kind of side dish/veggie, and cheddar drop biscuits.

                              Good luck!

                              1. One of my favorite dishes for Thanksgiving is roasted root vegetables. I take a blend of sweet potatoes, turnips, parshnips, carrots, and golden baby beats, cut it all up to about even size, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little drizzle of raw honey. I turn the mixture out onto a lightly oiled sheet pan and roast the veggies at 425 until tender and carmalized. God, it's so good with stuffing and turkey.

                                I make a homemade stuffing (or rather dressing since I don't stuff the bird) with cornbread, toasted pecans, chopped apples, golden raisins, and fresh sage. I don't even have a recipe. I just kinda throw together whatever looks right :). Always turns out delicious.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rokzane

                                  Absolutely agree on the root vegetables. They're simple and delicious.

                                  1. re: rokzane

                                    Agreed. We have this fairly often, I usually add potatoes so I can serve one dish for starch and veggies. And I like to add sliced fennel as well. We're having this tonight with bbq ribs.

                                  2. That sounds fabulous rokzane. Thanks for posting your method!

                                    1. People do freak out when there's no pumpkin pie, but it's really easy to make a delicious pumpkin pie from scratch, and so much better than a frozen premade one from the store. My secret is using roasted butternut squash instead of canned pumpkin--so much more flavor! Just cut squash in half, roast cut side down until soft. Scoop out seeds and strings and discard, then scoop out squash. Let drain in a colander for a couple of hours or overnight in fridge. You can push it through a strainer or food mill to make it smoother if you want, or buzz it with one of those stick blenders. Then mix with the usual eggs, brown sugar, reg. sugar, evaporated milk or half-and-half and spices. Pour into your crust and bake until firmed up but still jiggly in the middle. You can definitely do the squash-prep several days ahead of time--keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

                                      Good luck waking up your family's tastebuds! But don't be bummed if some people whine and complain and act like they'd rather be eating that bad old bland food. Traditions die hard, even when they deserve to die. Your version sounds so much tastier and healthier!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: dixieday2

                                        Roasted yams or sweet potatoes are also great subs.

                                      2. I know that many CHers are anti food mags (Gourmet, BA, F&W) but I always enjoy the Thanskgiving and Holiday issues.

                                        Gourmet and Food & Wine are particularly good this year, replete with multiple chutneys and variants on Cranberry sauce.

                                        The one thing that I will absolutely try this year is a sweet potato and spinach gratin from Gourmet.

                                        1. I'm going to try this Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce from epicurious.com/Bon Appetit


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jenga

                                            This is pretty close to the recipe I was going to post.My recipe is more heavy on the spices. I add chopped dates. Brioche is my first choice followed by croissants.

                                          2. My family is super traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving we will never not have traditional, plain old sage stuffing, etc... But, over the past several years a few dishes have gotten spiced up. Two of my favorites-- Mashed potatoes and sauteed leeks (mashed all together, I did it with a blender on a stick) and twice-baked sweet potatoes: pecans, orange juice, brown sugar, butter and cream of course. You can even put marshmallows on top! Seriously, so good!

                                            I never thought of roasted root vegetables for Thanksgiving, that's definitely going to be served at my house!

                                            1. You've been getting great suggestions. I look forward to trying a bunch of these throughout the fall.
                                              One thing I always long for on thanksgiving is some kind of salad. I'm definitely no healthnut -- it's more about having something light and crunchy to contrast all the creamy, mushy, heavy dishes on my plate. 3 thanksgiving salads i like:
                                              --thinly sliced fennel with radiccio and parsely, dressed with lemon juice and o.oil (you can also add a little thin sliced parmesean).
                                              --red cabbage and carrot slaw with raisins, roasted pepitas, and scallions in a curry vinaigrette.
                                              --spinach with a little bacon, walnuts, roasted apple pieces & dried currants in balsamic vinaigrette (optional crumble of blue or aged goast cheese)

                                              all these salads are pretty table-stable (they can be dressed and left out for a while without going limp in an unappealing way)

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: JenMarie66

                                                >-red cabbage and carrot slaw with raisins, roasted pepitas, and scallions in a curry vinaigrette.

                                                --Could i humbly ask you for a recipe?! sounds great

                                                1. re: JenMarie66

                                                  Mom makes a great fall salad with green and red leaf lettuce, dried cranberries and toasted, seasoned walnuts. The vinaigrette is either red wine or cider vinegar (depends on what's on hand) with a light olive oil, sea salt, and ground black pepper.

                                                  1. re: JenMarie66

                                                    I love this salad - I make it every year for Thanksgiving (though only the 'healthy' eaters take some!):

                                                    APPLE, DRIED CHERRY, AND WALNUT SALAD WITH MAPLE DRESSING


                                                  2. The absolute BEST turkey recipe I've tried is Emeril's Brined and Roasted Turkey found on the Food Network website. It calls for brining your turkey a day in advance in a brine of water, brown sugar, salt, halved lemons and oranges and sprigs of fresh rosemary, sage and thyme. I've even converted turkey-haters to the biggest turkey fans.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: MeowMixx

                                                      I added citrus zest, inspired by his recipe, to my turkey brine--excellent flavor addition.

                                                    2. My SO insists on "classic" pumpkin pie, and he's never happy when I gussy it up. Pumpkin chesecake would be a comlete no-go (especially as he doesn't like cheesecake!). So I always add more pie...people like pie on T-day. I like variations on pecan pie that aren't just candy sweet, like maple pecan pie (there's a good recipe at epicurious, but warning, it's really rich - I use grade B syrup and cut the sugar for best flavor (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...); or a pecan tart from the NY Times with reduced apple cider as the liquid. Here's a great and easy apple-cranberry pie: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec.... These epicurious recipes call for frozen piecrusts, but I use homemade, and at least recommend using the refrigerated kind or a Whole Foods or Dufour frozen all butter crust, but that's my pushy opinion [g]. And I make a pear fudge pie that's that's chocolate on top with a thick layer of pears on the bottom that's always a hit. Let me know if you're interested in the recipes. I also like mincemeat, having grown up with it, bit few others seem to...

                                                      There are plenty of variations of green beans and sweet potatoes, if those are what your family expects in the way of veggies. I really like two fairly simple recipes from epicurious that don't hog oven space: green beans with orange and rosemary gremolata, which are good warm or at room temp if your family will accept that (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...); and sweet potato puree with ginger and cider, which keeps a bit of the sweetness your family expects without the candy-sweet marshmallows, and adds the ginger element (if they're scared of spice, cut back a bit). It actually reheats pretty well in a microwave with a turntable (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...). Like JenMarie, I like a green salad to have something light in contrast to all the heavy dishes (though that's what's nice about those green beans I linked to, too). You can toss one together, and make a simple vinaigrette to add right before you put it out. If you don't think a lot of people will indulge, make a small salad, or hold back on dressing it all.

                                                      For stuffing (outside the bird), we do a bread stuffing with lots of sauteed leeks, parsley, fresh herbs, tart apples, and dried cranberries, plus sausage if you like, basted liberally with turkey drippings and moistened with turkey stock or chicken broth. As others have mentioned, it's easy to doctor up the simple cranberry sauce recipe on the Ocean Spray bag by adding lemon zest, a cinnamon stick and/or some ginger; I think a pinch of ground cardamon is a great addition. Replacing some or all of the water with something more flavorful is a good thing - OJ is always good, and I personally love it made with 2/3 OJ and 1/3 raspberry vinegar. The cab/zin sauce Candy mentioned is delicious as well; I've made it with a Rhone. You can always make a variation and also have the canned stuff for the die-hards, but so many people I know have tasted homemade cranberry sauce for the first time and never looked back.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                        Wow, all of that sounds great. Could you please post your recipe for the chocolate pear pie? It sounds right up my alley! And by the way, I appreciate the tip on the store bought pie dough! One can never have too many options.

                                                        1. re: foodrocks

                                                          Sorry it's taken me a while to post this recipe; I'm having problems with my computer archives, and the book where I have it written down had gone missing.

                                                          This is definitely rich, the kind of thing that's best with some unsweetened or barely sweetened whipped cream. The filling is fudgy; I wouldn't recommend using chocolate with more than 60% cocoa content for the bittersweet part, or it'll just be too much. I like to use a good amount of pear, but if you use larger ones than are specified, make sure you're using your own pie plate, not one a frozen deep-dish crust comes in, or there won't be enough space. You can make it a day ahead and refrigerate it overnight once it has cooled. Enjoy.

                                                          Pear Fudge Pie

                                                          Crust for a single-crust 9-inch pie
                                                          3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
                                                          1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
                                                          2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
                                                          1/2 cup dark corn syrup
                                                          1/2 cup sugar
                                                          4 eggs
                                                          2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. all purpose flour
                                                          2 Tbsp. brandy
                                                          1 tsp. vanilla
                                                          pinch salt
                                                          2 medium-size ripe pears, peeled, cored, chopped in large chunks

                                                          Preheat oven to 350F. Fit the pie crust into a pie plate (I prefer Pyrex), and flute or crimp. Blind bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly colored. Maintain oven temperature. Carefully melt all the chocolate and the butter over the lowest heat, in a double boiler, or in a microwave. Let it cool for a few minutes (if you've melted it in a saucepan, scraping it into a mixing bowl will help), then whisk in the corn syrup and sugar. Whisk in the eggs until thoroughly combined, then the flour, brandy, vanilla, and salt. Spread the pears evenly over the bottom of the pie shell, and pour the chocolate mixture over. Bake for 50 minutes (you will probably want to cover the edges of the piecrust with foil or a pie crust shield after the first 25 minutes to prevent overbrowning), until the top looks set; the center will be quite jiggly underneath, but will set up as it cools. Cool completely on a rack before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled, and store any leftovers in refrigerator.

                                                      2. I just made a turkey dinner for my family. They are sticklers to tradition, so I jazzed mine up a bit. I'll list what I made, but be fore warned that my family loves garlic alot so that is how I doctor up quite a few things.

                                                        I made a turkey and under the skin put a layer of orange slices and garlic cloves. This kept it moist and gave a nice flavor to the meat. Just watch the garlic cloves under the skin. If they start to brown, with the skin, cover the whole bird in a tent of foil.

                                                        I made sweet potatoes with garlic. I cut the sweet potatoes in to 1/4 in slices. For four sweet potatoes, I added a whole bulb of peeled garlic to the pan and I added a palm full of brown sugar and sauted it all in a half a stick of butter until the sweet potatoes were soft. A little sweet, quite flavorful and not nearly as disgusting as the marshmellow mess.

                                                        I made green bean casserole just like on the back of the Frenches onion container, but again added a few cloves of chopped garlic, and every one agreed that garlic was the flavor that was missing (of course, though, they love garlic).

                                                        I made corn pudding instead of the traditional corn bread-I got the recipe from allrecipes.com.

                                                        I took the canned cranberry jelly and crushed it with a potato masher. I then added some orange juice from the rest of the orange I had left over from the turkey and some orange zest.

                                                        Instead of the rolls, I made a huge loaf of challah, but instead of honey, I used molassas and it gave it a really neat flavor. I got the main recipe from allrecipes.com.

                                                        For dessert, I made a pumpkin and gingerbread trifle that I kind of adapted from a Paula Deen recipe. I pureed fresh roasted pumpkin and layered it in a dish with gingerbread cake and cool whip. Tasty and it felt healthy to eat.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: sunshinedrop

                                                          I like to think garlic IS the solution to any food problems too!

                                                        2. I made a great pumpkin creme caramel for Thanksgiving dessert a few years ago, it was so good.

                                                          1. How do you make your dried ancho sauce? I want to try this, thanks!

                                                            1. Have any of you heard of Sweet Potato pie? Pumpkin Pie is boring and bland!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: WINDELLA

                                                                Them's fightin' words! My Grandma's pie is anything but!

                                                                If you decide to make apple pie, peel & *thinly* slice some quinces and slip them in. Thin slices are important so they cook thoroughly. They add an intoxicating fragrance.

                                                              2. Here are some more good ideas from the 'Hounds' reports on Thanskgiving menus last year:


                                                                1. Many people have suggested homemade cranberry sauce recipies. While I always applaud innovation in the kitchen, many people (speaking especially for myself here) prefer the canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. I have not tasted any better, and this includes many years of attempts by my mom.

                                                                  On another note, have you considered putting dried cranberries in apple pies? They add a nice bit of tartness, especially if you are using store bought apples, which tend to be a bit sweeter/softer than fresh picked apples.

                                                                  1. I just posted about a Stilton Tart w/Cranberry Chutney in a thread that I started, but it just struck me that it would work perfectly for Thanksgiving, as well as providing a variation on cranberry sauce that's actually a cut above the usual:


                                                                    1. I make a barley casserole for many thanksgivings or other winter dinners. Saute some mushrooms in a stick of butter, when browned, remove to a casserole dish. Add 2 cups barley, saute until toasted, add to casserole dish. Add chopped white part of two bunches of scallions to the casserole. Deglaze saute pan with a cup of chicken stock. Add to casserole dish with 3 more cups stock, and a cup of dried cranberries or dried cherries. Cover the casserole dish, and bake with whatever is in the oven - add more stock if needed, until barley is tender. Before serving, stir in the chopped green tops of the scallions, and a cup of toasted pecans, coarsely chopped.