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What foods are a MUST for Thanksgiving?

In talking with a lot of friends, I've determined that Thanksgiving, of all of the traditional holidays, seems to demand the most "set" menu. For instance, my family will welcome unusual foods for virually any other holday dinner, but Thanksgiving MUST be pretty much what it always has been.

Believe me, I cook a lot, and cook a lot of different things from many different cultures, but the menu for Thanksgiving has to be:

Turkey (roasted, but I have also done an additional smoked breast or two). One year my chef nephew did a turduckinish (cornish hen inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey). That ain't happinin' again unless he's here to do it.

Stuffing (bread/cornbread stuffing, with onions & celery -- maybe apples or dried cranberries)

Mashed white potatoes, with gravy

That disgustingly sweet concoction made with mashed sweet potatoes, pineapple and melted crusty marshmallows on the top. Other than the turkey, this is probably the least negotiable menu item. My kids are grown, but they'd kill me if I didn't make it. Gag.

The ever-popular green bean and fried onion casserole. I play around with the basic recipe, but it is what it is.

Creamed onions (they were my Dad's specialty, so they stay)

My brother-in-law's brussel sprout thing that uses onion, bacon and (because the sprouts are cut apart into separate leaves) dosen't remotely look like it contains brussel sprouts.

Cranberry relish made with raw cranberries and oranges. The other acceptable option is a cranberry jello mold.

Canned whole cranberry jelly. No substitutions.

Pumpkin pie, or something else with pumpkin (pumkin cheesecake, for instance)

The apps are very free-form, as are the rest of the desserts.

What, besides the turkey and stuffing, are your families "must have" Thanksgiving menu items? Am I the only one with a rigid Thanksgiving audience?

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  1. turkey(oven roasted, smoked, deep fried)
    mashed potatoes
    turkey gravy with giblets
    pumpkin pie
    green bean caserole
    cranberry jelly
    suasage/sage/breadcrumb stuffing

    my relatives need the above as offerings, or they get upset. One year I did a fruit and rice stuffing, and they were upset. So now I stick to the time tested favorites.

    8 Replies
    1. re: swsidejim

      this year I am throwing the family a curveball. I am not going to prepare a traditional turkey, but ordered a 20+ lb. Turducken from Cajun Connection in Utica, IL.

      I cant wait..

      1. re: swsidejim

        I have always wanted to try one of those... My family won't switch it up for Thanksgiving though.

        1. re: MattInNJ

          this our our 1st year to try it. My sister and her family are going to a second Thanksgiving later in the day for dinner, so I figured I could give it a shot this year without catching too much grief.

        2. re: swsidejim

          Meathenge's blog describes receiving a 'test copy' turducken and cooking it in the smoker. It looked really good.

          1. re: Louise

            I bet its great. I am going to do mine in the oven this year and see how it goes.

            Also my smoker is covered, and probably wont get used again until the Super Bowl, or spring.. too cold here in the upper mid-west. Those long smokes just arn't as much fun as they are when the wather is hot.

            1. re: swsidejim

              Funny you should mention that, Grandpa in Ohio loved to cook the Christmas pork roast in the weber. He'd huddle on a lawn chair in his parka, snow flurrying down, and periodically shift the cover over to prod the roast and examine the meat thermometer. But when you're 85 it's odd if you *don't* have some funny habits.

              1. re: Louise

                I wish I had his dedication. Last year I did smoke some ribs in January, it was a relatively mild day.

                a turkey, or tuducken in the smoker is on my list of things to do.

                1. re: swsidejim

                  The year I smoked 5 turkey breasts for my husband's annual November fishing trip to Hatteras -actually 2 for him, 2 for Thanksgiving & 1 for the freezer -- was the worst. Bone-chilling cold, the week before Thanksgiving, and a driving rain. I pulled the picnic table, with the big picnic umbrella, up close to the upright smoker & hunkered down. Didn't have to wet the apple wood because it was already soaked.

                  On the other hand, there was the mild Thanksgiving when we fired up the smoker after dinner. We opened up the door, stuck a bunch of logs inside, lit a nice fire, and the men folk gathered around in a circle to smoke their stogies & shoot the bull, while we women folk cleaned up. Yowzer. A good time was had by all.

      2. In our very large extended family dinner

        Turkey of course, and stuffing - it has to be sausage stuffing. No one will accept any substitutions.

        Mashed potatoes with gravy

        Canned yams, I always offer to make real sweet potato casserole with roasted potatoes mashed with a pecan streussel topping, but everyone says they like canned yams better.

        My sisters mini-marshmellow, heavy cream, fruit cocktail salad. I can't stand it, but everyone else loves it.

        Green been casserole,

        Canned cranberry sauce, nothing else

        Shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, with my grama's old fashioned relish tray with black olives from the can, mini gerkins, bread and butter pickes and dill spears.

        For desert, chocolate cream pie made with instant chocolate pudding in a grahm cracker crust. I told my grandmother I'd be in charge of pies this year, so maybe I'll sneak in a real one and see if people know the difference. Although we go through about 3 of them each holiday.

        13 Replies
        1. re: adventuresinbaking

          Why is it that Thanksgiving dinner seems to be so set in stone? Is it that one constant that we can always count on? Is it that we are perpetuating our idea of the Thanksgiving Day Feast? I wish I knew. It's like we have to bring out all of the food cliche's and gorge ourselves with them. It's also the one holiday when the whole family tries to be together -- even more so than Christmas. Maybe the food is what unites us in the sameness of it? We can count on it being the same, and when it IS the same, all is right with the world?

          So much for the philosophy. Don't forget the onion soup dip.

          1. re: PattiCakes

            Don't discount the philosophy! It truly is affirming to have a meal set in stone! And that's definitely the case in my house - I would risk a riot if I changed a thing. But no worries - it means I could cook this meal in my sleep:

            Roast turkey (with sage leaves and butter under the skin), 55 gallon drum (kidding...don't they wish?) of giblet gravy, mashed potatoes with buttermilk, roast sweet potatoes with maple syrup, green salad with vinaigrette, scalloped corn, canned jellied cranberries, Finnish vispipuuro (cranberry/farina porridge) and pumpkin pie.

            My only complaint is the sheer volume. All the giant pans come out. But even that's tradition.

            I sometimes wonder if, when it's time to pass the baton for hosting, my kids will prepare the same dishes they've insisted on all these years. Perhaps they will, as the meal is really a celebration of our indigenous American foodstuffs, and this just doesn't seem to go out of style. At least in November.


            1. re: cayjohan

              Hah! Clearly I can do it in my sleep but not while awake - forgot the all important gigantic pan of onion/celery/sage dressing. No substitutes or additions allowed! CAy

              1. re: cayjohan

                The Finnish vispipuuro sounds very intriguing! How do you make it? Is it like a pudding?

                1. re: poptart

                  Same here! I would love to see a recipe for the Finnish vispipuuro!

                  1. re: mollyomormon

                    Can I do this here? Oh well...

                    For every two cups of whole cranberries, use 3 cups of water. Cook until the berries all pop and the juice is a rich red color. Strain. NB: You want to retain the juice, not the berries. Boil juice and add about 1/3 c. farina (for every 2c. crans and 3 c. water)...still, this is a fluid measurement - add *enough* farina to get a nice thick porridge as it cooks. Add sugar to taste: for this amount, I have seen anywhere from 1/2 c. to 1 1/2 c. We like the tart side and lean toward 3/4 cup; again, taste. Chill the heck out of the resulting porridge (even a bit of freezer time - 30 minutes before whipping). Then, whip. The pale burgundy porridge will turn pink and fluffy after about 10 minutes of whipping. Serve with a drizzle of heavy cram. This is a heavy, hearty dish, so plan on small servings. It's also wonderful for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving, so I make a lot and plan on cranberry porridge in the morning (re-whipping might be necessary)



              2. re: PattiCakes

                I think it's those constants that we count on. Every year I find new Thanksgiving menus that look great, but my DH always says, "we need to try those, but not on Thanksgiving." He wants it to be the exact same every year and I have to admit I agree with him on this. I may add a different side here and there, but our dinner mostly remains the same year after year. I think that constant reaffirms how good our home and lives really are in this country.

              3. re: adventuresinbaking

                >>My sisters mini-marshmellow, heavy cream, fruit cocktail salad. I can't stand it, but everyone else loves it.

                That sounds delish, adventuresinbaking, how is it constructed?

                Turkey is negligible, while the stuffing (with chestnuts and onions and sausage and apples) is the main item, for me.

                Wine, cranberry sauce, ambrosia is fun, Silver Palate's sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes, biscuits, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie -- that about does it. Keep the veggies and salad. Same thing, different meat, small variation on dessert and a must-have of cookies, and call it Christmas.

                Although I do like the idea of a lobster dinner!

                1. re: dolores

                  "My sisters mini-marshmellow, heavy cream, fruit cocktail salad. I can't stand it, but everyone else loves it.

                  That sounds delish, adventuresinbaking, how is it constructed?"

                  If this is anything like my mother's fruitcocktail salad, it is whipped cream with a drained can of fruit cocktail and mini-marshmellows folded it. I absolutely hated it as a kid, and it never makes it to my table. But oddly, my mother still thinks I like it and I have to correct her to this day.

                  1. re: FoodChic

                    That's one of the "sweet dessert things masquerading as a main dish salad"! Do you remember the old "Watergate Salad", that consisted of pineapple, pistacio pudding, cool whip & some other stuff? Very popular at picnics. Because we are having little kids at the table for the first time in many years, my sister is making something with cranberry, sour cream and broken up pretzels???

                    1. re: PattiCakes

                      Yes, I remember that well. I have to admit the texture of those salads always freaked me out. You're eating something smooth and creamy and it's suddenly interrupted by this slimmy and often stringy mess.

                      I think the issue is that they are all made from canned fruit, and there is nothing I hate more than canned canned fruit. My mother always served it and I blame that for the fruit issues I had growing up. It took me many years to overcome my hatred of fruit.

                  2. re: dolores

                    I'm not sure of the exact proportions, but you let the mini marshmellows soak in heavy cream for about 24 hours or so. Then, when they start to break down, you whip it up until it forms like a foam. Next you mix in fruit cocktail (drained), mandrin oranges, and seedless grapes. Viola!

                    It is to sweet for me. I've never liked it, even as a kid.

                2. Turkey with stuffing
                  Mashed Potatoes w/ homemade noodles on top instead of gravy
                  Cranberry Salad w/ walnuts and oranges- my mom's recipe
                  Sweet potatoe casserole
                  Sweet corn
                  Hot Rolls
                  Pumpkin Pie, Brownies, Buckeyes, and PB Fudge

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: six dower

                    six dower, where is your family from? I've never met anyone else who ate mashed potatoes and noodles! In my family they are a must at all major holidays. They live in northern Indiana.

                    1. re: butterfat

                      With the buckeyes, I was going to guess Ohio, but six has a lot of posts on the Pennsylvania board.

                      1. re: Louise

                        I used to live in PA and that is the only place I ever had noodles over mashed potatoes, the family loved it. Here in CA not so much

                      2. re: butterfat

                        I am from southeastern Ohio and live in Pittsburgh.
                        Noodles and mashed potatoes are a must for every holiday, family gathering, celebrations, etc. It would be a SIN not to have this dish for Thanksgiving...and do not even think about putting gravy on your potatoes!!!! Gravy is for french fries :)

                        1. re: six dower

                          Geez, you ARE from Pittsburgh, what with the gravy on the fries and all that. Do you dip things in ranch dressing as well? My kids went to IUP and were amazed when the local pizza places delivered their pizza with tubs of ranch dressing, so you could dunk your crust in it when you got to the end of the slice. My son'd in laws are from Pittsburgh. I'll have to ask them about the mashed potato noodle thing.

                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            No ranch for me, yuk!...now I am a bit of a health nut. I think the mashed potatoes w/noodles and french fries w/gravy dishes are from my Ohio roots. I do not see that here in Pburgh. I have lived in Pburgh for 18 months and I love the area. Great food and awesome people!!

                    2. Turkey, brined over night and stuffed with my husband's grandmother's sage sausage stuffing. Homemade all the way. Homemade cranberry sauce. Butternut squash soup. My mother's cranberry ambrosia salad. Steamed green beans. Mashed potatoes with parsley and romano cheese.

                      And a couple antacids :)

                      1. Same as above mentioned and...
                        Deviled Eggs
                        Twiced Baked Potatoes..

                        ooooh Happy Holidays :)

                        1. The MUSTS are:

                          Turkey, but nowadays I do a bone-in breast and roast the drumsticks separately.
                          Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
                          Canned Jellied cranberry sauce - they hate the homemade kind
                          Standard dressing and I often make a couple of others that are jazzed up
                          Creamed Onions with chopped peanuts and cheese
                          Pumpkin Pie
                          Pecan Pie

                          Everything else is open for changes.

                          A little anecdote: My married dd wanted to prepare an Asian style turkey to bring. The look of horror on my husband's face was quite a sight!

                          1. A few years ago, I discovered roasted brussel sprouts. Oh my are they good!! Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The only problem is timing, as they need to be eaten pretty much right out of the oven.

                            For anyone interested in the recipe, it can be looked up as an Ina Garten (food network) EASY recipe; but pretty much, you wash them, oil them, salt and pepper them and roast them in a 400 (I think) oven for about 30 min. They'll be somewhat blackened on the outside - NOT A PROBLEM!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: CocoaNut

                              I agree, brussel sprouts get a bad rap! I also make them with horseradish cream sauce. AMAZING!

                              1. re: kb8240

                                Love brussel sprouts. Not our TG menu, as lots of people dont like them. Lidia B's recipe is awesom- but labor intensive- each leve is peeled and sauteed in garlic and oil, and served with a lemon sauce. I have served them to nay sayers, and they loved them. Wish they were not so labor intensive, or i would include them on my menu.

                            2. My family is the same. Thanksgiving is usually traditional fare, while Christmas is an opportunity to mix things up. I am hosting a large crowd this year and am keeping it very simple. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. I tend to experiment with those recipes. I have asked our guests to bring sides or desserts. I will probably supplement with a few additional vegetable sides (thinking something with brussels sprouts and cauliflower). For bread, I won't have the space to make rolls/biscuits. I plan on proving bread baskets at each table with warm crusty sweet french bread, rosemary ciabatta and sourdough.

                              1. Thanksgiving is somewhat flexible except for mostly the main items. Otherwise, I can play around with appetizers, side dishes, and desserts except for:

                                One of the apps has to be Brie en croute with homemade cranberry sauce
                                Turkey, stuffing, and gravy (turkey with herbed butter, and stuffing with Grand Marnier, sausage, and chestnuts, homemade gravy)
                                Mashed Potatoes (with leeks and thyme)
                                Creamed peas and pearl onions
                                Homemade cranberry sauce (with marsala, rosemary, and cherries) AND canned
                                Crescent rolls
                                Pumpkin Pie

                                So far, I think this year for appetizers, I'm going to add persimmons with prosciutto, some kind of dip, and a spiffed-up shrimp cocktail with various dipping sauces, with other new additions including sweet potato and chipotle gratin, something with corn, and oyster stuffing for sides, and in addition to pumpkin pie - pecan pie and individual pumpkin cheesecakes.

                                1. Drunken sweet potatoes (bourbon) and mashed potatoes with gravy are the only must-have items at our table.

                                  My husband and I had an epiphany a few years ago - we both don't really like Turkey all that much...and there were only two of us (at the time). So when we get a year all to ourselves (this year!! Yay!), we usually have a standing rib roast -- much more fun to eat for the following three days.

                                  We'll probably go to a more traditional Thanksgiving when our son gets older - you can't really pass up the photo op of a child with a drumstick as big as his head.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: sebetti

                                    Sebetti -- Im interested in those bourbon sweet potatoes .... its not my favorite T-day food, but the bourbon would definitely enhance the dish!

                                    The first year my gourmet husband and I spent Thanksgiving together, we decided to thumb our nose at tradition and also had a standing rib roast -- it was excellent, and indeed, made some very tasty leftovers. I think there was also a green salad, roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and lemon cheesecake for dessert. It was a holiday I will never forget.

                                    Of coure my immediate family was more traditional, and we always did the turkey/dressing/mashers/jellied cranberry. The difference was everything was prepared from scratch -- i still dont know how my mom did this with 5 kids and a galley kitchen (in our first house). She made her own stuffing and pies and was somewhat embarrassed to serve "store bought" rolls. Her trademark dish, which appeared every year, was "green jello stuff" -- green jello mixed with pineapple and something else, and chilled in a big flat pan. It was then cut into squares, and served on a piece of lettuce on its own little plate, like a salad. Thinking about this now, I can see it, taste it, and Im wondering if I have the recipe ...?

                                    I won't launch into my trademark Thanksgiving rant here (for those who don't know I have spent the last 10 Thanksgivings with my SO's relatives, where the food is closer to school cafeteria fare, served on plastic plates with plastic forks that are washed and stored away for next year). But I must say that every November I get the urge to polish silver and roll out piecrust ... old traditions die hard!

                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                      This is a really simple no-brainer that I just made up one year and there is no real recipe.

                                      I just bake the sweet potatoes and mash them with butter (between 1/2 and a whole stick, depends on size of potatoes), add between a quarter cup and a half cup of brown sugar, and finally add bourbon to taste -- just add it gradually until you have the flavor you want. Move it to an over-proof container, top with a little more brown sugar if you want, and let it bake for awhile.

                                      It was created as a sub for marsh mellow sweet potatoes which I've never liked. I'm sure it's just an amalgamation of dozens of recipes that I've read over the years.

                                      1. re: sebetti

                                        I assume you must test the burbon before use, just to make sure it's good......

                                  2. Best meal I ever had, as noted in my profile: Thanksgiving as cooked by my mom and grandma. Hoping for another one this year. Grandma is approaching 91.

                                    Stuffing (Stove Top--we're simple people)
                                    Mashed Potatoes
                                    Sweet potatoes w/marshmallow topping
                                    Mashed rutabega (my fave)
                                    green beans sauteed with garlic
                                    Broccoli Casserole
                                    Rolls w/butter and honey
                                    Homemade cranberry sauce
                                    Homemmade turkey gravy

                                    My mother actually asked me the other day about changes to the menu and I nearly took her head off shouting "No! Don't change it! No!". Can't wait!

                                    1. My family usually does:

                                      Turkey and Ham
                                      Collard Greens
                                      Mac & Cheese (My Aunt Dean's recipe)
                                      Some form of sweet potato dish
                                      canned cranberry sauce

                                      All other sides are optional. We have had on occasion: shrimp fried rice, potato salad, cabbage, squash casserole, lamb, fried fish...

                                      We have never done mashed potatoes

                                      Usually someone does a sweet potato pie and we add other desserts.

                                      1. Actually, all of the family holidays we celebrate have the same menu year in and year out. What we "must" have:
                                        blue cheese dip with fennel, carrots, celery and olives
                                        squash soup - the accoutrement change from year to year - sometimes it's a nice pesto, other times croutons, or just a grate of nutmeg
                                        vegan tomato soup for A
                                        roasted turkey with stuffing, plus D's extra dish of stuffing just for him
                                        mashed potatoes
                                        baked sweet potatoes
                                        cranberry relish
                                        some sort of green
                                        creamed onions
                                        caramelized onions

                                        pumpkin pie
                                        cherry pie
                                        ice cream

                                        So, basically, the only thing we get to fool around with are the wines, the vegetable sides, and the appetizers.

                                        1. Turkey - brined overnight and roasted
                                          Stuffing - I like the traditional Pepperidge Farm stuffing with some added veggies and chopped chicken livers (family tradition). My husband has to have his sausage and cornbread stuffing...yes, 2 different stuffings at Thanksgiving.
                                          Mashed Potatoes with Giblet Gravy
                                          Whole Cranberry Sauce - always canned
                                          Vegetables - Up for debate..we'll eat anything except green bean casserole. I happen to love brussel sprouts but the husband won't eat them.
                                          Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
                                          A huge dishwasher to throw everything in after, along with a couch big enough to fit the whole family for a post-thanksgiving nap..oh and white bread for turkey sandwiches later that evening :)

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: krisrishere

                                            Well, the planning is proceeding full steam ahead. My daughter has nixed the green bean casserole & is doing a carrot casserole her husband's Omi (German grandmother) makes. Carrot rounds, in a very light cream and mild horseradish sauce, with buttered breadcrumbs on top -- kind of like a "scallop"?. I'm a big color person, so I like the idea of the orange carrots and the green brussel sprouts and the red cranberry.

                                            Cayjohan: I'd love the recipe for the Finnish vispipuuro (cranberry/farina porridge).

                                            We have many more people bringing items this year, somewhat carefully orchestrated, so it will be fun. Last Christmas, we did an app "throw down" for all of the cousins. They all made apps, then after dinner (and many glasses of wine) we voted on the best. It got pretty entertaining, what with their having to describe their dish (a la "top chef") to the assembled multitude, field questions, and offer bribes for votes.

                                            I've assigned a simple dessert to my daughter-in-law & 2 very young g'kids (2 1/2 and 1 1/2. She likes to cook with them & I thought they would take great pride in serving something they made. I might switch that to a cranberry jello mold since they may not be awake for dessert.

                                            Amethiste: you've brought your African American heritage to the board! Collard greens and Mac 'n cheese? I'm coming to YOUR house.

                                            Anni: We always have a "regular" roast turkey, but I've done an extra smoked breast or two in the past. I've always felt the need to do more, rather than less, because everyone expects to take home a package of some leftovers. How about letting your dd prepare the Asian style turkey as an extra choice? Hey, isn't Thanksgiving all about excess anyway?

                                            1. re: PattiCakes

                                              >>My daughter has nixed the green bean casserole & is doing a carrot casserole her husband's Omi (German grandmother) makes. Carrot rounds, in a very light cream and mild horseradish sauce, with buttered breadcrumbs on top -- kind of like a "scallop"?<<

                                              I'm intrigued by this. I love carrots. Any chance you could get the recipe and share it?


                                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                                will do. She married into a large extended family, and this carrot dish is always on the table for big feasts. It seems to go particularly well with ham, and has the plus of being such a lovely shot of color.

                                                1. re: PattiCakes

                                                  Excellent, I'm interested in this too.

                                                2. re: MplsM ary

                                                  It took a while, but here is the Carrot recipe. My son-in-law's Omi (grandmom) makes this for large family gatherings, served buffet-style. Because of the size of the gatherings, she usually doubles or triples the recipe. When she does it for a crowd, she puts it in a large, rectangular glass baking dish. It goes well with almost any type of meat, but is particularly good with ham. I like it because gives a shot of color to your plate, is very easy, and everyone seems to love it. It's also a very flexible recipe, which is nice because I'm a very "seat of the pants" type of cook & like to improvise.

                                                  Omi's Zesty Carrots (serves 6-8)

                                                  8 carrots, sliced into rounds or oblique ovals (you can also substitute frozen)
                                                  2 TBS grated onion
                                                  2 TBS grated horseradish (she uses the prepared jar kind, usually found in the dairy case.)
                                                  1/2 C mayo
                                                  1/4 TSP pepper
                                                  2 TBS butter, melted
                                                  1/3 C seasoned bread crumbs (eg. Pepperidge Farm)

                                                  1. If using raw carrots, cook for 8 minutes -- you don't want to overcook since they will also be baked. RESERVE THE JUICE. You can substitute frozen carrots, however you'll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly to make sure they don't turn to mush in the finished dish.
                                                  2. Mix reserved cooking juice with onion, mayo, horseradish & pepper.
                                                  3. Combine with carrots & put in buttered casserole dish.
                                                  4. Combine bread crumbs with melted butter & sprinkle on top of casserole.
                                                  5. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

                                                  Can be made the day before.

                                                  Let me know if you try it, if you liked it, and if you made any personalizations that were a success.

                                            2. Roast Turkey
                                              2 dressings ~~ 1 regular bread herb dressing and 1 with ground beef and rice mixed into the herb dressing (I learned this one from my sicilian MIL)
                                              Mashed potatoes and gravy
                                              Sweet potatoes of some form (I just hate marshmallows, but the family overrules me on this usually)
                                              Jellied Cranberry sauce

                                              everything else is variable.
                                              Last year we also had a ham
                                              and a tofurkey (Trader Joe's) for our vegetarians
                                              homemade creamed corn ~~ TDF

                                              Niece made a cranberry white chocolate cheesecake
                                              I'm sure there was pumpkin pie, but I just don't care about desserts

                                              OH! And last year I introduced the family to Marcona Almonds OMG!!! I'm sure they will be a tradition from now on.

                                              1. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, rice (!!), glazed carrots, candied yams, green and fruit salads, cranberry sauce, roasted Andean miniature round potatoes, steamed broccoli stalks, pumpkin pie, apple pie.

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Rice, made in your handy dandy rice cooker, I presume?

                                                  1. re: PattiCakes

                                                    Here are my Musts:

                                                    -There Must be some sort of communal dinner, of at least four people.

                                                    -Someone else Must do most, if not all the preparation (we're happy to contribute a dish or three.)

                                                    -Wine Must be poured. After all, the occasion Must be fun, shouldn't it? Otherwise, why bother?

                                                    -Football Must be watched. Not necessarily during the dinner itself, but at some point. Again, it helps you put up with relatives you don't like or may not have much in common with.

                                                    -Wine Must be poured. (You said wine twice. I like wine.)

                                                    1. re: PattiCakes

                                                      No. Don't have a rice cooker. In my rice pot from pre-WWII Japan.

                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      i'm glad to see that my family is not the only one that has rice at thanksgiving dinner! my mother is from korea and my sister's MIL is from japan, so our families have always served steamed rice at almost every meal, including thanksgiving. there is always the requisite mashed potatoes and stuffing for starches, but half of the family (including my four darling nieces) must have steamed rice to eat.

                                                      1. re: trishyb

                                                        We usually have rice-and-gravy at Thanksgiving instead of mashed potatoes-and-gravy. It's a South Carolina thing....

                                                      2. Sometimes we're very traditional, sometimes we're not. Have gone the roast beast, steamed lobster, roast duck, roast goose route many times....with suitable sides to match, but the standard, of course, is The Roast Turkey with giblet gravy.

                                                        My mother made the most exquisite stuffing for the bird that was composed of ricotta, herbs, and eggs. It was like a savory, custardy, dense but gossamer, perfection. I wish I had had the foresight to get her recipe.

                                                        Must have is the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail with Crosse & Blackwell sauce w/extra tabasco, plus bagna cauda, and a cheese tray. Light consomme to start with sides of candied yams, stuffed mushrooms, roast Brussel sprouts, baked acorn squash or baked pumpkin. I remember making a corn pudding a few times just because. Homemade cranberry sauce (recipe on the package...LOL) and the canned stuff with the ridges....I suppose at one time or another we must have had mashed potatoes, but I don't think it was a Must Have. Sometimes we'd have a tossed salad with vinaigrette, sometimes not. Desserts, all homemade, had to be pumpkin pie, apple pie, and lemon meringue. All washed down with Champagne

                                                        They say Home is Where the Heart Is... it's usually where the good food is too.

                                                        1. Certain side dishes change from year to year at my family's spread, but there is ALWAYS oyster dressing which the turkey is stuffed with and extra cooked on its own. The turkey will either be baked in the oven or fried, or it could also be a turducken, depends on my dad's mood. But even if it is a turducken, oyster dressing is still served.
                                                          We always had rice on the table as well, not mashed potatoes. When I moved up to Jersey, I cooked for the new family my first Thanksgiving here and when the rice hit the table they all asked what that was for, luckily my wife had made some mashed potatoes so all was good.
                                                          The giblets never make it into the gravy as we fight over who gets to eat them whole.

                                                          1. In a nod to my adopted state, we serve a dish of plantains on the side instead of cranberry sauce. They really do go nicely with turkey.

                                                            1. We can add items, but can never take anything away! For dinner
                                                              Bread stuffing
                                                              white potatoes and gravy
                                                              sweet potatoes ( just s/p and butter)
                                                              grean beans ( not the casserole)
                                                              creamed cauliflower
                                                              butternut squash
                                                              boiled onions
                                                              cabbage salad
                                                              homemade cranberry sauce

                                                              apps include clam chowder, cheese, crackers, chips, mexican dips.
                                                              dessets include apple, lemon merangue, blueberry pie. Something with pumpkin, a trifle and homemade chocolate truffles.

                                                              1. Roast Turkey w/ traditonal sage/bread stuffing
                                                                Giblet Gravy
                                                                Mashed Potatoes
                                                                Tender young peas
                                                                Greens as in a mixture of Collard, Kale,Mustard, Turnip and Rape
                                                                Candied Sweet Potatoes
                                                                Homemade yeast rolls
                                                                Jellied Cranberry Sauce (the only one the kids will eat)
                                                                Sweet Potato Pie and/or Chocolate Pie

                                                                1. A tradition that is unique ,it seems to the Baltimore area...sauerkraut is a must..
                                                                  and optional is keilbasa..along with the turkey, sweet taters, mashed taters,'
                                                                  stuffing, jellied cranberry sauce

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Hue

                                                                    Two buck a pound lobsters this year!

                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                      I am sooooo jealous. no fried clams?

                                                                      1. re: PattiCakes

                                                                        I would opt for steamers to go with the lobster- had this combo at home two weeks ago and it was so good. Cooked up a few extra lobsters and had lobster salad the next day.

                                                                        1. re: macca

                                                                          Yup potatoes, lobsters and steamers in one pot, in that order. Wild picked cranberry sauce & Cole slaw. Wrong season for good corn on the cob. Blueberry (frozen) pie w/van. ice cream for dessert.

                                                                  2. Turkey
                                                                    Mashed potatoes and gravy
                                                                    Green bean casserole (which I confess I love! And make for myself)
                                                                    we don't do sweet potatoes as no one is crazy about them.

                                                                    1. I think it is the turkey and stuffing, and anything else can be substituted if need be.

                                                                      Funny, but years ago, my old Jewish MIL used to feel compelled to call me before each holiday to "discuss the menu." I guess since I was now the family cook, she wanted to at least appear interested and ask if there was anything she could bring. Usually, she would have some kind of request, which I generally gladly accommodated. Strangely, during their last few years, her menu started to seem a lot like the same menu we would eat at Rosh Hashannah, or even Passover (sans stuffing). Turkey, gravy, roast potatoes and MATZO BALL SOUP. I have no idea how or why matzo ball soup was requested at each holiday, and it was certainly not something you would find at my Italian family's table. but this is what they wanted. I finally put the lid on the mazto ball soup for Thanksgiving, saying that I didn't recall the Pilgrims eating matzo balls, and I would substitute another soup instead. I found it a little amusing, but mostly didn't want to be forced to cook the same food over and over. As long as there was a turkey, they seemed to be happy.

                                                                      1. First must: everything must be made from scratch. Otherwise, turkey, gravy, bread stuffing with apples, homemade cranberry sauce, roasted garnet yams, pumpkin pie, a green salad. The rest is variable.

                                                                        My mother always serves mincemeat pie (homemade vegetarian mincemeat), and for snacking before dinner, homemade marinated mushrooms and leftover pie crust stuffed with whatever cheese is on hand, sprinkled with herbs or paprika, and baked.

                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                                          Ditto on "from scratch." We used to go to one of my aunts' house for Thanksgiving, and she would open a can of that jelly cranberry sauce and put it in a butter dish--can indentations and all--for us to slice off and put on our dressing. It takes only slightly more effort to make cranberry sauce from scratch than it does to open that can.

                                                                          And that's one of the things that I MUST have at Thanksgiving dinner: Cranberry sauce. Not cranberry jello salad, not cranberry fluff, cranberry sauce. Whole berries cooked down with sugar till they all pop.

                                                                          Here's a funny thing: My dad worked for his dad at the poultry house for years when he was younger. He DOESN'T LIKE turkey, saw, smelled, and handled way too much of it back then. But one year when my uncles were in charge and they had roast beef or something for Thanksgiving, my dad complained, "Why can't we have Thanksgiving food?"

                                                                          Couple years ago I had knee surgery the day before Thanksgiving, and was installed in the recliner on painkillers. Mike made Thanksgiving for the two of us, turkey and dressing (NOT stuffing; it cooks in a separate pan, not inside the bird), corn, and my aunt Edna's escalloped asparagus--another one of those essentials. I had made cranberry sauce for our church Thanksgiving dinner the Sunday before, and brought home what we didn't serve there, so he didn't have to make that.

                                                                          1. re: revsharkie

                                                                            Ha ha about the canned cranberry. We always make some sort of home made cranberry thing, but the kids (mine & my sisters) ALL demand the canned stuff, served exactly as you describe. They range in age from 18-30!

                                                                            1. re: PattiCakes

                                                                              Funny- I have the opposite story! We always used canned sauce- and it is almost a sin to change anything on our TG dinner- but a few years ago, i bravely served homemade, along with one can. Everyone preferred the homemade- even one SIL and one neice who never liked cranberry sauce were converted!

                                                                            2. re: revsharkie

                                                                              Ooh,ooh,ooh... escalloped asparagus. Would you mind sharing???

                                                                              1. re: FoodChic

                                                                                It's one of the few things you can do that makes canned asparagus palatable. Take four cans of asparagus and drain them well. Put in a casserole pan and top with sliced hard-boiled eggs. Salt lightly if you prefer. Make a medium white sauce and add a jar of Old English (sharp cheddar) cheese spread. Pour that over the asparagus and eggs, then top it with buttered bread crumbs. Bake it in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, until it's heated through and all bubbly.

                                                                                Don't waste good fresh asparagus on this; once you've drowned it with cheese sauce and baked it, you're going to lose any flavor gains you might have gotten from using fresh.

                                                                                I got this recipe from my aunt Edna; she told me once that you can replace the asparagus with seeded fresh tomatoes, and I tried it once, but probably should have made the sauce a little thicker because it was really runny after it was baked.

                                                                          2. Regardless of what holiday it is, when my family has gatherings we always have to sacrafice a lamb. This year will be a 45 pounder before it goes on the spit (plenty of leftovers). Then the usual turkey & stuffing, cranberry and pumpkin in many imaginative ways, Midia (rice stuffed mussels), raw oysters, and fresh pressed apple cider.

                                                                            1. Antipasto platter (see the relish tray thread)
                                                                              Pepperidge Farm blue bag stuffing with Bell's seasoning, sausage, mushrooms and slivered almonds
                                                                              Sweet potato casserole
                                                                              Green beans
                                                                              Mashed potatoes
                                                                              Green salad
                                                                              For dessert - pumpkin pie, pecan pie and plum pudding with hard sauce. the plum pudding is not negotiable.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: mrsbuffer

                                                                                Would you be willing to share the recipe for plum pudding on the home cooking board? Sounds awesome!

                                                                                1. re: charmedgirl

                                                                                  Something very fast, very easy. Grilled oysters or fried fish I caught this summer, maybe a turkey breast if I'm ambitious, but probably not. I work retai, this means working until midnight Wednesday,(they don't like us working Thanksgiving, nice), sleep till 10 or 11, back to sleep at 6 or 7 so we, (wife works there part time) can be at work at 2:30 or 3 to open at 5 am. It's the life I chose, I'm used to it. We usually do a modified dinner a week from Saturday after.We also turn down requests to dine with relatives, all live on the other side of town, 45 minutes plus each way. By the way, the "specials" the day after, I work in electronics and with a few exceptions you get what you pay for.

                                                                                  1. re: charmedgirl

                                                                                    No need for home cooking - it's a can of Crosse and Blackwell that is microwaved and the hard sauce is butter, confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract. It's an old family recipe hehehehe

                                                                                2. 63 responses in, and I am shocked--SHOCKED--that no one has mentioned Moo Goo Gai Pan! ;-)

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                                    Charmedgirl, the reply was an accident. Moo Goo sounds ok to me.

                                                                                  2. There was almost a riot at my friend John's house last Thanksgiving. There were eight people and only one very small bowl of mashed potatoes. John said they were all fighting for the potatoes.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: givemecarbs

                                                                                      Grandma always makes a huge pan of potatoes, and there are rarely leftovers.

                                                                                      We won't mention the Christmas that Grandpa helped by peeling 10 lbs of potatoes and stopped up the food disposal with potato skins. Yes, he used plenty of water. Then (he was 85) he tried to use the plumbing snake to clean it out. No, Grandpa, let me do that. And because the kitchen sink was disconnected to get it unplugged, Grandma had to drain the potatoes into the bathtub. And my impromptu shower to clean off drain crud was taken with squishy potato bits between my toes. I kept expecting Allen Funt to leap out.

                                                                                      back to topic.

                                                                                      Potatoes, turkey, stuffing, gravy, pie. Assortment of relishes.
                                                                                      Has no one mentioned Chex Mix? We used to make like 50 pounds of the stuff.

                                                                                      1. re: Louise

                                                                                        Yes! Chex Mix! That is a staple as a little snack before dinner. That and homemade hummus served with syrian bread and red onion.

                                                                                        1. re: Louise

                                                                                          ROTFLMAO!!! I have similar garbage disposal problems, but never at a key time & NEVER involving a bath tub. Now that's a family legend!!

                                                                                          You can never have too many mashed potatoes. My mom used to make mashed potato patties the next day -- mix in lots cheddar cheese, form the mashed into patties & "fry" in butter (or bacon fat) -- wait until they develop a good crust on the bottom before you flip them, or they will fall apart. When I was a kid, we also used to make mashed potato candy out of the left-overs. You work confecioner's sugar into the potaoes, along with a little vanilla and some grated coconut (that's optional), Once it gets very stiff, you form into small balls & roll in cinnamon. It's very much like the stuff they call "Irish potatoes" sold around St. Patrick's day. Keep in the fridge.

                                                                                          I bought my bird this weekend -- 23 lbs. Also bought a 12 lb hickory smoked bird to replace the breasts I've smoked myself in the past. Can't be bothered with that this year. For those of you who are still waiting for the carrot/horseradish scallop casserole recipe, I'm trying to get it from my son-on-law's Omi. We are going to their church tomorrow night for the annual German pork and sauerkraut dinner -- I'll try to get it from her then. I'll remember to take some Beano so I don't scare her away.

                                                                                      2. New Mexican red chile "gravy" for the turkey and mashed potatoes. Never eat greasy gravy.

                                                                                        1. I was just tested on this very subject. I always go back to my hometown to have Thanksgiving wherever my parents and I have been invited. Holiday dinners are always cooperative productions with different family members making one or two dishes. Our hosts this year requested that we bring dessert. They also requested that the dessert should be banana pudding. "What about the macaroni and cheese?" I asked my mother. "They didn't mention it", she said. I am the keeper of my Great - Aunt Dean's macaroni and cheese recipe. Aunt Dean is almost 80 and no longer makes it. The host of this years T-day is Aunt Dean's nephew. This does not compute. As if she could hear all of this swirling in my brain over the telephone line, my mother asked "Do you want me to call back and ask if we can bring macaroni and cheese as well?". "Thanks Mom", I said.

                                                                                          1. For the first time this year, we are not making bread stuffing. We decided to try wild rice w/ butternut squash and corn (November's Bon Appetit magazine recipe). Sacrilege? Are we crazy?

                                                                                            1. We serve the same food every year too, and it's always akin to this: http://chewonthatblog.com/2007/11/07/...

                                                                                              1. My mother-in-laws must have was creamed cauliflower, which I dearly loved. She also made an extremely decadant potato kugel, literally swimming in bacon fat. It was addicting yet took away from the rest of the meal it was so good. Since I now cook for my wife and I, I am more willing to skip the tried-and-true, replacing it with new favorites such as roasted winter vegetables, or roasted green beans with almonds. The only must have is the gravey , pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: my3cflvi

                                                                                                  My mom and I cook TG dinner ,and she always makes creamed cauliflower- . I love it, too- but it is something I only eat at Thanksgiving.

                                                                                                2. Absolutely non-negotiable:
                                                                                                  Macaroni Salad (Green pepper, red pepper, spam, mayo, and it MUST be made my by mother, nobody else is an acceptable substitute for this one)
                                                                                                  Arroz con Gandules

                                                                                                  Sort of non-negotiable:
                                                                                                  Sweet potato something. This is only as of the past two years, and it's non-negotiable for ME, not necessarily for anyone else. Last two years I made some sort of casserole with a crumb topping, this year I made sweet potato cake.

                                                                                                  1. An episode of "The Big Bang Theory" that I saw recently made mention of one character's mother's traditional Thanksgiving TurBriskaFilt. turkey stuffed with brisket stuffedf with gefilte fish.

                                                                                                    According to the character, it's not as good as it sounds.