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What says Thanksgiving to you?

Hello there,

For the first time in my life, I have a large kitchen (and a large audience) in which to cook an amazing, sumptuous Thanksgiving meal. Previously, I've had a tiny 1-2 burner kitchen and an incredibly small family who might possibly eat the food I cooked, so I've always done something very unusual. Besides the obvious dishes like Turkey and stuffing, what says Thanksgiving to you and your family? What are your traditional dishes? Give me some idea for what to whip up for my family!


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  1. Whatever else you do, please make sure to have plenty of good gravy. I unfortunately have been a guest at a few gatherings where the gravy was bad, in woefully short supply or absent all together, can you believe that. It was heartbreaking.

    Oh, and cranberries. Nothing sez Thanksgiving to me like a cranberry.

    We usually include mac 'n cheese and arroz con gandules with the other traditional dishes.

    Check out some of the older Thanksgiving threads, at the bottom of this page, for lots more ideas.

    1. My parents were always a little non-traditional. Sure when we hosted Thanksgiving most years we'd have the big Turkey, but on special occasions we'd have a small gathering. We did Cornish game hens, squab, quail, goose and even duck. Obviously, the stuffing, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry was always there, but some of the other things I could expect was succotash and brussel sprouts with bacon. I spent a few thanksgivings at a friends house after my mother passed away and went crazy over whipped cauliflower, bacon wrapped dates, and mashed sweet potatoes with meringue (almost too sweet not to be a dessert). I'm not a dessert person, but Thanksgiving to me, isn't complete without either pumpin or pecan pie.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jhopp217

        Agreed with the pies. Always pumpkin and pecan- I make them every year.

        Last year we were away, and had Thai food. Not the same...

        1. re: cheesecake17

          Me too- sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and of course pumpkin pie all with fresh whipped cream.

          Only time of year I eat pies is Thanksgiving.

      2. My grandma always made her creamed pearl onions, and I love them. Not only did I always prefer the sauce to ANY gravy I've ever tried, I use them as a base for turkey pot pie with leftovers.

        10 Replies
        1. re: katecm

          Yum, that sounds great and love the idea of the pot pies!

          1. re: katecm

            By any chance, do you have the recipe for the creamed pearl onions? Sounds delicious!

              1. re: BubblyOne

                Well, yes and no. Last year I decided to try the Gourmet cookbook's version, using fresh peeled onions. They were good, but just not the same! Gram's were old-school. You get a few jars of pearl onions in water (not pickled), then drain them and rinse them. Make a basic bechamel - melt butter, add in flour and whisk for about 30 seconds, then pour in milk or cream and cook, whisking, until very thickened. Stir in the onions and let them cook slowly for a few minutes, seasoning with salt, a good amount of black pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. They can be made in advance and keep really well. It's SO not fancy or difficult, but there's just something about them. I;m sure you can get fresh onions and boil them a bit rather than using the jars, but mine got a bit mushy last year, and the jarred stuff just stays nicely crisp.

                1. re: katecm

                  Thanks, katecm. This sounds really easy and yet so good. I'm going to have to try this.

                  1. re: katecm

                    Thanks for this one, we did a trial run last night. Easy and really good.

                    1. re: BubblyOne

                      I wonder how the frozen pearl onions would work. Certainly cheaper than the cocktail onions.

                        1. re: BubblyOne

                          That's good to know! I was scared to venture from Gram's instructions (I even use her beat-up old double boiler, which had been a hand-me-down to her from her mother-in-law!

                          They're actually a great side dish with red meat, too.

                          1. re: katecm

                            I'm also making a triple batch and swiping your pot pie idea:)

            1. Fried turkey and smoked spare ribs = Thanksgiving at casa de Gordeaux

              1. Hmm, I will have to agree with everyone here and say pie - for me, apple, for DH, pumpkin. I've eaten Thanksgiving at many different tables with many different menus, but I don't ever remember one without pie.

                Stuffing is big for me too, but only in the last few years - I hated it (and pretty much all other Thanksgiving foods except for pie) growing up, but now that I get to make it myself, I love it. LOVE.

                1. Turkey, dressing (has to be cornbread) and cranberry sauce (whole berry sauce). Plus Sweet Potato Pie.

                  I also really like roasted Brussels Sprouts, Chestnuts and Pearl Onions.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: ChefJune

                    I always loved homemade whole berry cranberry sauce, but never with orange juice/zest added to it. That's the leftover dish I always want to take home- I mix it into vanilla yogurt or greek yogurt.

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      I love it too - my recipe uses figs and port instead of the ubiquitous orange. Sooooooo good over vanilla ice cream!

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Please share the recipe! That recipe sounds stellar!

                        1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                          Sure, here you go: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                          I usually cut back just a bit on the amount of port - around 1.25 cups rather than the 1.66 cups called for, just so it's not too liquidy. I also hold back some of the sugar just in case my cranberries or port are sweeter than usual, although I usually need it all. Don't sub any other kind of fig - a friend made it one year with those larger, softer dried golden figs and the texture was really weird. I also like to make it at least a day in advance to let the flavors meld. It's truly spectacular!

                        2. re: biondanonima

                          yup- that's my kind of cranberry sauce.

                        3. re: cheesecake17

                          I don't mind the orange juice cranberry sauce, but I prefer the cherry cranberry sauce.

                      2. If you ask my kids, it would be turkey, stuffing and gravy. They would eat a full plate of that and nothing else if they could! (And they are in their 30's now). But I use bread stuffing with lots of celery and onions. Never picked up a hankering for the cornbread style.

                        1. My Dad's whole wheat rolls. Man, they are just great, and perfect for making leftover turkey sandwiches. Also, my husband and I always make fruit salad dressed with lime juice and honey. You can pretty much use whatever fruit you feel like and it both tastes great and dresses up the table. My grandmother does baked beans.

                          A couple of years ago when I did my first full Thanksgiving dinner myself I did a few appetizers and realized that anything beyond maybe some nuts and a relish tray is a really, really terrible idea.

                          1. Aside from the basics, I must have oysters in there someplace. My Grandma Owen always did two turkeys, one with plain sage stuffing and one with oyster stuffing; Grandpa Kuntz did sausage stuffing and scalloped oysters. This year I'm leaning towards sausage and oyster stuffing, since my bread basis is going to be sourdough white this time. Sprouts with bacon, yes, for sure.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Will Owen

                              Would you share the recipe for the oyster stuffing? It sounds amazing!

                              1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                                I'd love to share the recipe if I had one. This, like the mashed potatoes and indeed the turkey, is a thing I just know HOW to make. Basically dry bread cubed 1/2" to 3/8", plenty of chopped onion and celery (include some leaves), crumble and cook the sausage and add it along with a bunch of melted butter. Salt, pepper and herbs, whether "poultry seasoning" or rubbed sage and thyme, then chopped oysters (at least a pint) and their juice. Enough hot broth to moisten but not soak, let it sit under cover while you do some other things. You want it to be like a slightly dry papier mache, moist enough to mold but not so that you can squeeze juice from it. I might very well take a handful or two of this and shove it under the breast skin, which both insulates and lubricates the breast meat, though since I'm spatchcocking that won't be so important. Anyway, this is actually dressing, not stuffing, and will either mostly or totally be cooked in its own baking dish. If I'm not all distracted I might remember to fry a bit first to check for seasoning.

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  I don't put sausage in mine, but that's my family recipe, too (if you call watching your gramma and great-gramma make it having a recipe!)

                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    My Grandmama always had scalloped oysters. I never come get mine to come out as good as hers.

                                    1. re: Sue in Mt P

                                      sounds good -- how do you make it? (almost asked for a recipe, but figure it's about as much recipe as my oyster dressing is...a little of this, a little of that, and nothing written down)

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        It's so hard to tell you since there never was one. Oysters in a casserole dish, put in milk to cover, crumble saltines on top, dot with butter. Bake in 350 oven til done- bubbly and brown top. That's all I ever got from her, may she rest in peace.

                                        1. re: Sue in Mt P

                                          Yum. sounds like a faster version of the oyster stew that my *other* great-grandmother had for Christmas Eve supper every year..same basic idea, but more milk, and the crackers went on top at the last second.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            It IS good. Oysters in the Southeast US come into season when the water gets cold, so it makes sense to have them at Thanksgiving.

                                          2. re: Sue in Mt P

                                            My Fanny Farmer book (I think 1947 edition) has a good recipe, as does my '60s Joy of Cooking. Buttered dish, layer of crumbs, layer of oysters (season lightly), layer of crumbs, oysters, crumbs. No more than two layers. Dot top with butter, S&P, pour on whole milk or half-and-half to just below the topmost crumbs. Fanny says 400ยบ for 45 minutes, which I find excessive, but bubbly and brown is the best advice. For the record, my mom always dashed some Worcestershire sauce into the milk, and so do I, along with a good dollop of Tabasco.

                                            As this always gets made with shucked oysters in a jar, I've learned to go shopping for good ones. The giant Northwestern ones have to be chopped up a bit, and their flavor is too strong, I think, but you don't want fancy oysters for this. I mostly like Eastern ones, even if they're over budget.

                                2. My favorite Thanksgiving side dish is fresh rolls or biscuits. I started doing James Beard's cream biscuits because they take no time to put together (literally less than 10 minutes). 2 cups of flour, 1 Tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, optionally a little sugar or (my secret ingredient) maple syrup. Sift together (ok, stir together, because I'm lazy). Fold in 1 cup of cream. I make these as drop biscuits and brush them with melted butter. Bake at 425 for 15-18 minutes.

                                  Also, for vegetarians, I do mini vegetable pot pies in ramekins. It sounds complicated, but I just use the same veggies I'm preparing for other dishes (green beans, squash, carrots, mushrooms, maybe throw in some frozen corn), make a quick sauce, and top with prepared puff pastry. It's not that much extra work and makes them feel like they have something special instead of just having to eat the sides.

                                  One more thing -- I haven't made it before, but this year I'm excited to make this pumpkin cheesecake: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Pia

                                    We have a vegetarian that I'm cooking for also and was looking for something special to make for them. The veggie pot pie sounds great, can you please post your recipe. Thanks!

                                    1. re: pippin925

                                      I adapt the chicken pot pie recipe from Joy of Cooking for the sauce, then I throw in some cooked veggies and top with puff pastry. For the sauce, melt 1/2 stick of butter over med-low heat, then whisk in 1/2 cup of flour and stir for a minute or so. Then add 2 cups of vegetable stock or broth, and then whisk in 1 1/2 cups of half and half. Simmer, still whisking, until mixture thickens. Add whatever seasonings you want -- the recipe says salt and pepper, lemon juice, and nutmeg. I usually add sage and rosemary. Whatever other veggies you use, I recommend also adding squash and mushrooms because it makes it feel more substantial. Once the pot pies are assembled, I bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes.

                                  2. Popovers. We only make them for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

                                    1. Must have the basic turkey & cornbread stuffing in the bird, mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade rolls. Everything else is open for changes. We usually have some type of greens, i.e. collards, mixed greens, kale, etc. and another green veg like broccoli or a salad. Besides the mashed potatoes, we do some other type of potato or pasta dish and cranberry sauce, which I don't normally eat. However, for the past few years, I make a second cranberry dish, a relish if you will with oranges, ginger & dried cranberries that's delicious. Sweet potato & pecan pies, no one will touch pumpkin in this family, is a given but this is where we get creative. We normally have so many desserts, one could go into a sugar coma....

                                      1. Homemade dinner rolls. I make Joy of Cooking hot milk rolls in the clover formation. They make great little sandwiches with leftovers.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: maxie

                                          In addition to cranberry sauce I have for the past several years made Susan Stamberg's mama's cranberry relish: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...
                                          It is frozen, with sour cream and horseradish and is always a hit.

                                          1. re: maxie

                                            All about the homemade rolls for me. We've made the Lowell Inn crescent rolls for as long as I can remember.

                                          2. We always had a pretty "white-bread traditional" turkey day. One of the important highlights has always been the gravy. My mom taught me how to make it. Boil the innards (except the liver) such as the neck and other parts to get a turkey stock. Fry the liver in butter and a little garlic. Blend the liver and stock together until it is smooth (no chunks lest the squeamish kids find chunks and freak out.... lol. Besides having it puree'd in gives an amazing texture and richness), then proceed to make gravy with the drippings from the bird using the broth/liver mixture for the liquid. Add chicken broth if need be, for there MUST be a LOT of gravy, lest there be a throwdown at the table over it.

                                            Really that's probably my favourite food for turkey day. Just give me a bowl of mom's gravy and I'm happy.

                                            Other than that, we always cooked a turkey, but specifically a Diestel turkey, not only because my mom and I like how they are raised, but mostly because they are raised in my home town. Every year they have a bunch of elementary school kids tour the ranch. I tell ya those are some happy turkeys while they live, the ranch is beautiful and they are free-range, and really who can't love Sonora?

                                            Of course the next day is turkey noodle soup making day. For as long as I can remember mom and grandma used a roaster oven for the turkey. So when we were done with the turkey, we'd pull off most of the meat, leave the carcass in the roaster, add water, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and poultry seasoning, and leave it on all day. Some of this would get served for dinner the next night, but most of it got frozen and divvied up.

                                            Ok, I'm rambling now lol.....

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Popkin

                                              Lord, I'd forgotten the Diestel ranch is outside Sonora! I spent a couple years as a sort of free-range bird in those parts myself. I *DID* love it, just couldn't figure out how to make a living there...

                                              My last Diestel bird, alas, was much more "chilled" than the Whole Foods folks had promised, and suffered from both that and a too-fast thawing. I'll have to try another some day.

                                              1. Macaroni and meatballs. :)

                                                Large italian family, so even thought for the past 8 years or so, some of the aunts are trying to cut it from the menu, we always have macaroni and meatballs as a 2nd course. Our meal goes like this:
                                                antipasto platters with salami, provolone, mozzerella, olives, ham, tuna, sardines, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts.
                                                bread, ziti, meatballs
                                                salad (lately it's been a mixed greens with strawberries and sesame seeds)
                                                turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, 2 types of stuffing - one bread, one sausage.
                                                Apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pudding pie, cream puffs, and sometimes a few other sweets.

                                                We are at about 20-24 people, and everyone who comes brings something. My dad (who hosted for years till my sister got the bigger house) actually has a spreadsheet that he manages to see what was eaten and if we need to revise for next year. It's my favorite day with all my family, even if the food is not the fanciest or even changed since 1980. (except my cousin Kristin's cream puffs - mmmmmm).

                                                1. Smashed potatoes, dressing/stuffing, cranberry sauce, pie, yeast rolls, green beans (just simple green beans with maybe a hunk of bacon tossed in), corn, preferably on the cob if you can get it. Oh yeah, candied yams. I don't know why, but the rest of the family expected them. They didn't actually EAT much of them, but they insisted they be on the table. Weird.

                                                  Personally I don't like gravy, but I did make it while I was still doing bird day for the family.

                                                  17 Replies
                                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                    Funny how you mention the candied yams. I wonder how many families have that "we must have it, even if no one eats it" dish. The green bean casserole is like that for us, and in the years that my parents hosted Thankgiving (till my sister took over), my mom insisted it wasnt thanksgiving if the house didn't smell like turkey. So even though my aunt cooked a whole huge bird and brought it over (which we never finished to begin with), my mom insisted on cooking a small breast that we pretty much just wrapped up and ate as leftovers and/or eventually tossed.

                                                    1. re: mickeygee

                                                      There was another one like that. Cranberry relish, made from whole cranberries,oranges, and heaven knows what else (I no longer remember). I don't think anyone actually ate it except my mother and possibly one of my brothers. But it had to be made every single year as long as I was still at home.

                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                        I used to be the only one who ate it, and I make it because it makes the house smell nice, AND I LOVE cranberry sauce on leftover turkey sandwiches.

                                                        But last year our headcount soared, and my guests barely left me with enough sauce leftover for a single sandwich! No worry -- I'll make a bigger batch this year.

                                                        One of the cooks for our Thanksgiving bash wanted sweet potatoes, and someone volunteered to bring them...but ended up having salads made at a deli. I'm not sure the one who wanted sweet potatoes has forgiven her yet. So we'll just reassign them to someone else this year.

                                                    2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                      Wow someone actually said they don't like gravy! Amen! If you need gravy to put on top, something ain't right!

                                                      1. re: jhopp217

                                                        That's kind of my feeling about it. I don't get the whole drown-everything-in-gravy thing.

                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                          +1. I'm not a huge gravy fan, especially poultry gravy. If I need to moisten something, I'd rather melt butter or cheese over the top!

                                                          1. re: biondanonima

                                                            I am a Midwestern person. To a Midwestern person gravy is, if not actually a beverage, an absolute necessity on any serious table. Brown for beef, tan for pork, sort of a yellowish white with flecks of giblet for fowl. And any of the above may be poured over biscuits, or simply sliced bread, for breakfast. The true skill of the Midwestern cook is shown by the goodness of her or his gravy. If yours tastes like Kitchen Bouquet, do not bring it to the potluck.

                                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                                              I'm from the midwest too and I still don't get the attraction of gravy. I'm the only one in my family though. The rest of them would inhale it if they could, I think.

                                                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                Gravy is a 'must have' at our meals also, Zen, and no, I don't get the attraction either, but I've worked really hard to master the gravy faucet of every holiday meal and I get raves. And, yes, the rels and friends put it on EVERYTHING!

                                                              2. re: Will Owen

                                                                "And any of the above may be poured over biscuits, or simply sliced bread, for breakfast."

                                                                Or desert, in the case of my family. ;)

                                                          2. re: jhopp217

                                                            does that mean you never eat sauces of any kind?

                                                            I'm not one to drown the whole plate...but a drizzle of gravy can be an enhancer, not a masker.

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              My feeling is that if a turkey is cooked correctly, the dressing and stuffing is properly cooked and moist and if the potato of choice is done properly, there is no need to add gravy. Gravy, while not bad in any sense, to me is to cover a mistake or a dried out dish.

                                                              I am not a huge sauce fan in many senses of the word. I kinda gave up on pasta about two years ago, but when I did have it, I used a minimal amount of sauce. I love pesto, but too much is overbearing. I'm also not one of those people who puts on steak sauces or sweet sauces. That's not to say I don't love a nice balsamic glaze on asparagus or dishes such as chicken (or sole) francase. I also prefer dry rubs to wet, when it comes to ribs.

                                                              Basically, I like to enjoy the main ingredient and find that if a gravy is needed, it's probably not for a good reason. On a little subnote to this post....if it's three days after Thanksgiving and there are still leftovers and some of it's a little dry. I have no problem putting the turkey on a roll and throwing on top some cole slaw, or if there is any left, cranberry sauce.

                                                              1. re: jhopp217

                                                                I have no problem at all with saying "I don't like sauces of any kind". Cool. Do what makes you happy.

                                                                I have a significant problem, though, with calling other people's taste or the calibre of their palate in to question if they *do* like sauce or gravy.

                                                                Just sayin'.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  You go sunshine! No need to add gravy if food is cooked properly? Maybe you need a good gravy recipe to go with the rest of your perfect meal.

                                                                    1. re: imhungryletseat

                                                                      Even funnier....Alice's Restaurant is my least favorite song ever...well next to We Built This City, haha!

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    I was not at all questioning taste or caliber of one's palate. I'm sorry if you took it that way. I was saying, IMO that gravy is to cover up dryness or a lack of flavor.

                                                                    I dated a girl who would smother her food with gravy before even tasting the dish or the gravy. She even ordered extra gravy and everything looked like soup. Did it bother me? Yes, but hey, it was her food, I didn't have to eat it.

                                                          3. Cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie w/ whipped cream, mashed potatoes and gravy, and mac and cheese!!

                                                            1. I could eat nothing but a plate of well-prepared stuffing and good gravy and it would be Thanksgiving.

                                                              1. For us it's the giblet and sausage stuffing with good gravy that makes the meal special. DW and I love turkey and so I oven braise thighs almost weekly, but we only have the stuffing on holidays when the whole family gets together and one of us does an entire bird.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: junescook

                                                                  You know, I just realized that when I think of Thanksgiving the predominant smell in my memory is that of the stuffing, that olfactory chorus of sage, broth, onions and bread. Sometimes there's sausage, sometimes oysters, sometimes cornbread too, but the essential core changeth not. To both of the above posts I will add that my favorite thing about the meal might well be the extended aftermath, with turkey hash made from stuffing, chopped turkey and gravy. Mrs. O does not share my fondness for this dish, thus forcing me to consume it all myself, either simply reheated as a lunch dish or as a fried cake with eggs. Poor me...

                                                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                                                    One of my favorite memories from childhood is going back to Grannys the day after for turkey hash.....

                                                                2. Yes, my family is of German heritage. Our Thanksgiving meal is not complete with the sauerkraut.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Guy

                                                                    Absolutely!! Are you from Baltimore too? There was a great article in Bon Appetit this month about the sauerkraut/Baltimore tradition.

                                                                    It's definitely not Thanksgiving without a pot of sauerkraut and kielbasa. Ever since I was little, I had two mounds of mashed taters on my plate. One had butter and gravy, the other kraut and kielbasa.

                                                                    1. re: Christina D

                                                                      Both my parents were born and raised in Baltimore! And funny you mentioned that article, my sister just forwarded it to me.

                                                                  2. Turkey, gravy (I'm in the gravy all over everything camp, myself), sausage stuffing as basics. This sweet potato casserole has made a regular (and requested, when I'm not hosting) appearance for years (http://www.semisweetonline.com/2009/1...). For dessert - gotta be pie - when I host, I usually do three - apple, pecan & pumpkin - this year I'm bringing pie and there's going to be a pumpkin cheesecake, so I'll just do apple, but I'll miss the pumpkin pie!


                                                                    1. Probably leftovers and all of the creative, delicious meals after. I made a feast for 30 + last year and this year I'm only making the meal for the two of us, but it'll be good and I will so appreciate it.

                                                                      1. For me, it's officially Thanksgiving when my house smells of onions and celery cooking in butter (for the stuffing) and Macy's parade is on the tube.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Christina D

                                                                          but do you start your bird while still in your pj's?

                                                                            1. re: Christina D

                                                                              Good. Glad to know you're doing it right! LOL