Do You Need a Thanksgiving Menu Planner?
More than many other holidays, Thanksgiving tends to be a holiday steeped in tradition. If you don’t have your aunt’s stuffing and your cousin’s pumpkin pie, then you might as well skip the whole thing. But sometimes change can be good. Here is our approach to Thanksgiving – some of which never changes, and other menu items that change from year to year – depending on my mood – and my produce selection.
Thanksgiving Menu Planner: What Doesn’t Change
A few items are always on our menu. If I changed these, the family would have a fit – plus they are generally straight-forward to make and get on the table. That’s a bonus on a day when kitchen and oven space are at a premium.
- The Dip: Depending on how many people I’m hosting, I usually put out cheese and crackers, crudites and one or more dips. Though I make both my artichoke and the roasted onion versions frequently, there is just something about this artichoke dip that fits the late fall, midday munching that happens on Thanksgiving. I make it ahead of time and broil in my toaster oven just before serving.
- A Quick Turkey: If you like to cook, or have ever hosted Thanksgiving, you have likely engaged in a conversation about cooking turkeys. During the holiday season there seem to be endless debates about nearly every aspect of the process – from purchase to carving. I’ve tried nearly everything – fresh and frozen, brined and rubbed, low-and-slow and, finally, this (relatively) quick version, that ended the years of turkey experiments. Now I just make this recipe. No more researching, no more discussion. I stay out of it. And the only time it was less than perfect was when a (nosy) family member urged me to put the bird in the oven hours before was necessary. That year we had a perfectly cooked, yet nearly cold, turkey, as it had “rested” for almost three hours before we at
- White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes: You are probably learning that I am a fan of make-ahead meals. So a make-ahead option on the busiest cooking day of the year? Yes, please – I’m in. I started making this recipe because it was a make-ahead option for mashed potatoes – usually a must-do at the last minute. By baking this sage-filled, cheesy concoction, you can mash ahead of time and save yourself some of the last-minute crazy.
- Sweet Potatoes with Homemade Marshmallows: As a kid, this was by far my favorite dish, though my grandmother tended to channel her 1950s homemaker and use canned yams and store-bought marshmallows. The only nod to our northern California bounty was the layer of dried apricots, sometimes even ones she had hand-dried on giant screens in the backyard. I have updated – and simplified – this dish, while keeping the essence the same.
Favorite Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes
- 6 large Sweet Potatoes
- 1/4 cup Orange Juice freshly squeeze if possible
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup butter
- 6 oz dried apricots Blenheim variety, if available
- 15-20 large homemade marshmallows
- I roast whole sweet potatoes in their skins, then scrape the cooled flesh into a casserole dish, roughly smashing . I rarely sweeten them, but feel free to add a splash of orange juice (freshly squeezed if you have it!) to brighten the flavor a touch. You will likely want to add some salt and pepper, as well as a pat or two of butter if the flesh is firm and not coming together into a coherent mass without a little nudge.
- Once you have a base of smashed sweet potatoes, then place a single layer of dried apricots on top. If you can get your hands on the Blenheim variety, that’s the gold standard, but in the end, anything will do. This adds a bit of tartness, and some texture, to an otherwise soft and squishy dish.
- If you are making ahead, you can cover with foil at this point, and heat up alongside your mashed potatoes. Right before serving, remove the foil and top with a thin layer of homemade marshmallows. If some of them are thick, then you can slice them in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Place under the broiler, watching carefully, until they are golden brown and slightly puffed.
Thanksgiving Menu Planner: What Does Change
- The Bread: This year, it will be be Tartine bread. I spent the summer figuring out how to make this work for me – and I’m getting the hang of it. Plus, despite the intimidating sound of baking your own sourdough bread from scratch, the recipe has relatively little hands-on time.
- The Salad: I love shaved cabbage/kale/broccoli with pumpkin seeds, cranberries and poppy seed dressing. But I have also done spinach, arugula and numerous other versions, often with this Champagne Vinaigrette.
- The Vegetables: Whatever is in my produce box that week gets roasted, braised, or sautéed and served, usually with some Omnivore Salt.
- The Stuffing: I know this is a big deal for some people, but it’s not really my jam. I do make a version of it each year, though, including a Hawaiian version one time. Mostly, though, I just make something like this, and throw in whatever sort of sausage and/or vegetable seems appealing at the time.
- The Dessert: Yes, there is always something pumpkin, but there is also always something chocolate. And, what, exactly, that is changed from year to year. Pumpkin has been in flan, creme brulee, and the ubiquitous pie. Chocolate has been in mousse, in pie, and in cake. As long I as I have one of each on the table, I’ll pretty much make everyone happy!
What is your Thanksgiving must-have? What new addition are you looking to add to the table? Are you going to try something from this Thanksgiving menu planner? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
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