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"Re-imagining" Thanksgiving

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I am pleased to report that, though I have sat through some godawful Thanksgiving massacres*, I have yet to have anything with marshmallows inflicted on me. Dunno how I was so lucky.

Marshmallows have their place. Though you probably have to have been raised at the kids' table in a home where a crusty-gold pan of sweet potato hunks, dripping with cinnamony-buttery-syrup glistening in streams from each spoonful, with handfuls of the big white pillows tossed on top for a two-minute journey through the oven at the last moment...the resulting brown-encrusted pan of tooth-aching glory is a sanctity unto itself, like a bite of Autumn which must be consumed before the leaves will drift and the snow fly. (Though the prospect of snow where I come from is scarce, and the leaves just turn brown and drop).

The idea of marshmallows on the plate, outside their realm of toasted-on-a-stick and sagging gently to cover s'mores, is foreign to a great number of raised-outside-the-South folks. Sue Grafton, speaking as her nifty, otherwise-clever character Kinsey Milhone, said once that the prospect of marshmallows on sweet potatoes was as appetizing as licorice on broccoli. Now THAT is a nauseating comparison, and all-round slur upon the taste of all Southern cooks.

Just try it once, like I ventured to try a lox/tomato/onion/schmear-laden bagel and never looked back. Just take a few yellow-gold sweet potatoes and bake or boil them til tender. Slip off the skin, or scoop out that wonderful soft manna inside. Stir it in a bowl with a little light brown sugar, a snowing of white sugar, a glug of good vanilla, the merest THOUGHT of cinnamon or nutmeg. Throw in a good chunk of softened butter and beat it to a creamy, unctuous softness. Slather a nice casserole dish with another handful of butter, and spoon in the golden mass, smoothing the top like icing a cake. Bake it til it's steamy and fragrance is rising from the oven, then take it out and scatter on great handfuls of the tiny size or arrange rows of the big 'uns in neat ranks, sitting firmly on their little round bottoms.

Put it back into the oven for a few minutes, and take a peek. The swell of the sugary little masterpieces is amazing---they gather themselves and begin to grow like the finest yeast rolls set to rise. They fill the pan, maintaining only the shapes of their round tops to show their division, then even that smooths over into a sweetly-bubbling mass which turns a gentle tan, then ever more golden as the moments pass.

When the surface is perfectly golden brown, remove from the oven and serve as soon as possible, with all the attendant warnings which should accompany hot sugary dishes. Dip into the crusty softness, all the way to the buttery bottom, scooping up layers of orange custard and white frosting, topped with the gently crackling top. Have a taste, and decide for yourself. A hundred years of Southerners will applaud your bravery and adventurous spirit. And agree amongst themselves that you must be kin somewhere in that big ole family tree that spreads from Texas to Virginia, and all the way to the Gulf and beyond.

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Apples in the Gravy, not in the pie.

Last year in a quest for the juiciest turkey I threw caution and tradition to the wind. I brined the turkey for two days. Then I cooked three apples in butter, sage, white wine and Calvados. I put that on top of the turkey, Layered a pound of bacon on top of that and then covered the bacon with cheese cloth that had soaked in melted butter and white wine. An hour befor the turkey was done I removed the apple/bacon mixture, so the turkey could brown. When the bird was done I put the roasting pan on the stove top wisked stock, blond roux, and the chopped apple/bacon mixture togather for the gravy. The gravey was the best part of the meal. This year I am going to cook the apples with sausage, sage, fennel, white wine and calvados. Cover that with bacon. Then call a cadiologist.


A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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I am pleased to report that, though I have sat through some godawful Thanksgiving massacres*, I have yet to have anything with marshmallows inflicted on me. Dunno how I was so lucky.

Marshmallows have their place. Though you probably have to have been raised at the kids' table in a home where a crusty-gold pan of sweet potato hunks, dripping with cinnamony-buttery-syrup glistening in streams from each spoonful, with handfuls of the big white pillows tossed on top for a two-minute journey through the oven at the last moment...the resulting brown-encrusted pan of tooth-aching glory is a sanctity unto itself, like a bite of Autumn which must be consumed before the leaves will drift and the snow fly. (Though the prospect of snow where I come from is scarce, and the leaves just turn brown and drop).

The idea of marshmallows on the plate, outside their realm of toasted-on-a-stick and sagging gently to cover s'mores, is foreign to a great number of raised-outside-the-South folks. Sue Grafton, speaking as her nifty, otherwise-clever character Kinsey Milhone, said once that the prospect of marshmallows on sweet potatoes was as appetizing as licorice on broccoli. Now THAT is a nauseating comparison, and all-round slur upon the taste of all Southern cooks.

Just try it once, like I ventured to try a lox/tomato/onion/schmear-laden bagel and never looked back.

Heh. Well, now that you've invoked one of my heritage's soul foods ... :biggrin:

For what it's worth, I find most recipes for sweet-potato tzimmes too sweet for my tastes as well. I'm just not all that much of a sweet potato fan in the first place, regardless of the dish's ethnicity. Even completely plain, I can only take 'em in smallish doses--a little as a side dish is nice enough, but more than a little I find too rich and cloying. In fact, over the years I've tried to invent some kind of sweet potato recipe for Thanksgiving that takes the dish in a savory rather than sweet direction, just to cut the tubers' natural sweetness down to my liking--Indian curry-type spicing was showing a lot of potential, though I still haven't quite hit the magic formula.

I might do better if I can mentally categorize sweet potatoes with marshmallows as dessert rather than a side dish ... perhaps paradoxically, I do like sweet potato pie quite a bit (more than most pumpkin pies, actually).

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I've even seen people massively screw up that damned stringbean casserole--how in the world can you mess that one up?!?

I don't know how I missed this line on first reading---I have a family recipe---foolproof---for making this far-from-perfect concoction into a slithery, smoomy mess that even the two dogs present ran from.

Directions:

Bring two cans of FRENCH cut green beans, a can of mushroom soup, a can of cheese soup, and a can of onion rings to the church hall wherein your parents' 50th anniversary is being celebrated for the afternoon. It's a great party, with a nice family pitch-in, potluck, bring-a-dish dinner scheduled for six p.m.

Wear your tightest white dress and your most teetering stilettos. Saunter into the kitchen just as the party cleanup is getting into full swing, with all your sisters-in-law carting in massive trays to wash, punchbowls to empty, vast amounts of napkin litter and empty glasses and plates.

Ignore all that work...it's not about YOU. Plunk down your groceries and set up your mise en place in the middle of the dishwashing area, elbowing everyone out of the way and demanding a can opener---after all, it's THEIR church, not yours.

Ask for a bowl. Open every drawer to find a spoon, ditto with the elbows to the unwary. Open your cans; drain the beans by opening them halfway, tipping them upside down, and banging the can against the side of the sink.

Dump all cans into the bowl and stir. Remember with a shocked gasp that SOME of the onions should be saved to garnish the top. Use that nice manicure to fish out as many pieces as have not been entirely drowned in the soup/bean mixture. Stir some more---the dish depends entirely upon the amalgamation of all the ingredients. Ignore the fact that the mushy, tender bean shreds are falling into a gloppy mass amidst that gray/brown/goldish soup and clots of onion. Stir til the net result is a greenish-gray algae-like mass, heaving little "puh" sounds from the bottom of the bowl.

Ask somebody else where they keep the Pam. Spray a wide-sweeping spray all across and into your little flat flimsy disposable pan. Pour in the green stuff and scatter the bedraggled onion bits across the top. Ask how to turn on the oven. Slide the pan in to the very center of the center rack (never mind anyone else who needs to heat a casserole or bake anything), set the timer, wipe your fevered, exhausted brow and leave that hot kitchen for a breath of fresh air. Leave your bowl, spoon, scraper, the Pam and its lid, and all four cans beside the yukky-bladed can opener on the counter, marooned in an oily sea of mis-sprayed Pam. They've got all that cleaning in progress---a little more won't be noticed.

When it's time for dinner, the tables are set and everything is on the buffet, tear yourself away from your conversation and retrieve your pan from the oven. Put a BIG mitt on each hand and gingerly pick up the steaming, jiggling pan; shoulder your way out the kitchen door into the dining room, carrying your prize with a grip on each side. See the pan start to bend in the middle, beginning to form a sort of fireman's helmet effect, with the contents threatening to breach the shrinking dam. Run in haltery little steps, as best you can in pencil-skirt and impossible heels, skittering along with the pan held farther and farther in front of you, keeping it away from your dress, racing for the setting-down place as it sags, then collapses as it strikes the table, to pour out a pool of vomitous green goo onto the Battenburg.

Angels do watch over cooks. But dishwashers' prayers are answered, as well.


Edited by racheld (log)

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Wanted to add in our after Thanksgving tradition. I use the leftover turkey and carcass to make Brunswick stew. I think it's better wit the turkey than with chicken. Then we pay homage to our southern roots and have country ham biscuits with the stew. It has made for a great after Thanksgiving tradition of sorts.

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Speaking of the carcass, we use ours to make jook (Chinese rice porridge). We four siblings usually fight over who gets it.


Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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Saunter into the kitchen just as the party cleanup is getting into full swing, with all your sisters-in-law carting in massive trays to wash, punchbowls to empty, vast amounts of napkin litter and empty glasses and plates.

Ignore all that work...it's not about YOU. 

Hmmmm....I didn't realize we shared a sister-in-law...boy, she really gets around!

Is is just us, or does everyone have one?


Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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Saunter into the kitchen just as the party cleanup is getting into full swing, with all your sisters-in-law carting in massive trays to wash, punchbowls to empty, vast amounts of napkin litter and empty glasses and plates.

Ignore all that work...it's not about YOU.  

Hmmmm....I didn't realize we shared a sister-in-law...boy, she really gets around!

Is is just us, or does everyone have one?

So that's where my sister goes when she disappears!!

She has another trick too. She starts a dish and halfway through, will say "I'm tired," and go upstairs for a nap. Either that or she'll just wander off or talk to one of her friends on the phone while she's cooking. Each tactic leaves the rest of us to finish what she started. She'll come back down just as dinner is being served and say, "I was going to do the (insert dish here). Why didn't you call me?"


Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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Just stumbled on this thread - my favortie Thanksgiving re-imagining was last year cooking just for my wife any myself I made Turkey breast in the style of the Zuni Cafe chicken and served it with their bread salad in place of the stuffing. Nice change of pace.

I'm still looking forward to the day I get to make a more elaborate dinner for my in-laws and see the looks of horror on their faces when the turkey is actually seasoned (unlike their bland, dry birds), much less "re-imagined".


Bill Russell

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My situation as an expat is a little different from most people's. I have no living close relatives left in the US, so Thanksgiving has become a completely elective event for me. Sometimes (if we're over in the US for business or whatnot at the right time) we might celebrate it with friends: sometimes we've had it by ourselves (I remember one particularly good dinner at an Italian restaurant on the upper East Side, where the turkey-seasoning was done entirely alla Italiana, yum yum). Otherwise (if something work-related isn't interfering) I stage the feast on a small scale here in Ireland, to the good-natured bemusement of the locals, and Peter happily eats whatever I make -- having stated, however, that because he knows he's going to have turkey at Christmas, he'd sort of rather I made something else.

I think this year I might do this goose recipe, which was an experiment assembled just post-Christmas in 2001. (My husband's family in Northern Ireland are exactly as fond of their traditional Christmas dinner routine as most people's families "upthread" seem to be about Thanksgiving: so there's not a lot of "wiggle room" to insert anything unconventional in that meal, and if I want something different "for Christmas", I usually do it myself when we get home a few days after The Day.) The chipotles in the stuffing are more or less Peter's idea: he is an unredeemed / unredeemable ChiliHead (unusual, for a Belfast boy -- but then the family joke is that he was supposed to be born in the US, and somehow hung a right instead of a left.)

Hmm. Sides, though, time to start thinking about those. Something with chestnuts, maybe...

Best! D.


Diane Duane | The Owl Springs Partnership | Co. Wicklow, Ireland

http://www.youngwizards.com | http://www.dianeduane.com

Weblog: Out of Ambit

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I am pleased to report that, though I have sat through some godawful Thanksgiving massacres*, I have yet to have anything with marshmallows inflicted on me. Dunno how I was so lucky.

My brussels sprouts recipe is dirt-simple. Truth in advertising: it's based on a recipe I got out of the Seattle Times over a decade ago, but I made it a little more go-with-the-flow:

--couple pounds of brussels sprouts

--maple syrup (I like the grade B dark)

--mustard (I like a nice grainy one like Plochman's Stoneground)

--vinegar (a white wine or apple cider one is best for the color, but often I'll use a red-wine one because I just like the flavor better)

--extra-virgin olive oil (a light fruity one is best for this purpose)

--fresh ground pepper, salt

Make a vinaigrette dressing with all the ingredients that are not brussels sprouts :smile: , adjusting the proportions to your liking (I like to go easy on the maple syrup, adding just enough so that the maple flavor balances against the vinegar and mustard, but not so much that the whole thing gets overly sweet).

Trim up and halve the brussels sprouts (you can quarter any that are bigger than the rest, but it's better that you try and get all tiny ones because they taste better).

Cook the sprouts in a large quantity of boiling salted water just long enough for them to turn bright green and barely tender enough to eat; shock 'em in ice water, but only briefly--you want 'em still warm.

While they're still warm, place them in a non-reactive container and pour the vinaigrette over them. Marinate, refridgerated, overnight.

Let them warm back up to room temp before serving.

*Speaking of massacres, one of my family's beloved non-food-related Thanksgiving traditions was the annual playing of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" in its entirety, which long rambling yarn does start off with a Thanksgiving dinner--which dinner did not actually take place at Alice's restaurant, and "Alice's Restaurant" wasn't even the name of Alice's restaurant, but I can't remember what her restaurant was actually called, but I can still recite whole passages from the story by rote, so it obviously made a big impression on me. Now *that's* what I call an alternative Thanksgiving tradition! :laugh:

I was once taken for thanksgiving dinner to a home with no radio...I mean No Radio....I spent 23 min in my car listening to Alice's Restaurant.

Wewont even get into the fact that the stuffing included fresh squishy white bread raw celary and onions and raw pork moistened with milk and stuffed into a turkey, put in the oven a 10 pm and taken out at 4 am to sit on the counter till dinner.

I brought lasagna

tracey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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This is our menu for Thanksgiving.  My sister is bringing the turkey/dressing, canned cranberries, and homemade dill pickles.  My niece will be bringing some sort of godawful dessert, store bought white rolls, and I've been told not to bake anything because it will make the niece feel bad.

There's another modern-Thanksgiving cliche... the storebought pies/desserts! What the frackety-frack, people, dontcha know that Thanksgiving is National Pie Appreciation Day (well, at least in El Rancho Milan!)

This is the one time of year that folks are supposed to treat their guests to some good, piping hot homemade pie (or pumpkin cheesecake, or at least a very GOOD bakery pie or two or eight.)


"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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But looking back, the "traditionality" of our Thanksgiving meals was a bit questionable--after all, my mom was first-generation American and one generation away from living on relief in the Lower East Side, so I suspect she taught herself the traditional meal from Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens (no small feat, to be sure, but still...)

you know this statement reminded me of soemthing i saw on cable a few months back. It was in regards to Korean women who became wives of American GIs while the GIs are stationed there.

Apparently, some faction of Base Domesticity created a training course for these Korean women in how to be able to "fit in" with their American husband's lifestyles too ease the culture shock. So there are etiquette classes, and role-playing in "difficult" culture-clash situations, and finally, a class on making a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. And it involved all the usual suspects - from how to roast a turkey, to making stove-top stuffing, to how to put together a green bean casserole, and make a pumpkin pie (using pieshells, and pumpkin pie filling). Oh and deviled eggs.

Which was even more interestng to me, because one of my close friends is the daughter of an American GI/Korean Woman marriage - and she is downright fanatical about her deviled eggs. I guess she got imprinted too.


Edited by tryska (log)

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So that's where my sister goes when she disappears!!

She has another trick too.  She starts a dish and halfway through, will say "I'm tired," and go upstairs for a nap.  Either that or she'll just wander off or talk to one of her friends on the phone while she's cooking.  Each tactic leaves the rest of us to finish what she started.  She'll come back down just as dinner is being served and say, "I was going to do the (insert dish here).  Why didn't you call me?"

Oh boy...the famous nap...if I had a nickel.....

Since we have already had thanksgiving, I can report that this year she was supposed to bring the sweet potatoes...which she then palmed off on my brother and he had to make them. She managed to stay awake this time, but her teenage daughters did not...and then at the end of the meal, she and they all decided to have an uproarious game of 'let's see how far into our mouths we can shove Grandma's antique wine glasses' in spite of the fact we had requested that all was kept low key due to my parents age and infirmities. I love my brother but his family is a total gong show. Oh, and that bottle of wine she brought? Six bucks at the corner booze shop. Nice. And she took it home with her.

Dinner was otherwise great...especially the part where they left early.


Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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There's another modern-Thanksgiving cliche... the storebought pies/desserts! What the frackety-frack, people, dontcha know that Thanksgiving is National Pie Appreciation Day (well, at least in El Rancho Milan!)

This is the one time of year that folks are supposed to treat their guests to some good, piping hot homemade pie (or pumpkin cheesecake, or at least a very GOOD bakery pie or two or eight.)

Here's a better one...charity pies. My sister, the disappearing one (see previous post), decided one year that she would buy pies from some charity (at $25 a pop). I took this as a personal effrontery since I am a former pastry chef. But they were “charity pies,” as my sister reminded us several times from the day of her announcement to the actual day of.

Well, considering that the pies were picked up the Monday prior to Thanksgiving, they were made that weekend, which would make the pies almost a week old by the time Thanksgiving arrives. And not only that, the pies were transported 200+ miles from Boston to NY, and sustained some minor injuries along the way. Of course, the pies were not very good (and my mom kept exclaiming, "you paid $25 for this?!". The crust was mealy, the fillings were bland. Needless to say, “charity pies” haven’t made an appearance since.


Karen C.

"Oh, suddenly life’s fun, suddenly there’s a reason to get up in the morning – it’s called bacon!" - Sookie St. James

Travelogue: Ten days in Tuscany

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That's a great article, Bill, and so full of recipes your readers can use. I'm sure many home cooks and their guests will get a lot of enjoyment from the results.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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That's a great article, Bill, and so full of recipes your readers can use. I'm sure many home cooks and their guests will get a lot of enjoyment from the results.

Thank you, Michael, for the kind words. And a big THANK YOU to all the eGulleteers who responded to the question with great ideas and great recipes that didn't have to be "tinkered" with by the test kitchen pros.

A Happy Thanksgiving to you and to all,

Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

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I read the article in the Danbury News-Times in CT on Wednesday. Nice job, fun!

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For lack of a better place to post, I'll provide my non-traditional menu from Thursday. Mrs. B and I generally have done Thanksgiving alone, but occasionally do dinner with my large family. This year we entertained another couple without children who decided not to travel to their families this year.

Butternut squash soup with seared scallop

Risotto with shaved white Alba truffle

Butter poached lobster with celery root and grapefruit salad

With the first 3 courses, Kistler Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 1999

Roasted duck breast with wilted arugula, chanterelle mushrooms, duck confit flan, cranberry relish and pinot noir duck sauce

Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995

Cranberry buttermilk bread

Apple, cranberry and ginger pie

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