The autumn leaves are falling (or depending on where you are, have fallen), and it’s time for the ultimate comfort food meal – Thanksgiving dinner. Some prefer to make the same recipes every year, with a sense of tradition and a confidence gained through years of practice. On the other hand, it can be fun to experiment with new recipes to keep things interesting. Here are my favorite picks this year:
Growing up, my family always swore by the Butterball turkey. Last year after doing some research, I decided to venture into new territory, which consisted of a kosher turkey from Trader Joe’s. Not exactly exotic, but I have to say, it was by far the best turkey year I remember. It was definitely much more flavorful than years past, and I don’t only attribute this to proper cooking and plenty of basting. (An electronic temperature gauge has done wonders to prevent over-cooking.)
No matter what your turkey cooking technique, starting with top-notch ingredients is key. I found this article “The Best Turkey: What’s Your Favorite” on serious eats discussing various recommendations, which I found illuminating. Still, if you’re looking to be more eco-conscious, this article from Simple Steps might help steer you in the right direction: “Organic, Heritage, Sustainable – When Talking Turkey, Does It Matter?.”
I’ve generally enjoyed wine or champagne on Thanksgiving. It’s festive to enjoy a drink, and let’s face it, often crucial for relieving any lingering holiday anxiety. I’ve never ventured into cocktail territory, but these cranberry cocktails from Bon Appetit really piqued my interest.
I’m a big fan of butternut squash soup. I’ve tried numerous recipes, and basically it’s hard to go wrong since butternut squash is so tasty. Many recipes call for lots of cream, but I actually prefer without. I ran across this recipe that sounds like a very easy and flavorful version on chowhound with the onion/carrot/celery base and apple cider for counterpoint.
I also found this roasted version from Cooking Light with ginger in the mix, which could be an excellent alternative, especially as roasting adds complexity: Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallot Soup.
Or if you want to go super simple, try this Carrot Ginger Soup recipe.
I’m a firm believer in making your own stuffing. The trick to any stuffing is not to add too much liquid. Soggy stuffing is not fun. If you’re looking for simple, straight-up stuffing, this recipe from tiny morsels looks ideal.
I happen to be fond of sausage in stuffing, although my boyfriend thinks it’s too rich (oddly, considering his love of sausage). I’ve tried this stuffing recipe from Cooking Light and have been a fan ever since: Sourdough Stuffing with Pears and Sausage. This stuffing recipe with chorizo from Food52 sounds delicious: Ciabatta Stuffing with Chorizo, Sweet Potato and Mushrooms.
Then again, this rye bread stuffing recipe with apples from Epicurious sounds especially enticing: Rye Bread Stuffing.
Gravy can be a real source of stress around Thanksgiving time. According to the NY Times, Flavorful Gravy Makes Thanksgiving. Worries surrounding gravy seem fair enough to me. What if there aren’t enough drippings? What if we run out? Luckily, I’ve always managed to delegate the gravy making at my house, so I may not be the best consult on the subject. Most people I know seem to have a gravy recipe handed down from their mother or their mother’s mother. I poked around online and found numerous gravy recipes on Bon Appetit. Allrecipes has a more basic version that might be where it’s at.
I’d be hard pressed to abandon mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing the traditional turkey with stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes are a must. The main secret? Don’t skimp on the butter. Here’s a classic mashed potato recipe from chow. Personally, I’m a big fan of adding minced garlic and a touch of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to my mashed potatoes, along with chopped chives as a garnish. (And of course, don’t over-mash, unless you like eating glue.)
If you do want to branch out, this Whiskey Parsnip and Apple Puree could do the trick.
For other sides, the blog Food52 has a major run-down on Thanksgiving dishes. I usually choose to make some variation on green beans as I happen to love green beans and the color is a nice counterpoint to everything else. That said, I’m thinking of trying out a roasted root vegetables recipe this year. This version could be a good bet.
Yes, it’s true – I was witness to many a canned cranberry “log” in my younger days on Thanksgiving day. The funny thing is, fresh cranberry sauce is incredibly easy to make, and it’s so wonderful. I’ve honestly always followed the recipe on the back of the cranberry package. All you do is simmer the cranberries for about 10 minutes with sugar and add sliced oranges or cinnamon sticks if you like. I can’t imagine opting out of making this, unless you’ve run out of room on the stove top, are feeling stubborn, or just plain “over” additional side dishes altogether.
Here’s a version from Simple Recipes.
Finally, it’s time for pumpkin pie! Dessert is the toughest choice on Thanksgiving because of the myriad of tantalizing options, mainly in the pie category (in keeping with tradition). One year we decided to have a pie taste-off since we couldn’t decide on what kind to make or agree on which type of crust is best. Four of us each made one: apple, apple-cranberry, pumpkin, and pecan – and then compared our styles. Of course, we all ended up voting on our own, but we certainly weren’t lacking in the dessert department!
Crust is important when it comes to pies. My favorite crust for apple pie is one I got from Cook’s Illustrated with the secret ingredient- vodka. Adding vodka makes the dough initially easier to roll out. But unlike water, it then completely evaporates during cooking, making a fantastically flaky crust. I found the recipe reviewed on kitchn. (I’ve never had issues with the dough being too sticky as they mention in their review.)
Apple pie is such a classic, that I found an entire website devoted only to apple pie recipes.
Here’s a Spice-Kissed Pumpkin Pie recipe from 101 Cookbooks that looks somewhat complicated but delicious.
Images: Lane & Anne, cynthiacloskey, Maggie Hoffman, mcb_smith, rfduck, jamesdkirk, Half Chinese, bethawia