Tradition is the foundation of Thanksgiving dinner.
A savory turkey surrounded by tasty side dishes is the main event of a successful holiday affair.
Tradition is the foundation of Thanksgiving dinner. A savory turkey surrounded by tasty side dishes is the main event of a successful holiday affair. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest and transition from fall to winter, a time to reflect on the gifts we've been given and, most importantly, a time to share a special meal with our nearest and dearest.
Family expectations often dictate what foods will be served at Thanksgiving. Many people look forward to their favorite dishes -- mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, crescent rolls, stuffing -- and want them to taste the way they have always tasted before. This does not often leave a lot of room for personal expression, which may cause a cook to feel like they have to suppress their creativity.
My son, for example, looks forward to stuffing "the way it's supposed to be," which means the way I have always made it when he was growing up. He's not interested in prominent chunks of celery and onions, or other conspicuous vegetables. He would say, "There's a time and a place for experimenting, but this ain't it!"
So I've learned that one way to satisfy everybody is to make two. Not two of everything, mind you. But you can serve two different stuffings and know they will both be a hit with someone. One version for the die-hard traditionalists, and one for the experimental diners among us. This gives us a chance to try something new without giving up the familiar.
So while in one pan, the stuffing of our childhood awaits its turn into the oven, a second version can also be waiting in the wings. My alternative stuffing is made of a loaf of horno bread, a pan of cornbread, cranberries and piñon nuts. Butter, sage and onions are also part of the mix. Toss together and place in a second baking pan. Set both pans aside for baking closer to dinnertime. (By the way, I never cook stuffing inside the turkey. I always cook it separately in its own pan.)
Another example of a family favorite is sweet potatoes. Many families love them mashed and sprinkled with marshmallows on top. But you can also try an additional nonmashed version your guests might enjoy. Sliced sweet potatoes roasted together with maple-laced apples and onions make for an autumn-themed treat. Cooked in stages, each ingredient holds its shape and retains its essence. Even those who don't care for mashed sweet potatoes may become converts after trying them roasted.
Green vegetables are another food where predictability reigns. Canned baby peas, anyone? Go ahead serve them. My husband loves them. But maybe sneak in another vegetable dish, such as caramelized Brussels sprouts. Even those who think they hate Brussels sprouts won't be able to resist them when they are ingeniously disguised with bacon.
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