Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tread lightly on tradition when you host Thanksgiving dinner

Last year, I posted an opinion piece that said food writers hate Thanksgiving because they are pressured to develop new recipes that will largely be ignored. Few consumers break with tradition when the day comes to break the wishbone. They will make green bean casserole and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes despite all the side-dish variations and innovations presented in magazines and newspapers.

My experience has also been that people want Thanksgiving to taste a certain way -- the recipes prepared the way they remember their mothers or grandmothers making them. A woman at church complained last week that her aunt wants to put lemon pepper on the turkey this year because she saw Martha Stewart do it. The changes I have implemented in my holiday meals are, in my opinion, not that radical, but I have met resistance of varying intensities.

My mother-in-law distrusts my cooking because, in part, one Thanksgiving I was assigned to bring the green beans. Instead of boiling them within an inch of their lives with butter and bacon, I sauteed them until crisp-tender and sprinkled chopped smoked almonds on top. And that is how I will be serving them at my house this year. She better brace herself.

Last year, I made a side dish that combined mashed red skin and sweet potatoes. Mashed white potatoes are piped into the center of a mashed sweet potato nest, drizzled with melted butter and broiled. It is called two-tone potato cups. My mother-in-law, again, was not satisfied with what was served and she went looking through the covered pots on the back of the stove. She found the mashed white potatoes that I hadn't baked off yet and scooped them on her plate. Because they have raw eggs in them, and potentially bacteria, I made her scrape them off her plate.

My advice, especially if you are trying to build your own traditions or hosting dinner for the first time, is to make changes slowly. Add one new dish, homemade dressing for example, alongside the traditional boxed dressing. Don't do anything too radical if you want to host the meal next year and have people accept your invitation.

The holiday meals of my childhood were good. My mom makes wonderfully creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes and terrific from-scratch gravy. She also used some convenience products. There is nothing wrong with brown-'n-serve rolls, Stove Top stuffing and Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. But when I got out on my own, I wanted to do things my way. I still serve frozen rolls -- Rhodes are quite good. I sometimes top them with a spice butter. But I make from-scratch bread dressing.

Going against my own advice, I am trying something risky this year. Instead of merely buttering my turkey before I roast it, I'm going to rub herbs and spices under its skin.

I am also trying a new dressing recipe for the first time ever -- another no-no. Alongside the familiar bread stuffing, I'm serving a cornbread-sausage dressing.

A few years ago I started making a sweet potato casserole with curry, cherries and bleu cheese to serve alongside my mom's candied sweet potatoes. The savory casserole will be on the table this year, and I'm adding a new sweet potato dish: chunks of the tuber coated with a cinnamon-honey glaze.

The casserole with curry, bleu cheese and cherries is pictured above. I have served it with ham and cornbread before.

There are some institutions I will not mess with -- they cannot be improved upon or replaced. One is Libby's pumpkin pie. Alongside the pie, I am going to serve a marbled pumpkin cheesecake. I might make the pear cake from an earlier post.

I better get busy starting some of the recipes. And I overlooked a few ingredients when I made my list for my first shopping trip so I have to make a foolhardy last-minute dash to the grocery store.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Serafina said...

I made 12 pumpkin cheesecakes this year for work, all in one day. Do you have any secrets to keep them from cracking as they cool? :)

Our Morgantown Friends Thanksgiving is free of familial fetters, since those friends attending aren't going to their parent's homes this year, but I am still making the turkey like my Dad used to.

Your Thanksgiving sounds warm and inviting! Have a happy one!

Cynthia said...

Thanks, Tracy! I do not have any tips to prevent cracking. I have heard not to place them in a draft. I really don't know. Mine cracked in the oven!

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