Thanksgiving Day Traditions with a Twist
There are certain foods that our table needs to have on it on Thanksgiving; foods that I grew up with. Below are four of my favorites from our holiday this year.
My mother always made this on Thanksgiving, probably because her mom did. It is served as an appetizer. She called it “sherbet” but it doesn’t have any milk in it at all, so it’s really a sorbet. Her version involved Knox gelatin, a lot of sugar and a hand mixer. When I made this last year, it ended up all over the kitchen (walls, counters, ceiling, etc). I figured this year there had to be another way.
I ended up finding a recipe on Epicurious that had all of the same ingredients as my mother’s, minus the gelatin and plus an ice cream maker. That would certainly make life a lot easier, I thought. I also wanted to substitute all of the sugar with agave syrup in this recipe to make it healthier. I read online that you use 2/3 agave to every 1 part sugar, so I had my calculator on the counter and multiplied every measurement in the recipe by .66.
Both call for you to boil the cranberries until the skins break. The biggest difference was that Epicurious had sugar in the water that you boil the berries in, and then you puree it. My mom’s just had you boil them and shove them through a strainer the old fashioned way. Epicurious won out on this one; it was so much easier to sieve it after you puree it.
The rest of the recipe was essentially the same, except that you throw it all into an ice cream machine instead of beating it into submission with a hand mixer every few hours. The result? Nearly identical to my mom’s except a little less sweet, which was fine by all of us. Total win.
It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the stuffing. I remember my mom getting up early on Thanksgiving morning and starting it early, because she stuffed the turkey with it, so it had to be done before the turkey could go into the oven. Before my mom passed, she gave me a lesson on how to make the stuffing, even though I already knew because I watched her do it every year.
My mom’s stuffing is very simple. I used one large onion, four stalks of celery and cooked them until soft in butter. The only way I could lighten this up this year was to use less butter; my mom would use a stick or more, adding more as the onions and celery soaked it up. I cooked on a lower temp, so they didn’t take as much.
After the vegetables are soft, you add Pepperidge Farms Seasoned Breadcrumbs and enough chicken or turkey stock to make it the right consistency. I suppose purists wouldn’t use the packaged crumbs, but that’s what my mom did and that’s what I do. It really is delicious and very easy to make. I made this a day ahead and just cooked it for about 40 minutes in a casserole dish in the oven. It was fantastic.
Every Friday after Thanksgiving, my mother would boil the turkey carcass and make turkey soup. I was always fascinated by the fact that you could take bones with very little meat on them and make a hearty stock. After she made the stock, she would throw away the bones, add any sort of veggies and leftover turkey meat, and boom: soup.
I know now that the more you add to your stockpot, the more flavor your broth will have. My mom didn’t add anything but onion to her stock pot, but I added celery, onion, sage, rosemary and fresh thyme. You could add garlic and carrots too if you wanted, I just didn’t have a lot to spare. I boiled this for about two hours. After that, you put it through a strainer and discard all of the solids.
My mom used to pick through the boiled bones and salvage whatever meat she could and put it back in the soup. I don’t do that; I take off as much as I can before I make the stock. Once you’ve boiled that stuff for a few hours, it’s not got a lot left in it. Don’t be tempted to salvage from the stockpot. It isn’t worth it.
After I had that yummy stock ready, I sauteed onions, celery, carrots, parsnips and a turnip in olive oil in the stock pot. Once those were soft I added mushrooms and cooked for a bit more. Once that was done, I threw in more fresh parsley, thyme and chopped rosemary, plus more leftover turkey and some cooked whole wheat rotini I had in the fridge.
The beauty of the soup is you can throw anything in that you have once you make the stock. My soup is different every time I make it. Sometimes I’ll add white beans, or canned tomatoes, or cooked rice. The only essentials for me are really the onions and celery. Everything else is experimentation.
Pumpkin Banana Pancakes
OK my mother never made these. They are NOT part of our traditional Thanksgiving fare by a longshot. But I had leftover pumpkin puree from my epic pumpkin pie failure (more on that later), so I wanted to use it up. I searched around until I found an easy recipe, and finally found one on Nooschi.
I tweaked this a bit. I used more pumpkin, less banana and Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice rather than all the different ones they tell you to use. I also didn’t use fresh ginger; I didn’t want these to be too overpowering for my kids. Finally, I mashed up the banana instead of using it in slices as the recipe suggests. You probably could use honey or agave in these, but I used the brown sugar; it really isn’t that much considering.
The result was a really moist, flavorful, thick pancake. I am not a huge pancake fan; I find them to be relatively tasteless and that’s why people cover them with so much junk. But I was eating these hot off the plate, with my hands, with nothing on them; they didn’t need anything. They weren’t overpoweringly pumpkin-y, even though I used nearly double what the recipe asked for.
Crustless Pumpkin Pie
I was really excited about this recipe that I’d found on Skinnytaste. She uses some weird German sounding name but essentially her recipe is a crustless pie, like a custard. I made the recipe on Wednesday and it looked and smelled fantastic. It baked beautifully.
But honestly? It was not very good. To be fair, it could have been because I used a combination of agave and honey to sweeten it (I ran out of agave so threw in what I thought would be the right amount of honey to compensate), and it just wasn’t sweet enough. No one really cared for it, and even the whipped cream out of a can couldn’t save it. Also, the recipe calls for hazelnuts in the custard, which Gina says gives it a nice crunch. I found them to be distracting (a traditional pie doesn’t have them) and a little bitter.
My mom favored mincemeat pie, but seriously? No freakin’ way, Mom.