Somehow, Thanksgiving makes us reminisce about the time we enjoyed with family and friends, and about past things we are sincerely thankful for now.
Therein is the magic of this holiday. It brings our dearest and nearest together into the kitchen and around the table. Then, while we are enjoying warm foods, old jokes, and the Macy’s parade or the NFL game, this magic unobtrusively takes us all back to the moments when we were happy.
Or it’s not magic, but just the last slice of flavorful turkey and a glass of good wine.
Over five hundred years, Thanksgiving Day has turned into a cozy family occasion, with all its diplomatic, political, and economic meanings put aside. So, when your family gets around the dinner table on November 28, make the most of the precious hours you can spend together, talking, eating, drinking, and giving presents.
But plan your time and menu smartly, so you all can watch the NFL game comfortably.
In one of her performances, Erma Bombeck noted that Thanksgiving dinners took eighteen hours to prepare and twelve minutes to eat. Half-times also took twelve minutes. And that couldn’t be a pure coincidence. What’s more, that wasn’t even a joke.
If you add the hours you spend to buy products and the hours you spend to cook festive meals, the sum is very likely to approach the number 18. Eating the dishes may take a little longer than twelve minutes per person. But this is in case this person isn’t watching the game.
Still, a hearty dinner is the core of a traditional Thanksgiving observance, wherever this tradition comes from. History offers many sources: harvest festivals of Native Americans, small feasts of Spanish conquistadors honoring God for guiding them through Indian territories, the Pilgrims’ celebration of their one-year staying in the New World, to name but a few.
We could dive deeper into the origins of the food tradition on Thanksgiving Day. But first let’s come up with delicious ideas that will take you less than eighteen hours to implement, and will take your dearest more than twelve minutes to enjoy. Despite the game.
Here are three options to complement the time-honored turkey or chicken: stuffings (or dressings) and gravies, fish and seafood, and pumpkin. Choose the one you like or combine the recipes from all of them.
Stuffings (Dressings) & Gravies Menu
Each family has a recipe of turkey, chicken or duck that is passed from generation to generation and can never be whispered to a curious far relative or neighbor.
What about stuffing and gravy then? The recipes should be as mysterious and flavorful as the ones for poultry.
Outside-the-box stuffing combinations
Technically, if you stuff the turkey with bread and vegetables, you make the stuffing. If you serve cooked bread and vegetables beside the bird, you make the dressing. But you may not care about the term and dress the turkey with the stuffing. Who care about the word for such a delicious and flavorful thing?
By the way, these days most cooks prefer to prepare stuffing separately and serve it beside the poultry. In such case, the dish can be sautéed and then baked more thoroughly.
The traditional basis of stuffing includes sautéed onions (with or without celery), chicken broth, and bread. Salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. But how about secret ingredients that will add some piquancy and mystery to your stuffing? Here is the list:
- Deli meats: bacon, chorizo, panchetta, or your favorite sausage.
- Cheeses: Cheddar or Parmesan. Sprinkle the cheese over the bread mixture when it gets almost ready.
- Oysters. Why not? Just sauté them together with onions and celery.
- Nuts, chestnuts, and/or pumpkin seeds.
- Vegetables and greens: sweet potato, cauliflower, kale, artichoke hearts, spinach, collard greens. Add whatever you like.
- Fruit and berries: apple, pear, pomegranate, orange, dried apricot, dried cranberries. Choose the savor you’d like to taste in your stuffing.
Also, you can try different bread options: baguette, cornbread, pumpkin bread, sourdough, or focaccia.
Savor solutions for gravy
On the T-Day menu, gravy is a versatile thing. Just make sure that everybody can reach your family gravy boat on the table and top any dish they like with the sumptuous sauce.
Beef, turkey, mashed potato, or roasted vegetables – whatever you serve on Thanksgiving Day – robust gravy will complement the treats perfectly. Especially, if you experiment a little and add some bacon and mushrooms to it. You can go with only one flavor – meaty or mushroomy, or mix them if you like such combination.
- 8-10 slices bacon
- 1 package shiitake or porcini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps chopped
- 1 large onion or 2-3 shallots, chopped
- 2 c. chicken broth
- 1/4 c. flour
- 1-2 tsp. thyme
- kosher salt and ground pepper to taste.
Now, the directions:
- Cook the bacon until it gets crisp, over medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Transfer the slices to a plate. Crumble once the bacon is cool.
- Add the onions or shallot and mushrooms to the reserved bacon fat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-18 minutes.
- Add the thyme, crumbled bacon, salt and pepper. Leave one teaspoon of bacon to top the gravy.
- Add the flour and stir until the mixture is golden, for 3-5 minutes.
- Add the broth and bring to simmer. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the gravy thickens.
- Serve in a gravy boat and garnish with the remaining bacon.
Turkey Day is a nickname of Thanksgiving. Indeed, the celebration is really difficult to imagine without turkey, or at least chicken or duck. But if this year you plan to follow the original culinary tradition of the holiday, or just want to try something new, opt for a lobster or crab recipe.
Fish and seafood were the staples on the tables of the first settlers, helping them survive on the alien North American coasts. Nowadays, we have everything we need to turn our favorite seafood into a deli festive meal and spoil our dearest and nearest with it.
Let’s check out this 10-minute recipe for broiled lobster tails. While the turkey is in the oven, quick-to-cook lobster tails will be a scrumptious appetizer.
Here’s the list of ingredients:
- 6-10 lobster tails, depending on the number of your guests and seafood aficionados
- 1-2 tbsp. butter or caviar butter
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1-2 tsp. honey, optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh parsley, chopped finely for garnish.
Here’s what you need to do with them:
- Preheat the broiler to high.
- Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the top of the tail shell down to the tip, avoiding the meat. Devein and remove grit.
- Pull the shell down so that the meat “sits” on top of the shell. Slide a lemon wedge under the meat, in-between the meat and the tail.
- Mix the spices and honey in a bowl.
- Place small part of the butter along the tail.
- Place the tails in the oven on the upper middle rack.
- Cook until the meat gets opaque and white, for 8-12 minutes.
- Remove and serve immediately with the butter.
Speaking of seafood appetizers, try this warm crab and cheese dip.
Accompany the dip with crackers, canapés, breadsticks, or baguette.
• 14-16 oz. crab meat
• 1 package cream cheese
• 2 c. Cheddar, shredded
• 1 container sour cream
• 1/2 c. butter, softened
• 1 tbsp. minced dried onion
• chopped scallions for garnish, optional.
1. Preheat the oven to high.
2. In a large casserole dish, mix all ingredients.
3. Bake uncovered until the mixture is bubbling and the top gets brownish, for 50-60 minutes.
4. Stir and garnish with the scallions before serving.
If anything at Thanksgiving could substitute potato, this would be pumpkin only. It is nutritious, tasty, and can be used to cook everything – from risotto to pumpkin pie.
Back in the 17th century, the Pilgrims already knew about these qualities of the local pumpkin. So, they included it into their daily diet. The legend has it that they served a pumpkin pie for their very first
Thanksgiving celebration in the new land.
Baked pumpkin is also a wonderful garnish and even substitution for meat. So, your vegetarian guests will love these baby pumpkin baskets packed with mushrooms, rice, and lentils.
Catch the recipe:
- 4-6 baby pumpkins (or more, depending on how many guests will come)
- 1/2 c. rice, cooked
- 1/2 c. lentils
- 1/2 c. mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 c. carrot, sliced thin or grated
- 1 c. vegetable stock
- 2 oz. fresh spinach, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. paprika.
And here is the action plan:
- Preheat the oven to high.
- Soak the lentils. Drain and rinse before cooking.
- In the saucepan, place the rice, lentils, mushrooms, carrots, and spinach. Add the stock and sprinkle with the paprika. Bring to boil and cover.
- Simmer until water is absorbed, for 30-40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pierce the pumpkins and bake for 20 minutes. Cut the lid and scoop out the seeds.
- Fill in the baked pumpkins with the mixture and bake for 20 minutes more, until the pumpkins get brownish.
- Serve and enjoy.
So, there is your portion of culinary inspiration for the T-Day dinner.
And here is one more tip. You can put the dishes right on the table in the dining or living room. Or you can leave them all in the kitchen and thus serve a Thanksgiving buffet. So everybody will put what they like on their plates and go to the room where the celebration is taking place. Let your guests sit or stand where they want. This would make the atmosphere around the house more relaxing.
Yet, we all know that Thanksgiving is right about this atmosphere, and not about the dinner itself.
Our lovely get-togethers add to the heart-warming memories we keep inside our heads. In these memories, we always have someone and something we are grateful for. And some say that gratitude is the memory of our hearts.