Sure you have Thanksgiving recipes that are never to be messed with, but every now now and then secretly, don’t you toy with the idea of pushing tradition aside for something unexpected? Sides are a great way to do that! Let’s be real, shouldn’t mashed potatoes use an upgrade? After all, it’s potatoes, milk and butter mashed into the pot. People only care about having the basics: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes. Classic comforting foods Americans associate Thanksgiving with.

Growing up in Canada, there was no such thing as Thanksgiving. It was something you only got to see on television, tho arguably, it had something to do with Christmas I thought. In Canada, we have Harvest Days, but never made much of it as a family after all Christmas was just around the corner, so Thanksgiving was something we had to learn from scratch. A traditional Roast which we would have, not every week, but on a special occasion where MaMa broke out all the beautiful holiday fanfare, where most people over ate and sat back with their pants unbuckled to make room for pie and watch football. So as I got older, traditions solidified somewhat, and amid the clatter of utensils and rumbling of stomachs, we all gather to give thanks for good tidings, toast our fortune and dine “without” various contentions and formalities of religious observance. This holiday, with the presence of loved ones, with out buying each other gifts, as custom dictates, we celebrate the recent harvest and without apologies, all enjoy each others company and eat enormous quantities of foods designated as the Thanksgiving Feast. Mama remarried into a very “large”. Larger than we ever could imagine, but a loving traditional American family which taught her the pompous affair that the Thanksgiving holiday was….As a child, mind you, what I saw, traveling over the hills and mountains as we went to Plymouth, NH, was the grandmother in her apron, spoon in one hand and oven mitt it in the other, in the kitchen, with smells in the air to die for, choreographing dinner, on two stoves, for 20 to 30 some people. Out of the woodwork, aunts and uncles, countless children decked kisses and tight hugs welcoming us into Grammi and Papi’s home, which as young children, large families we’re not used to. Refusing help of any kind other than to set the “table buffet”, she was surrounded with pots and pans of “Thanksgiving food,”, tons of pies and crudities, dishes piled up in the sink all along with a giant warm grandma type smile on her face while everyone else was in the living room hooting and hollering over a football game on the television.

We learned over the years that the menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas was basically the same and through trial and error, we also adopted this ritual. I quietly thought that surely it wasn’t the same as Grammi’s Thanksgiving, but Mama, being the chef she is, duplicated the recipes with her own twist as only she could, without defense, and now we were truly Americanized as we celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday like every one else…somewhat…

You can’t argue with the fact that being able to eat a turkey dinner without going through all the cooking is tantalizing and almost seductive…Everybody loves turkey! Maybe because the ole’ mighty turkey is only eaten during the two holidays?

Back in the heydey, MaMa’s “Thanksgiving Dinner” or “special traditional turkey” dinner gained popularity on Sundays, only to sell out each time at the Oquossoc House Restaurant. There you go, an opportunity to eat turkey on a non-holiday all for the price of $8,99 without the work. The restaurant would fill up and while they waited, helped themselves to a salad, and she carved and carved the big birds, having made big batches of stuffing, squash, mashed potatoes and gallons and gallons of gravy. A traditional dinner.

Having been a city girl for over 40 years, we celebrated it with panache, nontraditional flavored notes in traditional sides, but were ever so-so tasty, still maintaining the integrity of the holiday spirit menu. Not boring and not predictable. Do you see where I’m going? Fresh new approaches to the old faithful.

My first year here in Maine, I made a suggestion “to try something new”, elevating our sanely “must haves” on the menu. We were discussing executing the menu, my sister jumped all over me with discordance in her saddlery, tone and demeanor, and said: “Well, this is Maine, we don’t do city recipes, just plain and simple and you can’t change that”. I was like “Wow”. Imagine that! I, bemused in thought, reminiscing of my home to add my contributions in the whole family dinner thing, I was envisioning a celebration of colorful elegance of feast and ostentation, so I sat back and let it be. On her Thanksgiving day I was watching and observing, getting ready to enjoy dinner, waited for the table to be set, and it wasn’t extraordinary. No Thanksgiving display, a holiday which should command dress instead of sweatpants, backwards cap, leggings and supersized t-shirts, special linens, flowers, gourds in colorful placement, fall leaves adorning grandmas’ silver, fancy plates, décor of pumpkins, hay stacks to build up the hype of dinner to come, in all actually, it looked and seemed like Sunday dinner. Bless her heart??? She did call herself “territoriality diversionary”. I say, a light traditionalist, same old mono-toned regular dishes made every year with the same basic ingredients, at times tasteless and all so-camel brownish in color, lacking that punch of color and flavor that could adorned a special holiday Thanksgiving holiday table. What to do? It just wasn’t extremely satisfyingly delicious as I had remembered MaMa putting her stamp could do.

Dinner there, reminded me of when family-less on Thanksgiving one year, volunteering at the shelter for the homeless, doing the good deed, where we served the “must haves”, on sturdy paper plates and after going through the line, they sat at tables covered with butcher paper and crouched over their plates like someone was gonna steal it, shoveling every morsel of the standardized Thanksgiving dinner in their mouth.

The same menu is pretty predictable as in the green bean casserole, the epitome of thanksgiving, sure we all have the holiday staples that must make an appearance, but why a must?. Adding something to the table, shifting things up begins your road to building your own traditions.

While I’ve never quite come around to green beans made with a can of mushroom soup, there is something to be learned from that combination. So to break it out of that casserole, I would usher in a super savory take on green beans. Making it fresher, have less calories, while updating a classic flavor using unexpected cooking techniques paired with same ingredients, Wow-Ala-super familiar but brand new recipe.

Charred GB with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 # of fresh Green beans, cleaned and trimmed. (Use a combination of wax beans with green beans for a colorful look).

3 Med. Onions-thinly sliced (about 1 to 1 ½ #)

½ # thinly sliced Whole button, Crimini, or Shitake mushrooms.

1 ½ Tsp. Sherry vinegar.

½ Cup of sliced toasted Almonds.

Kosher Salt, fresh ground Pepper.

High Smoke point oil, Peanut or Coconut.

Directions:

1. Add oil to cast iron skillet, heat until very hot, add ½ the onions, ½ Tsp. Salt, heat but don’t overcook. Add ½ Tsp. More oil, add ½ the mushrooms, cook for 5-6 minutes. Repeat.

2. Add remaining onions and mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook 20-25 minutes until all onions are caramelized and mushrooms are golden brown. Stir often as not to burn. Turn off heat. Season to taste, add Sherry stir to scrape bits from bottom using wooden spoon, deglazing the pan, add additional vinegar or salt as needed. Remove mushroom, onion and bean mix to a bowl and set aside.

3. In meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add beans to pot and boil for 2-3 minutes to blanch. Drain the beans well, spread beans on a towel to dry until cooled.

4. Heat same skillet with ½ Cup of oil on high heat, add beans, cook gently mixing with the wooden spoon turning often until slumped and blistered about 10-12 minutes.

5. Add Mushroom mix, stir gently, transfer to serving dish. Garnish with the almonds.

Sweet potatoes mash as I call it, has made the menu at each dinner. So bland, here’s my take.

Bourbon Sweet Potato Casserole w/Bacon and Pecans

Ingredients: Part 1

4-5 Med. sweet potatoes 3/4 Cup of brown sugar

2 tsp. Vanilla Extract (or 1 tsp. Vanilla, 1 tsp. Butter Extract)

1 tsp. Cinnamon ¼ C. Milk ¼ C. melted Butter

2 eggs, slightly beaten 3-4 Tbs. Bourbon

Directions for part 1 Bake at 400*

Wash, rinse potatoes and poke holes in them, bake for 1 hour. Mix all other ingredients (Part 1) in a large bowl and mix well

when cooked, cut in half and cool. Meanwhile Put together part 2. When potatoes are cooled, skin, chop and mash well, adding mixed ingredients. Reduce oven to 350*

Ingredients: Part 2 Sweet and Savory Bacon Pecans

6 thick sliced Bacon/chopped

¾ C. brown sugar 1 ½ C. raw Pecans, roughly chopped

1/3 C. AP Flour 1/3 C. Salted butter

1 Tsp. Cayenne pepper 2 Tbs. Sage 1 ½ tsp. Rosemary

Heat Lg. skillet, crisp bacon, remove, set aside. In a bowl combine part 2 ingredients. Mix well. Add chopped bacon.

Grease baking/casserole dish. Spread sweet potato mix evenly, add pecan/bacon mix on top, spread to cover, Bake 30-40 minutes/pecans need to turn golden brown. Serve warm.

You’ll find these totally Amazing!

To replace to brown-n-serve rolls. Try:

Tennessee Cheddar Puffs Makes about 60 Bake at 400*

1 Cup (2 sticks) Butter 2 Cups Water

2 Tsp. Sugar 2 Tsp. Salt 1/8 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper

2 to 2 ½ Cups AP flour 10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese

6 eggs Paprika

Combine butter, water, sugar, salt and cayenne in a large saucepan. Cook until butter melts. Add 2 cups of flour all at once. Reduce heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon about 1 minute. Pour into mixing bowl, using a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat 1 minute at medium-low speed to cool the mixture. Increase speed to medium: add eggs one at a time, beating to mix before adding next ones. Batter should be firm, not runny. If necessary, blend in an additional ½ cup flour. Fold in cheese. Drop by Tablespoons onto baking pan lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with paprika; Bake 10 minutes, turn pan, and bake 10 more minutes. Leftover puffs can be frozen. Generously makes about 60.

As always your comments, stories, and recipes can be submitted at [email protected] And as always the last words…

~by Jim Gaffigan~ “The Thanksgiving tradition is, we overeat.” “Hey, how about at Thanksgiving we just eat a lot?” “But we do that every day!” “Oh. What if we eat a lot with people that annoy the hell out of us” and I couldn’t help myself…~Erma Bombeck said “I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”

 


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