In America, Thanksgiving Dinner is a big deal in most families, because it is an annual, one time per year kind of thing. It has requirements of tradition that go back to the very early days of Colonial America. For instance, you must have roast turkey somewhere in the room. Everybody knows that when you roast a turkey, you must also have stuffing (or dressing) to go with it, and here is where things get tricky; the kind of stuffing depends quite a bit on where in America you happen to be. Other things are also required, for there must be potato dishes, sweet potato dishes, and thanks to the Campbell’s soup company, we must also have green beans. It sounds crazy when you say it like that, doesn’t it?
Years ago, when my wife and I moved here to the Midwest, I ran into something quite new in my experience; my in-laws. The first time that I made Thanksgiving dinner for my in-laws, I received a menu that I wasn’t familiar with, and orders to replicate it according to their family’s tradition. Of course it had turkey and stuffing (but not cornbread stuffing), then there were mashed potatoes (the kind that come in a box), sweetened sweet potato stuff, (doesn’t that come out to three starches?), cranberry gunk from a can, and the crowning event, green bean casserole from the Campbell’s Soup label.
I remembered that many years ago, my Mom tried that one… once. It takes canned green beans (yes, believe it or not, they still make those) and canned condensed Campbell’s mushroom soup mixed with the gross canned green beans, and then bakes them in the oven, topped with packaged deep fried onions, with extra grease added, on top. I remember telling my wife that there was no way I would serve something to guests that I wouldn’t feed to the dog.
She reminded me just exactly who it was who must be obeyed…
As a result, I cooked up an ingenious plan: I made exactly what I was told to make, but I made it all from scratch. Reluctantly, she agreed to my plan.
I made two loaves of bread for the stuffing, and I made the stock. Then I made cranberry stuff from actual cranberries, I made mashed potatoes from real potatoes (with the skin still on, since there is no legitimate reason to ever peel a potato), actually they were roast garlic mashed potatoes, I gave them what they wanted with the sweet potato stuff, but I made sure there wouldn’t be any leftover (yuk). As for the green bean stuff? I started with real green beans, made a thick mushroom sauce and combined them in baking dish, and topped it with Panko bread crumbs for crunch and actual caramelized onions for flavor.
For dessert, my required pumpkin pie was actually sweet potato pie (shh, don’t tell ‘em I did that) and for anyone who was adventurous, I also made a pumpkin spiced cheesecake with Bourbon Cream which was out of this world… but only I and my kids know that, since nobody else was adventurous. In lieu of the Parker House rolls that were required, I got away with making a couple of different Artisan breads; nobody complained about those.
This verdict? Everyone was very polite; they loved the pumpkin pie, it was the best they’d ever had. Well, of course it was; it was sweet potato pie (but folks around here don’t eat sweet potato pie). The important thing for me was that once again, I avoided the noose.
My kids, on the other hand, thought it was the best ever Thanksgiving dinner, even though I left out the traditional wild rice and mushroom soup that is one of our family’s “required” dishes.
Now that I have a reputation as a rebel in the kitchen, fewer accept our Thanksgiving invitations, but I can get away with pretty much anything, as long as there is turkey. This year, I have decided on a Pennsylvania Dutch theme… Here’s the plan:
Simple green salad with mustard vinaigrette
Sage butter roasted turkey with cider gravy
Rye bread stuffing
Sauerkraut with apples ( a truly amazing dish)
Scalloped potatoes with fennel
Harvest pear crisp with candied ginger
Sweet potato pie (but don’t tell anybody it isn’t pumpkin)
Before I sign off, I must tell you, just to be fair, that if I made this for my family back in LA, they wouldn’t approve either, because “it isn’t the way we’ve always done it”. Funny isn’t it, we just can’t seem to get away from “the way we’ve always done it”.
Care to lay odds on how much trouble I get into for this one?