Whether baked, fried, or smoked, there is the turkey, the traditional center of the universe for the Thanksgiving meal. Ask anyone what his favorite part of Thanksgiving lunch, dinner, or both is and he’ll likely have a different answer, though.
Because on Thanksgiving, the side items are the true indulgences. You need some protein 365 days a year. Same on sleep, even if you don’t achieve it via tryptophan.
But one thing you don’t need on the regular is sweet potatoes so decadent they could serve as dessert, mashed potatoes so rich you might need to eat while wearing a blood pressure cuff, or a time-consuming two-step dressing, even if it is a springboard for the rest of your plate.
You may not need any of them, which is all the more reason to enjoy all of them on Thanksgiving, particularly in our land of plenty, inflation notwithstanding.
These recipes require varying levels of skill, patience, and belief in yourself, but they’re all eminently doable. One of the many beauties of Thanksgiving is that it’s not a day that requires perfection, just an exceedingly high level of satiety.
So, pick up the required ingredients, grab a candy thermometer, and throw on your apron. No matter who you spend the day with, the resulting meal will get at least nine thumbs up, even if you only follow our advice in the abstract sense.
Praline Sweet Potato Casserole
To get us started, we all know sweet potatoes. Some of us, though, know yams. But do you know the difference, other than the fact that basically all recipes don’t really care which you use?
That’s because most likely they’re the same thing, unless you’re shopping for some heirloom breed at the farmers market. Moreover, this recipe likely calls for sweet potatoes even though it says yams, being that the recipe is from New Orleans and, as the article linked in the previous sentence shows, Louisiana was instrumental in blurring the distinction.
Either way, this is like having your dessert with your meal, before you have your proper dessert following the meal. Seemingly complicated, it’s really not. Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine.
Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes
But what if you want regular mashed potatoes instead of sweet potatoes? To that, Brad and I would say, “Why not both?” and point you to this recipe his family reserves for turkey day. Yes, that’s more informational than a simple recipe, but now you know why potatoes have become the staple they are. To that, Brad and I would say, “You’re welcome.”
But what about dressing? Or is it stuffing? The short answer is, yes, probably.
Whether you cook it inside the bird, as in stuffing, or separately, as in dressing, it’s a crucial component of the meal. It can be simple, it can be complex. It can be made of sourdough or a French loaf or cornbread. It can be vegetarian or vegetarian-ish. The important thing is that it’s there, serving as one of the cornerstones to a feast fit for the heirs of a people who risked it all so that we might enjoy it.
As this is a heritage meal, if not one that was wholly served at the first Thanksgiving, I’m going into the vault and releasing my Granny McCoy’s recipe for dressing. Treat the privilege of getting your hands on this with the respect it deserves.
Doris McCoy’s Dressing Recipe
Cornbread for dressing:
1 ¾ cup regular cornmeal
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
6 Tbsp shortening
about 1 ½ cups milk
Mix dry ingredients and add wet. Bake in 9 x 13 pan at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
8 cups cornbread crumbs
2 cups bread crumbs
2 tsp sage (or to taste)
2 tsp poultry seasoning
black pepper to taste
about 1 quart chicken broth (or turkey) with 6 bouillon cubes dissolved in broth
Cook onion and celery in a little oil until done.
Add remaining ingredients except for broth.
Add broth to make a loose but not runny mixture.
Bake at 350 for an hour.
Trust us, you’re going to enjoy it. Don’t be daunted by the fact that it’s a two-stage recipe, just as there is no reason to be daunted by the candy thermometer required for the yams—that is, sweet potatoes. Cornbread didn’t become a staple because it’s complicated.
It’s the rest of the meal that offers the opportunity for complication, in the meal timing sense. Because this ain’t a meat and two. It’s not even a meat and three. It’s a meat and so much more.
For these sides are but a start. You’ll also need cranberry sauce, whether canned or homemade. You’ll need some rolls. You can add some deviled eggs and pickles to take it up a notch. And don’t forget about dessert, although that course should involve at least one pie offering. This is the day to go big, although likely while also going home.
That’s because Thanksgiving is about family, although it’s also about the feast, it’s about football, and it’s about enjoying a warm cuppa to keep you awake for the latter after the former. As such, you should enjoy it thusly.
If you have any questions about how best to indulge, feel free to reach out to us. But be warned that we may not answer too promptly if you wait until Thanksgiving Day to contact us. Coffee aside, we’ll either be eating or in food comas at that time.