Not Your Mother's Thanksgiving
|By Meg Jones - wife, mother,
When I was a little girl, the period from Halloween through New Year’s was always the most exciting because it meant that I would see more of my siblings, all of whom are older and had gone off to college by the time I was 10, and that there would be a lot of great food and reasons to celebrate. And of course my birthday falls in that period, so just ANOTHER excuse for a party.
Turns out I never grew out of this excitement and just to make it a little crazier, both of our daughters were born between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yippee! A swarm of Sagittarians.
Like me, our daughters treasure the holidays and for sure Thanksgiving is at the top of the list. So we have established our own routines that we follow; even though we tend to experiment with recipes throughout the year, the Thanksgiving menu doesn’t vary.
The Perfect Formula
After many years, we have “perfected” the formula for our dinner, brought forward some from my mother’s Thanksgiving, some from my own experimentation back in the day, and some from our trying new things out until we found what we and our usual November entourage enjoyed.
The “throwbacks” from my mother’s table are the mashed potatoes, and the peas and onions straight out of the freezer bag. Over the years, I’ve played around with adding things to the potatoes, like sour cream, crème fraiche, truffle oil, sautéed leeks, but I still mash them with the wire masher I inherited from my mother’s kitchen. Oldie but goodie.
And I noticed last year that I picked the onions out of the pea/onion combo on my own plate, so this year I’m modifying further and just cooking peas. Right out of the bag. Easiest thing on the menu.
Mom also used to serve dinner rolls, a kind I can’t even find anymore – I think the closest thing I’ve seen is called “Hawaiian” rolls. They were so good slathered with butter and I would use them the next day for mini-turkey sandwiches with slices of canned cranberry sauce.
(The canned cranberry sauce, while delicious, has also been dropped from the rotation because as much as I like it on next-day sandwiches, nobody else eats it.) so now we make two types of muffins for the table, cornbread and cranberry-orange.
One other throwback, tangentially, is the staple winter fruit bowl recipe that I always make in advance and have on hand on Thanksgiving morning because, well, that’s the way it’s always been for as long as I can remember. And it’s such an indulgence…..
The recipe from my own experimentation that has carried forward is a fresh orange-cranberry sauce adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure, one of my first cookbooks from my college days. I made it once to bring to a Friendsgiving and it keeps making the cut year after year.
The Reluctant Gourmet has become the local expert on our turkey, which he prepares in the style of Julia Child, aka deconstructed turkey. We mostly prefer dark meat, so we pick up a couple extra turkey legs at the butcher so there is plenty to go around. This is now another Thanksgiving keeper.
The other two dishes that have fixed their place on the table are both veggie sides: roasted Brussels sprouts with wild mushrooms and cream and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with apples and maple sage butter, adapted from Fine Cooking magazine.
Both of them are 1) easy and 2) sound exotic, the perfect combo. I am especially enamored of the sweet potatoes because it is a huge step up from the candied sweet potatoes my mother used to heat up out of a can – and let’s not forget the marshmallow topping – and I get to use some of the sage from my garden.
For as long as we’ve had an herb garden, I have grown sage. It reappears year after year, adding a little bit to its girth. If only my culinary uses for fresh sage were similarly expansive.
There’s the standard “sautéing sage in butter” to flavor the butter and render the sage crispy for topping off a dish, or adding sage to any dish with sausage, but in general I have not been very creative in finding uses. Enter that Thanksgiving side.
Ingredients for Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Applies and Maple-Sage Butter
There are a very few ingredients to this dish: sweet potatoes, granny smith apples, fresh sage, lemon juice and maple syrup. It’s simply a matter of slicing and roasting the potatoes, wedging and sautéing the apples with sage, and then stirring in the lemon juice and maple syrup.
The tricky part is finding 15 minutes of available oven space at 475° F. Not always an easy feat on Thanksgiving, but somehow we’ve managed by saving it to the end. I roast this up while RG finishes up the turkey slicing. Inevitable it all comes together.
We will miss our usual Thanksgiving guests, both family and stray, and look forward to gathering again in 2021. For now, we’ll just use fewer sweet potatoes. Have a safe, happy, delicious holiday.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with apples and Maple-Sage Butter
- Preheat oven to 475°F.
- Toss the sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer.
- Roast in the top half of the oven for 10 minutes, then flip and roast for another 5 minutes.
- While the potatoes are roasting, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it starts to brown, about 1 minute.
- Add the apples in a single layer and brown on both sides, about 90 seconds per side.
- Then add the chopped sage and stir until wilted, about another 30 seconds.
- Remove from heat and fold in the lemon juice and maple syrup. Scrape them into a serving bowl with a spatula and gently combine in the roasted potatoes.
- Serve immediately.