Side dishes at Thanksgiving are just as important as the turkey. And everyone has their own traditions, although there are a few staples: mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. How you make those dishes and what else you add to the table varies from family to family. As I mentioned in Part 1, our dinner table included all of the above, plus pearl onions, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and apple mixture, a big salad, apple pie and chocolate cream pie. (We had a lot of people.)
My dad has always prepared the cranberry sauce at least two ways: raw and cooked. There have been times that he’s brought along an extra cooked version infused with something (I can still taste the brandy infused cooked cranberry sauce from last year!), but this year it was just the two. I challenge any of you who eat it from the can to make it from scratch next year. Your taste buds will thank you. I’m going to make it for Christmas this year instead of my dad, as it’s one of the few things left that I haven’t made since he usually makes it ahead of time.
Our side dishes remain relatively the same, with a few new items every now and then. (I remember a pumpkin puree soup that didn’t gain too many fans, lol.) One of the big obstacles cooking Thanksgiving dinner (or any large dinner), is timing it all out. Cooking at my aunt and uncle’s house we have an advantage over cooking at our home, as they have a double oven and a warming shelf. But I assure you that this dinner can be done with a single oven too. Picking up from where I left off, most of the work begins after flipping the bird. (haha-another joke! ok, promise no more.) First thing on the list: Garlic Mashed Potatoes. My dad roasts the garlic, either in the morning or the day or two before. Take a whole head of garlic and cut off the top so you can see all the cloves. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil so that you can wrap the whole head up. Drizzle olive oil over the top and close the top up so there’s some air around the garlic. We do this for two heads. Place in the oven at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. I estimate about 1/4 lb of potatoes per serving.
GARLIC MASHED POTATOES (about 12 servings)
- 3 lbs of white potatoes (you can use russet if that’s your preference)
- 12 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups of Half & Half
- 2 tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Pepper
- 2 full heads of garlic (a third if you really like garlic)
Cut up the potatoes into quarters and place into a large pot of water. Boil until you can easily stick a fork into the potato and pull it back out with no resistance. Drain and dump back into the pot. Grab a masher and start mashing, adding in the butter in small chunks. Then add in 1 cup of the half and half, all the garlic, salt and pepper. Mash until they are at a texture you like. If they aren’t getting creamy enough add the rest of the half and half. Taste and if need be, add more salt, pepper, or garlic. Transfer to a serving bowl and cover. You can also use an electric masher. I like to use a hand one because it’s a great workout.
At the same time we were working on the potatoes we started work on our green bean casserole. Normally we make green beans with ginger and bell peppers, but this year dad wanted to do something different. We took a large purple onion and cut about 2/3 of it thinly so we had a bunch of onion rings to fry. I dredged them in flour and we heat about an inch of oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil was hot we dropped the rings in, turning them after a couple of minutes. We removed them to a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up any extra oil. It took 3 turns to get them all done. Next we started the mushroom sauce. (I will share this recipe at a later date as I didn’t make it, my dad did.) At the same time, we set a large pot of water to boil. Once it was boiling we dropped the green beans in to blanch them for about 3-5 minutes depending on how many beans you have. SIDE NOTE: If your green beans have not come with the tips cut off, be sure to do that before blanching. Once your beans are done, drain them and put into casserole dish. Pour your mushroom sauce over the green beans evenly. Spread the remainder of your fried onions (some went into the mushroom sauce) around the edge of your beans. Stick in the oven at 350 for about 20-30 minutes (depending on how many green beans you used).
While dad finished the gravy, I worked on the glazed pearl onions. One of my favorite dishes, and one of the first I learned how to make at Thanksgiving. Super simple, but you do have to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. We do two bags since we have so many people. Cook each bag separately so they all cook evenly.
GLAZED PEARL ONIONS (about 6 servings)
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 3 Tbsp Butter
- Package of frozen pearl onions (1 lb)
In a medium frying pan on medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the sugar, stirring it around so it doesn’t burn. Immediately add the onions. Make sure they all lay flat in the pan and keep them moving so they are covered by the sugar and butter mixture. If you feel lucky you can try to toss them. Word of advice: start small or else you’ll lose all your onions. Continue to cook until they are beautiful golden brown so they are all covered nicely with the sugar. Place in small bowl, cover and place on warming shelf.
One of the new side dishes this year was my dad’s roasted squash and braised apple mixture. He made it ahead of time as well (I told him that when we do Christmas dinner it would be a dish that I would make so I can take a stab at it though), so we saved some time (and oven and stove space). We did need to heat them up which we waited until the turkey was out of the oven though. The final items to go into the oven after the turkey came out: the rest of the stuffing mixture, the dinner rolls, and my sister-in-law placed her sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top in the broiler for a few minutes. My mom finished the salad with her own dressing.
Our turkey was beautiful and so very juicy. We took the roasting pan, deglazed it and added the juices to the gravy. Yum! Just like with any meat, you want to let it rest. By the time we got everything into the oven, the side dishes under the warming lamps or back in the oven, the pan deglazed and the gravy officially done, the turkey was ready to be carved.
We opened the neck first to pull out the stuffing, then we took the stuffing out of the other end. (Once the rest of the stuffing was done in the oven we mixed the two-mmmm!) I am extremely nervous to carve a turkey. I’m not sure why, but probably because it’s the main event and my dad always does such a beautiful job at it. So last year he started teaching me how to do it properly and we each carve half the turkey. We pull the legs off first and carefully cut out the rest of the dark meat on the bird. It usually comes off pretty easily. When pulling off the drumsticks and wings, you will most likely have to cut the connecting muscles/tendons slightly. Once the dark meat is off we tackle the breast. The breast is the hardest party (in my humble opinion), but there are “guides” that help you cut in the right place. Find the breast bone and cut just on the outside of it where you feel the bone end. Your knife should be able to follow along the bone as you cut down. Once on the cutting board, cut at an angle and your knife should slide right through. Make the slices about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick. My mom and aunt took everything into the dining room while we finished carving. And voila-dinner is served! Happy Thanksgiving!