A few years back, I spent Thanksgiving with the large family of a friend whose house was tucked into the side of a mountain somewhere near Durango. Like most families at Thanksgiving dinners, we had segregated ourselves into two groups: those who were slamming wine and watching football, and those who were slamming wine and helping in the kitchen. The bird was in the oven and the family matriarch was delegating side dish duties to anyone with an itch to cook. Each assignment brought about suggestions for ways to alter the sides based on different family traditions. The chef's patience waned as the brown-sugar-to-yam ratio was debated, and she finally hollered, "THIS IS MY HOUSE AND WE'RE GOING TO COOK IT MY WAY!"
Lesson: Hell hath no fury like a woman about to lose control of her Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving is as much about food as it is tradition. We're hesitant to alter the holiday dishes we prepare every year -- not because of flavor profiles, but because of the memories they hold. That said, sometimes it's good to throw tradition out with the pumpkin pie. Hell, why not start now? Here are a few great recipes to get you started:
Roasted Cranberry Sauce: As a child, nothing was more mystifying to me than watching the cranberry sauce jiggle onto the plate, maintaining the same shape it held in the can. I perceived it as the fruit version of SPAM. Last year, I made roasted cranberry sauce with orange zest and jalapenos. It was so amazing that I had to make a second batch because I ate most of the first one for breakfast. The flavors are bright and rich, and the heat from the jalapenos is the perfect addition. Plus, you can't go wrong with anything that's finished with port.
Sweet Corn Spoonbread: Creamed corn is boring. And kind of gross. Sweet corn spoonbread is neither of these, and it'll impress everyone with its deliciousness. It's similar to savory bread pudding and twice as good. Spoonbread comes from the South. So does whiskey, collard greens and deep pit barbecue. Coincidence? I think not. Green Bean Casserole: I grew up in Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" and just as many casseroles. If it were up to me, Thanksgiving would always have green bean casserole. But that doesn't necessarily have to mean cream of mushroom soup and French's fried onions.
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Try making it from scratch -- the process is much more fun and you won't feel guilty for relying on the can opener.
Bourbon Walnut Sweet Potato Mash: Back away from the marshmallows, people. This recipe will knock your socks off and give you the same sugar high as your grandma's Stay Puff stuff. And it's so easy that it would be nearly impossible to screw it up, plus you swig the bourbon while you cook. It is a holiday -- usually with in-laws -- after all.