Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. To me, it is a combination of the best parts of Christmas reduced into a less commercialized and distracting holiday. The most important parts of every major holiday seem to center around family, friends and food, and Thanksgiving exhibits these at the most undiluted level. At Thanksgiving, the common tradition is to gather with family and friends around a lush fall harvest meal and give thanks for all of the blessings in our lives.
Thanksgiving means something different to everyone and includes unique traditions, celebrations and food. For me, every year I look forward to the traditional Thanksgiving food that we normally do not partake in during the rest of the year. Cooking and baking are some of my favorite things to do, and while growing up I learned to cook by helping my mom and dad. Throughout my life I have witnessed and learned how the sharing of food can be an act of kindness, love and healing, especially around the holidays.
If you are looking for some suggestions for your Thanksgiving menu this year, here are some of my favorites and the recipes that I like to use:
One of my absolute favorite appetizers to share during the holidays is baked brie. Brie is a soft cheese with a really rich flavor that pairs well with a variety of flavor combinations. This dish is usually baked so that the brie melts and can be easily scooped up with crackers and shared amongst a group. One of my favorite things to pair with brie is a tart or sweet fruit jam flavor like cranberry or raspberry that matches well with the rest of your holiday meal. Some recipes even wrap the brie with a puff pastry that adds another layer to the dish. Baked brie is an easy dish to prepare and can be easily customized to include your favorite flavors and toppings. Here is an example of a fun holiday baked brie recipe that I have tried before:
This may be a slightly controversial opinion for Thanksgiving traditionalists, but I prefer a nice baked honey ham over the traditional roast turkey for my main Thanksgiving dish. Hams are an easy option that are not as difficult to get right compared to the roast turkey. Most of these hams come pre-smoked, fully cooked and spiral sliced so all that you have to do is add whatever flavors you like and heat it back up in the oven before serving. My favorite way to cook ham is to add a honey and brown sugar glaze to the top before putting it in the oven or the smoker so it carmelizes over the top for a delicious addition to the juicy ham. Some hams even come with prepackaged glazes and instructions that you can follow but here is another simple and delicious recipe as well:
Stuffing is traditionally stuffed inside of the roasted turkey, but I prefer stuffing in its dressing form, which means that it is prepared and cooked in a separate dish that can then be served alongside the turkey or the rest of your meal. There are all kinds of variations that you can give to the basic spices and dried bread base of the stuffing/dressing to make it with your own favorite flavors for a unique taste. My favorite way to prepare dressing is with a combination of cornbread, french bread and ciabatta as the base. I then like to add celery and onions for some texture and aromatic flavors along with the traditional spices of thyme, rosemary and parsley. If I want to add some extra dimension to the dish, I also like adding some cooked ground Italian sausage or diced granny smith apples for some extra flavors. The recipe that I usually follow for the basic cornbread stuffing/dressing is linked below, but don’t be afraid to experiment with unique recipes and flavors!
One of the most popular dishes at my family’s Thanksgiving are the dinner rolls that my cousins, sister and I always beg my mom to bake for us (as you can tell from this list, we really like bread). Rolls are the perfect addition to any meal to help tie in all of the other rich and decadent dishes that are being served. Warm, flaky and buttery all combined into a small little package, you can always find room to eat at least three in one sitting (although you probably should not). People sometimes find making and baking bread a daunting task, but it does not have to be a difficult process to get a delicious result. Our favorite recipe comes straight from the Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix that you can buy for just a few dollars at the grocery store and only needs water, eggs and butter to complete. If you still have reservations about your bread baking skills, there are always good pre-made options in the bakery section of your local grocery store, but here is my favorite easy recipe in case you want to challenge yourself this year:
Honorable mentions for other side dishes include: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (best with marshmallows and cranberries on top), green bean casserole, roasted carrots, cranberry sauce and homemade gravy.
Now, getting to everyone’s favorite part of any meal: dessert. Despite stuffing ourselves with ham, turkey and all of the delicious sides, there is always room in our stomachs left for a sweet piece of pie for dessert. Pumpkin pie is a classic choice that you can’t go wrong with, especially with a dollop of whipped cream on top. The recipe I prefer uses canned pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, eggs and baking spices to make a traditional pumpkin pie. Apple pie is another top choice for me and tastes even better when it is fresh out of the oven with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream melting on top. I prefer using fresh Granny Smith apples that are peeled and sliced for the filling, but if you want a simpler solution you can find premade filling at the grocery store as well. The great thing about pie is that you can get premade pie crust from the grocery store that makes the baking process much faster and easier, but still tastes delicious. Here are some of my favorite recipes for these pies:
These examples are all fairly traditional Thanksgiving foods, but do not be afraid to experiment with different recipes. Most importantly, cook whatever you feel like expresses your thanks for the season and the people you are sharing the meal with.