Thanksgiving is the Jan Brady of holidays.
You remember “The Brady Bunch,” don’t you? “Here’s the story…of a lovely lady” and all that?
The show featured one of the first blended families on television. Mike, Carol, their housekeeper Alice, and their six children all lived happily under one big mid-century modern roof.
Almost every plot involved the kids in one way or another. There was the time that Mike and Carol thought Greg was smoking and another where Marsha was cast as Juliet in a school production of “Romeo & Juliet.” Bobby played pool and Peter imitated Humphrey Bogart. It was all very wholesome and family-friendly.
And then there was Jan. Carol’s middle daughter, Jan lamented that she was often forgotten. No matter what she tried, it always seemed that she was overlooked in favor of baby sister Cindy or overshadowed by the older sibling Marsha.
That’s right. “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!”
Thanksgiving can relate. Sandwiched between Halloween and especially Christmas – truly the “Marsha” of holidays – Thanksgiving is often overlooked. There’s no trick-or-treating in colorful costumes or lavish decorations complete with twinkling lights. There’s just a meal.
But that’s what makes it so great. Halloween and Christmas may get most of the attention, but Thanksgiving shines in its own way.
Moreover, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this feature that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I am a middle child myself, after all.
That’s not all. Seriously, if you are a “food” person – whether that be one who loves to cook or one who loves to eat – Thanksgiving is the holiday for you. After all, how often do most of us have the opportunity to go all out on one big blowout of a meal?
And while I don’t want to spend all day every day in the kitchen, Thanksgiving is the one day when I don’t mind. It’s fun, especially when you get to finish that day gathered around the table with people you love.
That’s where today’s column could come in handy. The secret that no one wants to talk about when it comes to Thanksgiving is that most of the foods are pretty simple to make.
Seriously, a turkey looks impressive, but it’s not that complicated. The same goes for most of your other sides like dressing and cranberry sauce.
Christmas can wait. It’s time for Jan Brady – I mean, Thanksgiving – to shine.
This is one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes. That’s because, in addition to being delicious, it’s also a snap to make. Even if you are a novice bread-maker.
It’s from the book “A Cook’s Tour of Iowa” by Susan Puckett, and it’s really bread at its most basic. It calls for no fancy flours – good old all-purpose will be just fine – or fancy equipment. You knead it on the countertop and you let it rise twice. That’s it.
You can make and bake these rolls the same day you serve them. However, if you are concerned about oven time and space on Thanksgiving, you can mix up the dough the night before. Then, turn the dough into an oiled bowl, cover them with plastic wrap, and pop them into the refrigerator. The dough will rise slowly overnight so that the next morning you can shape the rolls, let them rise a second time and bake them well before dinner.
- 2 packages dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
- 2 cups hot water
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 6-6½ cups all-purpose flour (I needed about 7 cups to make the dough workable)
- 3 teaspoons salt
- Melted butter (optional)
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Heat the 2 cups of water and pour over the sugar and butter. Add 2 cups of flour in small batches, beating as hard as possible after each addition. When the mixture is warm, not hot, add to the dissolved yeast. Add the salt and the balance of the flour. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until double in bulk (about 60-75 minutes).
*Note: This is where you can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Punch the dough down. Pinch off 20-24 balls of dough and roll them into balls. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets, cover with plastic wrap and let rise a second time – this time for about 30-45 minutes. Or, to make the rolls a little fancier, you can pinch the dough off into smaller – about a tablespoon each – balls and place them three-to-a-cup in a greased standard muffin pan. This will give you cloverleaf rolls that look really nice on the table.
After the rolls have risen the second time, you can brush them with melted butter to give them a little more flavor. Then, bake for 18-20 minutes.
If I am being honest, I am not a huge fan of cornbread. Still, even I think that this recipe from Bon Appetit’s November 2003 issue is terrific. It’s easy (it uses prepared corn bread stuffing mix). Better yet, the combination of the andouille sausage with its hint of spicy heat and corn bread is magical. I practically tore through the entire pan well before dinner began.
And don’t be concerned that you won’t be able to find any of these ingredients. Most grocery stores carry a variety of sausage, including andouille. But if you can’t find it, feel free to try hot (aka spicy) Italian sausage.
Finally, if you don’t want to buy fresh herbs, you can substitute dried. Just remember to cut the proportions in half. So, if the recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh thyme, add about half tablespoon of dried.
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound andouille sausage, casing removed, diced
- 1 12-ounce box of seasoned corn bread stuffing mix
- 2¼ cups chicken broth
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon Cajun or Creole seasoning
- 3 large eggs, beaten to blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
Melt the butter with the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Saute 4 minutes. Add the sausage; sauté until heated through. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the stuffing mix, broth, wine, sage, thyme and Creole/Cajun seasoning. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the eggs. Transfer to prepared dish.
Bake uncovered until cooked through and beginning to brown – about 45 minutes. Makes 12 servings.
Herbed Green Beans and Carrots
As far as side dishes go, it doesn’t get much easier than this recipe from the Food Network. You can throw it together at the last minute without much fuss. Moreover, the combination of the green beans and the bright orange carrots looks great on your table.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 oz. green beans, trimmed
- 4 carrots, peeled and cut into either dimes or sticks (my preference is the latter)
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the beans and carrots. Season with a little salt and pepper (you can always add more later). Add ½ cup chicken broth, and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and simmer until tender (about 6 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Cranberry Champagne Cocktail
If, like most folks, you like the idea of cranberries at Thanksgiving but you don’t really like cranberry sauce, give this drink a try. It’s a great way to greet your guests when they arrive at your door with something that is both traditional and yet different.
The recipe comes from the November 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine. It is simple – just champagne, cranberry juice and orange liqueur. The flavor is dry with just a hint of fruit. I also liked the pale pink color.
- 1 bottle of champagne (or any sparkling wine or cider), chilled
- Cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
- Grand Marnier or any orange liqueur
To make one of these beauties, pour about 3 ounces of champagne into a glass. Add about 2 teaspoons of cranberry juice and a splash (maybe a half teaspoon) of Grand Marnier. Serve.