Foodie Travel USA contributors’ share
All of us here at Foodie Travel USA wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.
We’d like to take this opportunity to say a simple “thank you” for reading our posts. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy putting it together and digging into flavors from coast to coast.
While gearing up for the holiday, some of us stopped to reflect and share memories, insights and even some home-cooking tips from past Thanksgivings.
The best place I ever traveled on Thanksgiving was Chattanooga, Tennessee. With the kids in Colorado and having recently moved to South Carolina, thus having no family to invite to dinner or visit, we headed to Chattanooga. Why Chattanooga of all places? I’d found out about a riverboat dinner cruise on the Tennessee River with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner buffet. It was fantastic plus I got to sit in the wheelhouse with the captain as he turned the paddle wheeler around. After dinner we went to Ruby Falls, a spot for which we’d seen billboards for years. That was fantastic, too!
Thanksgiving is a holiday that involves some of my favorite comfort foods: turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, pies—plus get-togethers with fun folks. But, for me, the best part about any Thanksgiving meal is not the actual day… it’s the following day and that first, wonderful sandwich made with the very best of the leftovers… turkey breast, lettuce, tomato, good bread and just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together. From there it’s the casseroles made from leftover turkey and potatoes, reheated dishes and more sandwiches. So, yes, my favorite part of Thanksgiving is all the leftovers!
I’m responsible for cooking for my family and my girlfriend’s family every year—and there’s always pressure to come up with something new for the table. I’ve got the bird down pat, although I will run through my repertoire of fried turkey, roasted turkey, spatchcocked and grilled every few years so it doesn’t get too ho-hum. But it’s the side dishes where we like to mix it up every year. Just as no team goes into the Super Bowl without practicing for the big game, I’ve instituted what I call “Practicegiving.” A week or so before Turkey Day, I’ll prepare each of the new sides for Lisa and I as part of our regular evening meal, just to make sure that I have the recipe down pat. We do it far enough in advance that we’re not sick of it when we have it again on Thanksgiving day…and the inevitable leftovers afterwards. The added comfort of having already cooked the new dishes makes Thanksgiving a lot calmer and frees up time to spend with the family. Plus we don’t have to worry about running out to the store to find a replacement for a dish that just didn’t turn or ended up taking too long to make it on the table.
My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is friends coming together to celebrate as family. Since we live far from our respective families in India, my husband and I are lucky to have friends in the U.S. host us for Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes that means travel, sometimes it’s a drive down the street, other times it’s with another couple, other times a home full of families and a table full of food. However it all pans out, the joy of dining together and enjoying a traditional meal is special. We’ve had friends’ parents open their homes and hearts to us for the holiday weekend and prepare some of the most delicious recipes, introducing us to their traditions and festivities. This year, once again, we have friends that will host us for Thanksgiving dinner and we are grateful as always, that while others have family to go home to, we have our own family of friends.
My favorite Thanksgiving dish is stuffing. I make mine from scratch using a family recipe that I’ve adapted over the years; dried baguettes are my biggest “secret” to success. I fill the turkey with stuffing plus make extra to cook alongside the bird in a casserole dish. No matter how much I make, though, it’s never enough—whether I’m preparing Thanksgiving for a crowd or it’s just me and my husband, the stuffing is the first thing gobbled up. Usually I prepare Thanksgiving dinner from scratch, at home. One year I made a seven-course meal and even printed up menus (my grandpa was so impressed he asked me to autograph his copy). But one Thanksgiving my husband and I instead traveled to Reno, Nevada and stayed at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. The resort’s Thanksgiving buffet dinner included so many indulgent dishes I can’t even remember it all, but it was such fun to relax rather than stand over the stove all day.
The dish I look most forward to eating on Thanksgiving is my mother’s pork and sauerkraut. She got the recipe from her mom who made it for her Polish husband. My grandmother was 100 percent Italian, but apparently, it’s a Baltimore tradition to have sauerkraut and pork ribs at any celebration. It’s supposed to bring you good luck, she always told me. My mom browns the ribs with garlic and olive oil, then adds four packages of sauerkraut to a slow cooker with the ribs. She douses the medley with Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. I don’t think either of those ingredients are Polish, but that’s her routine. Then she adds a little extra red wine vinegar and lets it slow cook all day. It goes nicely with turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Some in the family refuse to try it, but most of us love it. Now my mom says she’s too old to do it, so it’s become my tradition. My kids will need to learn someday. We always have around 20 people for Thanksgiving at our house, but we’ve had as many as 25. It’s such a fun time, and my husband says he never wants to give up hosting.
I am always appointed to make the “real” turkey gravy at Thanksgiving. My mother was the queen of smooth, creamy gravy—always the perfect consistency—and I learned her secret at an early age. The keys to making a good gravy from the turkey drippings are basting the bird often and lavishly to create a lot of pan juice, skimming off the grease after you remove the bird from the roasting pan and finally making a slurry of either flour and water or cornstarch and water. I use an old jelly jar and add a tablespoon of flour and a couple of tablespoons of water. Shake vigorously to mix and then add slowly to the drippings while stirring continuously. I do mine right in the roasting pan over low heat. This is not a task for impatient cooks. Low and slow while stirring to mix all of the slurry in with the drippings will take at least 10 to 15 minutes. But the reward is a perfect finishing touch for that golden brown turkey.