You think you will always remember
It’s Thanksgiving morning. We’re preparing the stuffing. A dining room full of guests are scheduled to arrive in a matter of hours, and we suddenly blank on the ingredients.
“We definitely do not add bread crumbs.”
“Of course we add breadcrumbs. It helps bind the stuffing.”
“We don’t. I’m sure…”
This argument gets increasingly heated and goes back and forth for some time before my mom concedes that she really doesn’t remember. She’s been doing this for years and never ONCE thought to write any of it down. You think you will always remember, but one distraction, one interruption from the usual routine and suddenly your left doubting yourself. Of course, that interruption is me! Ever since I began my quest to document our family recipes, I’ve been interrupting my mom during the cooking process, putting her on the spot for specific quantities and cooking times. Basically, I’m disrupting the natural flow of her kitchen. Of course she can’t remember. She blames her age. What’s my excuse, I wonder? Perhaps it’s technology, data overload, excessive stimulus at every click or just the overwhelming task of trying to preserve and document everything.
I have a few confessions to make
Of course I forget how to d this! Regardless of age or generation, we’re going to forget. We have got to start writing things down or these family recipes will be lost forever. We’ve already shared several of these family treasures on the blog. Hopefully they’ll help you fill your own table and delight your guests. I’ll link to them throughout the rest of this post. For now, pull up a chair and take a look at what happens in the kitchen at my mom’s Thanksgiving dinner back home in Philadelphia.
I have a few confessions to make so I’ll get those out of the way first. For starters, my mom has always served canned corn cooked in butter (no recipe but you can read about it here). My mom is convinced that the pilgrims served corn, so we should eat it too. But mom! A can? Yup, that’s how she’s done it for fifty plus years. In her defense, they’re is no chance of finding fresh corn in November. Things only go downhill from there. We never ever served cranberry sauce until my sister-in-law Denise started bringing it herself. Actually, one year in an effort to embrace American culture, mom bought a can of cranberry sauce, which not faring as well as the corn, was literally boo’s off the table. Adding insult to Thanksgiving Day injury, we had absolutely no idea how to make sweet potatoes so we would just wing it. To make matters worse, we only make one. One sweet potato. This is precisely why I’ve been recipe testing for since August. Keep reading and you’ll find an interesting blend of Italian-American cultures that will deliver just the right flavor to your Thanksgiving dinner table. After all isn’t the blending of cultures in this country exactly what we’re celebrating?
It’s classic mom. My mom
Stuffing is my favorite part of the entire meal. I know what you’re thinking. Bread cubes, right? Well we’ll get to that too, but first I must introduce you to what I grew up calling “Italian stuffing.” As it turns out, all of Italy does not claim this recipe. Just my mom. I asked Italian friends and relatives for their recipes and they weren’t even close to my mom’s recipe, which is neither classic Italian or classic Italian-American. Instead, it’s classic mom. My mom. Which is why I fell into a panic when I thought we had lost it forever, giving me even more reason to write it down. We’ve done that for you here. In fact, we’ve also included the recipe for traditional bread stuffing so you can take a look at both. Technically, they’re both dressing since we do not stuff them into the turkey. Instead we bake both versions in a dish outside the bird, but I’ll never be able to rid ‘stuffing’ from my vocabulary.
Once I had the stuffings tested and documented I moved on to potatoes. We like ours mashed! I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like mashed potatoes. In my family the creamier the better. I know there are many variations on this classic dish like flavoring it with garlic or adding cream cheese for texture. We keep it simple with mashed potatoes adding only butter, milk and salt. If you check out the recipe, you might find one other secret ingredient. The key to mashing potatoes is keeping them warm and using an electric mixture to make them super creamy.
As you probably can imagine by now, sweet potatoes are kind of new to us. I know. Don’t judge. They are just not something we grew up eating. In fact, I don’t really like them. In my defense no one in my family likes them. I want to like them, but they’re just too…something…too sweet! This is another side dish that made its way to our table via marriage. My sister-in-law Denise likes them, and they seem to be growing on my mom. I made two versions of them recently using yams and actual sweet potatoes for a side by side comparison that ended in a draw. The recipe is less casserole, more “pass the potatoes” covered in butter and brown sugar. It’s a good recipe for the sweet potato beginner in your life. As for me, I plan to keep trying sweet potatoes to see if I develop a taste for them. In the end, I didn’t change our method much, but I hope the subtle improvements impress mom and Denise!
We generally make too many things but at least we keep them simple
By now you’re probably wondering why I haven’t even mentioned vegetables. Don’t worry. That’s the easiest part. We generally make too many things but at least we keep them simple. Mushrooms with their woodsy taste and savory bite, although not technically a vegetable are a light accompaniment to a hearty turkey dinner. During recipe testing, I swapped out my mom’s usual white mushrooms with shiitake. Hopefully I will get away with it on Thanksgiving day.
It’s taken us a long time to catch up, but a Thanksgiving table needs cranberry sauce. I’ve already come clean about our faux pas with this Thanksgiving Day staple so I thought I should redeem myself and restore honor to my family name by coming up with my very own cranberry sauce recipe. For fun, it contains one secret ingredient to make it my own. I’ll probably never need to make the cranberry sauce, but it’s good to know that I’m prepared if Denise gets tired of her responsibility.
We were talking about vegetables though, weren’t we? I’ve got at least two up my sleeve. Broccoli sautéed in garlic and olive oil is a dinner time staple in my mom’s kitchen. I like it for a heavy dinner like this one because it’s healthy and low calorie compared to the buttery potatoes, gravy and all the desserts that will surely follow. Along those line is a simple string bean salad that can be served warm or cold, which might save you if you start to run out of burners like we usually do.
Of course we’ll also have the true confessions canned corn in butter. It’s the mealtime equivalent to those plastic Halloween costumes that come in a cardboard box (we had those growing up too). The vegetable selection is quick and easy and can even be made the night before. On the big day, all you have to do is warm them up. They’re a really well rounded lineup of sweet and savory dishes so that you have something for everyone. Vegetarians and carnivores can both sit at this table and even the folks who count calories have some satisfying and flavorful options.
Over the years we’ve started to Americanize the meal
Italian Thanksgiving might lack the stereo typically “American” staples but there is no shortage of gratitude. We’re lucky to have my mom creating the most delicious and satisfying meal that brings the family together around one table. Over the years we’ve started to “Americanize” the meal and surprisingly, I think it’s my mom who loves the changes the most.
Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten the turkey or the dessert! Click here and here to continue reading and gathering recipes and ideas. Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for reading the blog and for giving me the best reason to keep writing!