Thanksgiving is a time for familial traditions, when loved ones gather ’round the dining table, loosen their belt buckles, and shamelessly gorge themselves on Grandmother’s infamous yet questionable mincemeat pie, succulent pieces of gravy-drenched turkey, and Stove Top stuffing that is presumably from a Reader’s Digest recipe circa 1972. While it’s great to preserve family traditions, sometimes it’s good to break out of the canned cranberry mold and give run of the mill dishes a breath of fresh air. For the dishes that haven’t kept up with our changing food trends and evolving taste buds, here are some new takes on the classics.
Makeover #1: Canned Cranberry Sauce
It’s not too often that you hear someone raving about how exceptionally exquisite the can-shaped cranberry dressing was. The unnaturally perfect cylinder with indented ridges from the can, the bright magenta color, the fact that it holds its shape hours after it’s plopped onto a plate, the disturbing jiggling as dad carves the turkey—all signs point to artificiality.
The alternative: Third Generation Cranberry Sauce with Pears is made with real cranberries, spices, and pears. It’s sweet and tangy and adds a perfect amount of flavor to accompany the turkey and stuffing. And it doesn’t jiggle.
Makeover #2: Candied Yams
Poor little orange spuds, drowned in a sea of sugar and corn syrup, their natural sweetness overpowered and undervalued. But this starchy vegetable doesn’t have to be blanketed in a layer of glucose to make it delicious.
The alternative: Simply Delicious Roasted Butternut Squash opts for a different orange vegetable and saves the overwhelming sweetness for dessert. It’s an easy recipe that brings forth the rich flavor of butternut squash and is sure to earn a semi-permanent place at the holiday table.
Makeover #3: Packaged Mashed Potatoes
The process of mixing fresh potatoes into a decadently creamy whip can take up precious cooking time and requires a little arm work, but it’s well worth it to avoid the soup-like byproduct typical of packaged mashed potatoes. There are also unexpected delicious potato substitutes, such as cauliflower, that could trick even your Idaho-dwelling grandma into thinking she’s eating the real thing.
The alternative: Creamy Cauliflower Puree is not your mama’s mashed potatoes, but boy are they tasty. The puree turns out smooth and delicious. It’s rich without a lot of added fat and has a nice robust flavor.
Makeover #4: Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are not the most popular of vegetables; there are even entire Facebook groups dedicated to the hatred of them. Many a recipe has attempted to make these funky-looking vegetables edible, but far too many have crashed and burned, resulting in an over-cooked version that leaves family members playing the “whoever smelt it dealt it” card.
The alternative: Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Pancetta won’t leave you with a soggy, wilted sprout; instead, it will turn the simple vegetable into a wonderfully nutty and crisp treat. And you really can’t go wrong with Italian pork products.
Makeover #5: Same Old Bird
A good turkey recipe is timeless, but even the main attraction can be made different without straying too far from tradition. To prevent the Thanksgiving centerpiece from losing its allure, add a spin to classic recipes to satisfy the older-generation traditionalists as well as the new-age experimentalists.
The alternative: The holidays are a time for eating, drinking, and being merry, so why not cover all three bases with one fell swoop? A drunken turkey takes everything we love about a traditional bird and adds an intoxicating kick. This wine-drenched turkey recipe yields a gorgeous golden brown crisp and meat so tender, your family will surely gobble it all up.
Makeover #6: Green Bean Casserole
Green bean casseroles are good in theory, but usually taste like, what can best be described as, “meh.” Possibly because the ingredient list reads like a chemical cornucopia—long on the canned, processed, and artificial ingredients and short on honest-to-goodness food.
The alternative: This recipe for Fresh Sautéed Green Beans keeps it simple, with a few key ingredients that bring out the natural flavor and crispness of green beans. Try to pick up your beans from a nearby farmer’s market, where the flavor will be boldest. With this recipe, you’ll not only save calories and saturated fat, but because it’s so simple, you’ll also save some cash.
Makeover #7: Creamed Corn Casserole
Another relic of the canned age, the creamed corn casserole doesn’t bring much to the table except another goopy dish with a barely identifiable vegetable product.
The alternative: Fresh Corn Salad adds a clean, fresh crunch to the holiday table. Serve it in lieu of a green salad or as another side on the table. Plus, it’s quick and easy!
Updated November 2011