Super Bowl for Cooks

It dawned on me as I spent hours combing through cookbooks, blogs, tweets and websites that Thanksgiving – more than any other holiday – could be considered the Super Bowl for cooks.

Like a championship quarterback, cooks exert a lot of energy just preparing for the big day.  We spend hours imagining the perfect menu.  Days combing the grocery store, farmers markets and specialty markets for just the right ingredients.  Weeks gathering all of the items needed to set the perfect table.

And the marketing hype is similar too:  Beginning in early November, I start getting bombarded by posts, tweets and television ads:  do you know how to roast the perfect turkey?  What’s on your Thanksgiving Day menu?  Need more side dishes?  Cooking for 20 for the first time?

Because Thanksgiving isn’t just about making dinner – it’s about the spectacle and over-the-top entertaining that goes along with it.

Thankfully, (Ha!  Pun intended!) I have a lot of experience preparing Thanksgiving meals, (kinda like the New England Patriots have a lot of experience at the Super Bowl, SNAP!)  Like a championship coach who prepares for Super Bowl Sunday by devising new plays, reviewing tape and sharing his strategy with the coaching staff, I get a thrill out of trying new ingredients and flavor combinations, digging out old recipes, creating my favorite dishes and sharing, discussing and revising the menu – often to the patience-testing-limits of my family.

This year the gathering is small.  It’s just my mom, dad, Joel, Madison and myself.  But that’s not going to stop me from making enough food to feed an entire football team.  Because for me, Thanksgiving is about testing your limits, showcasing your skills and going all out to create the best meal ever.

So, I’ll spare you from further Super Bowl analogies and share the first half of my menu now.  I’ll share the second half (without the cheesy halftime show – sorry, I had to get that one in!) tomorrow:

Roasted Turkey – this year I’m trying the Alton Brown Good Eats Turkey, sorta.  (I’ve cheated a bit by using World Market brine, but it looks really good and I trust their food.)  I’ve never done the brine-turkey-thing before but the bucket is ready and I’m excited to see how it turns out.

Cornbread Stuffing – I love this recipe from the Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook.  I first made this about four years ago and it instantly replaced the old bread cube-apple-walnut version.  It stays really moist and doesn’t get as heavy and sticky as regular stuffing can.

Make-ahead Mashed Potatoes – my mom has been making this version of mashed potatoes for as long as I can remember.  She mixes mashed potatoes, milk, cream cheese and lots of butter together, spreads them in a pan and refrigerates them the day before Thanksgiving.  After the turkey comes out of the oven on Thursday, these will be heated for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  I don’t know what kind of magic takes place in the fridge the night before the big feast, but the result is a super-creamy, almost frosting-like mashed potato dish.  This year I’m adding a few turnips for a little extra bite.

Green Bean Casserole – ugh, I hate making this dish the traditional way (read: frozen and processed), but this is Joel’s absolute-favorite Thanksgiving dish.  A few years ago I made it using market fresh green beans, homemade mushroom soup and fried onion strings – but he said it just didn’t taste the same.  (Duh, obviously.)  So in the spirit of goodwill this holiday engenders, I make it the way he likes it.

Green Salad – it’s nice to have some fresh green stuff on the table with all of the heavy, starchy foods so I usually make a seasonal salad.  The ingredients change every year but this time I’m making it with chopped lettuce, feta, pomegranate seeds, chopped macadamia nuts and balsamic vinaigrette.

Warm Carrot Salad – it may sound fancy, but it’s really just sliced and steamed carrots tossed with 2 tbsp each lemon juice and chopped mint.

Sweet Potato Biscuits – one of the new recipes I’m trying this year.  I’ve tried and tried and tried to like sweet potatoes, but something about their texture just makes me gag.  So I thought that mashing them and making biscuits out of them might work for me.  I’m using Paula Deen’s recipe.

Tomorrow I’ll share more side dishes, desserts and drinks.

7 comments on “Super Bowl for Cooks

  1. Babygirl
    November 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    On Thanksgiving we always make more than the people who come to our house lol. So I completely understand

  2. Harry Weisberger
    November 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    You forgot to mention a couple of Thanksgiving-related items:

    (a) The ad agencies that expend countless hours and untold creativity to devise the greatest-ever Super Bowl TV commercials. (The placement commissions more than compensate for their heroic efforts.)

    (b) The pre-prepared mashed potatos. The secret ingredient in Mom’s version is that the potato-mashing is performed by Dad, using his patented wrist twist and masher slam.

  3. Susan Weisbeger
    November 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    This is Mom..
    First ; Dad is right, he is an amazing masher(pun intended) and the potatoes always come out creamy, so does anything I need beaten or stirred. the secret is don’t interrupt the games just bring him the bowl so he can do it in front of the T.V.

    Second; By the time Heather figures out what she is going to serve and gets us to the table we have been drooling for weeks. the best thing is it’s always soooooo good. Thanks for taking over Thanksgiving so I can garden. I am planning on growing all her herbs and veggies…

  4. Christa
    November 23, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I’ve done the Alton Brown brine and you won’t be disappointed. It is awesome. Once you brine, you’ll do it every time. (ha–I just made that up!) Our family always makes cornbread dressing. Our recipe consists of homemade cornbread, sauteed onions and celery, mushrooms and sage. We don’t cheat on this recipe; its the only dressing we’ve ever served (I however did have a brief affair with a bread dressing made with dried cranberries and golden raisins at a pot luck once, but it didn’t mean anything–it was just eating!). No one in our family particularly likes green bean casserole, but we have to have LeSueur peas–no brand substitutions allowed. And I have to have the Ocean Spray cran-raspberry relish they sell in the plastic tubs. It is nearly impossible to find, but worth the search!

    You must post pictures and report on your sweet potato biscuits. V. curious about them. I had mashed sweet potatoes (and roast lamb) at a pub in Wales when John and I went there in 2000 and they were prepared with enough butter and salt to be savory instead of sweet and they were awesome. I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to recreate them ever since.

  5. cousin courtney
    November 23, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    i’ve done the brine every time (hahahaha i just wanted to say it) .. but really, i do.. i hate the bucket of rawness in my fridge, but whatever.. the carrot salad sounds sooo good, i love cooked carrots, but i don’t like em sweet, i must try it! .. i somewhat agree with joey about the green bean casserole (as much as i love trying new things, when it comes to thanksgiving, i like things the old fashioned same way every year) …BUT i am finding i like the green bean casserole less & less, so i think i might like to change it up somewhat.. i’m going to try the sweet potato biscuits! nick says he hates sweet potatoes and one night i [totally lied] told him they were carrots and he liked em, go figure… i loooove sweet potatoes (especially roasted) but i hate the marshmallow dish (no thanks).. oh, i think if you’re making a turkey at home, nothing you do is really considered cheating 🙂

  6. cousin courtney
    November 23, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    so for the last 4 days at work people have been talking about how i make mashed potatoes.. like from an actual bag of potatoes.. with butter, mmmmmm 🙂 .. i think we grew up spoiled heather!! … ooh oooh how about some awesome leftover magic ideas?!?!?! (like panko-potato pancakes??)

  7. cousin courtney
    November 23, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    you’re so right.. there’s more to it than JUST COOKING

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