Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food for Thought: Holiday Dinner Essential

It's that time of year again - the holidays are right around the corner. (Please do not hate me for reminding you of this fact!) The holidays are full of crowded shopping malls, themed music, temperatures dropping, spiritual rejoicing and time for catching up with family, and they are also filled with opportunities to eat huge portions of hot, rich foods. Yes! The time is indeed drawing near!

I woke up this morning dreaming of green bean casserole (topped with French fried onions, of course), turkey with giblet gravy and pumpkin pie. Maybe it's because the Atlanta weather has briefly turned cold, or maybe it's just because I love to stuff myself to near sickness and this act of gluttony is more readily excused during the upcoming holidays, but I can't seem to get the smells and flavors of holiday dinners out of my head today.

Which got me thinking about priorities. In most American homes, Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are composed of many dishes which range from spicy to sweet. I recall that last year when I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at Kyle's mother's house there was a greater number of dishes on the table than people sitting around it - a true holiday smorgasbord. If I had to choose one, and ONLY one, to eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas, what would it be?

Naturally it is highly doubtful that you would ever have to make such a terrible decision in reality, but I have noticed that contemplating this sort of question helps me to appreciate all of the wonderful options that most of us take for granted every year when we sit down to sup.

After spending my early morning running on the treadmill and considering all my holidays past (not a good combination of activities), I have concluded that I would never want to spend a holiday without my grandmother's sweet potato souffle. I know there are many versions of this, and my sister makes a great one with a thick layer of pecans on top, but I have to give my grandmother's my highest rating for holiday food. It's topped with cornflakes, a whole bag of marshmallows and candied pecans. I have seen her make it and I cringed when she melted an entire stick of butter during the process, but all thoughts of clogged arteries fled from my mind when I tasted that first steaming bite. Fabulous!

Maybe your essential holiday dish is a special casserole from a recipe your mom hides from the rest of the family. Maybe it's an ethnic dish passed down through generations or from relatives who are fairly new arrivals in the U.S. Maybe you are part of a vegetarian family and instead of turkey or ham, your relatives whip up some tofu delight topped with vegan gravy. Whatever it is, I'd like to hear about it. Please share your holiday dinner essential with the Southern Foodie community by leaving your comments to this post.


  1. Pumpkin Pie is essential.

    As for the standard dinner, I also require:

    Cranberry sauce (homemade)
    Stuffing (not dressing) according to my Grandmother's recipe
    Whipped potatoes with lots of butter and cream

  2. I have to go with Banana pudding.

    It is a great dessert and having it made only during the holidays makes it even better because it never gets old.

  3. At Christmas time I always make sour cream rolls -- they are a yeast roll with sour cream and melted butter as the liquid.

  4. Stuffing is the key component in a valid and well formed Thanksgiving meal. All other sides are optional at that point. In essence the turkey is merely a place to cook your stuffing, and may be discarded are preparation is complete. Be sure to include smoked sausage and cranberries.

  5. Let's just hope the stuffing doesn't include the banana pudding.

    As for cranberries, I use dried cranberries soaked in brandy.

  6. While I was growing up our Thanksgiving meals were prepared by my mother, father, aunt and grandmother. Territories were established with all recipes (except the bird, which my dad handled) essentially coming from my grandmother.

    For many reasons I never took the time to learn any of my by-necessity-self-taught grandmother’s recipes - not only Thanksgiving recipes but all of her wonderful southern cooking before she died.

    A few years ago, when I started cooking in earnest, I found myself without any Thanksgiving recipes. I could and did easily figure out green bean and squash casseroles, potato salad, devilled eggs, etc. But those universally closely held recipes for things like gravy and stuffing/dressing, various pies, etc. are something that I lacked. I became able to sense the “tradition” element associated with these creations. So I set out to find MY recipes for these things.

    I am single and pretty much the one in charge of major meals in my house so now I don’t have many first hand sources for recipes.

    I have a large collection of cooking magazines dating from way back. I have one issue of Bon Appétit from 1977 that is my “Thanksgiving magazine”. About 10 years ago I found MY recipe for an excellent dressing in it. Even though it was published for all to see, I still feel like it is my personal (secret) recipe for dressing. Ownership was helped along by the high praise I received for the dish (it has bacon in it).

    I look forward to preparing it every Thanksgiving. I am still happy to have found a little something that I could call “my own tradition” for the Thanksgiving meal.

    I still need to get the gravy figured out. That will come in time.