Thanksgiving Day is next week and I can’t wait! It is the holiday I look forward to most all year long. This year, I decided to put together a big post of all of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes!
This will be my third Thanksgiving as an expat in the UK. It’s been a blast sharing the traditions and cooking some of the classic Thanksgiving recipes for my British friends. This year, it’s looking like I’ll be joining in on three or four Thanksgiving festivities with expat and British friends so there will be lots of turkey to be consumed.
The benefit of being in a country where they don’t celebrate the actual day — getting to extend the holiday!
For my non-American friends, growing up, we learn the story of Thanksgiving and it’s origins with the Pilgrims and the Indians. The celebration the Pilgrims had giving thanks to the Indians for teaching them how to live off the land and survive their first year in the New World. We dress up, put on plays, have a feast and the importance of being thankful for everything we have is impressed upon us.
Plus, you end up with a collection of some pretty sweet macaroni necklaces over the years. 😉
A little bit of historical context about the holiday. Historians suggest that the original Thanksgiving likely took place in September, however, in an effort to unite a war-torn country and demonstrate his gratefulness of the Union victory at Gettysbury, Lincoln first made Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1863. Lincoln declared it to be the last Thursday of November, “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
During the Great Depression the holiday was moved around a bit (to spur holiday shopping since those years had five Thursdays in November), but in 1941, President Roosevelt signed a bill into law making the fourth Thursday of November the national Thanksgiving holiday.
Now that we’ve covered a little bit of history, let’s dig into the food!
Thanksgiving involves all best things in life – cooking, food, family, friends, celebration and football!
I’m very close with my family and love big family holiday meals together, but Thanksgiving is the one holiday I’ve celebrated with friends for the past ten years. Namely because of the proximity to Christmas and the travel time/price of flights, it’s been the holiday that is easy to get together with other friends in similar situations.
This will be my eleventh Turkey Day as a Southerner in Cali/traveler/expat. Thanksgiving memories that span spending the holiday in San Diego, Mexico (where I had to call my grandmother internationally to ask what temperature the oven should be set to for the dressing when the dial read “I, II, III, & IV…eeek!), Nicaragua, Tanzania (which involved pizza and was the least Thanksgiving-y of them all) and as an ex-pat in London.
I’ve really enjoyed being in the UK for the holiday and celebrating with fellow expats and Bits alike! Although, Thanksgiving in London does come with its fair share of challenges including a few trips to the American store for certain Thanksgiving recipe ingredients — Karo syrup, amongst others! 😉
One of the things I love most about Thanksgiving is the food and cooking all of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes! I’m not usually in charge of the turkey, but I have done it twice and it actually turned out pretty well. My ideal Thanksgiving recipe contributions are more about the sides and desserts.
My maternal grandmother, G-mama, taught me how to make her cornbread dressing (a recipe she revamped from an Atlanta Journal recipe in the 1950s) and giblet gravy at an early age. We made it together every year for Thanksgiving (and Christmas) and being in the kitchen with her was one of the influences in my love of cooking.
Amongst other things, she taught me the importance constant stirring to make a smooth gravy! We used to always joke that if the dressing didn’t turn out, the other one made it. 😉
Carving turkey is better when your friend Brendan serves you wine! 😉
My typical Southern-style Thanksgiving menu would include:
- Cornbread Dressing & Giblet Gravy
- Green Bean Casserole
- Sweet Potatoes
- Baby Carrots
- Cranberry Sauce
- All of the pies!
For dessert, I’ve got a huge sweet tooth (not much of a shock as a pastry chef I guess!), so I enjoy a medley of pies – apple, pumpkin and pecan.
About ten years ago I came across a chocolate pecan bourbon tart in a special edition of Southern Living and it has replaced the traditional pecan pie and been my go-to Turkey Day dessert ever since. The addition of dark chocolate (which, let’s face it, makes everything better!) and the punch of bourbon gives the tart a rich flavor. The chocolate pecan bourbon tart also has a little less “goo” than your typical pecan pie.
Thanksgiving is a gluttonous holiday, so once you’ve helped yourself to seconds, it’s great to retreat to the television to watch the back-to-back Thanksgiving NFL games. Spending the rest of the afternoon lounging around cheering on your team (or fantasy football players), enjoying dessert(s) and a perhaps a few holiday beverages. Maybe making your way back to the table for thirds (don’t judge!).
There are a lot of great things about Thanksgiving, but for me, the leftovers rank at the top. I could eat Turkey Day leftovers for daysss.
Outside all the food and frivolity, the most important part of Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all of the things you’re thankful for, and a chance to truly appreciate all the blessings in life.
It’s a great reminder of something we should do daily. One I’ve recently gotten back into the habit of with a daily gratitude journal. I’m grateful for so many thing, but a few to highlight during this special season are my family, health, friends, being able to have had the opportunity to travel and live abroad of the past three and a half years, and the support of family/friends in this new chapter of life of going back to school and becoming a pastry chef. I love and cherish all of y’all! 🙂
Some of my go-to Thanksgiving recipes. Enjoy!
Southern Cornbread Dressing
**Adapted from an Atlanta Journal recipe from the early 1950s**
- 6 cups crumbled cornbread* (recipe below)
- 8 cups stock (turkey, pork or ham) – I have always used turkey stock
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 1 cup chopped & peeled celery
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 tsp sage
- 4 ½ cups dried bread crumbs
- ½ cup melted butter
- 8 eggs
- 1 TBS salt – do not add in salt until the end and taste the recipe to see if needed; usually enough in the broth.
Melt butter in sauce pan. Add in finely chopped onion and celery and sauté in butter until soft and translucent. In a small bowl, beat eggs slightly. In a large bowl, combine dried ingredients and mix together. Pour celery, onion and butter mixture. Slowly stir in warm stock. Taste mixture and see if additional salt is needed. Once mixed together well, add in the eggs.
Pour mixture into a well greased cast iron skillet. Bake at 400 degrees for 45-1 hour minutes. Check to make sure it’s well cooked in the middle. If it starts getting too brown, cover with aluminum foil.
Serves 12 people (use 1/3 recipe for 4 people)
Homemade Turkey Stock
Combine chopped onions, celery, a bay leaf into an extra large pot with 12-16 cups of water. Salt and pepper turkey necks (or wings/leg) and add to boiling water. Bring down to a low-medium heat and cook for 2-3 hours, until meat is tender. Strain the liquid into a container. Cut up the meat and set aside to use in gravy.
**Recipe modified from Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dole’s published 1973**
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 TBS shortening (I use butter)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp soda
- 3 tsp baking powder
Beat eggs together until light. Add milk, shortening and salt. Add cornmeal, being careful, as batter should be a medium batter, not too thin and not too thick. Beat smooth. Add soda and baking powder. Still until blended.
Pour mixture into greased muffin tins. Bake 425 degrees until golden brown and crusty. Approximately 15-20 minutes.
- 5 TBS butter
- 5 TBS all-purpose flour
- 3 cups stock
- 1 hard boiled egg, chopped
- ½ cup finely diced/shredded turkey giblets (from meat used to make stock)
- salt & pepper to taste
In a large sauce pan, melt the butter on a medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, removed from heat and add flour. Whisk flour and butter together until it forms a paste. Put it back on a medium-high heat and whisk until the paste turns a light beige color (approximately 3 minutes). Slowly pour in the stock and continually whisk until gravy has thickened and begins to bubble. If gravy is too thick, add more stock. If too thin, add a touch more flour; very little at the time. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Gravy Tip: Constant stirring once you add the flour is key and will keep gravy smooth. Otherwise, your gravy can develop lumps.
Chocolate-Pecan Bourbon Tart
**Slightly modified from Southern Living 2004 Home for the Holidays special edition**
- 1 – 3oz package cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
Beat cream cheese and butter at a medium speed with a mixer until smooth. Add flour. Beat at a low speed until a soft dough forms. Shape into a ball and press gently into a 9-inch tart pan.
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels (can also use dark chocolate chip)
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 TBS firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 TBS all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 3 TBS bourbon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups pecan halves
Beat eggs and next 7 ingredients at medium speed with a mixer until blended. Pour into tart pan. Arrange pecan halves over filling. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until set.
I didn’t include the recipes for Green Bean Casserole because I use the one on the French’s Fried Onion can (granted, I add an extra can more of green beans than they call for), or sweet potatoes because I just make that up depending on how I’m feeling that day. 😉
A Thanksgiving bonus (outside of leftovers) is getting to combine the holiday weekend and attending an NFL game. A tradition my friend Tressa and I used to do annually at the San Diego Chargers games. Go Bolts!
The ultimate Thanksgiving sporting
occurrence miracle is a Georgia Tech win over Georgia, the rivalry game that takes place every Thanksgiving weekend. Not expecting much from the team this year, so here’s a quick preview at the 2014 OT win!