This Editor-Approved Thanksgiving Menu Is All About the Sides
Assistant food editor Riley Wofford is skipping the turkey this year; instead, she's serving a selection of modern-day side dishes inspired by her grandmother's classics.
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Growing up in Dallas, Texas, my family's Thanksgiving dinners were always fairly straightforward, understated affairs. When I first started cooking this bothered me, but my acts of rebellion were usually limited to adding a new dessert to the lineup. As the years went by and my grandmother allowed me to play a larger role in the cooking and menu planning process, it didn't take me long to realize why she stuck to what she knew. The recipes I grew up eating every year were crowd pleasers. These days, I give the people what they want, and what my family wants is side dishes and dessert. Last year, I made Roasted Turkey Rubbed with Coriander, Black Pepper, and Fennel, which was met with rave reviews. This year I'll be cooking for a smaller group, some of whom are vegetarians, so I've decided to buck tradition and set the turkey aside. Just thinking about how much oven space I'll have is making me giddy! My menu will focus on classic ingredients, elevated with fun flavors.
I'll start the meal with a very refreshing cocktail that's super simple to make. It combines Strega (a minty and citrusy herbal Italian liqueur) with dry vermouth, lemon juice, and a few dashes of bitters. Shake them up on demand or make a bigger batch and keep it in the fridge for thirsty guests.
It was only when my grandmother relinquished her role as chef in our holiday kitchen (a little too eagerly, I might point out) that I was able to add potatoes to the mix. I know, it sounds crazy. Thanksgiving without a spud? Unheard of. Potatoes were never her favorite dish, but I think I eventually won her over with scalloped potatoes. Enough cheese and cream can do that to a person. This is a great side dish (especially if you are serving a turkey) because letting it sit at room temperature for a while makes it even tastier—it gives the liquid a chance to settle and the flavor gets even better.
Since I grew up in the South, cornbread is bound to work its way onto my holiday table in some form. This year, I’m going to try a new dressing recipe. I'll make a flavorful vegetable stock to use in lieu of chicken broth for this essential side dish. And I usually make my cornbread a day or two ahead of time so it has a chance to dry out a little—stale bread makes for the best dressing.
There is one traditional dish that is always on our table. I wouldn't dream of leaving it out.
To add a pop of green to the meal, I'm adding a Brussels sprout salad. Someone has to keep an eye on the hazelnut crunch that tops this salad so that I don't eat it by the fistful before it hits the table.
For dessert, the star will be this apple tart. When I tested the recipe at work, I overbaked it a bit and it lost some of its beautiful rose pattern—but the flavor was even better! This tart is perfect for Thanksgiving because it's quick and simple; it cooks much faster than a pie and you don't even need to blind bake the crust.
This peanut pie will be a surprise but a good one. It will remind everyone of the gooey pecan pie that they love. I'm planning to add a layer of chocolate to the crust before adding the filling—that should make everyone happy.