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Traditional Thanksgiving dinner sides with a hot twist: FAQs, hacks, recipes

Written By | Nov 22, 2019
traditional Thanksgiving dinner, recipes, hacks, faqs

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

WASHINGTON: Whether this is your first big family Thanksgiving or you have been presenting a traditional thanksgiving dinner for years, there are always questions.  The following are a few hacks and FAQs to help you create a fabulous feast for friends and family. This year, we are offering ideas to add a little spicy heat to traditional fat driven dishes.

Plan your week, not just the day.

On Sunday and Monday, get your deep cleaning done.  And don’t forget the refrigerator.  This is a great time to throw out anything that has expired or is just clogging up the shelves.

Holiday cleaning plan: Be sure to make your kitchen sparkle

Finish your shopping by Tuesday. Make a list and check it twice.  Don’t forget butter, foil, plastic wrap, plastic bags for leftovers and Tupperware to send home treats with your guests.

Clean the kitchen removing anything you don’t need for the day from counters.  Assemble the tools and spices you will need.  Cutting boards, blenders, knives for dicing, slicing and paring.  Run the bowls, utensils and baking dishes you will need through the dishwasher.

Wednesday, set your table and prepare your side dishes.  Plan to go out for dinner, or bring something in.  Before bed, make sure the garbage and recycling cans are emptied and ready for the day. Make sure that your dishwasher, microwave, and oven are clean.

Enlist the family to help do last moment straightening and cleaning.

All these side dishes can be made, in part or whole, the day before.  This allows you to focus on the turkey and enjoy your day without the rush to roast the turkey and prepare the sides.

Stuffing Questions:
What kind of bread should I use?

A mixture of cornbread and white bread is best.  You can chop up the bird’s gizzards, after roasting or boiling, and use it in the stuffing.  Common stuffing additions include stuffing, savory spices, and sausage.  A great basic recipe can be found on Serious Eats.

They suggest that a simple stuffing using aromatic sage and hearty sausage (for nonvegetarians) is an easy crowd-pleaser. If you want that spicey heat, choose a sausage that has red pepper flakes in the mix.

Serious Eat’s uses oven-dried bread (not stale bread!) to help it better soak up the broth, eggs, and butter. The finished product is a savory, sausage-studded bread pudding with crisp edges and burnished exterior.  A word of caution, be safe and do NOT cooking the stuffing inside the bird due to fears of bacterial contamination.

Turkey, Thanksgiving, FAQs, Hacks, STuffing, Mashed PotatoesTip:  Cook it outside the bird in a Pyrex or glass dish.

A metal pan may impart a bitterness to the heavy fat content of the butter, gravy, and sausage, so glass is preferable.  Watch your stuffing so it does not dry out, basting it with Turkey juice, or better, Pacific Bone broth, which will add moisture without additional grease.

You can also make your stuffing the day before, allowing flavors to mingle overnight.  Do not bake the day before, but 30 – 45 minutes before serving, cook in a 325 degree, tightly covered with foil.  Fifteen minutes before done, which is 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, uncover, lightly baste and allow the top to crisp.

Bread Tips
  • Use finer-holed white bread instead of a more open-structured artisanal loaf. Like a sponge the denser bread means better flavor absorption and retention.
  • Bread that’s been dried out in a low oven is more absorbent than stale bread.
  • Cut the bread into small cubes. The best way was always with a small dice.
Can I use store-bought stuffing or is that cheating?

No it’s not cheating, my childhood favorite was always Stove Top Stuffing but you can also try Mrs. Cubbison’s. They also make a fantastic brinning kit. However, a dried prepared stuffing needs to be reconstituted with plenty of bone broth over water.

Mashed Potato Questions:
What kind of potatoes should I use?

Yukon golds are fantastic for mash potatoes but they can be more expensive and can become too creamy.  You can always use the common russet potato, but they can quickly become starchy.  An alternative is to use a 50/50 combination of Russet and Yukon Gold.

Healthy and tasty Cauliflower mashed potatoes

Your guests will not know that your mashed potatoes are really mashed cauliflower.  For a healthy alternative, boil or steam cauliflower (just the florets, no stems) until very tender but not mushy.  The secret to success is to drain the florets until very dry. You can also do this the day before, drain, wrap in paper towel and store overnight.  Remember to microwave the florets before mashing as they will absorb the cream, butter, and seasonings better if warm.

For every two cups of florets add one cup of potato flakes, cream, and butter to your preferred consistency. You should mash by hand versus blender as the cauliflower can break down to mush easily.  Season with salt and pepper.

My russet potato has large bruised spots, can I still use it?

Yes just cut off the bruises and they will work just fine.

Do I need to soak my potatoes in water before I cook them?

So this a great question. If you peel your potatoes the night before should store them in water. However, do not use that water to cook them the next day as it will be heavy with starch.

Thanksgiving day you should use fresh new water to lightly boil your potatoes until very fork-tender. If you peel them right before cooking them you do not have to soak them in water however you should rinse them well to remove starch.

How do you get the lumps out of potatoes?

Using a ricer or strainer, push the cooked potato through small holes breaking up all lumps. You can also use knives to crosshatch cut into smaller pieces and then get out the blender.  If you over-mix them so they are shiny and pasty, add potato flakes before the butter and cream to improve the consistency.

I’ve heard you should heat butter and milk before adding them to potatoes, is that true?

Yes, you should absolutely heat your milk, cream, and butter before adding them to mashed potatoes or cauliflower. The potato will absorb the warm liquid which will help make your potatoes light, fluffy and delicious.

Sweet potato questions:

Sweet potatoes are a tasty addition to the family table.  A unique presentation is to bake until fork tender and serve as slices around your turkey.  You can also mash them, dice them,  serve them whole or twice baked.  This is an easy twice-baked recipe.

Unless you are adding a bit of heat as a flavor to your meal, you might want to avoid the jalapenos!

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes from Fine Cooking
  • 4 small sweet potatoes of similar size (about  3 pounds total), scrubbed
  • 1 to 2 tsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sour cream; more for serving
  • 1/2 chipotle chile in adobo, minced to a paste; more to taste
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 lime, cut into quarters
    • The day before, heat the oven to 425°F. Put the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, rub them with the oil, and arrange them so they’re spaced as far apart as possible. Bake until a skewer or fork slips easily into the center of the potato, 50 to 55 minutes. Set on a rack to cool but leave the oven on.
    • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice off about the top one-quarter or one-third (lengthwise) of each potato to expose the interior. Peel off and discard the skin from this top section and put the potato flesh in a medium bowl. Use a spoon to scoop out the rest of the flesh of each potato, leaving about 1/4 inch of sweet potato attached to the skin to help retain its structure. Put the potato flesh in the bowl.
    • Beat the sweet potato flesh, sour cream, chile paste (optinal), butter, and salt with an electric hand mixer on medium speed just until smooth. Taste.  If you want heat, mince chipotle to a paste and add it. Mound the mixture into the potato skins and set them in a  baking pan.
    • Bake the stuffed potatoes at 425°F until hot, 20  to 25 minutes.
    • Serve with the lime wedges and more sour cream if you are adding the heat.

Canned yams are also an alternative.  The classic dish of canned yams with marshmallows is easy to make and can be prepared the day before.

After opening your can, drain the yams well, reserving the liquid, and arrange in a glass baking dish. Very lightly salt using sea salt.  Render the juice down, adding brown sugar and maple syrup to create a thicker sauce.  I also like to add a teaspoon of vanilla as it compliments the marshmallows.

Back the yams in a 325-degree oven until warm, sprinkle with mini-marshmallows and broil to melt the marshmallows.  If you burn them, scrape them off and try again.

How do I fix over cooked sweet potatoes?

Sadly you can’t fix them. Once they are overcooked they won’t look very pretty but the good news is they will still taste great so you can whip them like mashed, spoon them into a dish and top them with mini-marshmallows (above) and a drizzle of real maple syrup.

Heat until the marshmallows melt, and slightly brown.

Should I soak sweet potatoes before I cook them?

You don’t have to soak them if you are cooking them immediately, but if you are peeling them the day before then yes you should store them in cold water.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner- Cranberry Sauce

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, Thanksgiving, FAQS, Thanksgiving FAQs, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Side Dish Recipes, Casserole, CranberryCranberry sauce is the easiest dish you will make for Thanksgiving. It seriously needs only 3 ingredients to be good – cranberries, organic cane sugar, and water. There are more elaborate recipes, but you can make it the easy way the first time.

Can I make cranberry sauce ahead of time?

Yes and please do. Cranberry sauce is even better the second day. So make it, label and store it until you need it. Cranberry sauce lasts up 4- 5 days.

Cranberry Sauce Recipe
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup of water
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • Zest from 1 orange

Add the water, sugar, cranberries and orange zest to a pot. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Simmer it for 10 minutes. Serve when you are ready.  The sauce will just get better if left to sit in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Cranberry Sauce Hacks
  • Belle de Brillet, Pear Liqueur, ThanksgivingYou can flavor your cranberry with slices of oranges, orange juice and or orange zest
  • If your sauce needs some help, have canned cranberry with the berries on hand and add as needed for flavor or consistency
  • Add some punch to your cranberry with spiced rum or, my favorite, a splash of Belle de Brillet pear liquor. (Retaining plenty for sipping before, during and after dinner).
Green beans:

Fresh green beans that are not overcooked are delicious. Clean the ends of stems, bringing them to a uniform length. The easiest way is to grab a handful like a bundle of sticks and, tapping one end even, slice the ends.  Turn the bundle over, tap them even and slice the ends again.

Cover with water and salt and cook (do not boil, you will make them tough) until crisp, but tender.  Remove water, adding cubes of good fat like bacon or pancetta to the pot, salt, and butter. A little water will keep them from burning.  Cook over low heat until the bacon is completely cooked.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner- Green Bean Casserole

How do I cook green beans to al dente and should I put them into cold water?

Typically green beans cooked to al dente are around 8-10 minutes depending on the temperature you cook them too, and yes if you want them to stay that nice green beans then definitely shock them in a cold ice bath. However, do not leave them in there for a long period of time or they will turn into mush.

Do I need to remove both ends of the green bean?

The general rule is to remove just the stem end, but if you’re looking for consistency or the other end looks bad then just cut both of them off. This is a great time to get your kitchen scissors out.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner – Classic Green Bean Casserole

traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving, FAQS, Thanksgiving FAQs, Green Beans, Side Dish Recipes, CasseroleParticularly for anyone over the age of 50, green bean casserole with French’s Fried Onions on top is a classic.  It is very easy to make, preferably the day before so flavors mingle.

  • 5 cups or cans of well-drained fresh or cut canned green beans. If using fresh, cut to a uniform length. If using canned, watch your salt content.
  • 2 cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1 can of Cheddar Cheese Soup
  • Milk (add for consistency – but be careful to not make your sauce too thin.  Remember, using canned beans, they will release water when cooking)
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
  • French’s Fried Onions

traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving, FAQS, Thanksgiving FAQs, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Side Dish Recipes, Casserole, Mix the soup together in a large bowl and fold in the beans and half the package of French’s Fried Onion.  Add milk only as needed.  At this point, you can make this recipe your own by adding a small amount of crushed garlic or a small smidge of horseradish to add a counterbalance to the fat and cream.  You can also add if you like it hot, some red pepper flakes.  Add sparingly tasting as you go to make sure you don’t overwhelm the dish, but provide an accent.

Let sit overnight in a tightly covered dish (the fats will absorb refrigerator tastes and smells).  When you are ready to put your stuffing into the oven, put your beans into a serving dish, sprinkle with cheese and French’s Fried Onion, bake at 325 degrees until very warm, the cheese is melted and the soup bubbles around the edges.

Hint: Have extra cans of soup on hand just in case your beans need more.

A very simple version of this classic:


Lead Image: Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.