After the carved, golden-brown bird found reprieve from all the Thanksgiving Day first helpings, my family always waited for what we now consider a classic family line. My grandfather was not a man of many words, so thankfully, God provided my grandmother, who spoke enough for both of them. With aunts and uncles surrounding the main table and myself with the cousins in the overflow room, our ears remained alert to catch wind of her renowned question.
When Grandpa had reached the empty plate point, including the turkey neck as was the status quo, Grandma’s evaluation would take place. Had he eaten enough? That belly that he often laughed and pointed at, claiming to be pregnant, had to be maintained. As she surveyed the plate he had swiped clean with a dinner roll, a hush would come over the table. Then, in vigorous decibel to penetrate his hearing loss, she would extend her annual Thanksgiving inquiry.
More Turkey, Tony?”
Once we heard the familiar ring of those words and saw his acquiescing nod as she piled another serving onto his plate, Thanksgiving was official. Some things never change, as indeed some things should not.
More than ever, we’ve been reminded that time with family is a precious commodity. After the passing of Grandma earlier this year, as well as my Father-in-law, my heart relishes the holiday memories of yesteryear. Although our Thanksgiving looks different this year, there is still so much for which to be grateful. Suffice it to say, I thank you for all things, Lord.
Amidst all the changes we’ve faced, carrying forward family traditions has assumed a greater meaning. Celebrations revolve around breaking bread together, and it helps when that “bread” tastes scrumptious and has been prepared with great love. So, I’m passing along a few of our family favorite holiday recipes – a savory, a side, and a sweet – that we often prepare at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I’ve mentioned before the beauty of brining or giving your poultry a salt bath. The purpose of a brine is to season, flavor, and help the meat retain moisture. Using herbs infuses the bathing bird with extra flavor. There is a tasty brine from AllRecipes.com here that I’ve used before, which created a juicy, tender turkey and excellent gravy! Alton Brown (from the Food Network) has excellent info and recipes for brining; check out his video below.
Brining can be as easy as salt and water, but it does require approximately 6-8 hours of soaking before baking. A few of my tips are:
- You can thaw in the brine, but you need to make sure you’ve allowed enough thaw time based on your bird’s size. Check out thaw time info here.
- I really recommend doing this at least the night before your meal, but Brown starts his 2-days before.
- The recipes often say use a large bucket. We’re not plastic advocates for food around here, so we have a big stainless-steel pot. But it really just needs to be a nonreactive container – so plastic, glass, or stainless-steel since metal containers will react with the brine solution and result in metallic-tasting turkey.
- A brined turkey cooks slightly faster than an unbrined turkey, so plan for that and check the internal temperature as needed.
- After you take the turkey out of the oven, allow it to stand for 20 minutes before carving.
Sweet Potato Casserole
My mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole was so delicious, it could’ve been dessert. I’m not talking about a bubble topped marshmallowy dish, but one smothered in a sweet browned pecan-coconut crumble. I love serving this dish – people who don’t care for sweet potatoes even enjoy it. One recipe can make a 9”x13” pan, so enough for a big family or a smaller group with yummy leftovers. A good casserole is a must-have for your holiday recipes.
Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe
Ingredients for potatoes:
- 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (approx. 6 medium to large sweet potatoes)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- 3 Tbsp melted butter
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
Ingredients for topping:
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- ¼ cup butter (not melted)
To prepare mashed sweet potatoes:
Boil sweet potatoes with skins on until they are soft, approximately 30 minutes to 1-hour, depending on their size.
Prick with a fork to see when soft. Remove from water and let cool around 30 minutes.
Peel off skin with a knife.
Mash sweet potatoes and measure the amount.
For every 3 cups of sweet potatoes, use the ingredients and amounts above.
To potatoes, add sugar, milk, butter, salt, and vanilla – beat well.
Add eggs, beat again. Put in 9×13 well-greased pan.
To prepare topping:
Mix brown sugar, butter, and flour with a fork.
Add coconut and pecans.
Crumble mixture over top the sweet potatoes.
Bake at 350° for approximately 35 minutes but check around the 20-minute mark. If the top is getting too brown, cover with aluminum foil and bake the remaining time.
Raspberry Pretzel Jell-O
Several websites call this Raspberry Pretzel Salad, but this is not your grandma’s Jell-O mold! The name doesn’t do it justice, so hear me out on this one. Have you ever tasted a dish that quenched your craving for something sweet, salty, and creamy? That’s exactly what this dessert achieves, plus it’s got a fluffy whipped center sandwiched between a buttery, crunchy crust and a fruity Jell-O topping. So, so good, it’s kicked my cravings up!!
Raspberry Pretzel Jell-O Recipe
Ingredients for crust:
- 2 cups salted pretzels, broken (for best results, don’t crush, keep them coarse)
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- ¾ cup melted butter
Ingredients for filling:
- 1 8-oz package cream cheese1 cup sugar
- 1 8-oz container Cool Whip (or whipped topping)
Ingredients for Jell-O topping:
- 1 (large) 6-oz package raspberry Jell-O
- 1 ½ cup boiling water
- 1 10-oz package frozen raspberries
- 2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Mix all of the pretzel crust ingredients together and pat into the bottom of a 9×13” pan. Bake at 400° for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside, and cool.
In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Stir in the Cool Whip. Spread over cooled crust.
In another large bowl, combine the package of raspberry with boiling water. Mix to dissolve.
Stir in the package of frozen berries. Let the mixture set for 15 minutes. Spoon on top of the cream cheese mixture and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or until firm.
From our table to yours, Happy Thanksgiving, and buen provecho!