The Real American Thanksgiving Cookbook

Southern-Style Cornbread Dressing

You Yankees don't know shit about dressing.

It's why, as a Southerner with a father from Macon, Georgia and a mother from the bowels of New Jersey, I have never been to Jersey for Thanksgiving. It's why, no matter how many other Thanksgiving dinners my parents and I have had to suffer through, my dad would still get in the kitchen at some point over the holiday break and cook up an amazing gut-busting meal with collard greens, sweet potato casserole (topped with pecans, not marshmallows, duh), cornbread dressing, cornbread on the side and cornbread for dessert. Yes. Cornbread. For dessert.


Make Your Own Tofurkey®: Faux Turkey Without Fear

One of the more miraculous things about the Thanksgiving industry is that it's managed to produce the Tofurkey®, a food product for vegetarians that is just as tasteless and poorly textured as turkey itself, complete with a cutesy, matching name. As a bonus, it's also ridiculously expensive for what it is! The going rate for a Tofurkey® at Whole Foods is twenty dollars. Think of it this way: with twenty dollars' worth of potatoes, cream and butter, you could make half your body weight in mashed potatoes instead of purchasing a tiny vegetarian meatball. Look, it's time for America to abandon the pretense that turkey is an edible meat. [...]


Pumpkin Flan, or, Happy Families Are Not Alike

A long time ago I was married to this nice Jewish boy whose Grandma Lottie’s cooking was so poisonous that her own son would stop at the nearest McDonald’s before every visit and desperately mow something—anything—down before risking his neck over there.

Tiny, ancient, clueless, amiable Grandma Lottie was a shapeless wee dumpling of a woman who had had everything removed that it is possible for a person to have removed and still remain halfway viable—breasts, gall bladders, lady parts, you name it. If you picked her up and shook her she would have rattled, but she was in fairly good nick really, except for a bad case [...]


Maggie’s Oyster Dressing

Oysters are a loogie in the culinary sandbox. An epicure will slurp them, but most folks would rather eat egg salad that’s been clotting on a picnic table for six hours. Consequently, any oyster dish is the ideal game-changer at your Thanksgiving table, and is odds-on to send that cousin-in-law whose name you can’t remember to the punchbowl to bob for the courage to hold his nose and swallow one whole.

My mother was an odd filly to pick up the oyster habit. Her Dust Bowl childhood in the Nebraska Sand Hills (which we only heard about every ten minutes: blizzards more blinding with each White Zin; a trek [...]


Babka, the Old World Way

So you want to make Babka? Okay, but it’s quite the commitment! You’ll need to set aside about six hours of your life, and be prepared for things to get sticky.

You should know this is not some fancy Babka full of chocolate and cinnamon and cheese and whatever other abominations you Westerners have added to my Babka. This is Babka in its most pure form. Still interested? Alright then.


My Sister's Apple Cake

There's lots of nice things about gathering on Thanksgiving for a big meal with family. We love our families. And in many ways, Thanksgiving is one of the more enjoyable holidays of the year. But, of course, it can present its difficulties. Here are ten things not to talk about during Thanksgiving dinner. Let's all just try to get through this, okay?

1) Turkey It's unfortunate, since this will be the main course at most American Thanksgiving dinners.


Blueberry-Cranberry Sauce

One of my father's better tendencies is to take in human beings who have somehow been led astray. He never once coddled me or my brothers in our childhood, and I've always known him to look at even his few close friends with a hint of suspicion in his eyes. But around loners, rejects and the generally downtrodden, the old man opens up, guffawing at their jokes and putting his arm around their burdened shoulders like he's an old fraternity brother of theirs.


Easy Lemon Meringue Pie

While traditional Thanksgiving pies tend to be gourd-, nut- or cut hand fruit–based, I would contend that with yet another cold, dreary, interminable winter right around the corner, Thanksgiving is when we need a bright, sunshiny lemon meringue pie the most. Outside of the clearly necessary psychic boost it imparts, the reason I’ve been making lemon meringue pie since I was a kid is that it’s secretly very easy, but the folks who eat it can’t help but gush about how crafty and skilled a baker you are. For an insecure middle child desperately scratching for attention and familial approval at every opportunity, this fact is crucial, and [...]


Miss Irvine's Cranberry Orange Relish

My parents, whom I love dearly, are hurtling into their respective dotages, and their house is getting weird right along with them. It's not scary or sad or Hoarders-ey, so much as it's something you may recognize from your own place, only with a few decades more stuff and a very adorable little dog in the mix. What's at work here is a certain settling, I guess, that reflects an unspoken détente with all the piles of old paper and dusty shelved knicknackery. My parents' non-aggression pact with those lifetimes of stuff makes for a tense border in nearly every room, and their coexistence with their things is not [...]


Mom's Apple Pie With Vodka

I used to be really afraid of making pies. Like phobia-level afraid of it. (And tape worms. But the pie thing too.) Pie is something that is hard to get to come correct and everyone has different expectations and on top of that it’s not exactly the fastest thing to make, and that alone is pretty fucking horrifying. What if it comes out wet? What if the crust is tough? What if you forget to cut slits in it and turns into an apple and cinnamon sugar bomb and your grandmother cuts into it on Thanksgiving Day and her face is scoured off by a wall of searing hot [...]


Bott Boi

Even on Thanksgiving, I've always thought turkey was a bit boring. I eat chicken year-round and they're basically the same thing, right? I show up mostly for the sides. I get more excited about cranberry sauce from a can than is natural for any person who eats good, non-processed food on a regular basis.

After my mother moved to California and my brother moved to Houston, I was the only one who still went back to Chicago for the holidays. Since it was just me and my grandparents, we started to switch things up. One year we had filet mignon with lobster tails. Another year we had Niman Ranch [...]


UPMBP Biscuits

The first victim of your basic Thanksgiving Day-only cooking skills is your pride. Cooking is easy, with practice, and once a year does not constitute practice. I know how to cook now, but that wasn't always the case; I was once this victim. Once I realized that meals are not always exclusively cooked for you (thanks mom and dad!), I decided that I was going to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner, consistently. And like anyone else who feels invulnerable and is unafraid of failure, I quickly waded in over my head and chose baking as my new province. Dinner breads. Rolls and roll-type comestibles. Not the centerpiece, and not even [...]


My Mom's 'Bon Appetit' Baked Apples

It wasn't enough that my poor mother was the only woman in a house of three men; she also bore witness to my family's continuing competition to see who could be the sharpest to each other, verbally. Because she was such an easy target (since seeing success as a sign of growth gave her a sense of having done a good job as a parent) she wound up being on the receiving end of more of the barbs than was fair or even decent. And those were just the regular dinners. Holidays were an endeavor of a whole other order.


Aida’s Magical Tiramisu

Thanksgiving at my parents' house always comes with some surprises. Mostly because we invite a lot of strangers. Not strangers exactly. You need to know one family member to get into a Keane Family Thanksgiving. My mother has been teaching English as a second language for over 30 years. And she kindly invites students who don't have family nearby to our house for Thanksgiving. That invitation has then been extended to myriad friends, acquaintances and coworkers over the years. And sometimes, those guests don't behave themselves.

Which is actually a good thing. Because it distracts us from fighting amongst ourselves.


Classic Thanksgiving: Out of the Box, Can and Envelope

My mom was a single mom, raising my brother and me with no help. She worked as an Art Director at department stores back when there were lots of ‘em, with in-house Art Departments, and then later she worked at Advertising Agencies. It was a lot like "Mad Men" still, in the Nineteen Hundred and Seventies, except there was no justice like on "Mad Men," where the ladies win one every once in a while. My mom worked early, late and weekends.

So she didn’t have the time or the inclination to cook in the kitchen like Betty fucking Crocker, and she had never really learned to cook Home [...]


My Mom Explains How to Make "Turkey In a Bag"

I definitely think Thanksgiving is better than Passover. Although the latter has the edge in terms of length, elaborateness and specificity of the ritual meal, the former pulls ahead with better food (despite lacking charoset), and none of that “thank you god for bringing us out of Egypt by your mighty hand” business.

I stopped going to synagogue in high school (other than weddings and bar/bat mizvahs—benei mitzvah for those of you who like proper Hebrew pluralizations, cause yeah, I still got it), stopped fasting for Yom Kippur in college and was never very good at a week without leavened bread, but it took me several years after that [...]


Piragi (AKA Latvian Bacon Rolls)

To me, Thanksgiving is as red-blooded an American holiday as there is. Food, football, uncomfortable family moments, and (most American of all) overindulgence. Thanksgivings of my youth added flavors of the American immigrant, inverting the classic Pilgrim-noble savage model.

Sure, we had all of the traditional dishes, lovingly prepared and fussed over. Especially Wild Turkey! But I’m first (and a half!) generation American, so ethnic food has always been a part of family celebrations for as long as I can remember. You already know about the Puerto Rican side of me. Here’s how the Latvian side of my family also holds a central place in any holiday.


The Ultimate Turducken Guide

The Ultimate Turducken Guide (Pictures! Video! Grossness!) -- #url#

Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Holidays are not a major part of my family's routine. There are a few reasons for this. First, there are only four of us, even fewer once you reach the first and second degrees of separation in our extended family, and those are all spread far afield, scattered across fly-over states, nestled in inland trailer parks and retirement communities. Second, none of us has any special proclivities toward religion. Third, we are busy. And fourth, we are lazy.

Christmas has always been simply an excuse to give presents. (When in middle school I expressed frustration at my Jewish friends' eight nights, eight freaking nights of presents versus our one [...]


Lentil Loaf

When I say that I used to celebrate Thanksgiving by eating lentil loaf, most people need a moment to process the phrase. Thanksgiving lentil loaf? Should those words be next to each other? (I blame this reaction on the icky sound of the word "loaf," not anti-vegetarian bias, but who knows.)

My foray into meatlessness began in junior high, after a biology teacher slipped me a copy of Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet. To this day I'm not sure why she did that. Maybe she sensed my budding interest in economics, politics, the environment and intersections thereof. Maybe she figured I was already doing poorly with [...]