Altering Thanksgiving menu: Focus on the sides

Jim Hillibish

You’re thinking that this year, Thanksgiving will be different. Forget the past, full speed on the present. Good luck.

Modernizing the T-Day menu is fraught with land mines, not the least of which allegedly cause deceased relatives to roll over in their graves. There’s a good reason we always have exactly the same main course as years past.

Thanksgiving is a meal of memories, not table combat over missing components.

If you must try to introduce new traditions, head for the side dishes. Leave the main course alone. Fiddling with that is asking for it.

The problem here is the sides are memorials named for relatives, such as Grandma Minnie’s Baked Corn or Cousin Cilla’s Sweet Mash.

Leave one out and someone surely will complain, “How dare you forget your grandmother.”

I’ve found a way around this. Each T-Day, introduce a new recipe with an old name: “This is Uncle Jake’s famous mushroom gravy” and get away with it. Nobody will risk insulting Jake, whoever he is.

If you truly dread yet another Thanksgiving dinner and seek improvements, try one of these recipes. They are certified family legends, just not from your family, but that can remain a secret.

This one ends the fight over which is better on mashed yams, cheese or marshmallows? Do both with:


6  sweet potatoes or yams, peeled cooked and mashed

1 cup canned, crushed pineapple

3/4 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/3 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg

1 cup walnut pieces

5 marshmallows

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Add pineapple, juice, butter and spices to mashed sweet potatoes. Mix in nuts and pour into a flat greased baking dish. Top with marshmallows on a half side and cheese on the other. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

8-10 servings

Boiled carrots are so, well, boiled. They’re normally added for color, not their washed-out flavor. Except for this one:


1 cup apple juice

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 apple, peeled, cored and seeded, diced

1 pound baby carrots

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

Simmer apple juice and whisk cornstarch into 1/3 cup  then whisk into rest of juice. Boil carrots in water for 10 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add butter, honey and salt, then diced apple and juice mixture. Simmer over low heat until glaze thickens.

4 servings

We need to do something about those mashed potatoes that everybody expects but nobody notices. Here’s a better potato that they will never forget:


6 strips bacon

2 tablespoons butter

5 scallions including green tops, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced in rounds

Milk to cover (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons flour

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Dash vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the bacon, drain and crumble. Melt butter in same skillet and sauté onion and garlic. Mix in milk, flour, garlic, cheese, salt, pepper and vinegar and bacon. Add potatoes and gently mix. Add more milk if needed to cover. Cover with lid and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees, uncovering for last 15 minutes to brown top. May be made ahead and warmed up in microwave. It improves in the refrigerator.

Serves 6

This actually is a puff soufflé, but that entails vast hand ringing and chance taking, so let’s call it a perfectly safe corn casserole:


4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 25-ounce can cream-style corn

1 cup frozen, while kernel corn

3 eggs separated

Melt butter in saucepan, add flour and stir until well blended. Stir in milk and whisk in sugar and salt. Cook, stirring, until thickened.

Off heat and stir in corn. Beat egg yolks and add to corn mixture. Beat egg with mixer until white peaks form.  Fold into the corn. Bake for 45 minutes at 340 degrees.

Serves 6

The Repository (Canton, Ohio)