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The Thanksgiving Dish That Gets You in the Door

Butternut Squash, Apple, Leek & Potato Gratin with a Cheddar Crust

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“We’re really looking forward to seeing you this Thanksgiving. . .just be sure to make your famous (fill in the blank).” 

Does this sound familiar to any of you? We were sitting around the conference room table the other day and someone asked: “What’s the dish that gets you in the door?” Did you make Susie Middleton’s Butternut Squash Gratin one year and you’ve been locked in every Thanksgiving since Fine Cooking  #60?

We want to know what’s on your list of Thanksgiving must-makes and must-haves.

Embarrassingly, the most-loved Thanksgiving dish in our house is actually an incredibly simple mix of pork sausage, dehydrated onion, and salt and pepper shaped into little hot dog-like rolls, wrapped in bacon and baked. Never mind the roast turkey with apple and sausage stuffing (see Kristine Kidd’s recipe in the November 1988 issue of Bon Appétit), the lard-roasted roast potatoes (crispy on the outside, creamy within), the creamed Brussels sprouts, or the flourless chocolate cake from Wolfgang Puck’s first cookbook; it’s those savory little bacon rolls, a fixture of my husband’s English childhood, that always get all the attention. (And only two more weeks to go until I get to have one!)
Laurie Buckle, editor

The Creamy Pearl Onion Gratin with Parmesan, Savory & Thyme is the dish that gets me in the door. The first time I made it for Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s, I knew it’d be enjoyed—but I didn’t know it’d be devoured instantly. (Really, the serving dish was scraped clean.) Now every year, as I’m unloading all the desserts I’ve baked from the car, my sister inevitably scans the goods and asks, “Sure, desserts look good, but where’s that great onion thing?”
Rebecca Freedman, senior editor

Almost ten years ago I read an article by Johnny Apple in the New York Times about Cope’s Dried Corn from Pennsylvania Dutch country. I was intrigued by his description of how the corn was likely similar to something eaten at the first Thanksgiving—not to mention, the recipe for Creamed Corn. So I picked up a box and gave it a whirl that year. It was pretty tasty: simple, homey, creamy, buttery. But I wasn’t prepared for what I unleashed.

Every year since, my sisters have INSISTED that I make this creamed corn for Thanksgiving. I’m always happy to make something people love, but after eight years, I have to admit the creamed corn is a little one-note, especially when your sisters also force you to serve the fairly plain (but also creamy and buttery) mashed potatoes at the same meal. Can you say carb overload? So I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to jazz it up this year. Maybe a little cayenne? Or gild the lily with some bacon.
Sarah Breckenridge, Web producer

I never thought I’d be known for a Jell-O dish, but that’s the case since my mother-in-law shared with me her recipe for Cranberry Salad. In line with the Southern tradition of anything in gelatin (and even mac and cheese) counting as a “vegetable,” this is unlike any salad I knew growing up in New England. A base of red Jello-O (yes, the color matters more than the flavor, you can use strawberry, cherry, or even cranberry) is filled with crushed pineapple, chopped fresh cranberries and chopped pecans. After initially resisting, I gave in to trying it and must admit it’s a refreshing, tart addition to the Thanksgiving feast. So now, no year is the same without that quivering bowl of bright red appearing on the table.
Lisa Waddle, managing editor

Would you believe we have a must-have Jell-O dish at our house too? If my cousin doesn’t show up with her strawberry Jell-O and sour cream layered creation, the “kids” would revolt. No matter that the “kids” are 32, 23, 21, 19, and 18!  If the Jell-O isn’t there, what did they come for?

Beyond must-have dishes, there are so many must and must-not rules that it’s a wonder I can keep them all straight: no green things in the mashed potatoes, I must use Pepperidge Farm’s stuffing mix, no turkey brining allowed because it makes the gravy too salty, and only pumpkin pie made from the recipe on the Libby’s can passes muster with these folks (and don’t try to fool them, either).
Kelly Gearity, photo editor

I was born and raised in Italy, so my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Since my American husband and his family save our big get together for Christmas, often times, we’d travel during Thanksgiving (great time to book a flight to Italy, by the way). If we were in Brooklyn, where we used to live, we’d gather at a friend’s loft in Red Hook and have our own kind of celebration. Usually, it featured way-out-there interpretations of the classics. My friend Michael once made a confit of the turkey legs and a roulade from the breasts. And, one year, I made sweet potato gnocchi by using half Russets and half sweet potatoes (here’s my recipe for Potato Gnocchi). After cooking them in water, I further sautéed them in butter and served them with a simple sauce of browned butter and sage. They were a hit. So every time we gathered at Michael’s house, my sweet potato gnocchi were a must make.
Laura Giannatempo, associate editor

My mom usually hosts Thanksgiving for our family, primarily because none of us can imagine the holiday without her incredible sage, sausage, and raisin bread stuffing (which MUST be made with Bob Evan’s original recipe sausage, which comes in logs, not links).  I could take or leave the entire rest of the meal for a big bowl of that stuffing!  However, two years ago (my first Thanksgiving as an FC staffer), I made FC #95’s Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pears, Sage, and Hazelnuts and it was a huge hit.  I’m proud to say that my mom hasn’t stopped talking about it since!
Denise Mickelsen, associate editor

If I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner and happen to be going to my friend Sue’s house, I know I’ll have to bring Patricia Wells’s Carrots Braised in Olive Oil with Garlic and Olives. To my mind, it’s a little too Provencal for the traditional Thanksgiving menu Sue makes, but her family LOVES it. They think it goes just fine with everything else, so who am I to argue?
Enid Johnson, senior copy/production editor

If you want to see a grown man cry, just tell my dad we’re not having mom’s oyster stuffing at Thanksgiving.  The recipe was handed down from my grandma and has been a staple at our Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember. Even my aunt Barbara, who’s known for being a finicky eater, sat scarfing it down one year and insisted on getting the recipe. When she found out there were oysters in it, she set her fork aside and never took another bite. Fortunately for us, there were leftovers because of it.
Pam Winn, associate art director

Don’t forget to share your must-makes or must-haves with us by commenting below!

Visit our Thanksgiving Dinner Guide for more ideas on what you can make this year (and then, every year after if your guests demand it).


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  • cooknteacher | 11/19/2009

    My most requested recipe is my carrot souffle. I can't have Thanksgiving without it. Whenever I run into former students from my cooking classes, they always mention my carrot souffle recipe. My newly married son makes it all year long and his new wife loves it as well. If anyone wants the recipe, I will write it out.

  • Itsgigi | 11/19/2009

    I think the one recipe everyone "has to have" is the sweet potatoes served in apple shells. The apples are halved and baked first and then the pulp is chopped and added to the mashed sweet potatoes along with seasonings (butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and a bit of nutmeg) and then put back in the apple shells and reheated. Everyone loves them and one year I didn't include them and was severely reprimanded!! I also make pecan pie that one time each year and my husband says it is the best pecan pie ever so don't vary. Most of the other dishes are set in stone, but I think I could get away with substituting except for the potatoes.

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