There are certain barometers we set when we were children that we define as “being an adult.” Most of them typically have nothing to do with having a college degree or owning a house, because those were adulthood goals that every young child aspired to (the sustainability of those benchmarks and the issues that can come with those being forced upon kids as goals is a different article entirely). For my mom, it was being able to do that flourishing pour (the one bartenders are so known for, where you raise the drink container up and down as you pour into your cup), being able to flip open a newspaper in one smooth movement, and driving a stick shift. For me? It was sending Christmas cards, being able to drive on a long trip by myself, and having my own Thanksgiving turkey recipe. My grandmother’s recipe was taken from her mother and had some (at the time) rather bougie elements like stuffing the cavity with aromatics. My mother’s recipe came from that background with some added tips she learned from her big sorority sister’s mother (who, in a hilarious turn of events, would become my in laws).
And now, it’s time for me.
I’ve been researching this moment for YEARS. Every year for the past few years, something’s come up where I haven’t been the one to cook the turkey, and every year I get more and more agitated about it. Sickness. Not getting the one thing I wanted most for my birthday or the previous Christmas – the Big Easy Oil-Less Turkey Fryer from Char Broil. Pregnancy or infant. Going to someone else’s for Thanksgiving.
This year? This year that changes. I bought the turkey fryer for myself for my birthday. I have YEARS of recipes that I’m compiling into my ultimate recipe – or at least, what will be the first rendition. I’ve put my foot down and said “give me the fridge space, because I am MAKING THIS TURKEY.”
I encourage you to make some recipes your own this year. Maybe you’ve been itching to infuse some of the flavors you love from your favorite cuisines. Maybe you’ve been wanting to take something and make it entirely *yours*, making your stamp known on the family’s table. Maybe you’re on your own this year, and you have a chance to do things your way. Whatever the case is, here are the tips I’ve used that have made this process enjoyable, interesting, and (hopefully) incredibly tasty.
1. Start with the dish you want to transform. Let’s go with green bean casserole, a common dish that a lot of people want to change, for multiple reasons. Make a list of the things you like about it, and a second of the stuff you dislike about it. For me? I like that it’s a green vegetable and I love French fried onions. I dislike pretty much everything else about it – the green beans are way overcooked, I can’t eat mushrooms, cream of soup casseroles feel way too heavy for a side dish for me, and the texture is just awful to me.
2. Pull your favorite cookbooks and head to Pinterest, and pull the recipes that look good. For instance – all green bean recipes that look good, and fried onion recipes that sound good.
3. Start writing down commonalities – maybe they all involve fresh green beans, use lemon, and use a creamy sauce (and at least sound like they’d work with those delicious fried onions). Then pull the recipes that have at least one of those inclusions.
4. Start a document on your computer – it’s research time. Start writing down the recipes together in this document. Or, for more organization? Do multiple documents separated by part. For these beans for example, try one document for the actual bean-cooking process, another for the sauce, and a third for your onions if you feel like making those instead of using the bagged kind.
5. Now, to make this have extra personal flair? Go back to your cookbooks and Pinterest, and think of all the ways you enjoy easting green beans and fried onions. Don’t think of green bean casserole, just what you enjoy. Maybe there’s some fried onions you enjoy on your egg fried rice and green beans you like from a Chinese takeout place, so start looking at Chinese green bean recipes. Or there’s a fried onion recipe that you secretly adore from a favorite fast food joint and you want to include those – look for recipes for those dupes. Make this have flavors you really, truly enjoy. Add these recipes to your document(s).
6. Once you’ve got your recipes all written down, start comparing and merging. It’s a bit like creating Frankenstein’s monster, but it’s going to make a delicious result. Soon enough? You’ll have green beans that you’ve only thought about in your dreams. Sauteed in lemon and olive oil, a delicious white wine (with Shaoxing wine instead of something like chardonnay) sauce infused with herbs and spices, and topped with crispy shallots instead of onions. BOOM. Uh, hello? That’s a recipe for some deliciousness and seconds, as well as “hey, can you make this again next year?” Or an even better compliment, “can you give me the recipe?” Recipe sharing is up to you, of course.
This also works well if you grew up with an immigrant or multicultural family who tried very, very hard to do the stereotypical white American Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re Swedish and Chinese – do a lingonberry sauce instead of cranberries and some five spice-infused turkey. Maybe you’re Japanese and Italian? Lemon miso butter injected into your turkey, sauteed broccolini with furikake, and mashed potatoes loaded with parmesan? Oh hell yeah. German and Spanish? Make stuffing with traditional German breads (or pretzel bread, YUM) and some papas arrugadas con mojo, a Canary Islands specialty.
Whatever you do for your Thanksgiving meal? Make it *yours*. Put your or your family’s spin on it. Make it fit on your table so perfectly that people wonder how they ever celebrated Thanksgiving without it.