A Little Dinner on the Side
Thanksgiving dinner can be a wonderful time to get together with friends, family and loved ones. Whether your centerpiece is a traditional whole roast turkey or a beautiful honey-glazed ham, you mustn't forget about your side dishes. Just make sure you keep these nine dishes off the table (unless you plan on packing them for lunch for the next two weeks.)
Surf and turf is a pretty standard combination. Steak and lobster tail? That sounds delicious. Gooey, slimy oysters stuffed in the business end of a poor 20-pound gobbler? Disgusting! The almost gelatinous consistency of oysters simply does not belong next to dry turkey breast.
There are two big meals each year where you are meant to indulge: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Leave all your fat-free antioxidants and nutrient-rich fiber at the door on these occasions. The kale salad can wait until after you feel guilty for polishing off a whole pumpkin pie by yourself. Even Brussels sprouts are better. At least those can get cooked in some delicious rendered pork fat with pancetta or bacon.
Canned Cranberry Sauce
You slave for hours ensuring that the turkey comes out a gorgeous golden brown with juicy, succulent meat inside. You carefully mix together the perfect homestyle gravy using those delicious drippings. And then you open up a can and a wobbly red glob squirts out onto the plate. If you're not going to make your own cranberry sauce, skip the canned stuff. It cheapens the rest of the meal.
Sweet Potato Pie
The kids see what appears to be a wonderful dessert from afar. They smack their lips and anxiously await the addition of whipped cream. Except instead of the scrumptious pumpkin pie they thought they were getting, they are sorely disappointed with some sweet potato pie instead. Sweet potatoes are a mediocre side dish at best and a horrible dessert at worst.
Frozen Veggie Mix
Seriously? When the rest of the spread is going to consist of fantastic food made from scratch, all you're going to do is open up a package of frozen vegetable niblets and boil them in a pot of hot water? The corn, carrot and pea mix is best suited for the starving student crowd as they try to add some color to their bowl of instant noodles.
Mac and Cheese
Unless your Thanksgiving dinner is going to be attended largely by five-year-olds, you might want to choose a different pasta option if you must have some noodles next to your roast turkey and Brussels sprouts. Now a lobster mac and cheese baked with panko crumbs and a special four-cheese blend, on the other hand, that's a different story altogether.
Green Bean Casserole
The colors of the autumn harvest are filled with brilliant yellows, oranges and reds. They're not filled with a soggy, indistinguishable grey mess consisting of canned cream of mushroom soup. Skip the mushy greens and quickly stir-fry your green beans instead. That way, they're still fresh and crisp and vibrant.
Tuna Gelatin Mold
There are definitely some weird food combinations that work really well. A pinch of salt goes great with your slice of watermelon. Your can of flaky white tuna, however, should practically have a restraining order against anything from the Jello aisle. It certainly doesn't help that this vintage recipe, which was surprisingly popular in the 1950s and 60s, usually also calls for mayonnaise, sour cream and a citrus-based Jello too.
Speaking of strange uses for gelatin around Thanksgiving, there's not very much to like about ambrosia salad. From the overly syrupy canned fruit to the odd textural contrast with mini marshmallows and whipped topping, it's not even really a salad. It's just a goopy, sugary mess that'll have the children bouncing off the walls.
Whether you're aiming to stick with tradition or you'd like to experiment with more contemporary recipes, picking the right side dishes at Thanksgiving can be difficult. Just remember that dinner should be comforting. And oysters in your turkey are not a source of comfort.