Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Secret Weapon for a Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday, both Grandad and Grams had the day off. We're still working on cleaning out closets and cabinets in anticipation of a big garage sale this weekend. We spent the morning running errands which included a drive to a credit union which is located on the other end of town about thirty miles from home. Fortunately, there's a Starbucks nearby which made the drive worthwhile. While riding around together, we used the time to discuss and firm up our plans for our Thanksgiving meal and the weekend.

My mother was not a great cook. I really hated a lot of the things she cooked on a regular basis; her chili mac comes immediately to mind. But, she always did and outstanding job of putting together a delicious Thanksgiving meal. Meals at my mother-in-law's table were always delicious, and her Thanksgiving meals were always outstanding. As newlyweds, we always ate two, yes two, Thanksgiving meals. My mother served Thanksgiving lunch and my mother-in-law served Thanksgiving dinner. So we would go to my parents for lunch, watch a little football with them, then later in the afternoon, we would pack up the kids and make the 45 minute drive to my in-laws house for dinner. No wonder I once weighed 300 pounds.

In recent years our Thanksgivings have changed drastically. My mother-in-law is in her eighties now and doesn't cook any more. My parents have both passed on and my siblings don't often get together for Thanksgiving. We all have kids of our own and have started our own traditions. You can read about our last Thanksgiving gathering here. I will admit that I feel a little bit guilty about not hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to include my mother-in-law. But she has two grown daughters who have never hosted Thanksgiving or cooked the meal, so I've decided that I can deal with my own guilt. Bylinda will be picking Kay up from her group home and taking her out to lunch with them. As long as someone makes sure Kay is taken care of, I'm good.

My mother's Thanksgiving menu was set in stone and never, ever changed.

Mom with Nick circa 1986
  • Celery stuffed with pimento cheese (it had to be Price's pimento cheese, no substitutions allowed)
  • Deviled eggs
  • Cheese ball with assorted crackers
  • Crudite with Hidden Valley Ranch Party Dip
  • Roasted Turkey
  • Cornbread dressing (never stuffing)
  • Cranberry sauce (the jellied kind straight out of the can)
  • Green bean casserole
  • Broccoli and rice casserole
  • Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (the marshmallows were always burned to a crisp)
  • Giblet gravy (this was the one thing that was AWFUL, Mom just didn't do this well)
  • Fruit salad (always forgotten and left in the refrigerator until we were finished eating)
  • Dinner rolls
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Pecan pie
  • Coconut pie
  • Chocolate pie
  • Chocolate cake with walnuts & raisins (not every year, but often)
Yes, that does look like a lot of food and it was. But keep in mind that my parents had six children. As we married and had kids of our own, it got to be quite a crowd. We needed a lot of food.

I remember my mom would get up very early and put the turkey in the oven. My dad, who always woke up early, would get us kids up early and whip us into a frenzy about watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. He liked it as much as we did. Watching the parade with him is one of my sweetest memories. Meanwhile, Mom would slave all morning in the kitchen. Then we would all gather round the table and feast. After lunch there was football, the Aggies vs. Longhorns and the Dallas Cowboys.

As the years went by and our parents got older, Bylinda and I took over the cooking and hosting responsibilities. Bylinda's menu is even more impressive than the one listed above. My children would probably kill someone for her macaroni and cheese. She also adds ham and mashed potatoes to the menu.

The last time I hosted while Mother was still alive, I decided to try something a little different. We still had the usual roast turkey and dressing with all the usual sides. However, neither Grandad nor I really like the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, so I went looking for a different way to prepare them. I found a recipe from Chef Emeril Lagasse for Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

I looked over the recipe ingredients and decided that it would work nicely. It had enough molasses that it would still be sweet, but not sticky with marshmallows on top. I wasn't really worried about the potatoes containing bourbon because I've always heard that the alcohol cooks off when you prepare food and two pounds of potatoes only has a quarter of a cup of bourbon.

I don't remember exactly who was at Thanksgiving that year. I think it was a mix of my family and Grandad's family. Grandad and Bylinda made the turkey and dressing and then we all worked on the sides.

It wasn't until Thanksgiving morning, as I was making my Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes, that I realized that the bourbon was not cooked into the sweet potatoes. It was added during the final preparation stages so it was not cooked. But, by then it was too late. I was committed. When we served, Mom expressed disappointment at not having our traditionally prepared marshmallow sweet potatoes but she dug into the Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes enthusiastically.

At this point, I should tell you that my mother was a teetotaler. Only once in my entire life did I ever see her take a drink. That was a pina colada at Red Lobster which she only took about two sips of before being giddy, giggly, dizzy, and visibly drunk. (And a lot more fun than usual.) After that she absolutely swore off of all liquor. She wouldn't even taste anything that had any small amount of liquor in it and she was kind of rude and condescending about it. I should also mention that we didn't tell her that the potatoes had bourbon in them.

Needless to say, Mom really liked the mashed potatoes. She liked them so much that she had seconds and then thirds. She liked them so much that she kept on eating them until they were all gone. She kept saying how good they were and eating more of them. Before long she was smiling happily and soon she was giggling. We never told her about the bourbon.

My friend Lisa over at Grandma's Briefs is hosting a Thanksgiving recipe exchange today. So, in the spirit of sharing, I'm sharing this recipe which came from Good Morning America. It's my secret weapon for making everyone enjoy Thanksgiving just a little more.

Emeril Lagasse's Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 3/4 to 2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly rub the sweet potatoes with the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon their size. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer the flesh to a large bowl. Add the cream, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, and salt, and beat on high speed with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.


  1. I just love that you didn't tell her and that she enjoyed them so much! Sometimes we just need a secret weapon!

  2. over from the facebook hop......I loved hearing your story of the thanksgiving traditions in your mom...always...always burns the rolls and cooks way too much...but her German Chocolate Cake is to die for...

  3. I am laughing my head off!

    Your mom sounds like a wonderful woman and I LOVE that she loved the sweet potatoes. I never cared for the marshmallow sweet potatoes myself. I prefer mine roasted with garlic & olive oil.

    I love that sweet pic too!

  4. That is too funny! Great story!

  5. Great story indeed! I'll have to try your Thanksgiving "secret" next year. I also want the recipe for that broccoli/rice casserole. My mother-in-law to-be serves something like that and I really enjoy it. Hers also has artichokes. You'll have to post the recipe sometime!