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A story of a first Thanksgiving

If you've never cooked a holiday meal before, it's all about preparation

POSTED: November 24, 2009 10:00 p.m.
SHANNON CASAS/The Times

Cornbread dressing is one aspect of Thanksgiving dinner that everyone expects - and everyone expects it to be a certain way.

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Today, my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law are coming into town from Savannah. And I have the day off to start preparing my first Thanksgiving dinner as host.

I’m a little nervous. Luckily, my husband’s family is not too big. And my family is ironically in England for the holiday.

And the best part — my stepfather-in-law is bringing his turkey fryer. I don’t know if my little oven could handle a turkey, not to mention how I may fare with cooking it. But I did buy one. And it is hopefully now almost thawed and sitting in my refrigerator.

So now the hard part is the dressing.

There are plenty of recipes for dressing, some with cornbread, some with apples, some with sausage. It’s a crowded field.
Bobby Peck, general manager at Longstreet Cafe, advised turning to relatives.

“I would suggest that if you have any doubts about any of the recipes or whatever ... if you’ve got someone in your family that cooks a lot like your mother or your grandmother, I would call them.”

I thought I’d see if my grandmother could help.

She gave me her sister’s recipe, which goes like this: “Cornbread, chopped onion, chicken or turkey broth, if not enough broth from the bird then use some canned broth, sage to taste. It doesn’t take much to flavor it. Two eggs, black pepper.”

Recipes from my relatives always seem to go like this. It’s like they don’t own measuring cups. I need a little more direction.

I tried out a similar traditional cornbread dressing recipe on Allrecipes.com. I made cornbread a couple of days in advance and then mixed it with chicken stock, chopped up onions and celery and sage. It came out a little too juicy for my taste, and it seemed to lack something.

At Longstreet Cafe, they cook a traditional cornbread dressing like the one my grandmother described. Of course they cook it in large volumes, but Peck tried to pare it down for me.

Their recipe calls for five to six pieces of cornbread, a small can of chicken broth and one of cream of chicken soup, two onions, four ribs of celery, about 2 tablespoons of sage and six eggs.

Cook the chopped celery and onions in butter. Mix the sage with the cornbread. Mix everything together and bake it in the oven.

This version adds some richness with the cream of chicken and more eggs. Trial and error seems to be the way to go. Maybe in a few years I will have it down.

Peck gave a bit more advice, too — planning is key.

I’ve always been a planner, so this is not a problem. I scribbled out the menu a month or two ago, and I have tried a few of the recipes.

First, I tried out my grandmother’s sweet potato souffle recipe. I halved the sugar it called for to please my husband. (He’d really rather have plain steamed pieces of sweet potato — crazy, I know.)

Marshmallows do not belong with sweet potatoes in my book, but some pecans and brown sugar go just fine.

The souffle turned out well, but I may add some more pecans.

Then I tried out a recipe for harvest rolls. It called for canned pumpkin and plenty of time to rise.

Using whole-wheat pastry flour didn’t work so well. Hopefully with some white flour, they’ll turn out better.

Homemade macaroni and cheese is another staple in my Thanksgiving dinner. No big family meal when I was growing up was complete without it. But I’ve got plenty of experience with that.

Mix some milk and cheese with a little flour. Pour it over cooked macaroni noodles. Sprinkle with more cheese, salt and pepper. I can actually do this one without the measuring cups. It should turn out fine.

Add some freshly cooked green beans and some cranberry sauce and I think we’ll have plenty for our feast.

Having plenty is of course crucial for this holiday.

“The main thing is make sure you have enough,” Pat Taylor, general manager at Curt’s Cafeteria in Oakwood, said.

Of course, there’s also dessert — apple pie with homemade crust. I’ve made this a few times, and though it doesn’t always turn out perfectly, it’s always still well worth eating.

The timetable likely will be the biggest challenge. Today I will be getting the house ready for guests, supervising fencing contractors who will be fencing our backyard, celebrating my husband’s birthday and doing as much cooking as I can before the big day.

It’s a lot to take on, but I think I’m ready. Happy Thanksgiving.



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