It's no surprise that my first turkey - and my first-ever hosting of Thanksgiving - was mostly courtesy of Real Simple's recipes. At a time when I was still learning my way around a kitchen and German grocery store (where most American conveniences, like canned pumpkin, had to be made from scratch), I figured I'd make it as easy on myself as I could. Years later, I find many of these recipes still hold up, still garnering rave reviews. They're not "cheater" recipes or lacking in any way, they're just simple, easy-to-understand ways of getting to the same result: a delicious Thanksgiving - or any holiday, really - dinner. And when you have such a massive feast to prepare, who couldn't use some simplification?
Only now, it all has to be gluten-free (thank you, celiac), which adds an extra layer (or five) of complication. It's important to note, as it often is with gluten-free needs, the devil's in the details. Even if you've managed to procure some gluten-free rolls for yourself or your gluten-free guest, gluten so often lurks in the most unexpected of places. That broth you use to rehydrate your turkey? It commonly has wheat or yeast grown from wheat. Nuts and spices, staples on any good Thanksgiving table? More often than not, it reads "may contain gluten" on the label. Seriously?! Sometimes it feels like the whole food industry is out to get us.
Staying safe from glutening requires diligence and flexibility. Always read labels and if you are hosting someone with food allergies, be sure to ask what things to look out for as you buy your ingredients, as many celiacs often have other food sensitivities. Don't forget about cross-contamination in the kitchen and on the table - designate serving utensils for the gluten-free food and use a dedicated gluten-free cutting board for preparation of allergy-friendly food. It can be a hassle, but I promise, your gluten-free guest will be so grateful they might even tear up at being able to take part in such a special meal (yes, I've done this).
So with Thanksgiving a week away, I thought I'd share my favorite recipes - plus a few new ones - that I'm going to depend on this year:
- These are the guidelines I've followed every year for Thanksgiving turkey (and a few times, Christmas), with great results. Don't let the task scare you off, it's easier than you think. And no matter what your grandmother did: No stuffing in the bird! Not only does it slow down the cooking time, but if it's with wheat-based bread, the whole thing is then contaminated for the gluten-free.
- This apple, cranberry and pecan stuffing was a game-changer for me, having grown up on sticky Stovetop that had me convinced I hated stuffing. Whether you use a traditional Italian loaf for those non-allergy folks, or a good, hearty gluten-free white loaf (I've done both, pre- and post-celiac diagnosis), both ways turn out as the best stuffing I've ever tasted. Last year, guests even rated mine above the gluten-filled stuffing someone else brought. Boom!
- The mushy canned yams of my childhood Thanksgivings I've replaced with real steamed sweet potato casserole, albeit in a very decadent presentation. With brown sugar and marshmallows, it's a bit more like dessert. Gluttonous, but that's kind of what Thanksgiving is all about.
- Mashed potatoes are a must, with copious amounts of butter. Adding sour cream to them is the trick my mom taught me that I use to this day.
- Ever since my step-dad joined the family, his mom's corn soufflé has become a staple at our holiday feasts. Every time I've served it at my Thanksgivings, it's always met with high praise - and second helpings. It's classic, middle-America goodness. (find the recipe below)
- With all this heavy stuff, I like to whip up some fresh green veggies so I don't feel as if I'll have a coronary right there at the table. These green beans with pecans and maple vinaigrette are simple yet elevated enough for a holiday table.
- Embarassingly, I'm a fan of the jelly cranberry sauce that plunks out in a can-shaped blob onto the serving dish, but that's purely nostalgia from my childhood. As as adult, I have discovered that real cranberry relish - made from real, fresh cranberries - are where it's at. This Bourbon Cranberry Compote - add the zest from one orange, trust me! - is just what turkey (and leftover turkey sandwiches) is begging for.
I realize saying this is a bit of Thanksgiving sacrilege, but pumpkin pie is not my favorite thing. More often than not, it's a slightly gelatinous hunk with only a subtle pumpkin flavor and a too dry, lackluster crust. But I love pumpkin, so I'm all about finding something better. These are my top pumpkin dessert contenders this year (or perhaps I'll make them all...):
- This pumpkin mousse pie from Anna of Creamy Crunchy Sweet is absolutely delicious. Good pumpkin flavor, creamy yet light, I was bowled over when I tested this recipe out last month. Instead of just subbing in a standard gluten-free pie crust, I made a more simple crust of crushed Schär Spekulatius cookies and butter (I followed this recipe for the crust) for a great flavor and texture to accompany that creamy pumpkin filling. A bit crumbly, but so good.
- One of my very favorite gluten-free blogs - the seasonal recipes! that photography! - just published this beautiful Hazelnut Pumpkin Tart, which I probably stared at googly-eyed for a good five minutes before even reading the recipe. Usually, I don't like making things for the masses that I haven't at least tested first, but based on past experience with Wild Apple, something tells me no one would be disappointed.
- Thanksgiving might be all about pies, but I'm a cake girl. Ever since I made these Pumpkin Brown-Butter Cakes a couple months back, I have been just waiting for an excuse to make them again. Moist, spicy and a great consistency, they received rave reviews from our guests as well. Thanksgiving sounds like just the excuse to whip up another batch, perhaps in a large, single cake version.
Here's to a tasty Thanksgiving and a delicious holiday season!
The Kelley's Corn Soufflé
20 oz/ 567g frozen corn
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups half and half (half cream, half milk)
3 strips bacon, cooked unti crispy
French fried onions (GF recipes for homemade fried and baked versions)
Preheat oven to 325°F/162°C. Lightly grease 9x13"/22x33cm baking dish. Mix all ingredients except bacon and fried onions in the pan. Bake for one hour. Sprinkle with onions and bacon for the last five minutes in oven. Serve warm.
Serves 8-12 as a side (or 1, if you're me).