As I sit down to write this Thanksgiving post, I feel as stuffed as the turkey on our dinner table – I know, you’ve heard that one before, right? 😉 But honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday – pouring rain and all. Spending time with my family while enjoying a delicious variety of quality food is definitely my idea of a good time. There is a lot to be thankful for.
The picture above doesn’t do our spread enough justice. There is a story behind each dish on the table, and some interesting recipes, too!
In order to gear up for a busy day in the kitchen, Papa Bender provided us with some liquid courage, also known as a Bloody Mary! He rimmed each glass with celery salt and poured in 1 oz. vodka with Bloody Mary mix. I then added a few drops of tabasco and a healthy tsp. of Worcestershire sauce. Stir it up with the celery “spoon” – arguably the healthiest part of the drink! – and serve over ice. Cheers!
PAPA BENDER’S FINEST
My dad was in charge of the main event: the turkey! He wanted me to let you all know that this year was the first time he has ever he brined the turkey the night before in a mixture of ice and salt-water. It’s supposed to keep the turkey moist, and I could definitely tell the difference. It was juicier and much more tender – in other words, delicious!
My dad also decided to put the stuffing directly into the bird this year. I thought it made the texture crispier and chewier, two positive changes. His Apple-Sausage Stuffing never disappoints!
Papa Bender’s Apple-Sausage Stuffing (serves MANY)
- 1 medium apple
- 12 oz. pork sausage
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 10 oz. bread cubes
Along with the turkey and stuffing, Papa Bender made basic mashed potatoes – with milk and light butter – and a somewhat untraditional caprese salad with tomatoes, black olives and mozzarella.
But the cream of the crop – quite literally! – is always the Broccoli–Cheez Casserole.
It’s not exactly healthy since it calls for some good ol’ Cheez Whiz, but it’s a family staple and I can’t remember a Thanksgiving without it!
Papa Bender’s Broccoli-Cheez Casserole
- 2 bags broccoli (one chopped, one florets)
- 1 jar of Cheez Whiz (16 oz.)
- 2.5 cups cooked white rice
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- Spices, to taste (my dad uses coriander)
Here’s what the casserole looks like prior to baking:
Bake at 350*F for 45 minutes, and you’ve got one yummy side dish!
I volunteered to make my personal favorite parts of the meal: cornbread and sweet potatoes! The cornbread was super easy – all I had to do was add water to this mix.
I highly recommend this mix if you’re ever looking for the quickest and easiest way to make cornbread! I chose to put them into muffin tins to make them easier to serve, too.
I may have had two or three of these throughout the course of the day…
As for the sweet potatoes, I was surprised to find these staring back at me when I pulled them out of the bag my dad had picked up earlier in the week.
You may not be able to tell from the picture, but these are actually WHITE sweet potatoes. There was something about them that was a little off to me – they were almost too much like an actual Idaho potato and not enough sweet. But I did the best I could with what I had!
I cut the sweet potatoes into discs and layered them in the dish. Each layer had a sprinkle of brown sugar and light butter for flavor. I then baked the discs at 400* for 40 minutes, or until the discs were nice and soft. I pulled the dish out of the oven and topped the potatoes with marshmallows before putting it back in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the marshmallows begin to brown.
Here’s what the discs look like covered with the marshmallows.
And the final product, which was very gooey!
We enjoyed our meal with a glass of Chimney Rock. We also put on some Christmas music! It was such a pleasant holiday and I savored every last laugh and bite.
A little of everything to start – of course there were seconds…and thirds!
Of course, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without dessert! For at least the past three years, it has been customary for me to make a cherry pie. It’s my mom’s absolute favorite – my grandma’s recipe. I get such a rush knowing that I’m creating something that has been passed down through the generations. It’s a very basic recipe, but it always comes out great! The outer crust is always a bit browned, but like most things in life – IT’S THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS!
BENDER FAMILY RECIPE: CHERRY PIE
- 2 16 oz. cans red tart cherries (in water, not juice)
- 2 tbsp. quick cook tapioca
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 cup cherry juice
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract
- 2 deep-dish 9″ pie crusts
Drain cherries and save juice. Combine tapioca, almond extract, sugar, salt, cherries and juice.
Allow to stand for 15 minutes while pastry is made. Prick 1 crust. In other words, go to town on it with a fork until there are holes EVERYWHERE in the crust – and I mean everywhere. It’s kind of exhausting after a while, and that means you’re doing it right!!
Moisten crust edge with milk. Cut strips from another crust and adjust in a lattice arrangement across the top of pie.
Flute the rim. Bake at 425*F for 45 minutes or until well done. I also want to point out the metal ring that I put around the edge of the crust. It’s supposed to prevent the crust from burning – I find it’s not particularly successful, but maybe you’ll have better luck!
After 45 minutes, pull it out of the oven and let it cool for at least an hour. This allows the cherry juice to gel up and get that pie-like consistency that makes it so delicious!
Serve with ice cream – heck, it’s Thanksgiving!! Go all out!! The contrast between the warm pie and the cold ice cream is really something you don’t want to miss!
Nutrition Information (per slice):
- 370 calories
- 17g fat
- 50g carbohydrates
- 2g fiber
- 4g protein
Thankfully, we have plenty of leftovers, so the remnants of our celebration will last for days afterward. If you are living in the United States, I hope that you enjoyed the holiday just as much as I did. And regardless of location, I hope that EVERYONE enjoyed reading about the food as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you I can’t say it enough – I am so thankful to have this space to talk about a topic that is so important in my everyday life.