Bender Thanksgiving: Behind the Scenes

by Jenn (eating bender) on November 28, 2008

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!



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 BroccoliCheez 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!




  • 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!!


Bake according to directions on package. Fill crust with cherry mixture and dot with butter.

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.

Gobble, gobble!!

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 VeggieGirl November 28, 2008 at 6:53 am

Bender Thanksgiving = PERFECTION!!!


2 coco November 28, 2008 at 7:18 am

AMAZING FOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to be part of Bender family!!!!


3 Krista November 28, 2008 at 7:20 am

Holy Cow! All that food looks amazing! Thanks for the recipes!


4 Megan November 28, 2008 at 7:38 am

Wow that all looks amazing! Happy Turkey Day a day late 😀


5 Hangry Pants November 28, 2008 at 7:59 am

Everything looks amazing! I will have to pass that on about the ice and salt.

The pie looks fantastic! What is the reason for the holes in the crust? Is it for moisture.

Oh and I wanted to ask you if you’ve ever been to Orange. Giada went there on her weekend getaway show (in Chicago) and it looked really fun and delicious.


6 ksgoodeats November 28, 2008 at 8:10 am

Everything looks DELISH! Even if it was browned, I would be ALL over the crust of that pie 😀

Enjoy your time at home!


7 Jenny November 28, 2008 at 8:19 am

Beautiful recap Jenn!! All of those recipes and dishes look amazing, and tell Papa Bender the brining of the turkey definitely looks like it got the job done!! Oh, and my dad makes bloody marys on Thanksgiving too!! Yum!! :)


8 Sarah November 28, 2008 at 9:18 am

mmm Papa Bender did a great job (as did you, of course!) Everything looks delicious! I’m glad you had such a great day, and you know what the great thing about Thanksgiving is—there’s always tons of leftovers!


9 megan November 28, 2008 at 9:19 am

What a fantastic spread! You know how to start the holidays off right!!! 😉


10 Sharon November 28, 2008 at 9:36 am

Delicious! I like burned crust – haha!


11 eatingbirdfood November 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

Happy Thanksgiving Jenn. Thanks for the card- you are too sweet.

Your meal looked amazing. The marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes looked like a cloud of deliciousness and your pie turned out fantastic – I love the lattice topping.

It’s funny because when I went to the grocery store to get sweet potatoes, the only sweet potato in the normal section were the white ones but then in the front of the store they had the regular. I almost accidentally bought the white because I thought they had run out of reg.

Enjoy eating the leftovers today!


12 marafaye November 28, 2008 at 10:05 am



13 Andrea (Off Her Cork) November 28, 2008 at 10:14 am

Happy Thanksgiving! Looks like you guys had an awesome time! 😀


14 Lindsay November 28, 2008 at 11:31 am

wow beautiful eats – i love your detailed instructions & pics!


15 glidingcalm November 28, 2008 at 12:36 pm

aw i was so excited to see Papa Bender’s cooking! looks amazing Bender!!! glad to hear you are having a wonderful vaca with the fam!!

Take care Jenn!


16 seeleelive November 28, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Wow I want to try that sweetpotato marshmallow dish!! –YUMMY!!!! congratulations on A Fine day of dining–have a great day!


17 Kristie November 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm

That turkey looks perfect. Your dad is PRO.
And Cheez Whiz will always have a place in my heart, even if it isn’t the healthiest thing ever. It’s darn awesome stuff, especially with broc and cauliflower.

I also love how that sweet potato dish looks after baking. It always looks like it’s glowing from within… it’s so extraterrestiralish haha

SO glad you had such a lovely family Thanksgiving. Reading all about it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy haha.


18 bobbi November 28, 2008 at 1:43 pm

ok I am saving this post right now to my desktop, so next year I can have your spread!!! better yet why don’t I just hire you to cook:)!


19 Foodie (Fab and Delicious Food) November 28, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Wow, what a great spread of food! And that cherry pie looks amazing! I definitely need to make it!

Glad you had such a good Thanksgiving!


20 Eliza November 28, 2008 at 3:52 pm

AHH my grandma makes that broccoli cheese casserole! its my fav!


21 Meghann November 28, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Looks like you had a wonderful Thankgsiving!


22 Erica November 28, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Just beautiful! Everything looks great! I enjoy seeing the different family traditions and how they make their way into this special dinner! Glad you had a good one 😉


23 Megan November 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Sounds and looks like an amazing day!


24 Melissa S. November 28, 2008 at 9:51 pm

what a wonderful thanksgiving!! everything looks beautiful!!!


25 Melissa S. November 28, 2008 at 9:52 pm

what a wonderful thanksgiving!! everything looks gorgeous!


26 Maggie November 28, 2008 at 10:17 pm

What an awesome pie :) Glad you had a good Thanksgiving!!


27 strongandhealthy November 29, 2008 at 7:09 am

What beautiful Thanksgiving eats! Love your dessert!


28 Erin November 29, 2008 at 8:04 am

Wow Jenn, everything looks so great! I love how ya’ll did your sweet potato casserole. Papa Mahaffy (my maiden name – hehe) HATES sweet potatoes so I didn’t discover them until I was an adult. Can you believe?! I think Robbie and I will try out your kind for Christmas this year.
I love that your dad started the day right! Bloody Marys are amazing! :)


29 runningwithfood November 29, 2008 at 8:24 am

Wow – so many fantastic things going on in the Bender world!! Everything looks fabulous!! I’m so glad you have a great time with family!! :)


30 Rose November 29, 2008 at 9:27 am

Everything looks great – what a meal, wow! Love your contributions. I really want to come to dinner at the Bender household!


31 Fit Bottomed Girls November 29, 2008 at 5:31 pm

That looks awesome! Especially the pie and turkey! :)


32 biz319 November 29, 2008 at 10:05 pm

We ended up brining our turkey too, and it turned out amazingly moist! Our blend was vegetable stock, brown sugar, salt and peppercorns. We cooked that on the stove top and then allowed it to cool. We brined ours for about 24 hours – it stayed nice and cold under ice in our cooler.

Definitely would do that again! Glad you had a great day!


33 MizFit November 30, 2008 at 5:22 am

Im a HUGE fan of leftovers….but Im odd in that way.

if I love something then I love it again and again.

my husband? not so much….


34 Andrea [bella eats] November 30, 2008 at 3:25 pm



35 Aimee December 1, 2008 at 7:53 am

I loved cherry pie growing up, and this looks so good with the cherries in water. I need to try this!!


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