The year my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner made the biggest splash was the year I only brought one dish: the green bean casserole. What fabulous recipe did I use, you ask? The one on the side of the can of French Fried Onions.
My ingredient list was an illustrious one: cans of cream of mushroom soup, cans of green beans, and cans of fried onions. And everybody loved it. Like capital letters LOVED IT. I mean, sure, I doctored it up a little. I added some chopped sautéed onions, some minced jalapenos, a dash or two (or seven) of Tabasco, some coarse ground black pepper. But let’s face facts, I won’t be upping my foodie cred from this admission.
In the ensuing years, I have prepared dishes that were much more epicurean, with fresher ingredients and snobbishly complex recipes. I have replaced the old-guard can of cranberry sauce with a cranberry-pear chutney that only my husband and grandmother like. And I have replaced that chutney (in a vain attempt to please a larger number of family members) with a cranberry fruit conserve from The Barefoot Contessa that was pushed to the lonely side of the buffet, where it languished, untouched and forlorn.
One year, I made a very healthy and homemade-looking sweet potato casserole with a recipe from Vegetarian Times. A guest who joined our family for dinner that year made some appreciative noises about it, but I think she was the only one who ate it. And it is possible that she was just being polite. Everyone else went for the sweeter, crowd-pleasing streuseled casserole made by my grandmother. You would think I would learn something from these experiences.
Instead, I amped up the stakes even more. I figured that if everyone loved the canned green bean casserole, then SURELY they would be tickled by a version in which I used fresh green beans and made my own mushroom sauce from scratch. I spent half a day on it, trimming eight pounds of green beans and breaking (by hand) four pounds of mushrooms. I stirred, I simmered, I painstakingly followed the very detailed Cook’s Illustrated instructions. And nobody liked it.
Though it is embarrassing to admit, things are going to be done much differently this year. I will follow Christopher Kimball’s lead and make the cranberry sauce recipe printed on the doggone bag of cranberries. I will bake the uber-easy (and, by the looks of it, sweet enough to please the family) Sweet Potato Casserole recipe from Pioneer Woman. I’m going to cook the Make-Ahead Gravy recipe from The Minimalist. And yes, I will make the blasted green bean casserole using canned ingredients. I will, however, stop short of cooking from any recipe that calls for marshmallows or gelatin. That is where I draw the line.
I am going to try Fine Cooking’s Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie recipe (which has been staring at me from the cover of the October issue for two months now, painfully teasing my sweet tooth on a daily basis). But I will be taking that dish to my in-laws house instead. Because if I’ve learned anything here, it is that my family does not want the classics to be messed with. In any way.
So I'll just take my toys...