I find myself once again at the brink of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I look forward to it immensely every year, never wondering what might be served. The table will always house my favorite things: roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce straight from the can. Yes, I said from a can! Anything else on the table is superfluous as far as I’m concerned. Oh wait…the rolls, I can’t forget the rolls AND they have to be that cheap $.99 kind. Why? Tradition, of course! By tradition I mean that the first batch of rolls is to be burnt because we ritually fail to remember they’re in the oven. So, getting the cheap kind makes the crime of wasted bread easier.
Families getting together and relishing the many flavors customarily at our table year after year is what Thanksgiving is all about, right? Grandma’s dressing, mom’s freshly mashed potatoes flooded with butter and sour cream, and a rich gravy that cannot be made without the essence of the turkey that just roasted, ever. My contribution is baked sweet-potatoes, the last acceptable addition to our unvarying feast. It was over a decade ago when I ambitiously tried a new recipe, having since made it my own. I'll admit that I attempted making them different last year, however I knew immediately that I had made a mistake after the first bite. Thanksgiving…shot! Kidding, I saved it when I made my traditional one the next day for leftovers, thus allowing to world to spin properly again.
This isn’t to say that a family member won’t make a delightful cranberry relish or even a friend sharing their famous broccoli-cheese casserole. Not only are they delicious (usually), but welcomed. All I’m saying is that my plate must be filled with the foods I’m thankful for – or else. Kidding…actually no, I'm not.
I'm very flexible when it comes to daily meals, really. On any given day you’ll find me trying to put a spin on chicken, fish or even ground beef. By the way, ever notice how limiting ground beef is? What do we got? Meat loaf, hamburgers, spaghetti or tacos – that’s about it. Nevertheless, I’m always online at Food Network, using the All Recipes app on my phone or fishing through many a cookbook, desperate to try something new. I’m pleased to say that I’ve created some pretty amazing things that have surprisingly expanded the very limited palate of my kids. That, my friends, is what it’s all about, pleasing the family. Unless you’re talking about Thanksgiving, then it’s all about me.
Bridgette and me.
But…this Thanksgiving will be different because we’re spending it with my dear friend and her amazing mother. Although I am genuinely thrilled at the idea, I did fear the initial discussion of the menu as this is her home. Far be it from me to be an ungrateful guest. Yet, I knew my alter-ego, the Thanksgiving Day Bully, would surface...and it did, yet very graciously. Can you believe my canned cranberry sauce was ridiculed?
I’m delighted to say that our Thanksgiving menu has been decided without jeopardizing a friendship. I’ll get my cranberries jellied as I like and she’ll make a fabulous cranberry soufflé that will no doubt make the finest of chefs green with envy. The important thing is that we are maintaining our individual traditions while creating new ones. That's something to be thankful for.
This is just a bit of advice for those of you who like to cook for your friends. We all have our favorite dishes, some of which are family recipes that go back generations. However, we tend to forget just how much taste buds vary until you are confronted with “this taste so interesting.” What?
Wanting to impress my friends last Saturday on our pot-luck ladies-night sleepover, I thought I would make Pastelón– it’s a delicious Puerto Rican lasagna that The Husband’s grandmother used to make. We really are a combination of cultures in our family with Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban ethnicities influencing almost every aspect of our daily lives. It seemed only natural to go with what I know.
The dish calls for a layer of sweet plantains, followed by picadillo (a Spanish ground beef hash is the best description), and then a layer of French-cut green beans. It’s topped with another layer of sweet plantains followed by pouring well-beaten eggs over it to seal the deal before baking. It seems some Pastelón recipes use cheese (yum) instead of green beans, but I wanted to keep it real, for family’s sake. Every step I took was done with care and naturally several taste tests as any good chef will tell you are essential to ensure the utmost quality. This was good stuff!
Now just the mere mention of its name impressed them, at first. But, I don’t blame the ladies for not gushing all over the dish as I recall not doing the same the first time I tried it. So what’s the take away? Keep it simple when you’re outnumbered by non-Hispanic friends? No. Maybe. All I’m saying is that when you want to impress the friends with your culinary skills and you aren’t too sure what their pallet can handle - go with Mexican.
Note: I did not use any of the recipes found on the links, but would gladly share mine. Just let me know.
My photo adventures in Florida