Three foodies on the glory of Thanksgiving sides

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Cecelia Thompson's Brussels sprouts

by Eric Ginsburg

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday, like many in this country, with a more complicated backstory than we teach our children. Whether this family time is a stressful or joyous affair — in all honesty it’s probably somewhere in the middle for most of us — there’s one component of the holiday that anyone who celebrates it can get behind: the food.

In some families the holiday is celebrated like a regimented potluck, where kitchen klutzes like me might be expected to follow a basic dip recipe for appetizers or an uncle is required to bring his coveted casserole. Other folks take a more freewheeling approach, and some tables won’t even have turkey (or that disgusting meat substitute Tofurky, either).

For those in tune with the food world, the discussion this year appears to be about the differences between stuffing, dressing and bread pudding. Before I moved to the South, dressing was a term only applied to a topping drizzled on salad rather than describing stuffing that wasn’t actually shoved inside a bird. And bread pudding, well, that just didn’t exist at all.

For three Triad food bloggers, one of their prime contributions to this year’s feast is a dressing or bread pudding, though there is still considerable variation between each.

Kristi Maier, triadfoodies.com

When it comes to Thanksgiving, Dishcrawl Winston-Salem and Greensboro community manager and food blogger Kristi Maier’s hands are tied.

“I have a side dish that I can’t not make, no matter if I’m having Thanksgiving at my folks’ house, or my house, or my mother-in-law’s or father-in-laws’,” Maier said. “My husband demands it and so does everybody else.”

She took the stuffing recipe from Jack Murphy, former radio host of “Murphy in the Morning,” years ago, following it exactly except for removing water chestnuts. Every year she makes a platter full of the dish, with wild rice, very finely chopped onions, celery, ground up breakfast pork sausage and soaked croutons. Maier bakes it outside the turkey, making it a dressing.

She makes enough that it could really qualify as a meal rather than a side dish, but this year she plans to put the leftovers in a skillet, sear it and put eggs on top before baking them off. That way, her twist on the popular holiday staple can transform the dressing into a breakfast meal.

Nikki Miller-Ka, niksnacksonline.com

Since she was 14, Nikki Miller-Ka has been making her family’s entire Thanksgiving meal. But this year, they opted to eat out at Graze restaurant at the Marriott in downtown Winston-Salem, allowing them to relax, watch football and enjoy desserts at home. Still, Miller-Ka is cooking so that there will be leftovers.

Her two staple dressings, an oyster one and another with sausage and sage, will be augmented by an experiment. She plans to add a savory sweet-potato bread pudding to the mix that will include a little rosemary, sage, a custard base and bits of sausage. It’s something she came up with herself just last week.

“I’ve never done it before and they say don’t try anything new for the holidays, but screw it!” Miller-Ka said. “It’ll be fun.”

Cecelia Thompson, modmealsonmendenhall.com

The Thompsons substitute other meat, such as Cornish game hens, for turkey.
The Thompsons substitute other meat, such as Cornish game hens, for turkey.

Cooking and food writing is a hobby for Cecelia Thompson, the director of Action Greensboro. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t take it seriously, usually posting to her blog — which even has sponsors — twice a week.

Her favorite, go-to Thanksgiving side is balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and pecans, but like Miller-Ka, she is going to try her hand at a savory bread pudding this year. Her parents, who are flying up from Florida as they do every year, don’t really care for sweet potatoes — Thompson’s bread pudding will include other savory ingredients such as mushrooms and cheese.

The Thompsons don’t really like turkey either. In the past they’ve substituted Cornish game hens and this year they’ll make a standing rib roast. Plus, Thompson is planning to have North Carolina oysters, Florida stone crabs and a 123 whiskey drink as appetizers.

She stole the idea for the cocktail — one part honey, two parts lemon juice and three parts whiskey — from Triad Local First Director Luck Davidson, Thompson said. Her family was skeptical when she put the idea forward last Christmas but then proceeded to drink it all, and this Thanksgiving they’ll make it with lemons from her parents’ backyard.