Ritz cracker casserole, green jelly salad: Thanksgiving recipes worth writing home about
As the US celebrates ‘Turkey Day’ today, some Americans living in Ireland give us their food memories of the holiday and share some recipes
I’ve had far more Thanksgivings outside the US than in it, having lived in Ireland for 35 years now. My European taste-buds now cringe at the memory of sweet jellied salads and moulded cranberry sauce out of a tin, but I do miss pumpkin pie with cool whip, acorn squash baked with maple syrup and butter, proper Pecan Pie packed with nuts and creamed pearl onions – though not the dish of pickled whale blubber a straight-faced gourmand of an uncle produced one year as a taste sensation without telling any of us what it was until it was too late.
Some Thanksgiving dishes scream “American” probably because Europeans would never think of turning sweet potatoes into a dessert or Ritz Crackers into a casserole. Just as Americans don’t see Irish “cheesecake” made with gelatine and cream cheese instead of eggs and ricotta as the real deal, so the Irish can’t quite get their heads around Tater Tot casserole, buttermilk biscuits (scones) and gravy, or green beans cooked with tinned mushroom soup and dried onion mix, with slivered almonds on top.
At Thanksgiving, the turkey takes centre stage but it’s really all about the “sides”, and hell hath no fury like the family of the cook who dares change a family recipe.
For every aspirational American cook putting truffle oil in their mash, or serving pear and blue cheese salad, there will be 100 more serving dollops of mac-and-cheese or Ritz cracker and broccoli casserole as side dishes, while melting marshmallows on their sweet potato casseroles.
Sweet potatoes are a big part of Thanksgiving and are becoming increasingly popular here in Ireland year-round as an alternative to boiled potatoes, due to their low GI (glycaemic index).
They’re delicious baked whole on their own, used to make oven chips or chopped into vegetarian curries. My favourite use for them is Sweet Potato Pie, which I began making instead of pumpkin pie because tinned pumpkin is so hard to find here, and life is to short to deal with fibrous, hard to chop fresh pumpkin (even if you can find it after Halloween, and it still doesn’t produce the results of tinned pumpkin).
My sweet potato recipe is really, really easy. You will either adore it, or not get it at all. Pity about the unavailability of Cool Whip (a type of synthetic calorie-free “whipped cream” substitute sold in US freezer aisles.)
The broccoli and Ritz cracker casserole recipe I tasted at a church “potluck” supper on a visit back to Maryland, and the kids adored it.
Kate’s Sweet Potato Pie
A sheet of Frozen Jus-rol shortcrust pastry, thawed - round or square, doesn’t matter.
About 6 medium-sized sweet potatoes (don’t worry, a bit more or less doesn’t matter).
One tin of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground mace if you can find it
In a 180 degree oven, blindbake the pastry in a deep pie dish or tin for 10 minutes. (Blind-baking means lining the pastry case with baking parchment and filling it with dry beans to stop it from collapsing at the sides.) Too lazy? Don’t bother, but only if using a tin placed on a lower shelf so the pastry isn’t too soggy.
Meanwhile, bake the potatoes in the oven or microwave, first slitting the sides slightly with a knife. If microwaving, check every five minutes and turn. If baking, check after half an hour. When they are mushy when you squeeze them, wait until they have cooled enough to handle and the peels will slide right off. Put them in the bowl of your food mixer, or use a hand mixer, and mix until smooth.
Add the sweetened condensed milk, eggs and spices, and mix until combined.
Pour the mix into the pastry casing and bake until firm - but not too firm. This takes about 30 to 40 minutes.
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or on its own. It’s lovely for breakfast.
Ritz cracker casserole with broccoli
Health warning: This should really be called “most fattening vegetable dish ever”. It’s irresistible.
750 g bag of frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained; or two heads of fresh broccoli, cooked until soft and chopped (This is the only healthy bit).
1 cup/250 ml mayonnaise
1 cup/250g grated sharp cheddar cheese (some Americans use Velveeta)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 boxes crushed Ritz crackers (200g boxes)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 180 degrees
Mix the broccoli, cheese and half the cracker crumbs together.
Place mixture in a 30cm x 20cm x 3cm baking dish. Mix together the remaining cracker crumbs and the butter and sprinkle over the broccoli mixture. Bake for 40 minutes.
The cracker crumb mixture without the broccoli is used in New England to top baked fish. Add crab meat to the mixture if you’re going all out.