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Capital Gazette staff members talk Thanksgiving sides, the real stars of the meal

The turkey always seems to be the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving dinner. Cooked for hours starting in the early morning, basted religiously in its own juices and pulled from the oven at just the right time before it turns from moist and delicious to dry and inedible. To be sure, the bird is often thought to be the most important part of the meal, but we at the Capital Gazette would beg to differ. Thanksgiving sides are, in fact, the star of the show.

We asked staff members their thoughts on the sides they cannot eat their Thanksgiving meal without. Here’s what they said:

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Green bean casserole

Green bean casserole is an elite side dish. And like the lunch lady knows in Adam Sandler’s 1995 film “Billy Madison,” us kids like it extra sloppy. The best way to make green bean casserole is with lots of cream, love and a secret ingredient. I use Campbell’s mushroom soup, green beans from a can, a sprinkle of cheese here and a dash of fried onions there.

Before popping my casserole in the oven for a really long time, until it’s so pipping hot it resembles liquid magma, I’ll add a secret ingredient. It’s usually something crunchy that’s laying around my kitchen cabinet, like potato chips or pretzels. Dealer’s choice.

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Green bean casserole might look yucky in its assembly, but the final product steals the Thanksgiving show. It’s texturally interesting with flavors that are different from any other food on the plate. And it’s flexible; try sharing a forkful of it to enhance another dish. Mixed with stuffing? Good. Mixed with mashed potatoes? Even better. Creamy casserole combined with dry turkey? Outmatched.

— Lilly Price, news reporter

No Thanksgiving Day meal is complete without a good roll.
No Thanksgiving Day meal is complete without a good roll. (iStock.com/VeselovaElena)

Rolls

No Thanksgiving Day meal is complete without a good roll. Of course, a homemade loaf of bread or some buttermilk biscuits will do — any carb is welcome to a feast at my house — but the roll is king.

Consider this: When you’ve finished stacking your plate with a mound of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, with not a fresh vegetable in sight, and then drenched the entire hillock with rich gravy, you can’t forget to grab a piping hot roll or two and tuck them in a nook between the mac and cheese and green bean casserole.

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The roll is the Swiss Army knife of Thanksgiving. Need to sop up some gravy? Check. Or wipe your plate clean before you go get seconds? Done. Looking for a late-evening snack? Smack a slab of ham between that roll and add a little dab of sweet potato casserole before popping it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Sweet and savory sammie. You’ll thank me later.

— Brooks DuBose, news reporter

Pumpkin pie with chocolate crust

Cooking on Thanksgiving, for me, is a way to not only enjoy good food but a way to battle eating disorders, which I’ve struggled with for a long time. The first time I cooked Thanksgiving was my first year in recovery. Even when I covered high school football on Thanksgiving (as is tradition in Massachusetts, where I went to college), I cooked almost the entire meal. My mom typically comes through with the main dish — turkey or ham in the past. This year, it’s salmon as she’s gone vegetarian.

Around the time the Westminster Dog Show starts, I start chopping and putting things in the oven. My staples every year are: maple garlic Brussel sprouts, candied yams, challah stuffing, homemade cranberry orange sauce, lemon green beans, garlic mashed potatoes and, of course, pie.

But I don’t just do any pie. I roast a pie pumpkin for the filling, which takes an extra hour. I use coconut fat instead of milk and eggs (it tastes so much better). And then, I use a chocolate graham pie crust.

Not that anyone’s ever knocked it, but you should try it. It knocks a regular pie crust out of the park.

Here’s the recipe:

15 oz. of pumpkin, either from can or roasted pumpkin

3/4 cup coconut milk (full fat, isn’t the same otherwise)

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. salt

1 chocolate graham pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend.

Pour over pie crust and smooth with a spoon.

Bake in oven for 60 minutes. It will seem wobbly but will firm up when cooled.

Chill 4 hours to overnight.

— Katherine Fominykh, sports reporter

The premade cranberry sauce is great and provides the sweet, tart taste needed to cut through the heavy barrages of cheese, butter and potato.
The premade cranberry sauce is great and provides the sweet, tart taste needed to cut through the heavy barrages of cheese, butter and potato. (iStock.com/DebbiSmirnoff)

Cranberry sauce

America’s most beloved, can-shaped condiment: cranberry sauce. The premade stuff is great and provides the sweet, tart taste needed to cut through the heavy barrages of cheese, butter and potato. Put a little on everything.

But there is also the realm beyond canned cranberry: I’m talking well-spiced mixes that can take you from Thanksgiving into the holidays on a single sauce. My favorite is a cranberry cocktail sauce made with frozen cranberries, chili sauce and seasonings.

If you dare to venture even sweeter — say, a blueberry and cranberry sauce — you could pile leftover Thanksgiving jam onto toast for weeks to come.

— Rachael Pacella, news reporter

Corn casserole

I’m a notoriously picky eater, and Thanksgiving sides are no exception. Rolls and mac and cheese, yes please. I can tolerate mashed potatoes. Stuffing, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce are hard nos. I don’t even like most pies.

But one thing my family started making for our Thanksgiving meal only recently is corn casserole, and it’s one of my favorites. Also known as corn pudding to some, it’s super easy with just a few ingredients — corn, creamed corn, sour cream, butter, corn muffin mix and some cheese for my family — but super delicious. It’s kind of like cornbread if it was soft and creamy, with little pops of whole corn kernels hidden in there.

While not something I grew up eating, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine a Thanksgiving without it now.

— Erin Hardy, content editor

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie is my favorite dessert year-round, so Thanksgiving is a very exciting time for me. Every year my mom and I make two pumpkin pies — one normal one and one that’s dairy-free because my dad and I are lactose intolerant. For the latter, we use coconut cream and almond milk. I am the only one who eats it because I think my dad is usually too full by the time dessert rolls around to partake.

But this year we have a new participant at Thanksgiving — my cousin’s baby, Margot, who is about 9 months old. Maybe she’ll share the pie with me.

— Dana Munro, news reporter

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