I had quite a bit of writer’s block while trying to start this post. It isn’t because I don’t have anything to say about Thanksgiving. And it isn’t because I have a different favorite holiday. It’s because this one day means so much to me that it’s hard to put it into words.
Growing up, I always looked forward to Thanksgiving because in my family it was a holiday of such tradition. Both sides of my family got together at my parents’ house for one very long meal filled with what felt like unlimited appetizers, an impressive spread for the meal and then a dessert course to make any restaurant menu shudder with jealousy. My mom would fold the napkins at each place setting accordion style (see picture) weeks before the big day. We generally used plastic plates and got our food buffet style, but the fancy napkins were always key. She wouldn’t fold them that way for any other holiday because – for whatever reason – that specific folding style was special for Thanksgiving.
My grandma would carefully carve the turkey before guests arrived so it was easier for serving. Aunt Sheryl would make her famous stuffing (and slip me an extra-large piece wrapped in foil to save since she knew I loved it so much). Aunt Caryn made her classic green bean casserole. And my other grandma, mentioned in #2 of this post, would bring a giant fruit tray.
I have memories of cutting off hunks of warm brie in puff pastry, oozing out of the shell with jam, and devouring it with greasy fingers. My cousins and I were drunk on sparkling apple cider – or maybe it was the excessive food that made us a little loopy. We’d pile our plates high, eat as much as possible and then retire to my room for our traditional Thanksgiving showing of the movie we watched every year (I will not name it since I’m embarrassed it received a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes). Swearing we would never eat again, we’d laugh at the terrible movie, which has some really famous actors in it by the way. And then we’d hear a call for dessert and go running downstairs as fast as our turkey-laden bodies could carry us.
Today, it isn’t so different. But then again, it really is. I can expect the baked brie, among other appetizers. Sheryl still makes her stuffing, and Caryn does the green bean casserole. Of course my grandma brings the fruit tray, and we still watch that terrible movie (on VHS, no less). And the fancy folded napkins will forever be a staple – that picture was taken just last weekend. But my other grandma passed away a few months ago, so there isn’t anyone to carve the turkey. Or tell me that something I made is too spicy. Or ask for a “tiny piece of everything” from our giant dessert table.
It isn’t going to be the same this year. And part of me feels like she would’ve been okay with that. I’ve sort of started to take over Thanksgiving as my holiday. Each year, I’ve taken on more and more dishes, and my family has given me more freedom to make what I want. At first, my mom was nervous to try anything non-traditional because she thought the picky eaters wouldn’t eat anything. As it turns out, my family is more adventurous than we give them credit for. The spinach artichoke dip will forever be a staple appetizer now, and the brussel sprouts I made last year are being repeated this year. I’m also contributing mushroom and caramelized onion appetizer bites, orange cranberry sauce, creamed spinach and parsnips, a vegetarian mediterranean salad, a raspberry & lemon curd tart and a dark chocolate & salted caramel pie.
As I was chopping onions, roasting vegetables and stirring my lemon curd, I couldn’t help but think what my grandma would’ve thought of everything I was cooking. She was definitely a traditional woman, yet she always told stories of creating new recipes (mock cheese cake…still not sure what that one is) and being adventurous in the kitchen. I know that I get that trait from her. Most of the recipes I’m making this year are new, and I love trying out different dishes on my family each year. I thought Beverly would have particularly liked the salted caramel pie. She was pretty salty herself, although she did have a soft spot for sweets. I haven’t bit into the pie yet, and I’m already getting the feeling I’ll need to share this recipe.
Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
Adapted from Food & Wine
- About 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (should be 1 1/2 sleeves of crackers)
- 8 tbsp butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- Two 14 oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
- 8 oz. dark chocolate
- Kosher salt or fleur de sel
- Optional: 2 cups heavy cream and 2 tbsp confectioners sugar
**Note: This makes one deep dish 9 1/2″ pie. For a regular crust, just decrease the amount of crust you’re making.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pour your sweetened condensed milk into a 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle with about 1/2 tsp of the salt. Cover tightly with foil.
- Put that baking dish into a 9×13, and fill about 1/2 full with warm water, or until it is as high as your milk goes. FYI, there are other ways to make dulce de leche. Check them out here >
- Bake until the milk has thickened, which will take 2-2 1/2 hours. Every 20 minutes, stir and carefully add more water to the bath. It might get a little lumpy, but that’s okay.
- When it is done – and it will thicken more upon standing – remove from oven and turn oven down to 350 degrees.
- Crush your graham crackers in a food processor for a uniform consistency. Add in your sugar and vanilla. Press down onto pie pan so that crust is evenly distributed.
- Bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- In a double boiler, melt your chocolate until smooth. Pour evenly onto the pie crust. Let sit, and then refrigerate to cool.
- If you want to top with whipped cream, just whip together your cream and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Once your pie has cooled, pour in your caramel. Note that if you refrigerate it, it will set. You can microwave for a few minutes to make it more fluid.
- Top with a bit of the salt, and spread with whipped cream if you want. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.
This Thanksgiving, we’re drinking wine instead of cider, enjoying my aunt’s homemade bread and skipping the store-bought appetizers at my request. I don’t know who will be carving the turkey; I know there will be one. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll be camped out at the dessert table waiting for some salted caramel pie.