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Staff Picks: The Scout’s favorite Thanksgiving meals

Graphic by Kyle St. John

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving feasts, The Scout staff would like to take a moment to share our favorite dishes that are staples for this holiday meal. Whether it’s a side, main course or dessert, we all have that one culinary preparation that we can’t get enough of each year.

Angeline Schmelzer – The turkey

For most Thanksgiving meals, it wouldn’t be complete without the turkey. It’s the star of the holiday, and when made correctly, it’s not the dry poultry that many complain about. Sometimes my family will have the classic oven-baked bird, and other times my dad will get the smoker going for a delicious alternative. Either way, it’s seasoned to perfection and pairs nicely with the gravy and the sides of your choosing.

Leftovers? Turkey is great to use the next few days on sandwiches or other fun lunch ideas. Small pieces are also nice for a sneaky trip to the fridge for a quick snack. Happy turkey day, everybody.

Larry Larson – Cranberry sauce

No, I’m not talking about the Ocean Spray stuff that comes in cans. I’m talking about the homemade sauce with real cranberries that are cooked right on the stovetop, preferably by my mother.

The right cranberry sauce is the right balance between sweet and almost bitter, featuring a blend of warm flavors that truly bring about holiday spirit (yes, that’s a thing for Thanksgiving, too).

Valerie Vasconez – Mac & cheese

Step aside, boxed macaroni and cheese; it’s time for homemade, gooey goodness. My favorite is from my father-in-law who is also a great chef. With the choice of conchiglie shells over the traditional elbow packs and the multi-cheese sauce in each noodle, it’s a welcoming burst when you bite into it — a seasoned delight. I’ve never had homemade macaroni for Thanksgiving until recently, but this comfort side is so essential to me now. While there’s so many ways to make it (baked, stovetop, noodle variation, cheese variation, spiced, simplistic, crunchy, creamy), one thing is for certain: when you find a recipe that fills your plate and stomach, it fills your heart, too.

Maddy Mirallegro – Mashed potatoes

It may sound stereotypical for my favorite Thanksgiving food to be mashed potatoes, but you guys just don’t get it. While some may see the potatoes and gravy as just something that takes up your plate, I see it as a very versatile and necessary addition to the large ensemble of food. Your turkey is a little dry? Dip it in some of the mashed potatoes and gravy. Don’t want to use butter on a dinner roll? Once again, dip it in some of the mashed potatoes and gravy. Of course, the use of this dish doesn’t stop once the dinner is done. One of my favorite leftover meals is a bowl of mashed potatoes, gravy and turkey all mixed together. It may look a little gross, but wow, is it good.

Jade Sewell – Candied yams

Although my ability to appreciate candied yams has been overshadowed by my vegetarian commitment to avoiding gelatin, the candied yams will always hold a special place in my heart. The taste and texture of candied yams are unmatched by any other Thanksgiving food and remind me of the simpler joys of my childhood. In my youth, I snacked on the toasted marshmallows, pushing the sweet potatoes aside. However, my mature palette has allowed me a greater appreciation for the combination of the fluffy marshmallows and savory yam taste. If you’re lucky enough to have a relative who specializes in creating this dish, enjoy an extra helping for my sake.

Daniel Kerns – My mom’s caramel brownies

While it may seem off-beat for some, it isn’t really Thanksgiving at the Kerns house without my mom’s caramel brownies. It’s our pre-Thanksgiving ritual. On Wednesday night, my sisters and I unwrap what seem like endless pieces of caramel and put them in a large bowl. Of course, the job gets a little easier when we eat a few, but not so many that there won’t be enough for the brownies. Fond memories aside, it’s nice to take a break from the staples that stick to your ribs, like turkey, mashed potatoes and noodles, with something sweeter. While some people may suggest pumpkin pie as the dessert distraction from all the turkey, they forget that pumpkins get all of October. Let some other confections have their time to shine.

Anaiah Davis – Sweet potato pie

It’s not Thanksgiving in most Black households without sweet potato pie. While many indulge in peach cobbler, pumpkin or pecan pie, the decadence of this tasty dessert tops them all for me. A sacred dessert in the Black community, the task of crafting the perfect sweet potato pie is usually put in the hands of only certain family members. Growing up, all I could do was watch as my mom and sister worked tirelessly to perfect the consistency of the pie filling, never stopping until they got it just right. But these days in the Davis residence, I’m lucky to be one of those individuals. While it takes an hour or two to peel, cut and mash them, depending on which siblings are helping, the result is always worth it. In fact, the process just might be the best part. Topped off with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, sweet potato pie is and always will be a taste of home.

Jonathan Michel – Sweetened corn

As someone who’s lived in the Midwest my entire life, corn has been a fairly common side dish at dinners, but when Thanksgiving rolls around, something about it is more special. Sweetened corn is a fixture for any good Thanksgiving dinner because it adds extra “oomph” to the common dish of regular, dry corn. Not to say that normal corn is bad, but having it in a sweet-but-not-too-thick sauce is even more delectable. Other Thanksgiving foods like stuffing, turkey and mashed potatoes fill you up quickly, but sweetened corn does not, allowing you to revel in the spread of food on your table even longer. Many Thanksgiving foods are served throughout the year but deserve an extra punch for the most important meal of the year, and sweetened corn is undoubtedly the best example of that.

Sam Mwakasisi- Pilau

For me, the sign of an exemplary family dish is when it turns me into a little kid again, and that’s the relationship I have with pilau. For those unfamiliar, pilau is a rice dish with variants across dozens of different cultures, but I know it through its East African form. Which has manifested at countless reunions and gatherings from my youth to today as the biggest, boldest flavor of rice imaginable. Its golden brown color is pumped with fragrant spices, and beef is almost always mixed in, although potatoes and/or other meats like chicken can also be added to the fun. It’s likely my all-time favorite food, instantly enjoyable at any time of the year, but what makes it special for me come Thanksgiving is that, for a brief moment, I can literally taste my way through my family’s culture. The warmth, the comfort, the nostalgia — it’s all unlocked by a single bite. If you ask me, no family gathering is 100% complete without pilau.

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