For many of us, Thanksgiving is just not the same without turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. In other words, tradition tends to trump trendy.
Yet food magazines always encourage going beyond the usual suspects. And who among us has time to try them out in advance of Thanksgiving?
Zach Patton and Clay Dunn, that's who. They're the married couple behind the food blog The Bitten Word.
The two surveyed 11 food magazines and came up with word clouds to show what's trending in Thanksgiving fare. Overall, they found some creative new recipes that shine on the plate, but overall, classic dishes are holding steady.
Among their findings: Mashed potatoes are making something of a comeback. "The last couple years," Dunn tells All Things Considered's Melissa Block, "sweet potatoes have been far outnumbering the number of regular white potato, mashed potato dishes."
Kale and cauliflower, Dunn says, which in recent years had earned a spot on Thanksgiving tables (at least according to food magazines), also fell off the list this year.
But the sides weren't the only things going back to basics, Dunn says.
"This year we're back to more tried-and-true roast turkeys," says Dunn. The crazier takes on turkey from years past, like tandoori turkey or turkeys prepared on the grill, got less attention.
"The flip side to that is things like Cornish game hens, duck, ham or even barbecue ribs," which appeared as turkey alternatives, says Patton. Food & Wine, he says, even has a Thanksgiving menu featuring sushi.
To figure this all out — and test what's yummy — the two concocted "Fakesgiving." It's a full day of cooking as many dishes as possible. Friends are invited over to help judge.
One of those Fakesgiving dishes tested was sausage pear stuffing from Martha Stewart Living. The two described it on their blog as "boarding the train to blandville." They admit that might've been a bit harsh.
But by far, says Patton, "the runaway hit" of Fakesgiving was a carrot mash with orange and mint from Fine Cooking. "We didn't expect too much out of it. But everyone loved it."
And the king of dessert this year? Patton says the brûléed pumpkin pie from Martha Stewart Living. "It's a pumpkin seed crust, so it's kind of a few of the trends coming together."
So would any of these make it on their Thanksgiving table? Patton says he'd "love an excuse" to make the carrot mash again and certainly the brûléed pumpkin pie, because, he says, "there's never enough."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Traditional tends to trump trendy when it comes to the Thanksgiving meal. You got to have the turkey, the mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie. Cranberry sauce, for many of us, dumped straight out of the can. Otherwise, it's just not Thanksgiving. And yet, in food magazines this time of year, there's always encouragement to go beyond the usual suspects. It's a veritable cornucopia of recipes.
But who among us has time to survey them and try them out in advance of Thanksgiving? Well, Zach Patton and Clay Dunn, that's who. They're the married couple behind the food blog The Bitten Word. Zach and Clay, welcome. Thanks for coming in.
ZACH PATTON: Thanks for having us.
BLOCK: One of the things you do on your blog is you survey 11 food magazines, and you come up with word clouds to show what's trendy in side dishes and turkey and desserts. So what are some of the surprises you found this year, Clay?
CLAY DUNN: Let's talk first about something that's not present in the trends, kind of what's out this year.
DUNN: We were really surprised to see kale fall off the list.
BLOCK: Kale is out.
DUNN: And the same with cauliflower. Something that is more prominent this year are more classic takes on mashed potatoes. The last couple years, sweet potatoes have been far outnumbering the number of regular sort of white potato, mashed potato dishes. This year, that's changed and sort of mashed potatoes are back on top.
BLOCK: And as far as the bird, as far as turkey goes, what's in with turkey this year?
DUNN: You know, where in previous years we've seen a lot of sort of crazy takes on turkey, like a Tandoori turkey, or turkeys last year that were all prepared on the grill. This year, we're back to more tried and true roast turkeys. There are little twists like a thick glaze or a bourbon brine. But for the most part, it's sort of back to the traditional turkey.
BLOCK: Back to basics. Zach?
PATTON: The flipside to that is there were, in some of the food magazines, suggestions for main dishes other than turkey, things like Cornish game hens or duck or ham, even barbecued ribs. "Food & Wine" magazine had a Thanksgiving menu that included sushi. I love those ideas. I think that you might get some strange looks if you showed up at the Thanksgiving table with a big plate of sushi rolls but...
BLOCK: Or you could really be pleasing all those people who say, I really hate turkey. Thank God you brought sushi.
BLOCK: You both do something before Thanksgiving. You have something called fakesgiving in advance of the holiday, basically. Why don't you explain, Clay, what fakesgiving is?
DUNN: So, every year in late October or early November, we invite a bunch of friends over to our house and we cook, literally, as many dishes as we possibly can in one day.
BLOCK: So you're road-testing, basically, dishes, pre-Thanksgiving.
BLOCK: OK. So one of the ones that I think you tested for fakesgiving was sausage pear stuffing from "Martha Stewart Living." Not a big hit, I gather.
BLOCK: You described it on your blog. You said this - little did we know we were boarding the train to blandville.
PATTON: Oh, that's a little harsh.
BLOCK: That is harsh.
PATTON: I will just, for the record, add that Clay told me later that he thought it was too bready. And I thought maybe he is looking for something in a stuffing that...
BLOCK: That is kind of the reason for being the stuffing.
DUNN: That's sort of the point.
PATTON: It's true.
BLOCK: Maybe you're just not a stuffing guy. OK. What was a hit, Zach?
PATTON: By far, the runaway hit of fakesgiving was a carrot mash with mint.
PATTON: That was from "Fine Cooking" magazine. It was sort of a sleeper hit. I mean, it's mashed carrots. We didn't expect too much out of it. But everyone loved it. It's a very savory take on carrots.
DUNN: Also, it has a nice amount of cream and butter, which never...
BLOCK: Can never ever hurt.
PATTON: Always popular.
BLOCK: OK. So mashed carrots with mint. Clay, what else? What else was a hit?
DUNN: There's a kind of it dessert this year, which is a bruleed pumpkin pie. And we made a take on that from "Martha Stewart Living." It's a bruleed pumpkin pie with a pumpkin seed crust. So it's kind of a few of the trends coming together.
BLOCK: OK. Now I have to ask you, you have brought in what looks to be a pumpkin pie.
DUNN: This is a bruleed pumpkin pie, but we wanted to try out a different one from the one that we had made already. This is a maple pumpkin pie with a chocolate crust from "Bon Apetit" magazine. When we were making the other bruleed pumpkin pie, we actually burned through two kitchen torches and had to ask a friend to bring his to the actual dinner.
BLOCK: How can you have burned through two torches?
DUNN: Yeah. We use a lot of fuel.
BLOCK: I guess so.
PATTON: We ran out of butane.
BLOCK: From all of the recipes you've been looking at and testing and setting up on fakesgiving, when the actual Thanksgiving comes around this year, are any of these recipes going to make it into your dinner?
PATTON: I think carrot mash is a strong contender for our vegetable dish. I love an excuse to make it again. We may have to try a third take on bruleed pumpkin pie.
BLOCK: Because they're never enough.
PATTON: Because they're never enough. Just to see how it goes.
BLOCK: Well, Clay and Zach, thanks so much for coming in and Happy Thanksgiving.
DUNN: Happy Thanksgiving.
PATTON: Happy Thanksgiving.
BLOCK: Clay Dunn and Zach Patton, they're the men behind the food blog, The Bitten Word. As for that bruleed pie they brought in, the one with the chocolate crust - so good. So good it'll be on our table here for our staff Thanksgiving potluck. And I predict it won't be on that table very long. Tomorrow, tune in to hear TV chef Alton Brown say this.
ALTON BROWN: Spatchcock, fantastic word.
BLOCK: As we revisit his tips for cooking that turkey.
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.