Typically, the Thanksgiving menu begins with turkey and dressing. But the side dishes can be as diverse as the cooks who prepare them.
A bowl of mashed potatoes might be smooth and creamy at one house, and lumpy and flavorful with bits of garlic and blue cheese at another. The broccoli casserole has more variations than florets, and the yeast rolls are warm and soft whether they come from the freezer or the bakery, or are made from scratch by Great-Aunt Emma.
Donna Potter, chef/owner of Catering by Donna, grew up in Appalachia and has a diverse staff.
"We all thought our families had fairly traditional Thanksgiving dinner; however, each one of us had a different twist on every Thanksgiving dish," she said.
No matter what kind of side dishes are served at the holiday meal, they're special and usually come with heartfelt memories.
We asked several Central Kentucky chefs to tell us about their favorite Thanksgiving side dishes and to share the recipes (see Page C2).
Not quite as good as Grandma's
Catering by Donna chef Shaunee Taylor makes a sweet potato pie that reminds him of his grandmother's sweet potato casserole. He has tried to make her casserole but with no luck. Nothing tastes as good as his mother's or grandmother's cooking, he said. Taylor's mother, Renea, has worked at the catering company for 25 years.
Passed down from an aunt
Deli owner Jimmy Duggan prefers family recipes to the classic French dishes he was professionally trained to prepare. There was always "great food and drink" when his Irish and Italian families gathered for holidays.
"Aunt Lina would always make this broccoli Cheddar casserole that was to die for," he said.
When it comes to the main course, there's nothing better tasting than his grandmother's meatballs.
"It was a regular every week in our house. I have fond memories of my grandmother teaching me how to make them. She was from Messina, Sicily, and after frying them in oil on a sauté pan atop the stove, she would let me put them in the sauce. I couldn't wait for them to simmer for about an hour, then I got to taste them," Duggan said.
At Jimmy D's Café, he and his wife, Christine Markert, make meatballs using his mother's recipe and marinara with Markert's family recipe.
An early start
Sherry Keller-Pauley, chef/owner at Three Suns Bistro, said her best holiday recipe is for apple-sausage stuffing. On the wall at the restaurant hangs an enlarged photograph of Keller-Pauley, as a child, with her brother and three cousins on Thanksgiving Day at their grandmother's house, making stuffing. "I can still remember the feel of the warm stuffing in my hands," she said.
An unlikely favorite
Livia Theodoli-Wing, co-owner of Wingspan Gallery, is a part-time chef who prepares Thursday night dinners at the gallery. Pan-seared Brussels sprouts is her favorite holiday dish.
Theodoli-Wing was raised in Italy by a Kentucky-born mother. She moved to Kentucky in 1993 to attend medical school, but after three years, she opted for another career.
"The bottom line was we had always done a lot of big parties, and I started catering," she said.
After she met Carlton Wing and they married, they opened an art gallery. The gallery dinners just fell into place.
At Thanksgiving, family members take turns hosting the dinner. This year it will be at the home of her sister, Lavinia Spirito.
"I'll be bringing the Brussels sprouts," she said.
Mad for mad dog
Bob Perry, coordinator and chef of Food Systems Initiative at the University of Kentucky, said mad dog sweet potatoes are his favorite.
"Mad dog is something I grew up with, especially during summer visits to Rough River Lake at my Uncle Byrtle and Aunt Gladys' place on Little Clifty Creek. Put a big pat of sweet butter on your plate, cover with a large spoon of sorghum and mash together with a fork. Spread on warm biscuits and eat," he said.
"Wherever I have traveled as a professional chef, I have always tried to take a little bit of Kentucky with me. Bourbon and sorghum were two easy ways to do this. Bourbon always has a hint of vanilla from aging in the charred oak barrels and can be substituted for vanilla in many recipes.
"Both sides of my family made sorghum for generations; it was the country syrup. I remember going down to Grayson County with my dad and watching them cook it outdoors in a long divided metal trough over a wood fire. Dark and sweet, it is simply made by reducing the juice from the stem of the sorghum plant to thick syrup."
Creole means home
Rachel McCully-Landry, chef at Catering by Donna, said mirliton casserole, seafood gumbo and oyster dressing are musts every Thanksgiving.
"Both my husband and I are chefs, and having holidays off to be able to go home is impossible. So in our household, cooking traditional Creole dishes gives us a taste of home," she said.