Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family is a real honor for me. My maternal grandmother, Louise, cooked the holiday meal for decades. Her very Italian parents, Victor and Angela Borzone, owned several 24-hour diners in downtown Kansas City for many years, so she was very comfortable in the kitchen. My grandmother’s kitchen was the center of her home, and I loved cooking with her there. She and my father taught me to cook, but it was in her kitchen that I learned to love it.
In the basement was her mother’s stove. The vintage stove was a workhorse—dual ovens, four burners and a broiler. It was gas-fueled and had lots of workspace between the burners and lots of storage on each side. My great-grandmother cooked many meals on that stove, but its sole purpose for my grandmother was to slow-roast the turkeys and hams for holiday meals. The whole house would smell like a celebration when that oven was turned on, and with the main course roasting downstairs, the kitchen was free for creating the remainder of her feast.
Eventually she assigned the task of Thanksgiving to me. I was thrilled to be trusted, but I was very nervous. The first few Thanksgivings I hosted, I really overdid it. I cooked too much food, refused help, and over-thought the menu. I was exhausted. I just wanted to cook my family and friends the very best Thanksgiving meal ever.
By the third year my grandmother finally sat me down and scolded me. She told me to quit complicating the meal. Her advice—cook the traditions, honor your heritage, and most important—get out of the kitchen and spend time with family.
Today I keep it simple. I use good ingredients. I keep in mind the dietary needs of my guests. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are always on the table. I prepare as much as I can in advance. I delegate side dishes and setting the table. And most of all, I invite my family into the kitchen to help prepare the meal. My aunt and my dad are really amazing in the kitchen, and my mom sets a great table.
My most prized possession is my great-grandmother’s stove. To me it is a family heirloom to be treasured. It is in the basement of my new home, and I plan on cooking many turkeys in it for future holidays. Here are some of my family’s favorite side dishes that make an appearance at every Thanksgiving dinner.
Sheri Parr grew up hearing stories of her great-grandparents’ 24-hour countertop diners that operated in downtown Kansas City from 1918 through the ’50s, always called Vic’s and at times with as many as nine locations. After putting herself through college working at restaurants, her first job was at a Kansas City music bar. “My favorite city to visit is New Orleans,” Parr says. “Just walking down the street, there’s a background of good food and good, live music everywhere.” She opened The Brick at 1727 McGee St. in 1999, which features live music four nights a week. Parr was thrilled to be featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on the Food Network, where she prepared her famous meatloaf sandwich. “My grandmother was adamant about putting meatloaf and chili on the menu when I opened,” Parr says with a laugh.
- 4 medium-sized beets (any color) scrubbed clean
- 2 grapefruits
- 1 just ripe avocado
- 4 ounces arugula
- 2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped
- ½ shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
- ½ cup freshly squeezed citrus orange and lime juice
- 1-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Place beets in a medium saucepan and cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to maintain a low simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the beets, until easily pierced with the tines of a fork. When done, drain, peel off the outer thick skin, and let the beets cool to room temp. Peel and slice grapefruit, avocado and beets. Whisk together the citrus vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. Toss the salad greens with half of the citrus vinaigrette. Arrange the dressed greens on serving plates. Arrange the beets, avocados, and grapefruit on top of the salad greens. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over the salads.
Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups roughly chopped yellow onions
- 6 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tart apples
- 3 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent. Add the butternut squash, sweet potatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper to pot. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the diced apple and purée the soup with a handheld immersion blender until very smooth and creamy. Add the honey, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and heavy cream and stir. Bring to a simmer. Top with sour cream, pumpkin seeds, and paprika.
Fig, walnut and pear salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese
- 5 cups baby greens
- 6 fresh ripe figs, cut into quarters and stem ends removed
- 2 ripe pears, cored and cut into slices
- 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
- ½ medium size red onion sliced
- 1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
For dressing: combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, salt and black pepper together in a glass jar with a lid. Replace lid on the jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined.
Arrange the greens on four small plates, then add the figs, pears, and goat cheese. Sprinkle the salad with the toasted walnuts. Drizzle the balsamic dressing over each salad. Serve immediately.
Cranberry Orange Bourbon Relish
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup bourbon
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 large coins peeled, fresh ginger
- 112-ounce package of fresh cranberries
Combine the sugar and bourbon, stirring well, in a 1-quart saucepan. Add the orange zest and juice, cinnamon sticks and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid begins to reduce a little bit, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cranberries and simmer until the cranberries are soft and breaking apart and the sauce begins to thicken, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon sticks and ginger pieces. Allow the sauce to cool and refrigerate. This relish can be made several days before serving.
Cider Roasted Root Vegetables
Use any root vegetable, such as potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, garlic and onions
- Olive oil, to taste
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Apple Cider Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and cut the vegetables into uniform sizes. Toss the vegetables with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time until vegetables are easily pierced with a fork. Meanwhile, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients. Toss the hot roasted vegetables with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.