Not sure where I'm from
, but now call far western Kentucky home. My region has a heavy southern influence with its food.
I lived for some time in the upper northern part of Minnesota, near the Canadian border and enjoyed a different Thanksgiving meal experience than I do here in Kentucky and I like both.
One thing I've added over the years is, in addition to my savory sage turkey stuffing, a baked cornbread stuffing. It's traditional southern Thanksgiving fare and I love it.
It wasn't until about 4 years ago that I'd ever tasted "the" green bean casserole. It's pretty good, but seemed a bit too salty for me and I'm sure that's because the bulk of the ingredients are salt-laden.
As others have mentioned, we have pretty much the same thing from year to year, tradition, and the only changes I make are to add something new to the mix or prepare one of the standard dishes in a different way.
For example, there are members of our family who would think it a travesty if sweet potatoes weren't served for this holiday. By the time I was a young adult, I'd become so sick and tired of sweet potato casserole with browned marshmallows on top I nearly wretched at the thought of seeing a bowl of it on the table. So....I've almost made a quest of offering sweet potatoes in more creative and, to me, more delicious forms. And, hooray, everyone seems to have accepted that their dear orange veggie will appear on the table, but not dressed in marshmallows.
When it comes to stuffing, I prefer it in
the turkey. The flavor that is imparted during the cooking process only enhances the flavor. At least, I think so. For those who prefer it otherwise I always have a separate casserole that is baked outside the bird. The recipe for the stuffing has been handed down from mother to daughter for generations in my family and I would be shot if I didn't make it.
It's pretty simple. Just dried bread, chopped onions, celery and green pepper, some milk and butter, a couple of eggs and seasoned with plenty of sage and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Oh, rats, now I want some stuffing!
I always serve mashed potatoes because I make copious amounts of gravy. I save the water from boiling the potatoes and the stock from cooking the giblets to add to the gravy when I make it.
When all the children were at home I had to make gravy by the vat and, finally, ended up serving it in a big pitcher. A gravy boat never made it around the table before it had to be refilled.
Dessert is almost a joke after one of our Thanksgiving/Christmas meals because everyone eats "a little of this and a little of that" and, by the time dessert arrived, there's not much room in our tummies for it.
I do make several desserts but we don't serve it immediately after the big meal. Dessert usually happens an hour or two later.
Pumpkin is quite the tradition on American Thanksgiving menus and one of the favorites with my family and guests is a pumpkin jellyroll I make that has a cream cheese icing. In spite of having the cream cheese frosting it's a light enough dessert to satisfy a sweet tooth and fill the need for a bit of dessert.
One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in the 45 or so Thanksgiving dinners I've prepared is...it is essential to do as much preparation ahead as possible. I greatly enjoy visiting with my family and guests and don't much like being tied to the kitchen. Experience is a wonderful teacher.
Good luck with your lovely surprise meal and you are wise to begin your planning now. You might consider preparing some of the dishes you plan to serve in the months prior to the event. This will give you the opportunity to critique it/them and get a preview of some of the wonderful flavors of our special holiday.