Thanksgiving is coming soon for those of us in the United States. It’s my favorite holiday. It’s both the biggest cooking holiday of the year and it’s always around my birthday — in fact, my birthday is on Thanksgiving this year, so my birthday cake will probably be a pumpkin pie. And about 10 years ago, it began to remind me of one of my favorite comic series, JSA.
The Justice Society of America first appeared in 1940, but its greatest run began in 1999 when James Robinson and David Goyer started a new volume of JSA after Robinson completed his magnum opus Starman. Starman explored the DC Universe through multiple generations of heroes: in this case, Golden Age Starman Ted Knight and his sons, David and Jack Knight, both of whom eventually took on the Starman mantle. JSA was a logical next step, opening up the world of so many legacy characters that had different iterations through the Golden Age, Silver Age, and beyond. As with most major-publisher comics, the JSA and its members have a long and convoluted history which is nicely summed up in this Wikipedia entry. Geoff Johns took over writing JSA in 2000, and his run was wonderful and lasted several years. It was through reading Starman and JSA that I truly fell in love with the whole (pre-New 52) DC Universe.
But what does this have to do with Thanksgiving? In the old days, annual team-ups between the JSA and JLA were a tradition. When Thanksgiving 2003 rolled around, Johns revived the tradition with a JSA/JLA Thanksgiving potluck dinner depicted in JSA #54. Ma Hunkel, who I talked about in a previous column, lets all the team members invade her kitchen and dining room to make the meal.
Thanksgiving dinner often is a celebration of family recipes, old and new. “Family” doesn’t only mean blood relatives, of course, and coming together for a meal is one of humanity’s oldest and best bonding rituals. In the Great Depression, people used potlucks as a way to stretch and share their limited resources and enjoy a bountiful meal that no one attendee could afford on their own. Thanksgiving often features a large number of dishes so everyone can make their favorite to share.
Since I can’t invite you all to my house for Thanksgiving, I’m going to share my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. I have a bunch of them so this is just the first installment. Look for more over the next three weeks! For extra credit, head to the comments section and tell me which member of the JLA or JSA would be most likely to bring each dish.
I’ll start with some vegetable dishes. Yes, it’s true, we’ve heard of vegetables in America! So stock up on butter and brown sugar (we wouldn’t want to accidentally taste a vegetable, after all), and let’s get started.
One of the most common Thanksgiving side dishes is green bean casserole, a classic of Middle America. Almost all of the ingredients come out of cans. Sure, there are classier recipes to make it from scratch (here’s a good one), but true green bean casserole is simple, made primarily of canned goods anyone might keep in their pantry. I add a few extra ingredients to mine to give it a little extra zip, but it’s fully recognizable as traditional GBC. And if you have a kid hanging around the kitchen who wants to help, this is an ideal recipe for that.
Green Bean Casserole
Makes 8 servings. (I usually make a double batch which fits nicely in a 2.5-quart baking dish. The leftovers keep well for up to three days, but it’ll probably be gone long before that.)
2 15-oz. can cut green beans, drained
1 10.75-oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can diced water chestnuts, drained
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (omit for a vegetarian dish)
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 can fried onions
- In a baking dish, pour in the condensed soup (do not dilute), the drained water chestnuts, Worcestershire sauce, and Creole seasoning. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Add the drained green beans and gently fold them into the soup mixture, taking care not to let the beans get mushed and shredded as you coat them.
- Cover the dish and bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until bubbly.
- When it’s bubbly, pull out of the oven and spread all the fried onions over the top evenly. Put it back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the onions are browned.
- Remove from oven and let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Note: You can make this ahead of time, which is nice if you’re making a bunch of dishes. Make the soup mixture, fold in the green beans, cover the dish tightly, and store in the refrigerator for up to two days. When ready to bake, take the dish out of the fridge and let it stand on the counter until it comes to room temperature. Then bake as instructed above.
And now, another easy veggie dish!
Makes 12-16 servings.
2 lbs carrots (either baby carrots or whole carrots cut into 1.5-inch pieces)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or lemon pepper)
- Put the carrots in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.
- Simmer about 10 minutes until the carrots can just be pierced with a fork. Don’t let them get mushy!
- Remove from the heat and drain off the cooking liquid.
- In another pot large enough to hold the carrots, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the brown sugar, salt, and pepper, then stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is uniform.
- Add the cooked carrots, gently tossing them in the brown sugar-butter sauce until all the carrots are coated. You can serve them immediately, or you can put them in a covered, oven-safe dish and roast in the oven for 30 minutes on 350F. This will make the carrots a bit more tender, and roasting them helps bring out deeper flavors.
And now for one more. This one is almost tastes like a crustless pie, but it’s on the healthy end of the pie scale and not as heavy as it may seem. This sweet potato pie contains eggnog and spices commonly found in pumpkin pie. It provides a nice contrast to the many savory dishes that are likely on the table, and it makes your house smell heavenly while it’s baking.
Holiday Sweet Potato Casserole
Makes 8-10 servings. (I usually make triple this amount for a big gathering.)
For the filling:
3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (Approx. 2-3 lbs of raw sweet potatoes will yield the 3 cups.)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup eggnog (with or without booze in it — your call)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 egg whites
For the topping:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 Tablespoon butter, chilled
- Cook and mash the sweet potatoes. (You can bake them, but it’s easiest to cut the raw sweet potatoes into big chunks of roughly equal size and boil them. The skins will begin to peel away on their own this way, and it’s faster than baking because it takes approximately 157 years to bake a whole sweet potato.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and coat a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Combine the mashed sweet potatoes, 1/3 cup brown sugar, eggnog, melted butter, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and egg whites.
- Spread mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish.
- To make the topping, combine the ¾ cup brown sugar and the flour. Cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, similar to making a pie crust. Sprinkle the “crumbs” over the sweet potato mixture.
- Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes, or until browned on top and bubbly around the edges. (Alternatively, you can bake the casserole without the topping and wait until it’s done. Pull the casserole out of the oven, boost the oven temp to 400F, and add the topping. Put the casserole back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. The higher heat will caramelize the brown sugar/butter topping and make a crisper crust, similar to a creme brulee.)
We’re off to a good start! Look for the second part of the Cook Your Comics Thanksgiving Spectacular next week. In the meantime, hit the comments to post which hero would bring each dish and tell us about your favorite Thanksgiving food.