Sharpen your knives and pull out your cranberry jello molds -- it's Thanksgiving cooking season once again!
What kind of Thanksgiving cook are you? Maybe you're someone who returns to tried and true family favorites year after year. Or maybe you like to mix it up with new preparations and twists, to keep your guests on their toes.
Either way, it's time to start planning your menu for the big day -- and we've got you covered. As we've done for the past 6 years now, we've scoured all the big food magazines to see what they're serving up for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. Today, we're going to tell you about some of this year's biggest Thanksgiving trends, including graphic visualizations of all the recipe names, showing which foods are most popular this year. Tomorrow, we'll inundate you with our exhaustive 2014 Thanksgiving Recipe Index -- more than 150 recipes from 11 current issues of popular food magazines.
Then, leading up to Thanksgiving, we'll tell you all about the 20 different recipes we tried out for ourselves. We'll discuss what we loved, what we weren't crazy about, and which recipes have no place on your Thanksgiving table.
We're excited for the next few weeks! So let's get started:
Big Trend: Global Flavors
It's Thanksgiving: Do you know where your ras el hanout is?
Thanksgiving coverage in food magazines is always a mix of familiar flavors and more exotic twists. But this year we noticed a decided tilt toward spices and ingredients that would definitely have left the Pilgrims perplexed.
This year's recipes seem ripped from a Spice Road market, featuring ingredients like harissa, madras hot curry, Ethiopian berbere and, yes, ras el hanout. There's Portuguese linguiça, as well as Japanese miso and tamari (in separate recipes!). Two different magazines have a recipe for a Moroccan-spiced turkey.
And there are plenty of other recipes with ingredients that are less exotic but still quite nontraditional for Thanksgiving -- things like cardamom, coriander, coconut, mango, aged balsamic vinegar, sesame seeds.
It's a contrast from recent years, when we've seen a bigger trend toward regional heritage American flavors and ingredients -- bourbon, sorghum, grits, apple cider, bacon. You definitely still see some of that this year, but Thanksgiving 2014 seems to have a decidedly wider worldview.
Big Trend: Take Apart That Turkey
We've seen food magazines moving in this direction over the past few years: Breaking down the turkey and cooking it in separate pieces rather than roasting the bird whole. That trend goes even further this year -- seemingly every turkey is either spatchcocked, rolled up in a roulade or cooked in a pot. Other recipes focus only on turkey breasts.
There's lots of smart reasons behind this: Roasting a whole bird is tricky. It can take three or four hours; it completely monopolizes your oven space; and it's easy to wind up with a bird that's overcooked and dry in some places and undercooked in others.
Breaking apart the turkey gives you more consistent results in much less time. We're big fans.
Big Trend: Mashed Potato Mashups
Do you fret about whether to serve mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving? Two different food magazines this year have a solution for you: Serve them both in the same bowl.
We kind of can't believe we've never thought of this potato-swirl approach before. Blending mashed white potatoes and sweet potatoes seems like a no-brainer. You'd get that starchy, buttery goodness of the white potatoes mixed with the creamy sweetness of sweet potatoes. Genius!
Two instances may not make for a huge trend, but we were struck by seeing this twice this year, when we've never noticed a recipe for this in the past.
Big Trend: Pumpkin Pie Fatigue
We bet if we asked you right now to name a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, the first thing that pops in your mind would be pumpkin pie.
But that classic pie was almost completely absent from this year's food magazines. One magazine -- Food Network Magazine -- does have an expansive feature on different variations of pumpkin pie. And Fine Cooking has a classic pumpkin pie recipe.
But all the other magazines pretty much ignored it. Perhaps they figure you've already got a pumpkin pie recipe you love. Perhaps they felt like they covered the topic sufficently last year, when three different mags had a recipe for brûléed pumpkin pies. But for whatever reason, 2014 is not a year for pumpkin pies.
Big Trend: Fennel Rising
It's not like fennel has been absent from previous years' Thanksgiving menus. But this year it seems to be an "it" ingredient (supplanting "it" foods of Thanksgivings past like kale and cauliflower).
This year fennel is on the turkey. It's in soups and salads. And it's roasted on its own as a side dish.
We like fennel a lot and are glad to see its fresh, mildly licorice flavor visit the Thanksgiving table.
For those of you who want to go deeper on trends, we'll leave you with a few more word clouds. And we'll be back tomorrow with the full recipe rundown.
Meanwhile, let us know which words stick out to you from the visualizations below!
Here's every recipe name, just like the word cloud at the top of this post, but with all the usual suspects -- "turkey," "stuffing," "pie" and so on -- removed. You can click the images to expand them.
Cranberry sauces and chutneys:
Stuffing and dressing:
All the word clouds pictured were made using Wordle