Riley Rates: Thanksgiving Foods

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Riley Jordan

Popeyes’ “Cajun Style Turkey” provides an interesting alternative to the standard roast turkey that millions eat every year on Thanksgiving.

Ever since the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the American holiday has been an annual event to catch up with family, watch football, engage in level-headed discussion with your college siblings and very old relatives about the complex political state of the United States, relax, and most importantly eat traditional food. Unfortunately, not all Thanksgiving foods are created equal. After reading my definitive ratings (using the patent-pending Riley Rates 5-Star System) for the most popular dishes, you’ll be sure that even the most heated discussion does not impede your ability to enjoy your meal.

Turkey
Turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, but does it deserve to be? I’ve had good experiences with turkey, but there are downsides. It’s difficult to cook, impossible to season thoroughly, and has a flavor that is acceptable but never beyond chicken. For that reason, traditional Thanksgiving turkey gets 3.5 stars. If you’re willing to look past tradition, turkey can be prepared teriyaki style, deep fried, in sandwich form, or you could even buy Popeyes’ Cajun-style turkey. Traditions hold society back, while Popeyes’ innovation pushes us forward.

Mashed Potatoes
Now THIS is a side dish. As if potatoes haven’t done enough for the world, they again bless us in their mashed state. With potential to mix butter and salt evenly throughout, mashed potatoes are the perfect starchy canvas for endless great ideas. Potato skin? Nice texture. Garlic? Please. Cheese? Brilliant. 5 stars.
You may have heard the news, however, that there is an alternative to the mashed potato that lately has been making the rounds. Calling itself the “sweet potato,” the name alone would suggest a possible improvement on the popular unsweetened potato. However, the sweet potato is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may be sweet. Yes, this is true. And it also, undoubtedly, is potato-shaped. But the sweet taste, which promises glory for the sweet potato, prohibits proper cohesion with salt or butter. Be warned: these are not the potatoes you’re looking for. 2 stars.

Stuffing
I may get a lot of heat for this, but stuffing is nothing but filler to me. Stuffing is a staple of Thanksgiving, and yet non-existent in just about every other meal. This is because it’s nothing more than a placeholder to add weight to a lacking bird. Cutting into a turkey filled with this soggy mess reminds me of the cakes they make on “Cake Boss” where they open it up to expect cake, but instead are greeted to rice krispies covered in fondant. Whose idea was this? 2 stars.

Cranberry Sauce
I may have gone too hard on stuffing, because cranberry sauce is something else. With variations such as “sad fruit soup,” “chunky jello” and “shaped exactly like the aluminum can it came from,” there are so many ways this can go wrong. Not only do I find the idea of putting this on turkey to be repulsive, but for all the Thanksgiving meals I’ve eaten, at most one or two people put this on their plate. No disrespect (maybe some) to cranberry sauce fans, but I give this half a star.

Vegetables
The vegetables served at a thanksgiving meal can vary from household to household, but my favorites are corn, peas and green beans, which are all deserving of 4-5 stars. The outlier is the dreaded brussel sprout. I have put in effort to enjoy these vegetables, and I’ve eaten them seasoned and cooked in different ways, but I have yet to bite into one without being disappointed. Maybe one day. 1.5 stars.

Mac and Cheese
I don’t know how this became a Thanksgiving staple, but I am all for it. Obviously, cheese and pasta result in a delicious side when combined. Its versatility can also be its Achilles’ heel, however, as of the numerous mac and cheeses I have eaten in my life, they haven’t all been great. But when made with care, mac and cheese is a favorite. 4.5 stars.