Kitchen Shrink: Look on the bright sides: Some old and new Thanksgiving favorites
“We’re having something different this year for Thanksgiving. Instead of a turkey we’re having a swan. You get more stuffing.”
— George Carlin
While roughly 46 million turkeys are waiting to be gobbled up at the Thanksgiving feast--this traditional centerpiece actually takes second-string to the glorious and bountiful sides, the true gustatory fantasies of your dinner guests. Here’s a primer to help you navigate safely and calmly through a sea of carbs, sugars, sodium, and fats with a line-up of some irresistible and eye-popping sides to keep everyone healthy, happy, and satiated.
A Panacea: Make pans of all manners your best friends this Thanksgiving season. A muffin tin or cupcake pan is a great baking tool to create elegant, and easy to serve single portions of stuffings from traditional sourdough and sage to sweet and sassy quinoa with dried cherries and rosemary, mini quiches and pumpkin risottos, or mushroom filled puff pastry shells (recipe below). These can be made ahead, and heated with the turkey as it rounds the homestretch, cutting down on stress, and giving you more time to spend with your family and friends. Sheet pans can be converted into a one-stop sideshow grouping vegetables with similar textures and roasting times on each pan. Slices of winter squashes (hubbard, delicata, kabocha, butternut), and roots (carrots, parsnips, turnips, purple yams, and redskin potatoes), drizzled with a savory blend of olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and smoked paprika make an impressive Technicolor of fall’s best offerings. While rectangular baking pans are ideal for preparing old timey cornmeal herb bread, cut into squares or triangles of various sizes.
Bowl Me Over: For some autumn edibles that are both a feast for the eyes and palates (and also cut down on dirty dishes) use the hollows of sugar pie pumpkins, or acorn squashes as ramekins for seasonal soups, pilafs or grains, while red and orange peppers make crunchy, vitamin-rich vessels for salads or slaws.
Wild for Mushrooms: Have a field day with a bunch of immune-boosting fabulous fungi. Beefy, buttery portobellos, earthy criminis, piney shiitakes, delicate oysters, funnel-shaped chanterelles with a sweet hint of apricot essence, fruity-flavored enokis, or rich, woodsy porcinis will amp up gravies and sauces, mashed potatoes, stuffings, and casseroles. A mixture of mushrooms sautéed with butter, shallots, and a splash of white wine, then enveloped in a blanket of golden puff pastry makes a divine Wellington for a scrumptious side or vegetarian entrée.
I Yam What I Yam: Yams and sweet potatoes are so rich, silky, and toothsome they don’t need to be enlivened with butter, sugar, marshmallows, or any other cloying add-ins. Simply spread mashed yams or sweet potatoes in an oven-safe casserole, drizzle with pure maple syrup, add a layer of toasted pecans, and bake until bubbly for a dessert-delicious side that can be prepared in advance, and reheated on Turkey Day.
Go Green: The Methuseleh sides like creamed spinach, and fried onion topped green bean casserole can be augmented (or replaced) with such exciting delights as roasted balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts, zesty tri-colored cauliflower with a toasted hazelnut coating, braised fennel with garlic and tangerine juice, crispy potato latkes with chunky cranberry apple sauce, turkey bacon wrapped asparagus spears, and coconut creamed kale.
No Small Potatoes: The Cardinal Rule of Thanksgiving states that mashed potatoes are mandatory at the holiday table to avoid a squabbling mob. It is truly an art to whip up fluffy, silky mashed potatoes from scratch. A stainless steel potato ricer is a favorite tool of top chefs. This handy device even removes the skin from cooked potatoes as it presses the starchy flesh through the ricer basket. While russets are the best choice for fluffy and creamy whipped potatoes, some prefer redskins or Yukon Golds that tend to be waxy and grainy, but have a greater depth of flavor with sweet, buttery undertones. Mashed potatoes of all kinds can be dressed up or down, and even made a little tipsy with a splash of smooth, woodsy bourbon. Simple is best with a dollop of crème fraiche, spoonful of butter, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper. For the cholesterol-conscious use low-fat Greek yogurt, or for the lactose-intolerant blend in ghee butter and a non-dairy milk whether coconut, oat, almond, or hemp. For a rustic oomph add pureed celery root, parsnips, or roasted garlic cloves.
Get Saucy: Food folklorists believe that cranberries were served at the first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth. Cranberry sauce probably came to the modern holiday table as an anti-choking aid to counter the Styrofoam-textured turkey. Even still, this zippy condiment nicely complements both main courses and sides. While traditional recipes include large amounts of sugar to balance the tartness, best to use healthier options, such as, honey, maple syrup, monk, or date sugar, as well as cut fruits like tangerines, pears. and sweet apples to add natural sweetness and texture.
Wishing all my loyal readers a healthy, fun and tasty Thanksgiving gathering.
Recipe: Mixed Mushroom Puff Pastry Cups
Try this marvelous mushroom pastry, which might cause a culinary mutiny when it upstages the turkey.
• 2 sheets Artisan puff pastry, cut in circles to fit muffin cups
• 1.5-pounds assorted mushrooms (your choice: oyster, crimini, shiitake or button)
• 1.5-tablespoons butter or virgin olive oil
• 4-tablespoons white wine
• 1-teaspoon chopped Italian parsley
• 2 shallots, minced
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet, heat butter or oil on low. Sauté shallots, and mushrooms for 1 minute. Add wine, parsley, seasonings. Continue cooking until tender. Strain, reserving liquid.
Grease muffin tin (size of choice) with butter or oil, and place puff pastry circles in the cups, molding to fit the sides. Spoon mushroom mixture in cups, and drizzle with reserved liquid. Place a second pastry circle on top, pinching edges to close gaps. Vent with a sharp knife. Brush with egg wash. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
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