Updating the classics
Tweak tradition by adding flavor boosts to side dishes
Everyone's favorite: Not really, but it's a Thanksgiving classic. Adding sweet onion and dried mushrooms to the milk and letting it steep will yield a richer flavor. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Nowadays, the holidays rotate homes in our family, but the turkey and stuffing rarely vary. As for the rest of the meal, the host will add personal favorites and eliminate others. At Mom's, we count on a platter of simple blanched asparagus (for the diet-conscious, she says), sugary-sweet sweet potatoes (Dad's favorite) and cinnamon apples (for the grandchildren). You'll never find Brussels sprouts at Pat's house, beets at Roberta's or acorn squash at mine.
My household loves to shake things up. Sometimes we'll add curry to the sweet potatoes, porcini mushrooms to the green bean casserole and fresh herbs to the mashed potatoes. Most years we only mess around with one or two of the side dishes. We've learned that too many deviations rock the holiday boat.
No matter what we're cooking, we always use the freshest ingredients possible. That means fresh green beans in the casserole, real potatoes in the mash and fresh garlic and herbs throughout. We use the holiday season as a reminder to ditch the year-old dried herbs and spices.
This year we're looking for more ways to boost flavor. Lately we've been adding whole spices and chunks of garlic to the rice cooker for flavorful rice without calories. So we're taking the same approach with the holiday potatoes by adding garlic and herbs to the cooking water. The results are amazing.
Same goes for the homemade mushroom sauce for the green bean casserole. Adding sweet onion and dried mushrooms to the milk and letting it steep yields a deep, rich flavor that clings to the beans.
All these touches add depth and flavor to dishes worthy to stand by the best turkey: Mom's.
Side dish boosts
Use the freshest ingredients you can find: The results are worth it. Look for time-saving fresh ingredients such as bags of trimmed fresh green beans, diced root vegetables and squash.
Use unsalted butter. It tastes sweeter and fresher and allows the cook to adjust salt to taste.
Splurge on fresh herbs. Fresh sage in the stuffing and chives in the mashed potatoes prove worth the expense and effort.
A mixture of russet and golden potatoes yields light, fluffy mashed potatoes that have a rich color and flavor.
To keep mashed potatoes warm, put a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the potatoes. Cover the pot and wrap it in a heavy towel. Potatoes will stay warm for about 30 minutes.
Plan on half a double-baked potato per person. Bake an extra potato just in case one of the shells splits while scooping them.
Green beans (as well as broccoli, carrots and cauliflower) can be blanched (cooked in boiling water) up to two days in advance; rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, shake them dry and store in a container in the refrigerator. Then season or sauce as recipe directs shortly before serving.
Skip the canned soup on the veggies. It only takes a few minutes to make a flavorful sauce, and it can be made two days in advance. Thin with a little milk if necessary.
Sage and garlic mashed potatoes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: You can peel the potatoes if you wish; I enjoy the look and flavor of the skins.
6 or 8 sprigs fresh sage
1 or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 ½ pounds (about 6 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 ½ pounds (about 3 medium) russet baking potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch chunks
4 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup each: skim milk, half-and-half
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
Freshly ground pepper
1. Separate sage and rosemary leaves from stems. Slice leaves finely; set aside. Tie stems together with kitchen string.
2. Put potatoes, garlic and herb stems into a large pot. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Heat to a boil; simmer gently with lid slightly askew. Cook, checking potatoes occasionally with a knife, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well. Discard herb stems.
3. Return the potatoes and garlic to the pot. Make a well in the center; pour in the milk and half-and-half. Set the heat to medium. When the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat to low; start mashing vigorously using a potato masher. Add about three-fourths of the soft butter; continue mashing until the mixture is fairly smooth. Season to taste, usually about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat.
4. Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in small, nonstick skillet. Add herb leaves; saute until crisped, about 1 minute. Pile hot potatoes into a heated serving dish. Spoon sage butter over potatoes.
Per serving (for 10 servings): 226 calories, 11 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 437 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Double-baked sweets with curried marshmallows
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 1 1/4 hours
6 or 7 medium-size sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds total
18 regular size marshmallows (about 6 ounces), quartered
1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 to 2 tablespoons mild red Thai or Indian curry paste to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped chives
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put potatoes on a large baking sheet. Bake until a fork pierces them easily, about 1 hour. Let cool until you can handle them.
2. Meanwhile, mix the marshmallow pieces with the curry powder in a small bowl until pieces are nicely coated. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt; mix again. Mix coconut milk and curry paste in another bowl with an immersion blender, hand mixer or potato masher until smooth.
3. Slice warm potatoes lengthwise in half. Scoop out the soft flesh with a small spoon (I like a serrated grapefruit spoon here), leaving a 1/4-inch thick potato shell; place in the coconut milk mixture. Beat or mash the potato flesh into the coconut milk until very smooth and light. Season to taste, usually about ¾ teaspoon salt. Stir in the chives.
4. Arrange the potato shells on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Dollop the mashed potatoes with a spoon back into the shells, filling them evenly. Spray or brush the tops lightly with a little olive oil. (Recipe can be prepared to this point up to several hours in advance; refrigerate covered.)
5. Arrange marshmallow pieces over the potatoes. Bake until centers are heated through and marshmallows are golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
Per serving: 133 calories, 3 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 26 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 275 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Green bean casserole
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Note:Look for canned fried onions, or sub with crumbled veggie stick snacks.
2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1 ½ cups whole milk
1/2 large sweet onion, peeled, halved
1/4 ounce dried mushrooms, such as porcini
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 ½ tablespoons each: butter, flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup fried onion pieces
1. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans; boil, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water. Refrigerate covered up to a couple of days.
2. Put milk, sweet onion, dried mushrooms, cloves and bay leaves in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer. Remove from heat; steep, about 20 minutes. Strain to capture the milk. Discard the cloves, bay leaves. Finely chop onion and mushrooms.
3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Slowly whisk in the strained milk. Cook and stir until smooth and thick. Add chopped onion and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate covered for up to a couple of days; thin with a little milk when reheating, if needed.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss green beans with sauce. Arrange in a buttered 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Bake until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with fried onions; bake 5 minutes.
Per serving: 135 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 230 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.