Thanksgiving side dishes to bring — from the farm

Today was the last day for my ’round-the-corner farmers market in Mount Vernon, the last time I get to buy brussel sprouts and butternut squash from my favorite farmer, Jesús. But it’s also the day before Thanksgiving, the day for thanking God for the bounty before us — and boy did I come home with a bounty.

I’ve been wanting all week to write about my Thanksgiving thoughts, but I’ve been quite busy writing about other exciting things (you’ll see soon). This year will be my first to not make most of the food, and my first year with quasi family (our sister-in-law’s parents are having us over!) The past three years, my husband and I have gotten together with other military families where we were stationed. In fact, I enjoyed our first married Thanksgiving with a half dozen other spouses whose husbands were deployed (read about it here) — and it was one of my favorites. That was my first year to make the bird, which, like most things, is make better with bacon and maple syrup. (Maple-roasted, sage butter turkey with bacon recipe here).

But this year I’m focusing on the sides. When you have only two or three things to contribute to the Big Meal, it can be hard to decide on just two or three things. So, after some pressure-cooked decisions in the grocery aisles and some over-spending at my market today, here’s what I have in mind for tomorrow…

Best Sweet Potato Casserole ever! Duh.

This is the one side I have made every year since I can remember, the one thing I can’t live without. And I get a little feisty when people even mention putting marshmallows on my sweet potatoes. No, no. Brown sugar pecan crust all the way (feel free to try convincing me otherwise in the comments). This year, I have in mind a little experiment to boost the flavor of the sweet potato mixture. One, I’m going to bake them instead of boil them, which my mom tells me retains more of the sugars in the spuds. Two, I’m going to poke some cardamom into the potatoes for baking, to see if I can infuse that flavor into the vanilla-esque goodness. Here’s the recipe below — passed down from my Granny originally. (Oh, and if you live in Washington state, beware that they mislabel sweet potatoes as yams and vice versa; that threw me for a loop my first Thanksgiving!)

{Sweet Potato Casserole}

Makes 8 servings (or double it for leftovers!)
PREP 30 minutes
COOK 30 minutes

Sweet Potato Mixture:
  • 3 c. cooked mashed sweet potato (bake or boil them in chunks, peel before or after)
  • 1 c. sugar (trying raw cane this year)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1/4 c butter (or half it)

Topping:

  • 1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. butter (cold)
  • 1 c. finely chopped pecans

Instructions

  1. Combine sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk and 1/4 cup butter; beat with electric mixer until smooth. Spoon into a greased 2 quart shallow casserole dish.
  2. Combine brown sugar, flour, 1/4 c. butter and pecans; sprinkle over top of sweet potato mixture.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 8-10 servings

Other than that, I plan to make up the recipes as I go. After tasting a seriously good sampling of cauliflower gratin at Trader Joe’s last week, I decided to adapt it for a savory tart. The cauliflower from my market has been so good — and colorful, in orange, green and purple — I couldn’t resist incorporating it.

Cauliflower Gratin Tarts

  • Two heads of colorful cauliflower
  • 1/8 cup Gruyere cheese (or swiss is cheaper)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • A pinch each of flour, sugar, salt and cornstarch to thicken
  • Spices to taste: garlic powder, dried parsley, nutmeg and white pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Frozen phyllo dough (set out an hour beforehand usually)

Cut the cauliflower into small florets. Roast the florets with salt, pepper and olive oil for 15-20 minutes until browned, at 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the warm florets with the cheeses, cream, breadcrumbs and spices. Add the flour or cornstarch as needed to thicken and sugar and salt to taste.

Roll out the phyllo dough on a clean surface and use a pizza cutter to cut it into 3 or 4-inch squares. Spoon the cauliflower mixture onto the squares, leaving room around the edges for the dough to puff up into a tart.

Bake in the oven according to phyllo dough package directions. Watch closely. (If you’re heading to someone’s house for Thanksgiving, these could be made up until this step and then baked for 15 or 20 minutes at the host’s house).

A great appetizer while everyone waits for the bird!

Brussel Sprouts

Given the amount of these I bought at the market today — I couldn’t resist — I think I’ll be making a brussel sprouts side dish of some sort. My standard recipe is to cut the sprouts in half and sear them face down in olive oil with garlic and pine nuts. Halfway through I add a splash of balsamic vinegar and throw on a lid to help steam them. Add Parmesan and you’re done!

But I am considering a more Thanksgiving-inspired approach with this recipe for Honey Pomegranate Glazed Brussel Sprouts with Pecans. I also have been experimenting with sliced brussel sprouts, using the hand-guard on my Pampered Chef julienne to make a stack of coleslaw-like shreds. I then throw the shreds onto a bit of oil for them to crisp up and fry a bit, with garlic, pine nuts, maybe some bacon. I added these as a slaw to fish tacos recently.

I’m feeling creative — and indecisive — so I’ll probably leave that decision until tomorrow. What are your brussel-y suggestions?

And what are you making for Thanksgiving? What are your can’t-live-withouts?

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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