Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating Thanksgiving Without the Mashed Potatoes

It was going to be a great Thanksgiving – the best one yet!

Or at least this is what I told myself when I found out that neither of my older brothers would be able to attend our family dinner this year. I told this to my mother also when she called to regretfully inform me that it would just be my dad, her and me devouring the turkey carcass on the food-centric holiday.

“That’s fine!” I’d said with nary a hint of despair. “This means we can try out new recipes! No bland mashed potatoes and goopy corn casserole for us!”

My mother responded enthusiastically to my optimistic reaction – especially when I told her she didn’t have to make a pumpkin pie either.

We hate pumpkin pie.

In the past, whenever we’ve tried to change Thanksgiving up – nix that egregious pie from a can or some other traditional menu item, someone has always put up a fight.

“We aren’t having sweet potato casserole? But that’s my favorite side dish!” My eldest brother would complain.

“No corn casserole? That’s the best part!” My other brother would protest with a faux whimper.

So year after year, we’d drag out the tattered recipe index cards that it pained us to use. And year after year, my mother and I would secretly gripe to each other about how much we really don’t care for Thanksgiving food.

This Thanksgiving would be different, I promised her as I began scouring websites for recipes. After much thought, I finally settled on three side dishes to go along with the requisite stuffing (my dad’s favorite) – my warm Brussels sprouts salad, a potato-cauliflower gratin and caramelized carrots. For dessert, I’d make cranberry-apple pie bars. And nobody would deign to complain about it.

As suspected, the new holiday sides and dessert were a hit. We all exclaimed over how much lighter we felt – even after consuming second helpings of everything.

“Finally, Thanksgiving food I actually like!” My mom declared as she scooped up a big heaping bite of the Brussels sprouts.

Yet, as I finished the final crumbs of my second cranberry-apple pie bar, I would have given anything for my brothers, sister-in-law and 21-month-old niece to be sitting around the table with us. Even if it meant trading in the sweet oven-roasted carrots, homey gratin and tart and sweet bars for corn casserole, mashed potatoes and that wretched pumpkin pie.

Because Thankgiving isn’t really all about the food. It’s about the people that you spend it with. They’re the ones that make the holiday “the best one yet.”

Potato Gruyère Gratin
Lightly adapted from Good Housekeeping’s December 2010 Issue

1 head (small, 1 1/4-pound) cauliflower
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 ounce Gruyère cheese, shredded (1 1/4 cup)
½ teaspoon salt
Paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease shallow 3-quart ceramic baking dish.

Cut cauliflower in quarters; remove and discard core. Thinly slice cauliflower and roast in baking dish in oven until just tender.

In 12-inch skillet, heat potatoes and milk on medium-high just until boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 7 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are just tender, gently stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir water and cornstarch until cornstarch dissolves. Stir into potato mixture and simmer 3 minutes or until mixture thickens. Stir in cauliflower, nutmeg, half of Gruyère, and salt.

Transfer potato mixture to prepared dish and sprinkle with remaining Gruyère and paprika for color.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until potatoes and cauliflower are tender when pierced with knife.

Caramelized Carrots Recipe
Lightly adapted from Good Housekeeping’s December 2010 Issue

1/4 cup hazelnuts (or filberts)
2 pounds small peeled carrots
1 clove garlic, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leave

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place hazelnuts in 18- by 12-inch jelly-roll pan.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until toasted. Wrap hot hazelnuts in clean cloth towel. With hands, roll hazelnuts back and forth to remove skins; discard skins. Let toasted hazelnuts cool completely; set aside.

In same pan, toss carrots with garlic, ginger, paprika, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cover pan tightly with foil and roast 20 minutes. Uncover and roast 20 minutes longer or until carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, in food processor with knife blade attached, pulse hazelnuts and parsley until coarsely chopped; set hazel­nut mixture aside.

Remove carrots from oven and sprinkle with hazelnut mixture.


Esi said...

I can totes get on board with this Thanksgiving..except for the potatoes ;)

Gastronomer said...

I guess you can't win 'em all! Happy belated Turkey Day, D. Glad to see that you and the fam ate well :-)

Ashley said...

Why why why did I look at this right before din. Now all I want is gruyere mac n cheese from Tavern! The spread looks delish.

Anna A. said...

Loving the TALF Thanksgivings and damn, I'm really going to have to make those sprouts soon! My roommate's boyfriend's parents adopted me for Thanksgiving and we all had a blast! Turned out his mom and my Significant Mother graduated from the same class at UC Santa Cruz!

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