Friday, November 5, 2010

It's November, I guess we should start the Thanksgiving recipes now

Well, it's that time of year again. Here in Georgia, it doesn't exactly feel like fall, let alone winter yet....we are still enjoying 60-70 degree weather (sorry to all those out there in the NE or say...Ireland), but that doesn't mean we can't get into the spirit of things.

I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the entire year. Really it's just an excuse to cook to much and overeat, followed by football watching, and some friendly family vs. family gambling. However, I will admit to a small degree of snobbery when it comes to Thanksgiving food. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt since I have been known to create such Thanksgiving classics as whole roasted lobe of foie gras with cranberry chutney, or replace the gravy with a foie gras infused bordelaise sauce, but my idea of good eats is not sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows or green beans mixed with cream of mushroom soup and topped with onion straws. Far be it from me to judge however, so if those are your or your family favorites, there is much to be said for tradition. This post is just meant to offer up some different, not necessarily better (although I think they are.....see what I mean about my snobbery, I just can't help it), ways of cooking these Thanksgiving staples.

First up, the sweet potato.................

Recipe 1 - Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cayenne Pepper and Smoked Paprika - The potatoes in this recipe get a very nice sweet/spicy/savory balance from the different ingredients coming together....simple but tasty

3 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 stick butter
2 tblsp oil, not olive
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Smoked Paprika, you can sub in regular Paprika if smoked is unavailable, but smoked is better
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped fine

1)Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2)melt butter in a pan over low heat and add cayenne, paprika, sugar, garlic powder and salt
3)Turn pan off, and mix in the olive oil. Let sit ten minutes
4)Toss sweet potatoes in oil/butter mixture and spread out on a roasting sheet, make sure that your sheet is big enough to put potatoes in a single layer, or they will roast unevenly and not caramelize
5)Bake for 25-30 minutes until potatoes are tender and lightly caramelized
6)Put potatoes in a serving dish and toss with thyme and any excess butter from the roasting dish and enjoy.

Recipe #2 Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Bananas...yes bananas

2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large slightly underripe banana
10 cloves roasted garlic (to make roasted garlic, simply cover garlic in a vegetable oil in an oven proof dish, cover and roast at 250 degrees for about an hour. They are done when they are deep golden and very soft. It softens and sweetens the garlic flavor and is a great ingredient to keep around for every day use)
4 oz milk
1/4 stick of butter
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)Slice banana in half lengthwise and place under broiler until well caramelized. Remove fruit from skin and set aside
2)Boil sweet potatoes until fork tender in salted water
3)Place potatoes, banana, & garlic cloves in large mixing bowl and mash until smooth
4)Melt butter and milk together...this is probably one of the few times when I will suggest a microwave, just don't tell anyone I told you to do it that way
5)Mix milk/butter into potato mixture and add cayenne & nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper
6)OPTIONAL - You can then take this and serve as is, or mix 1/2 cup pankot breadcrumbs with 1/4 stick of melted butter and 1/8 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans together, top the potatoes with this mixture and bake until topping is golden brown...approximately 20 minutes

Both of these are interesting, balanced (flavor-wise), and fairly easy substitutes for the overly sweet, goopy concoctions that grace many a Thanksgiving table. Give them a shot.

And now, on to les haricots verts......I mean green beans, I'd probably get some dirty looks from the southern Thanksgiving cook calling them by that fancy french name.

Recipe 1 - Marinated Green Bean Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette and Candied Pecans - we are going to break this recipe down into a few different parts since it can be made a little in advance and then put together at the last minute. This is useful if, like me, your Thanksgiving menu gets a little ambitious, and your list of side dishes is longer than your actual guest list.

1 lb pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tblsp H2O
1 c sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence, this is a common spice mix and is easily found, if unable to locate, go with rosemary, but this only shows that you are lazy and unwilling to source good ingredients...just kidding, sort of

1)Heat oven to 250 and grease one baking sheet lightly
2)Whip egg white and water together until THICK and frothy...soft peaks
3)In a seperate bowl, mix sugar, salt, and spices
4)Toss pecans into egg mixture and stir gently to coat
5)Take pecans out of egg mixture and mix into sugar. Toss to coat
6)Bake 1 hour, mix them around every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

These are great just to snack on or to put out when folks come over for drinks. I do feel a little bit like Martha Stewart with that last sentence, but it's true

Marinated Green Beans
2 lbs green beans, topped, not tailed
1 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp FRESH ground black pepper

1)Blanch green beans in salted water until just slightly tender. I like my beans with a bit of crunch and you need it to stand up to the bacon vinaigrette later.
2)Shock beans in ice water once you remove them from the boiling water, transfer to a dish, and toss with remaining ingredients.

These are also a nice addition to a salad, or as a cold side for a grilled steak in summer, but those days are behind us. Just remember to refer back to this post come May.

BACON Vinaigrette
1/4 lb, bacon, diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated fine
1 clove fresh garlic, diced
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp fresh thyme
1 red onion, diced small
2 tblsp dijon mustard
1/4 c cider vinegar
2 oz apple juice
1 tblsp sugar
1 small chile (thai chile would be a good option), diced very small, OPTIONAL
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)Put bacon in a cold pan and place over medium heat. Cook until fat is thoroughly rendered and bacon is crispy. Remove 90% of the rendered fat and set aside. Remove crispy bacon to a paper towel and save for garnish
2)Add oil to pan, then add onion, garlic, & chiles. Cook 3 minutes until onions have some color to them. Add fresh ginger and thyme and cook 1 more minute.
3)Add remaining ingredients, except mustard and reduce the volume of the liquid by 1/4.
4)Remove from heat and whisk mustard in until smooth. Whisk in reserved bacon fat, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5)Get chilled green beans out, and toss with warm bacon vinaigrette....mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Sorry, got distracted for a second there.
6)Place in serving dish, and top with reserved crispy bacon and candied pecans. Save some to share with your dinner guests if possible.

This vinaigrette is great on a lot of things....avocados, sliced tomatoes, cream? I mean bacon + apple juice + sugar, what isn't this going to taste good on?

So, there you have it. The first post taking a few traditional Thanksgiving ingredients and making them a little more interesting, (less cloyingly sweet or covered in canned mush would be how my inner snob that I'm trying really hard to suppress would phrase it), and maybe a bit lighter along the way too. That way we'll all be a little more healthy this Thanksgiving, or at least have room for yet another slice of pecan pie or Candied Apple Flan (you might get lucky and see this one in the near future).

Happy Early Turkey Day Everyone

"It was dramatic to watch my grandmother decapitate a turkey with an ax the day before Thanksgiving. Nowadays the expense of hiring grandmothers for the ax work would probably qualify all turkeys so honored with 'gourmet' status." - Russel Baker

"You can tell you ate too much at Thanksgiving when you have to loosen the belt.....on your bathrobe" - Jay Leno

"Vegetables are a must when on a diet. I suggest zuccini bread, carrot cake, and pumpkin pie"
- Jim Davis

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