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