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On Cooking Southern: Have A Happy Thanksgiving With A Side of Sides


Tight: That feeling of being about to explode due to too much booze or food or still-buttoned skinny jeans.

Most of us consider some Thanksgiving dishes so sacrosanct that our holiday feast would not be complete without them. The list varies according to region and family, but always includes a turkey, dressing, potatoes, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, nuts and (since 1955) a green bean casserole.

For both sides of my West Tennessee and Arkansas-Mississippi Delta family, the must-have list always included regular and oyster cornbread dressing, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, corn pudding, asparagus with hollandaise and a wild rice dish. Dessert always included pumpkin, pecan and chess pie, boiled custard and homemade coconut cake.

And then there was my Uncle Enos’ Tennessee country ham soaked in ginger ale for 24 hours and packed with brown sugar before being smoked overnight in a pit. Memories of that ham still move me to tears.

My hubby’s Appalachian family tradition included cornbread dressing chock full of turkey bits, creamed sweet corn made from ears of Silver Queen frozen fresh-picked from the back yard field the previous summer, home-canned Kentucky Wonder green beans sautéed in home-cured bacon drippings, persimmon pudding, creamy mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie. Whenever the entire Triplette and Sherrill clans gathered, the array of cakes, puddings, pies, relishes, slaws, pimento cheese dips and casseroles would outshine any first-class Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.

I’m sure many families across these sometimes-United States can recall similar experiences.

So why bother to experiment with other dishes?

Here’s why: It’s the Star Trek thing.

Humans have a burning drive to seek the unknown, to peek around the corner or follow the trail less traveled to taste something new and delightful. (Reference: George T. Lock Land, Grow or Die)

So in celebration of our uniquely American holiday, this week’s column features several side dishes that fall a bit outside our normal Southern culinary comfort zone. As the kids used to say to the mythic Mikey, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

brussels-sproutsmedley-dscn1443THANKSGIVING VEGGIE COMBO
Nothing beats the flavor of roasted Brussels sprouts flavored with balsamic vinegar, or butternut squash baked with olive oil and sea salt. Here’s an all-in-one dish that combines both. The clean flavors provide a nice foil for casseroles and gravy. Feel free to substitute bacon for the prosciutto.

2-4 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and capped
Kosher salt
4-oz pkg smoked prosciutto cubetti (cubed)
1 c butternut squash cubes
1/2 c fresh cranberries
Kosher salt to taste
8-10 twists of fresh cracked pepper
1 c chicken broth
1 T Tony’s Creole seasoning

Clean the Brussels sprouts. Toss in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and lay them on an oiled baking pan. Sprinkle with Kosher salt. Roast in oven preheated to 350˚F for 10-20 minutes, turning once.

Cook the prosciutto cubetti in a greased large skillet, tossing to cook on all sides. Add the butternut squash and a splash of olive oil if needed. As the squash begins to soften, stir in the cranberries and chicken broth. Add salt, pepper, and Tony’s. Simmer on medium-low until the broth reduces by half. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, bring back to a simmer and serve.

stuffedapples-dscn1478SAVORY STUFFED APPLES
This savory apple stuffing is rich – a little goes a long way. It also works beautifully in roasted Cornish hens or large mushrooms. The Kroger Multigrain Artisan loaf is essential because of its pumpkin seeds and other whole grains. I used Sweet Tango apples, but any sweet, crisp apple would work.

16-oz loaf of Kroger Private Selection Multi Multigrain Artisan bread
2 slices oatmeal bread
2 T olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, fine-chopped
1/2 c celery, fine-chopped
1 lb loose-pack sweet Italian sausage
2 c chicken broth
Kosher salt to taste
1 apple, fine-chopped
6-8 medium sized apples

Slice the artisan loaf; cut each slice into cubes. Repeat with the oatmeal bread slices. Toss together and set aside. Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil heated in a large saucepan. Add the sausage and work with spoon or spatula until completely browned. Stir in chicken broth; simmer until liquid reduces by half. Pour over the cubed bread and stir to blend completely. Add salt to taste. Stir in the chopped apple.

Prepare apples for baking by using a knife to remove the core. I clean out the remaining hollow with a grapefruit spoon. Press enough stuffing into each hollowed apple until overflowing. Position stuffed apples, touching, in a baking dish and add about a half inch of water to the pan, or cushion the apples on layer of leftover stuffing spread in the pan. Bake at 350˚F for 45 minutes to one hour, or until apples are cooked to soft stage.

pumpkinpenne-dscn1474PUMPKIN KALE PENNE PASTA
Consider this your pumpkin soup concealed in pasta. Feel free to omit the greens.

3 T olive oil
4 c chopped kale, spinach or turnip greens
1 c chicken broth
1 T lemon juice
16 oz penne pasta
1 tsp kosher salt
2 T butter
1/4 c fine-chopped shallots or sweet onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
15-oz can pureed pumpkin
Splash of hot sauce
1/2 c heavy cream
1-1/2 c shredded Parmesan, divided
Salt to taste

Clean the greens and remove large stems and veins. Chop fine. Sauté in a skillet with olive oil, cover and simmer until greens wilt. Stir in chicken broth and lemon juice. Cook until liquid reduces completely. Set aside.

Cooke the penne pasta in salted water to al dente stage. Remove from heat and drain.

While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large skillet and sauté the onion and garlic until transparent. Stir in pumpkin puree until mixed. Add a splash of hot sauce. Simmer on medium-low, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Whisk in heavy cream until blended. Simmer for about a minute and remove from burner.

Pour pasta into a large mixing bowl. Add pumpkin sauce and toss to coat completely. Pour in the greens, including any remaining juice and toss to mix. Add half the Parmesan and toss to blend. Pour mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan evenly across the top. Bake in preheated oven at 350˚F until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

cranberrysauce-dscn1430WHOLE BERRY CRANBERRY SAUCE
Yes, it’s easy to purchase canned cranberry sauce or jellied cranberry. But nothing beats this original. I add tangerine zest and sometimes add the tangerine pulp for extra zing.

3-1/2 c whole cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 c white granulated sugar
1 c water
1 T tangerine zest, optional

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir well. Heat on medium-high until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring continuously, for 8-10 minutes until mixture thickens. Use a timer. Remove from heat and stir occasionally until cooled. Pour into a non-reactive mixing bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Will keep for up to a week. Freezes well.

triflinambrosia-dscn1375TRIFLIN’ MYER LEMON AMBROSIA
This is the ultimate last-minute throw-together dessert. It’s delicious but oh so simple. Trifle was a classic English dessert combining sherry-soaked sponge cake with jam and fruit curd or custard. Classic Ambrosia began in the early 19th century as a layered fruit salad consisting of orange segments sprinkled with sugar and fresh-flaked coconut. By the mid-20th century, Ambrosia had become identified as a Southern holiday dessert combining oranges, marshmallows, coconut, canned pineapple, maraschino cherries and pecans, bound with sour cream or whipped cream. My variation incorporates the best of both worthy desserts. Myer lemons are a delicious cross between oranges and lemons and are currently available locally. Of course, in a pinch, one may use store-bought lemon curd.

6 T lemon zest
1 c fresh Myer lemon juice
2-1/2 c sugar
12 T butter (1-1/2 sticks)
6 eggs, beaten
16-oz loaf of angel food cake, cut into 10 slices, each slice cut into thirds
Fresh-grated OR canned, frozen or packaged flaked coconut
Fresh raspberries and blueberries
Whipped cream or sweetened plain Greek yogurt
Roasted salted pecans for garnish

Combine zest, juice and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil on medium-high heat, whisking; reduce heat to medium-low and, using a timer, continue simmering and whisking for 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and whisk in butter until completely melted. Remove from burner and cool to room temperature. Whisk eggs into the cooled lemon-sugar syrup.

Return to medium heat, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes until mixture thickens and coats a wooden spoon. Do not cook too long or egg will begin to curdle. Remove from heat and cool. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Assemble the dessert by placing a tablespoon of Myer lemon curd in the bottom of each individual serving dish. Position three or four angel food cake slices around the edges, bottoms anchored in the curd. Position tangerine or Halo orange segments between the slices. Add blueberries and raspberries.

Drizzle with coconut, additional curd and a dollop of whipped cream. Position a raspberry or roasted, salted pecan in the center. Add more coconut if desired.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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