Countdown to feasting

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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We are so consumed with getting that fresh turkey and stuffing on the table everything else can get lost in the shuffle. This weekend is pretty much your last shopping hurrah to prepare for the feast.

This time of year the stores would make a saint cranky, so not being anything even remotely related to a saint, I must have strategies to stave off insanity and my best tip for you is to know what you need for the entire meal and get it on a list before you leave the house.

Side-dish solutions

Whatever your main event will be, the side dishes have to be managed so they’re all ready to hit the table when you seat your guests.

If boiled root veggies are absolute musts, then let’s get that out of the way first.

You will either have to add them to the pot in reverse cooking order, starting with what takes the longest — typically turnip — or you’ll have to size everything so that it cooks in the same length of time as the most tender — usually carrot.

I like the latter approach, so I don’t have to remember something every 10 minutes. To accomplish this, I cut turnip into 1/2-inch slices, then half again. A medium cabbage should make six to eight wedges. Large, thick carrots should be halved lengthwise, then halved crosswise. Medium to large potatoes should be halved or quartered.

Naturally, you can adjust the cooking time by taking out what is cooked first.

Turnip is forgiving and will wait the longest for you, so I always put that in the bottom of the pot. Next is the cabbage, then the carrots, then the potatoes on top. If the potatoes are undercooked they are inedible, but overcook them and they’ll fall to pieces in the pot, so they should dictate how you proceed.

If you plan to whip potatoes, prepare in advance.

For 5 lbs. I have 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and 1 cup of light cream in the microwave well in advance. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Take up the potatoes and immediately add the butter-cream mixture. Mash or whip as you like.

If tradition isn’t your top priority, may I make a couple of side-dish

suggestions that will de-stress your holiday?

Creamed Green Bean, Mushroom

and Carrot Casserole

The original American Thanksgiving recipe is not bad, even though it’s made with canned mushroom soup, but the from-scratch version I’m proposing elevates a homey dish to a festive masterpiece.

If the fresh green beans are looking a bit grey in the store, use frozen, but if you do, don’t parboil them, just allow them to thaw before adding to the mushroom mixture. Make this the day before and bake on the day you plan to serve it — just keep the breadcrumb mixture separate in the fridge.

If you aren’t chained to the root veg, this can be the only side you need, besides dressing, of course. This amount serves six to eight.

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch wheels

1 lb. fresh green beans, washed, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Topping:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups dry breadcrumbs

1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Vegetables:

4 cups thickly sliced fresh mushrooms — any varieties you like or can find

2 tbsp. each vegetable oil and butter or margarine

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup coffee cream

1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground if

possible

Drop carrots in a pot of boiling salted water and cook 5 minutes. Add green beans and cook another 3 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Making the topping in the same pot saves on dirty dishes.

In a large, heavy, oven-safe pan or pot, fry onion in olive oil until golden brown. Add garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until breadcrumbs are brown and crispy; remove from pan, stir in parsley and set aside.

In the same pan, fry mushrooms in oil and butter until they release their liquid and it completely evaporates. Continue frying until mushrooms are golden brown. Add half the salt and pepper, garlic and thyme and cook another minute, until fragrant.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat everything in the pan; cook a minute or two. Whisk in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer until thick and smooth. Stir in cream and remaining 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and heat through but don’t boil vigorously. Stir in nutmeg.

Remove from heat and add green beans and carrots to the pan; stir to combine well. Cover and bake at

425 F 20 minutes or until bubbling hot. Remove from oven and sprinkle toasted breadcrumb mixture over the top just before serving.

Smashed Potatoes and Peas

If you just can’t manage a big vegetable production and cook a turkey at the same time, I have another option for you.

This little dish is fantastic with or without gravy on top, and is terrific the next day. It takes just one pot on top of the stove and holds perfectly for up to half an hour while you fuss with the meat. If you forget to take the peas out of the freezer in advance just run some cold water over them in a colander for a couple of minutes.

Allow about 4 smallish red potatoes per person, depending on what else you serve.

2 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed

3 tbsp. melted butter or margarine

3 green onions, finely sliced, white part and green tops

1 lb. frozen baby peas, thawed

1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Boil potatoes until very tender — about 20 minutes — in salted water. Drain and add butter; mash coarsely, peels and all. Stir in onions, peas, salt and pepper and serve.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,

NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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