Sometimes, during the holidays, cooks get the urge to try something new. Those cooking magazines stare at you in the face, daring you to mix up the beloved and time-honored Thanksgiving menu by either changing up a standard dish (trade marshmallows for honey on those sweet potatoes, perhaps) or by introducing all-new dishes to the table (braised rabbit instead of turkey? Uh, no). Creme fraiche has no business on the menu, and you can save the aioli for later, Food Network. Thanksgiving is not the time or place for gourmet for most people. The ingredients should come out of the dirt or out of the woods. The food should be rustic, simple, flavorful, and plenty of it.
I'll quote my dad, who I'm sure represents millions of other American dads: "Don't mess with my Thanksgiving!" He wants his turkey, his stuffing, his cranberry sauce, and eventually his couch and football.
So it is written. The basic elements of turkey, cranberries, stuffing and pumpkin and pumpkin byproducts are key to a house full of happy diners. But by no means should the meal be boring.
Tired of serving the same old side dishes on Thanksgiving??Tweak your old favorites without losing those holiday flavors with a Portobello Mushroom and Potato Gratin, above, or Green Bean and Broccoli Vinaigrette with Walnuts, top left.
It seems that sizzle of green bean casserole can fizzle, and that decades of the same selection can blur together until one memory of a full stomach is indistinguishable from another. If all you can remember from your last Thanksgiving meal is needing to be rolled out of the dining room, then maybe it is time to add something new to the table.
Calm down, "new" doesn't have to mean "tofu" - just rearranging the ingredients in different combinations and perhaps adding in a few non-threatening ones for good measure.
Recalling the resounding rejection most holiday meal experiments were given in our house (remember Easter brunch?), I chose to keep the basic elements of a traditional Thanksgiving intact while devising some new side dishes. Potatoes, yes, but what can I add that won't send the die-hards running for the Cracker Barrel? Cheese, and mushrooms - good for pizza, right?
Portobello Mushroom and Potato Gratin
2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick
3 large Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. minced garlic
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush 13x9 glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons of oil. Arrange a third of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly, then sprinkle with a portion of the salt and pepper, add a third of the cup of cream, and then a third of the cheese, reserving some of each for the topping. Repeat two more times until dish is full.
Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes, and add cream by the tablespoon if dry. While baking, toss mushroom slices with garlic and remaining olive oil, sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper.
After potatoes are tender, remove dish from oven and arrange mushroom slices on top of the gratin, drizzle with remaining cream and cheese. Bake another 20 minutes until edges are golden brown.
This dish can be made a day ahead of time. Cool one hour in dish, cover and chill. Reheat at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
Green Bean and Broccoli Vinaigrette with Walnuts
1 pound fresh green beans
1 10oz. package frozen broccoli
1 8oz. bag chopped walnuts
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Blanch green beans in salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Cook broccoli according to package directions. Combine broccoli and beans in a large bowl, and then add vinaigrette, lemon juice and walnuts. Toss, sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish and serve warm or cold.
And that tired green-bean casserole. Mom is trying to get everyone to eat healthier, brother is hitting the gym a lot lately; maybe ditch that cream-of-whatever soup and fried onions and enjoy the beans and vegetables without the smothered and covered treatment. One healthy and one indulgent - good deal.
For these recipes, I?combined elements from several recipes found in a pile of inspirational back issues of Bon Appetit.
To avoid the shock treatment of having everyone sit down to something foreign and unknown, I did a test run. The beans were crisp yet tender, fresh and flavorful, the broccoli added some extra vegetable power and the walnuts replaced the crunch of the fried onions.
The gratin made its presence known long before it came out of the oven with the savory smells of mushrooms and cheese. There's no arguing with your stomach, as loyal as some are to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, and I'll let it be known that my dad cleaned his plate.
Both dishes took minimal effort, the beans only taking 10 minutes to prepare total, for which holiday cooks are truly thankful. Most ingredients are on hand, which meant I only had to buy fresh cheese, cream, mushrooms and beans.
The gratin can be prepared a day ahead of time, which as of this writing means cooks can still dash to the store if they are feeling adventurous. But if not, as they say, there's always next year.