November 22, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Sides

For many, the turkey takes a backseat to all the delicious sides ... mashed potatoes, dressings, green beans, rolls. Yum. There is a limitless number of sides you could make for your Thanksgiving meal, so I'll just go through my favorites since I am the one writing this. Feel free to share your favorite side in the "comments" section!

For a fun twist on Thanksgiving, you might want to make side dishes that go along with a Thanksgiving theme (like my Italian-flavored feast). Go Southwest with a turkey seasoned with cumin and chilies, jalapeƱo cornbread dressing, cranberry chipotle relish, and mashed potatoes with green onions and queso fresco. Or go with an Cuban twist and flavor your turkey with lime, cumin and garlic seasonings and serve with congris, fried plantains, yucca, and Cassava bread.

Mashed Potatoes (aka My Favorite Food):

Image: Make Life Delicious

- If you want fluffy potatoes, you MUST use a ricer or a food mill. I am pretty relaxed about my gadgets and don't have many one-task-only trinkets lying around, but a ricer tops my list of must-haves. When you prepare mashed potatoes in a mixer, the beating releases a starchy gel called amylose. And it yields gummy potatoes.

Ricing yields a lighter, fluffy potato because you aren't developing that amylose. Just stir in melted butter, salt and warm milk after ricing, and you've got a perfect potato.

- You can make mashed potatoes ahead of time. For my brother's wedding, I was in charge of the mashed potatoes for the mashed potato bar at the rehearsal dinner. Now, I couldn't just whip 25 lbs. of raw potatoes into creamy, buttery mashed potatoes on the spot, now could I? So I made them the night before (which took hours, by the way) and just put them in a 9x13 casserole dish. Just dot with a few pats of butter and bake for about 35 minutes at 350 (or whatever your oven is set on) and they'll be just as delicious as if you just made them. [Author's note: if you use a mixer instead of a ricer, I cannot guarantee how good they'll be the next day. So you should just get a ricer and not worry about it.]

- Some nice add-ins: caramelized shallots, chives, buttermilk (use in place of whole milk or half-and-half), sour cream, roasted garlic, herbs, cheeses, wasabi. Honestly, I like mine plain. Why mess with perfection?


Image: Woman's Day

- Use the drippings from roasting your turkey to make gravy. EXCEPT if you brine or dry-brine your turkey. The drippings will be too salty, so just use a couple of teaspoons in the gravy for good flavor without all the salt.

- Make the gravy like you would any bechamel or white sauce. Add equal parts flour to fat (meaning 4T of flour to 4T melted butter, drippings, etc.). Whisk to get all the lumps out, then let cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat to get the raw flour out. Slowly whisk in chicken or turkey stock. I like to add just a little to start and whisk to make sure that the gravy gets lumpy. Then whisk in the rest. Once you've added all the stock, simmer rapidly for a few minutes until the gravy reduces to desired thickness.

- I realize that isn't a very exact gravy recipes, but it doesn't need to be. If it's too watery, increase the heat to reduce it down, or you can whisk in beurre maniƩ (paste made with equal parts flour and butter beat together). If it's too thick, just whisk in some more stock. Season as you go. You'll be fine.

Green vegetables

Image: Key Ingredient

- I love roasting vegetables, so try tossing together broccoli florets, olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 (or whatever your oven is set on) for about 25 minutes. Finish with shredded Parmesan and lemon juice. Other vegetables that are delicious roasted: asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, any root vegetable.

- You can sneak greens into other dishes, like I am doing with my Italian Chard Stuffing.

- A lightly-dressed green salad is a nice foil to all the rich flavors.

Cranberry sauce

Image: My Recipes

- It's incredibly easy to make your own. And you can flavor it however you like. Basic idea: pour one bag of cranberries in medium saucepan. Add 3/4 cup liquid, some sugar, and a pinch of salt.

- Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook until saucy and most of the cranberries have popped.

- Chill. Can be done a few days in advance (like today!).

- And that's it.

- Variations: use pomegranate juice in place of the water, add a cinnamon stick (remove before chilling), add some orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier.


Image: Fravelicious

- Either make your own or buy them.


  1. any of the sides that involve butter...mashed potatoes, corn casserole, stuffing...MMMMMMMMM....and, of course, you've gotta have crescent rolls!

  2. 1) You left off the most important food of all time: Sweet Potato Casserole

    2) Cranberry Sauce in a can sliced neatly on the lines is retro-hip.

    3) Seriously - where are the Sweet Potatoes?

    4) I am serving rolls with pumpkin butter. Yum.

  3. I also forgot to mention that I bought a new gravy boat for this very festive occasion. It's Johnson Brothers and it has pink flowers. Basically, it looks like me - if I were a gravy boat.

  4. Roommate, I see your point about the sweet potatoes. But you know mashed potatoes are my favorite food so had to lean in that direction.

    Your gravy boat sounds so cute! Are you hosting this year?