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Sunday, July 14

Gapers Block

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Whether you're participating in Orphan Thanksgiving (you and all of your friends convene in someone's apartment and cobble together a holiday feast) or you're going "home" for Thanksgiving, chances are you'll be asked to contribute a side dish. Before you panic and get that can of French fried onions so you can make green bean casserole, I encourage you to ponder the dishes below and consider them as an alternative.

Now there's nothing wrong with that green bean casserole (my family eats it every year without a hint of irony), or the can of yams with marshmallows on top, or any variety of other side dishes which require opening a can mixing in an ingredient or two, baking it in a casserole dish and then serving. Families all over the country have been making dinner like this for years. I know mine has, and they'll continue to do so.

But the turkey and starch-fest at my mother's house makes my boyfriend crave something green and crisp that doesn't taste like it was canned at Campbell's MMM MMM Good Warehouse. And I can't say I blame him. So I've created the challenge to add in a new, healthier vegetable side dish that my family (picky with the green stuff) will actually like.

One small suggestion, to save you from a quagmire of embarrassment, when you're requested to bring a side dish to a new-to-you holiday dinner, make sure to ask if there are any dietary restrictions you should be aware and ask if there are any classics that get made every year so you don't overlap. One year I made this great layered sweet potato dish and took it to an ex-boyfriend's grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. Well, it got put out on the back porch and stayed there until we left. Why? "Well, honey there just wasn't enough room on the table." There was plenty of room, but everyone ooh-ed and aah-ed over the canned yams with marshmallows that grandma made special every year. Found out later she thought I was trying to show her up. Nothing I did after that made her like me.

Anyway, I'll present four possible side dishes: Baked Sweet Potato Casserole; Way-Easy Green Beans with Pecans; Shredded Brussels Sprouts; and Honey-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips.

Sweet Potato Casserole
2 large sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of maple syrup
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of dried ginger
1 teaspoon of salt

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Peel the sweet potatoes. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and place into the boiling water. Cover and let cook for about 15 minutes. The potatoes should be softish on the outside but not all the way through. Remove them from the water and let cool. In a small saucepan combine all of the remaining ingredients and warm over low heat. You don't want this to boil, just warm so everything can be stirred easier.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, slice into 1/8-inch slices. Grease a casserole dish and place one layer of potatoes on the bottom. Spoon a fine drizzle of the ingredients from the saucepan over the slices, add another layer of potatoes, more drizzle, and repeat until you run out of potatoes. Pour the remaining mixture from the saucepan over the top. Place in the oven at 325 degrees F for about 30 minutes.

This can be refrigerated for up to a couple of days ahead of when you're going to serve, just make sure it is tightly sealed. Also make sure to let the glass dish come to room temperature before putting in the oven. It's not that this is healthier for you (even though it does lack marshmallows and the potatoes are fresh so they'll still retain most of their vitamins) it's just that it does taste better than grandma's prized casserole that she's made every year since 1955 by following the recipe on the back of the can.

Way-Easy Green Beans with Pecans
1 bag of frozen French-cut green beans
3 tablespoons of butter
2 shallots thinly sliced
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the bag of green beans and cook until the water returns to a boil, about 2-3 minutes and drain the water off the beans. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sliced shallots and stir constantly for about 5-7 minutes. The shallots should turn translucent and then start to turn golden brown. Now add the pecans to the butter and toss constantly for about two more minutes or until you start to smell a warm nuttiness. Now add the green beans to the skillet and toss to combine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, taste and serve. (This is actually easier than that popular casserole and even though there is fat in the butter, it's much healthier than that other concoction.)

Shredded Brussels Sprouts
2 pounds of brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 medium sweet onion thinly sliced
1/2 cup of walnuts
1/2 teaspoon of dried mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the brussels sprouts and remove any yellow or bug-eaten leaves. Slice each brussels sprout into thin slices, or use the slicing blade on your food processor. Separate the brussels sprouts into strips or rings. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter into the olive oil, add the onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Stir frequently so the onions don't burn but do become translucent. Now add the walnuts and the dried mustard and stir to combine. Grab a handful of the brussels sprout and add it to the skillet, stirring to combine. Once this is coated evenly, add another handful and continue in batches until everything is coated. Now cover the skillet with a lid and cook for up to five minutes more. They should remain bright green. Add salt and pepper to taste and then cover until ready to serve.

Honey-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips
2 large parsnips
2 juice carrots or 3/4-1 pound of smaller carrots
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of honey
Salt to taste

Cut the parsnip and carrots into matchsticks. In a large skillet, add the vegetables, the butter, and the honey over medium heat. Add an inch or so of water and place the lid on an angle so some of the steam can escape. Cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning. Now remove the lid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until most of the water escapes. This will create a light shiny glaze over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt to taste and cover until ready to serve.

With just a little bit of imagination, you can easily provide something new to a traditional dinner. And keeping things simple in preparation as well as keeping the number of ingredients and steps to a minimum will give you more time to spend with the people you want to see. Have a happy -- and safe -- holiday weekend.


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