A Quartet of Savory Holiday Side Dishes

Sunday November 23, 2014

While turkey, stuffing, and pies are easy for most holiday cooks, the one portion of the meal that can really be challenging year after year is the side dishes.  Certainly everyone has perennial family favorites, the ones made over and over.  But sometimes you want something new, especially casserole type side dishes featuring seasonal and convenient canned produce, like root vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower, and sweet corn, that can feed a hearty group. I would be remiss not to give a few simple recipes for this Thanksgiving and Christmas. Never worry about making a big amount–think leftovers.

Surprisingly, many savory side dishes use techniques that are more often associated with sweet baking, like souffles and custards.  Since these dishes are on the rich side, perfect for that special meal, it is important to balance them with other more simple steamed, braised, or roasted vegetables.

Here are a few of my favorites.

The corn pudding is a must and if left off the menu, I am besieged by requests. It is like velvet in the mouth. How it ever fell out of vogue is beyond me as it goes so perfectly with so many meats no matter summer (with fresh corn) or winter (canned creamed corn), and there is rarely a spoonful left over. I got the original recipe from a little pamphlet called Home for the Holidays by Irena Chalmers when she was self publishing in 1980 and simplified it (she adds cinnamon and Parmesan cheese). It goes together and into the oven in about 5 minutes. I used to bring the ingredients and then mix and bake it on site rather than make it at home, so it would come fresh out of the oven. The mashed potato casserole is like a heavier souffle in texture and melts in the mouth. It can be conveniently made the day before. It is excellent for a buffet potluck offering. It can be made in the slow cooker or in the oven.

Oven space is always limited on Thanksgiving so using the slow cooker to make your dressing will free up some much needed space. This is also an easy way to make ‘extra’ stuffing for a large crowd. This stuffing can be served alongside your holiday turkey, or as an extravagantly delicious, nutritious main dish since it combines nuts, bread, and vegetables. In fact, it was created to be just that, by Julie’s brother-in-law, a vegetarian, one Thanksgiving several years ago. Stuffing has components: bread, vegetables, herbs, and broth. You never want to add too much liquid, because it’ll reduce your stuffing to a mushy mass. You can always add liquid, but you can’t take it out of a stuffing unless you add more bread. The bread cubes must maintain their identity in the face of the liquid, so add slowly. If you use fresh shiitake mushrooms, you’ll find their flavor is more subtle than the dried ones. They are easily available in the produce section these days. If your bread isn’t stale, spread out the pieces on a baking sheet and bake in a 200-degree oven for 30 minutes or so, until it is dry. The dry or toasted bread absorbs the liquid more slowly than fresh bread, which is important to the overall success of the stuffing.

The scalloped yams have a slightly crunchy nut topping, much like a crisp, that makes for a delicious, decadent special occasion vegetable. Its the creme de la creme of the sweet side of yams and garners raves. After all, what is a holiday meal without yams?

Scalloped Yams with Praline (oven)

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds yams (6 to 7 medium yams), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, heated
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375º.  Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or shallow ceramic casserole.  In a large saucepan cover potatoes with salted cold water by 1 inch and simmer until still crisp, but not tender, about 5 minutes only, just to take the raw edge off. Drain and rinse with cold water. Arrange in overlapping rows in the baking dish (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 8 hours at this point).

When ready to bake: Pour the hot cream over the yams and bake, uncovered, 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and butter; work with your fingers until crumbly (can also be done in the food processor).  Add the pecans and set praline topping aside (can be made 8 hours ahead and stored at room temperature).

Remove the half baked yams from the oven and sprinkle the top evenly with the crumbled praline mixture.  Return to the oven and continue baking until yams are tender and toping is crisp and browned, about 30 minutes longer (50 minutes total baking time.)  Serve hot. From Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers.  Serves 8 to 10.

Corn Pudding (oven)

Ingredients

  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or potato starch flour
  • Pinch of salt and ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 2 (1-lb) cans cream style corn

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.  Butter a 2 quart gratin or 8-by-8-inch baking dish.  In a medium mixing bowl using a whisk, combine the eggs, flour, salt and pepper, and cream.  Beat well to dissolve the flour. Add the corn and beat until blended.  Pour into the baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, until a firm custard is formed and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove the foil and serve immediately.  Cover and refrigerate leftovers.  Serves 8.

Mashed Potato Casserole (slow cooker)

Overview

Cooker:  Medium or large round or oval

Setting and Cook Time: LOW 5 to 6 hours

Serves 8 to 12

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds baking potatoes, such as Russet or Idaho (about 8)
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into chunks, room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup hot whole milk
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Instructions

1. Peel and quarter the potatoes.  In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with salted cold water by 1 inch and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pan.  While still warm, add the cream cheese and butter; whip with an electric mixer until smooth.  Beat in the sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper.

2. Transfer to the cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 5 to 6 hours.  Serve hot.  (Can be made up to 4 hours to 1 day ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated before cooking.)

Alternate Method of Preparation in an Oven: Preheat oven to 375º.  Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or shallow ceramic casserole.  Peel and quarter potatoes.  In a large saucepan cover potatoes with salted cold water by 1 inch and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pan.  While still warm, add the cream cheese and butter; whip with a hand held electric mixer.  Beat in the sour cream, milk, and salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking dish and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until top is pale golden.  Serve hot.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker for Entertaining, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2007, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Mushroom-Chard Whole Wheat Bread Stuffing (slow cooker)

Overview

Cooker: Large Round or Oval

Machine Setting and Cook Time: Low Heat: 5 to 6 hours

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 6 medium dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups celery, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2-pound cremini or white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1-pound stale whole wheat bread or white spelt bread, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (crusts included)
  • 6-ounces pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted
  • 4-ounces hazelnuts or walnuts, crushed or chopped and toasted
  • 1 bunch red chard, stems included, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute,

then leaves sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons, stems chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

  • About 1 to 2 cups vegetable broth

Instructions

If you are using dried shiitake mushrooms, place them in a small bowl and add hot tap water just to cover. Allow them to soak until they are soft, about an hour. Alternately, place them in a small microwave-save container, add water just to cover and cover tightly with plastic wrap; microwave on high for 2 minutes. Allow mushrooms to cool until you can handle them. When mushrooms are softened, trim and discard stems. Slice caps thinly. If using fresh mushrooms, discard stems and slice caps thinly.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add both types of mushrooms and stir for a minute or two. Add cumin, coriander, cloves, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms are a bit browned, about 5 minutes; remove from the heat.

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Add the nuts and the chard and toss to mix. Add the onion and mushroom mixture and mix well. Add about 1 cup of the stock, and toss to mix. Add more stock as needed, until all of the bread is very lightly moistened throughout. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Grease the crock with oil, butter, or vegetable cooking spray. Pack the stuffing lightly into the crock. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours, until puffy and brown around the edges.  The dressing can sit in the cooker, covered, on KEEP WARM for 2 to 3 hours before serving.  Serve hot right out of the crock.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker for Entertaining, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2007, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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