Sometimes the dressings outweigh the turkey at my family’s Thanksgiving table. There are those, including me, who must have oyster dressing. A simple cornbread dressing pleases those who don’t like oysters, and you might as well count the must-have mirliton casserole as a dressing because bread crumbs are a main ingredient.
I also like to veer from the regular menu with at least one dish, something like a Cajun rice dressing, a new twist on fresh cranberries or a fancy French tart. One year we had a turducken that came from Lafayette.
Cajun is this year’s angle, not that our deep-fried turkeys don’t qualify, but I’m substituting sweet potato-pecan pies for the regular pecan pies, and shrimp and eggplant dressing for the mirliton casserole. That is, if I don’t get talked out of one or both. You never know.
For one reason, I love that both dishes contain local ingredients so we can’t go wrong. One year I baked a Yankee rhubarb pie and no one ate it. Could it have been that the rhubarb was grown a thousand miles away?
No thanks. I think andouille, crab, Tasso, oysters and all the rest are the way to go. Cajun or Creole, mix it up. The accompanying recipes are good ones for taking a single dish to a gathering.
Sweet Pecan Potato Pie
1 9-inch pie shell, store-bought refrigerated or homemade
Sweet potato layer:
1 large sweet potato, baked
½ cup light brown sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup Half & Half
1 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 medium eggs
1 tablespoon flour
¾ cup dark corn syrup
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cups chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit pie shell into a pie plate and crimp edges.
2. In an electric mixer on medium, beat the sweet potato until fluffy. Mix in sugar and add eggs one at a time. Beat for 2 minutes. Gradually add cinnamon, nutmeg, Half & Half, bourbon and butter. Place mixture in bottom of pie shell and clean mixer.
3. For pecan layer, beat eggs on medium speed until fluffy. Add gradually while beating flour, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes. Stir in pecans. Pour over sweet potato layer and bake for 1 hour or until center is firm and toothpick comes out clean. Serves 6 to 8.
Shrimp and Eggplant Dressing
1 ½ pounds heads-on shrimp
2 small to medium eggplants
½ pound smoked andouille sausage
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped
½ bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground thyme
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
4 cups French bread crumbs or 2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons butter
1. Peel and devein shrimp. If large, chop in halves or thirds. Place heads and peelings in a medium pot, cover with water and a top and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to make stock.
2. While the stock simmers, peel and cube eggplants. Chop andouille and grind in a food processor.
3. Heat oil in a large pot and sauté onions, pepper, celery and garlic until limp. Stir in eggplant, seasonings and andouille, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is wilted, about 10 minutes. Strain stock and add 1 ½ cups stock and the shrimp to the pot and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in eggs, breadcrumbs and parsley.
4. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon dressing into dish and dot with butter. An hour or two before serving time, heat oven to 400 degrees and bake dressing for about 40 minutes or until it is beginning to brown on top. Serves 8 to 10.
Easy Does it
Looking for a few shortcuts preparing Thanksgiving dinner? Buy a couple containers of freshly chopped Trinity at the store. (That’s onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic ready to go in dressings and casseroles.) Have your guests bring all the desserts. Let the children set the table the night before. Use disposable baking containers for as many dishes as possible. Relax and enjoy!