MIXING IT UP FOR THANKSGIVING

In most places, the turkey or the ham is the star of Thanksgiving dinner but not here. In the South, it’s the dressing. Maybe that’s because our dressings are so darn good. You don’t see a simple bread dressing or croutons mixed with apples on a Louisiana table. No, cher. Here we grind gizzards and mix two or three kinds of meat and seafood with French bread or rice. Choosing a dressing is enough to drive you nuts.

I have always made double batches of both oyster with French bread dressing, and cornbread with sausage dressing to please everyone at my table. This year I’ve come up with a new idea. Everybody likes shrimp, at least in my family, so why not substitute shrimp for oysters? We take chickens stuffed with shrimp to Florida every year and they’re delicious. They are prepared at a local meat market where turduckens are a specialty. For anyone new to the city, a turducken is a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey with a different dressing in each. All are deboned so there is plenty of room for shrimp, oyster and cornbread dressings. When you slice it at the table, you get a little of everything. Do not try this yourself; leave it for the professionals, born in Cajun country.

As long as I’m deviating from the standard menu, I want to incorporate more fall vegetables this year. November is prime time for dark leafy vegetables like collard greens. Since chefs have discovered greens – collard, turnip and mustard – interesting dishes turn up on white-linen tables. In the fancy restaurants, grits are served with shrimp, and collard greens are a proper side to a lamb chop or a steak. Remember when grits and collards were “country” food?
We can never make too much stuffed celery for holiday dinners. It all disappears before the day is over. Children love it and so do adults. I am throwing a curve this year, using Belgian endive instead of celery, and stuffing it with goat cheese mixed with dried cranberries and walnuts.

We always serve two kinds of potatoes – mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole – so I’m going out on a limb here, too. Winter squash substitutes beautifully for the sweet potatoes whether you choose butternut or acorn squash. I am hoping my 6-year-old grandson won’t know the difference between an acorn squash and a sweet potato. Am I dreaming?

Seasonal vegetables are close to my heart. That is why I love the farmers’ markets and shopping for locally grown ingredients. The new Hollygrove Market on Olive Street in Carrollton is one of the most exciting new adventures in town. You can see the vegetables growing all around you and you can shop there on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For city folks, that and the Crescent City Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays are about as close as you get to eating fresh off the farm; that’s how I like it.

As far as 6-year-olds go, I just don’t know. Last year’s favorite dish could be on the black list this year. Belgian endive and acorn squash? Our two 1-year-old grandchildren may be easier to fool.

SHRIMP DRESSING
2 pounds shrimp
1 8-inch pan cornbread
1/2 loaf poor boy French
      bread, day-old
4 cups chicken or turkey stock,
      canned or homemade
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions,
      chopped, green and white
      parts separated
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped
       flat-leaf parsley
Salt, black pepper, cayenne
      pepper and Creole seasoning
      to taste

Peel and devein shrimp and roughly chop. Set aside.

In a large bowl, crumble cornbread and French bread. Pour stock over and let it soak.

In a large skillet, sauté onions, white part of green onions, bell pepper and celery until soft. Add garlic and shrimp and sauté, stirring frequently, until shrimp turn pink. Add this mixture to the bread. Add green onion tops, parsley and seasonings and mix well. Place in a 12-by-9-inch baking dish and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 1 hour or until golden brown on top. Serve as a side dish with turkey or ham.

Serves 8 to 10.

CREOLIZED COLLARD GREENS
2 bunches collard greens, or
      2 1-pound bags prewashed
      and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound andouille sausage,
       sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Steen’s cane syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste

If using bunches of greens, rinse thoroughly and chop roughly. Drain.

In a heavy pot, sauté sausage in olive oil over high heat until slightly browned. Add onion and sauté for several minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add greens, stirring, until all are in the pot. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until greens have wilted. Add all other ingredients, mix well, cover pot and simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. During this time, the greens will begin to make their own juice (pot liquor). Add about a 1 cup of water, cover, and continue simmering until greens are cooked but not mushy, about 45 minutes longer or until tender. Time depends on how tender greens are in the first place. Greens can be cooked a day ahead, stored in the refrigerator in a casserole dish and reheated to serve. Serve with pepper sauce, if desired.

Serves 6.

GOAT CHEESE-STUFFED
BELGIAN ENDIVE
2 heads Belgian endive
8 ounces goat cheese (chevre)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Remove any browned or limp leaves of Belgian endive, and slice off the stem end. Rinse thoroughly. Drain or dry with paper towels.

Mix goat cheese with cranberries and walnuts.

Stuff each leaf with about 1 tablespoon goat cheese mixture, spreading it down the center. Arrange in a circular pattern on a plate or platter. Makes about 30 stuffed leaves.

Serves 6 to 8.

ACORN SQUASH CASSEROLE
3 acorn squash
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans

Slice squash into halves and clean out seeds. Place in a baking pan, add 1 cup water and bake at 350 degrees until inside is fork tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from pan and cool. When cool, scoop squash out from peel with a spoon and mash with a fork.

In a small skillet, sauté ginger in butter over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except pecans and whisk together until smooth. Pour into a large baking dish and top with pecans. Bake in a 350-degree oven until slightly brown on top, about 40 minutes. This dish is best baked at the last minute but can be made ahead and reheated.

Serves 8 to 10.

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