Thanksgiving Sides

Food is the heart of Thanksgiving, when cooks show off their very best dishes – some old, some new.

There is a lot to be said for the traditional. What is Thanksgiving without the turkey, dressing, cranberries and pumpkin pie? On the other hand, why not go cutting-edge and bring new twists to table.

I can argue both sides, but a little of each – a lot, that is – keeps coming to our table.

One of my strategies is to do something unconventional that carries a traditional thread. Instead of the sweet potato casserole, I have substituted butternut squash. In place of salad, I like a tray of tempting bites. And, I often pull off a different dessert – a cheesecake, say – but dress it with a familiar taste, such as praline.

At least that’s my thinking right now. Last year, I made oyster dressing, stuffed mirlitons and rice dressing – all in the stuffing family. Then, my husband made cornbread dressing.

Each one was to please a certain person. Some of those people aren’t coming this year, so we can cut out a few carbs. I love my mother’s ambrosia recipe made from fresh coconut and oranges, but a recipe card so old it’s shredded contains a quick and easy one, mostly from cans, that’s just as delicious.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to take when going to someone else’s home. I think a relish tray featuring tasty morsels is just the answer. No one can resist a deviled egg with a shrimp on top. And veggies, such as celery and Belgian endive, are irresistible when filled with a creamy cheese stuffing.

Last year at Thanksgiving, talk was all about the election. This year we won’t have candidates to fuss about. That might be the biggest treat of the day.

Holiday Relish Tray Deviled Eggs with Shrimp:

6 boiled eggs
6 green olives stuffed with pimentos
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
12 small boiled shrimp

Halve eggs lengthwise and place whites on serving plate. On a plate, mash egg yolks with a fork. Mash olives with the fork and mix with eggs. Add mayonnaise and mustard and mix until creamy. Stir in salt, pepper and a pinch of paprika. Stuff egg whites, spreading yolk mixture to cover the full surfaces of the whites. Top with a small shrimp. Sprinkle with paprika.

Makes 12 stuffed eggs

Stuffed Celery With Cream Cheese:

5 stalks celery, cut into thirds
1 1/2 cups whipped chive cream cheese
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup pistachio nuts, shelled

Place celery in ice water for about an hour before stuffing to make it crisp.

In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese with Worcestershire, lemon juice and seasonings. Chop pistachio nuts in small pieces and mix half with the stuffing. With a knife, fill pieces of celery and garnish with remaining pistachios.

Makes 15 pieces

Belgian Endive Spears:

2 heads Belgian endive
8 ounces goat cheese at room temperature
½ cup roasted walnuts, chopped, divided in half*
¼ sweetened dried cranberries, chopped, divided in half
¼ cup chopped loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, divided in half
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Few dashes garlic powder

Cut 1-inch off the root end of the Belgian endive heads. Discard any withered spears and remove about 20 of the largest spears. Rinse and pat dry.

In a medium bowl, mix goat cheese, half of walnuts, half of cranberries, half of parsley, balsamic vinegar and garlic powder. Spread onto the cut end of the endive spears and garnish with remaining walnuts, cranberries and parsley.

Makes about 20 pieces
*Roast walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

To make an attractive holiday tray: Use a large platter, arranging eggs, celery and endive spears in their own sections of the tray. Decorate between them with black olives, gherkins, pickled okra and pepperocini. Use extras to refill tray or save as leftovers.

Serves 8 to 10

Butternut Squash Casserole

1 medium butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 Tablespoon butter
½ onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large eggs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds*
1/3 cup bacon bits

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with cooking spray and place squash halves meat side down. Roast in oven for about 40 minutes or until cooked through when checked with a fork. Cool slightly and scrape squash into a food processor. Pulse until squash is almost but not quite puréed.

In a small skillet, melt butter and sauté onion and garlic. Set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat eggs. Add maple syrup, milk, salt and cinnamon, and mix well. Remove from stand and stir in squash and onion-garlic mixture, mixing well. Pour into a buttered 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Top first with bacon bits and then pumpkin seeds. Bake for 45 minutes or until done and slightly browning on top. Serves 6 to 8
* I used store-bought fire-roasted pumpkin seeds with sea salt.



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