Succulent Thanksgiving Side Dishes

They may not be turkey, but are hardly an aside during your big Thanksgiving dinner.

Culinary expert Tori Ritchie dished out lots of advice about them, as well as easy-to-make recipes sure to please your guests, as part of the series, "The Perfect Thanksgiving."

Over several days, The Early Show joined with specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma to tell you how to create "The Perfect Thanksgiving," step by step.

The segments took place in the Williams-Sonoma store at New York City's Columbus Circle.

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm worked with Ritchie, a San Francisco-based food writer, cooking teacher and host of the long-running "Ultimate Kitchens" on the Food Network. Her latest cookbook is "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" (Chronicle Books, Fall 2004).

Ritchie's recipes are a wonderful, modern interpretation of your traditional Thanksgiving side dishes: stuffing (dressing), cranberry sauce, salad, and dinner rolls.

She cautions that cooking your stuffing (dressing) inside your turkey can be considered a health hazard, because most people do not cook the turkey long enough for the dressing to be cooked properly. So she always urges people to cook their stuffing separately.

Ritchie is a firm believer in preparing things in advance, and you can certainly do that with the dressing. You can prepare it a couple of days ahead and simply reheat it. And if you prepare it in a dish that goes from oven to table, it will make your life much easier.

Her cranberry relish is a twist on the traditional cranberry sauce or canned cranberry that so many people serve. The cranberries are not cooked, so they provide a nice contrast to the soft side dishes and the turkey. The cranberries are macerated, so wonderful, juicy, sweet, and tart flavors are produced. You must prepare the cranberries at least one day in advance to get the full effect.

Ritchie's sweet potato puree is a wonderful way of combining candied yams and mashed potatoes, two very popular dishes at Thanksgiving. She is a firm believer in mashing potatoes with a masher instead of a ricer. She believes it produces a nicer texture. She adds sweetness by pouring heated syrup into the puree.

Her escarole salad represents a different way of providing salad to your guests. Escarole is often used in soups and braising techniques, but it can be eaten raw as well. Escarole has sturdy leaves and a slightly bitter flavor. Young escarole leaves are tender enough to add to salads; otherwise, escarole is best cooked as a side dish or used in soups.

RECIPES

For Ritchie's recipe for stuffing, click here.

Perfect Popovers

It's easy to prepare moist, airy popovers with crisp, golden domes when you use the right pan. The Williams-Sonoma aluminized-steel pan delivers a quick burst of heat, which converts the moisture in the batter to steam, causing it to "pop over" the sides and rise dramatically. The tapered cups are set apart to promote air circulation. For best results, don't overfill the cups; do place the pan on the center oven rack; and don't open the oven door during baking. Popovers are a classic accompaniment for the Thanksgiving feast; they're also delicious for breakfast, paired with butter and jam, or serve them alongside soups and stews.

Ingredients
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose 0our
1 tsp. salt
Unsalted butter for serving (optional)

Preheat an oven to 450°F. Spray the wells of a standard 6-cup popover pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour 1/2 tsp. of the melted butter into each cup. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk, then whisk in 2 Tbs. of the melted butter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then whisk in the egg mixture. Whisk vigorously until smooth, about 2 minutes. Divide the batter among the prepared cups and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and invert the pan onto a wire rack.

Let the pan cool, then spray the wells with nonstick cooking spray, pour 1/2 tsp. of the melted butter into each one, and bake the remaining batter. Serve immediately with butter. Makes 12 popovers. From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Sweet Potato Puree

Look for sweet potatoes that have dark brownish-orange skin and a bright orange interior, sometimes labeled "yams" at the supermarket. Their flesh is naturally moist and sweet when cooked and pureed.

Ingredients
4 lb. orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp. coarse salt, plus more, to taste
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 Tbs. unsalted butter
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sweet potatoes, the 2 tsp. salt and water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and transfer to a large bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the sweet potatoes well. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the half-and-half and maple syrup until hot. Remove from the heat.

Add 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) of the butter to the sweet potatoes, then slowly pour in the hot half-and-half mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir until the potatoes are light and creamy. Season with salt and white pepper. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a warmed serving bowl and top with the remaining 1 Tbs. butter. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Entertaining, by George Dolese (Oxmoor House, 2004).

Crunchy Bread Dressing with Bacon and Leeks

If you prefer a moist dressing or if the bread is particularly dense, add a bit more stock.

Ingredients
1-lb. loaf rustic country bread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 thick-cut bacon slices, about 8 oz. total, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 leeks, white portion only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and rinsed well
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup turkey or chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 cup milk
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 cup chopped green onions, green portion only

Preheat an oven to 375ºF. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside. In a large fry pan over medium heat, fry the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crispy and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. In another large fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, carrots and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, bacon, the leek mixture, the 1 cup stock, milk, thyme, green onions, salt and pepper and stir gently to mix. If the dressing seems dry, add more stock as needed. Transfer the dressing to the prepared baking dish and bake until crispy and golden, about 1 hour. Serves 10 to 12.

If desired, you can pack the dressing loosely in the body and neck cavities of the turkey. Secure the neck flap with kitchen string or pin it to the back with toothpicks or trussing pins. Tying the legs together will help hold the stuffing in the body cavity. For turkeys weighing 16 lbs. or less, add 30 minutes to the total roasting time. For turkeys weighing more than 16 lbs., add 1 hour to the total roasting time. From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Cranberry Relish with Ginger

The lively, clean flavor of fresh ginger is compatible with most fruits. In the market, look for ginger that's hard and heavy, with an unbroken peel that is thin, light colored, smooth and shiny. To prepare ginger, peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife before using as directed in a recipe.

Ingredients
1 Orange, unpeeled and preferably organic, scrubbed
2 bags (12 oz. each) fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

Cut the orange (with its peel on) into 16 chunks and discard any seeds. Working in batches, combine the orange chunks, cranberries, sugar and ginger in a food processor. Pulse to chop finely and evenly, stopping once or twice with each batch to scrape down the sides of the work bowl.

Transfer to a storage container, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to develop the flavors. Bring to room temperature and stir well before serving. Serves 8 to 10.

Make Ahead Tip: This relish improves when made in advance, since the flavors have more time to marry. Prepare it up to 3 days before serving.

Escarole with Endive Salad with Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Escarole is part of the chicory family, along with Belgian endive and radicchio. While many vegetables are prized for their delicate flavors, members of this clan are appreciated for their slightly bitter taste. When eaten raw, they pair especially well with more strongly flavored, rich ingredients, such as nuts, cheeses, and fruits.

Ingredients
1/2 cup walnut halves
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. walnut oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 heads Belgian endive, about 1 lb. total, cored
and leaves separated
1 head escarole, about 1/2 lb., carefully rinsed
and torn into 2-inch pieces
3 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, walnut oil, vinegar, shallot, salt and pepper to form a vinaigrette. In a bowl, combine the endive and escarole. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss to coat the leaves evenly. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the Gorgonzola and walnuts. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Ritchie's latest cookbook is "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" (Chronicle Books, Fall 2004).
  • Brian Dakss

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