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Turkey might be the star, but the supporting cast makes the meal | TribLIVE.com
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Turkey might be the star, but the supporting cast makes the meal

The Associated Press
| Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:00 p.m

Thanksgiving dinner is a balancing act of demanded family favorites, required desserts — and a few new dishes to keep it interesting.

Everyone loves the turkey and its aromatic scent swirling through the house. But let’s face it: The star attraction gets a very small percentage of space on the table and the dinner plate. It’s all those side dishes that make the meal something spectacular.

Here are a few to add to your repertoire.

Fennel-Cumin Roasted Butternut Squash

This easy roasted butternut squash recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving. We start by oiling some cubed butternut squash, then roasting it until it is lightly browned outside and tender inside. Only when it’s fully cooked do we season it. And, for that, we use a lightly warmed lemon vinaigrette spiked with toasted cumin and fennel seeds.

The result is intensely flavorful and incredibly balanced. And, the best part is that it takes almost no extra time or effort than traditional roasting.

Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active)

4 pounds butternut squash

Olive oil

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and seed the squash, then cut it into 1-inch chunks. Mound the squash on the baking sheet, then drizzle it with several tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the squash with your hands to coat it evenly, then spread it in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the pieces and roast for another 15 minutes, or until the squash is evenly browned.

During the final 5 minutes of roasting, in a small dry skillet over low heat, toast the fennel and cumin seeds, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

When the squash is done, transfer it to a bowl. Drizzle the dressing over it and gently toss to coat. Serve warm.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories (80 calories from fat), 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 4 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrate;s, 4 grams dietary fiber, 180 milligrams sodium

Green Beans with Tarragon, Mustard and Sunflower Seeds

We created this delicious — yet ridiculously simple — recipe for skillet green beans bathed in brown butter, then tossed them with fresh tarragon, Dijon mustard and lemon zest. Top the whole thing with toasted sunflower seeds and call it good. Total effort? Only about 20 minutes, and about half of that is hands-off.

Start to finish: 20 minutes

6 tablespoons ( 34 stick) butter

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Zest of 1 lemon

14 cup toasted sunflower seeds, unsalted

In a large deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the butter for 5 minutes, or until it is toasty and fragrant. Add the green beans and salt, then stir to coat. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the green beans are just tender. Stir in the tarragon, mustard, lemon zest and sunflower seeds. Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories (100 calories from fat), 11 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 340 milligrams sodium

Cornbread Buttermilk Biscuits

These rich cornmeal biscuits aren’t just an easy and delicious way to have fresh bread at the Thanksgiving table. They also let you get a jump on your dinner prep.

The biscuits can be prepared up to the point of baking, then arranged on the pan, wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to two weeks. They can be baked right from the freezer, but be sure to allow 3 to 4 minutes of extra baking time than is called for in the recipe.

These biscuits also are easily customized. We offer four suggestions for additions to the basic biscuit dough. Use one or all or any combination

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Nonstick cooking spray

2 cups flour, plus more for preparing dough

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

14 cup sugar

12 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in 12-inch cubes

1 large egg

12 cup heavy cream

12 cup buttermilk

Optional additions:

1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

14 cup chopped, pickled jalapeno pepper slices

23 cup crumbled cooked bacon or chopped ham

14 cup chopped fresh chives

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mist a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and sugar. Add the butter and use 2 knives or your fingertips to work the cubes into the dry mixture until no clump is larger than the size of a pea. If using any of the optional additions, mix them into the dry ingredients at this stage. Set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg, cream and buttermilk. Add the liquid to the dry mixture and stir just until a dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, gently reworking the scraps to cut additional biscuits (but do this only once).

Arrange the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them several inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Let them cool slightly before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition information per serving without additions: 240 calories (110 calories from fat), 13 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 320 milligrams sodium

New Ways with Mashed Potatoes

Truth is, mashed potatoes don’t need a whole lot of love to come out pretty darn amazing. A little butter (OK, a lot of butter), a little cream or milk (OK, a lot of cream or milk), a bit of salt and pepper, and some muscle really are all it takes to convert boring potatoes into one of our favorite comfort foods.

Luckily, potatoes are an easy canvas to work with, playing so well with so many flavors. To help you mix things up a bit this year, we came up with our 10 favorite ways to doctor mashed potatoes.

We also offer one bit of advice about making mashed potatoes, no matter how you plan to season them. After you boil and drain them, return them to the pot and set it over low heat for just a minute or so, shaking the pot now and again to prevent sticking. The heat helps dry out the potatoes, and dry potatoes are tastier potatoes.

Start with 3 pounds of potatoes of your choice, peeled (if desired), then halved and boiled until tender. Drain them well, mash, then follow one of the ideas below.

Browned butter and sage: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the butter for 5 minutes, then add a handful of fresh sage leaves and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more, or until the sage leaves are crisp and the butter is toasty smelling. Stir the mixture into the potatoes and season with salt and fresly ground black pepper.

Loaded baked potato: Stir in 1 cup of sour cream, 1 cup of crumbled cooked bacon, 13 cup of chopped fresh chives and 1 cup of shredded cheddar or jack cheese. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Caramelized onion: Slowly cook 3 large sliced yellow onions in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until the onions are a deep golden brown, for about 20 minutes. If the pan begins to darken too much, add a couple of tablespoons of water and continue cooking. Stir the onions into the potatoes with 12 cup of sour cream, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Ranch: Stir in 12 cup of buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 12 teaspoon each of onion powder, paprika and garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh chives, chopped fresh dill and chopped fresh parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Parmesan-truffle: Stir in 12 cup of half-and-half, 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese and an ample amount of freshly ground black pepper. Season with either salt and a drizzle of truffle oil or with just truffle salt.

Chili-corn: Stir in 12 cup of sour cream, 1 cup of thawed frozen corn kernels and 14 cup of pickled chopped jalapenos, then season with salt and cayenne pepper.

Sausage and fennel: In a large, deep skillet, brown 1 pound of loose Italian sausage with 1 tablespoon of crushed fennel seed and a diced leek (white part only). Stir the sausage mixture into the potatoes with 12 cup of half-and-half. Adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Curry: In a dry skillet, combine 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of turmeric and 14 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Toast until the seasonings are fragrant, then crush them with a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder). Stir the mixture into the potatoes with 1 cup of green peas (heated), 12 cup of sour cream, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Horseradish: Stir in 3 tablespoons of prepared horseradish, more or less to taste, along with 12 cup of buttermilk, 12 cup of sour cream and salt.

Four cheese: Stir in 12 cup of half-and-half, 12 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, 4 ounces od cream cheese at room temperature, 12 cup od shredded Asiago cheese and 12 cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

Cranberry Creativity

The beauty of homemade cranberry sauce is that it’s so easy to make it so good. It’s also incredibly versatile. The classic technique involves nothing more than simmering the whole berries on the stovetop with a whole mess of sugar. Given a few minutes, those cranberries soon burst and bubble and thicken into a deliciously thick, tangy-sweet sauce.

But cranberries also shine in raw sauces. Although these really are more of a relish or salsa, they are just as delicious. Raw cranberry sauces are great with the usual turkey and sides, but they also can do double duty as a starter served with tortilla chips or spooned over cream cheese or warm brie and paired with slices of baguette.

Cooked cranberry sauce variations:

Start with a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, 14 teaspoon of salt and 34 cup of water. Combine in a medium saucepan with your chosen flavorings below. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high and cook for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries pop and the mixtures becomes thick and saucy. Cool to room temperature.

Vanilla-chai: Before adding the water, bring it to a boil and steep 3 chai tea bags in it for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and combine the tea with the remaining ingredients as well as half a vanilla bean, split and scraped, 14 cup of honey, 14 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 14 teaspoon of ground cardamom.

Caramelized onion: Chop 2 large yellow onions and cook them slowly for 15 to 20 minutes in a splash of oil until they are well browned and sweet. Stir in 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, then add them to the master recipe above.

Merlot: Replace the water in the master recipe with merlot wine and add the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon.

Bacon-date: Reduce the sugar to 34 cup, then stir in 34 cup of chopped dried dates. Stir in 34 cup of crumbled cooked bacon just before serving.

Maple-miso: Use maple syrup in place of the sugar in the master recipe and add 2 tablespoons of sweet white miso paste.

Fresh cranberry sauce variations:

Start with a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, 1 cup of sugar and 14 teaspoon of salt. Combine everything in a food processor — along with a selection below — and pulse until well the berries are chopped. Serve cold.

Mojito: Add the zest and juice from 2 limes and 12 cup of loosely packed fresh mint leaves. Stir in 1 tablespoon of light rum.

Melba: Add a 10-ounce bag of thawed frozen peaches and 6 ounces of fresh raspberries.

Smoky chipotle: Add 1 minced chipotle pepper and 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and 2 cloves of garlic.

Ruby citrus: Add the zest of 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime. After processing, stir in 1 cup of chopped segments of Ruby Red grapefruit.

Herbed: Add 3 tablespoons each of chopped fresh chives, tarragon, basil, parsley and cilantro.

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