Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roasted Root Vegetable Gratin

This is another dish that came up in my search for new Thanksgiving sides.  I think this one fits quite nicely into what I consider traditional New England Fall cooking, with a tiny bit of a modern twist (I doubt my mother or grandmother ever got their hands on a wedge of aged Asiago).  This recipe is pure comfort, a little sweet from the carmelization of the vegetables, a little salty, a little creamy with a slight sharpness from the Asiago... just perfect.

I will admit that this was my first experience with parsnips.  I'm not really sure why I'd never had them before, both of my parents claim to have liked them, and they were certainly a readily available local ingredient in New England.  My best guess would be that I have to blame my younger brother for never having tried them before.... as a child he absolutely refused to eat any vegetable unless it was orange or yellow, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and corn were about the only veggies he would eat without an hour's worth of dinner table drama.  I remember him dropping green vegetables under the table for the dog, and then trying to reason with my parents that if the dog wouldn't eat it there must be something wrong with it.  Amazingly, he'll eat almost anything now. 

Ok, back to the point... if you're a fan of root veggies, this is a MUST try, and it will definitely be on my Thanksgiving day menu :)

1  small butternut squash (about 2-1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2  medium parsnips (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
1  large sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1  medium red onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch wedges
2  tablespoons olive oil
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/4  teaspoon black pepper
1  tube(18 ounces) heat-and-serve polenta
1/4  cup half-and-half
1/2  cup shredded Asiago cheese
8  sprigs fresh thyme
1. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. Toss squash, parsnips, red pepper and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place vegetables in a large roasting pan and roast at 375°F for 45 minutes, stirring twice.
3. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Slice polenta into 12 slices, each about 1/2-inch thick. Fit slices into the bottom of the baking dish.
4. Spoon vegetables over polenta slices. Drizzle with half-and-half and sprinkle with cheese. Scatter thyme over top.
5. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before serving

Baked Creamy Orzo and Spinach

I've been on the hunt for Thanksgiving side recipes for a while now, this one isn't quite what you'd call traditional, but it meets a few criteria: it's easy and fairly quick, it's very good (kind of like a gourmet florentine mac and cheese) and it makes a lot!  The kids and I both loved this... it has a nice contrast of textures, from the velvety softness of the orzo to the creaminess of the cheese and cream to the crunchiness of the onions.  Definitely a keeper for the recipe files!

1 tablespoon salt
1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
two 10 ounce packages frozen spinach
2 garlic cloves
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup canned chicken broth
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a few handfuls french fried onions

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the salt and orzo and boil 4
minutes. Add the
spinach and cook 5 minutes more or until the orzo is al dente.
Drain the mixture
in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain well.

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt and
add put it in a
large bowl. Add the cream, broth, cheese, pepper, nutmeg, orzo
and spinach and combine
well. Transfer the mixture to a buttered baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until bubbly and beginning to brown a bit.  Sprinkle french fried onions over the top for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Baked Cranberry Sauce

My Mom makes the best homemade cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, seriously, people rave about it.  For some reason I always thought it was some long involved process that I would never have the patience for... something similar to making preserves and canning them (I know... not that hard, but just can't bring myself to do it!).

Last Thanksgiving was my first shot at hosting the day as my Mom had to work.  Granted I didn't have a houseful of people coming (that would be done at my Mom's the next day), but I wanted to make a good show of it... and as my children informed me, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without homemade cranberry sauce.  Believe me, I considered buying a few cans of the whole berry stuff and faking it, even thought about begging my Mom to make a little extra for me. Then I put on my big girl pants and Googled it.... really??  that's IT?  You're kidding.  ---- Nope.  This is really all there is to it.  My Mom got a good chuckle out of me thinking it was some big secret project she did every year too...  so maybe you can make someone think this is your big secret project this year.   Enjoy! :)

1 (12- ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brandy
pinch of cinnamon

Combine the cranberries, sugars, and cinnamon in a 2 qt backing dish and cover with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350ยบ. Remove the cover and stir to make sure there's no undissolved sugar. Return to the oven, uncovered and bake for about 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the cranberries are soft and sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the oven and stir in brandy. Allow to cool and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight before serving.