There is no holiday during which I feel more blessed than on Thanksgiving. This is, in (large) part, because I am not required to cook a single thing the entire day.
In order to ease my guilt, I’ve accepted the task of helping those of you who are less fortunate by sharing some super-easy side dishes. Having hosted Christmas dinner last year, I know that adequately roasting a large bird is quite enough in and of itself.
Indeed, if you are roasting a bird, do yourself a favor and don’t plan to put anything else in the oven that should cook at a different temperature. Each of the baked dishes below are based on the assumption that your oven will be set to roughly 350˚.
Roasted Winter Squash
Gauge the amount of squash you’ll need by allowing 1 small squash (acorn and butternut are good choices) for every four people. Cut each squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Brush sides and inner cavity with olive oil and place flesh-side down on a lightly-oiled baking sheet. Roast for approximately 45 minutes or until flesh is very soft and easy pulls away from the skin. After removing squash from oven, let cool for a bit, then scoop the cooked flesh out and transfer to a large bowl. Using a potato masher, work squash into an almost-purée. Season with olive oil or butter, salt, and perhaps a little cream. You can even incorporate some diced ripe pear or dried cranberries (or both). Leftover squash can be used in pies later.
Combine the following in a food processor or blender: 1 bag of fresh cranberries, washed and drained; 1 orange (preferably organic, since the peel will be eaten), quartered and seeded; ½ cup sugar (or to taste). Process ingredients minimally, just until you have the consistency of relish, and transfer to a serving bowl. Optionally, add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves and/or some chopped walnuts or pecans, raisins or craisins. Serves a crowd.
- 1 (15 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained
- 1 (15 oz.) can cream style corn
- 1 (8 oz.) container light sour cream
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup butter or Earth Balance, softened
- 8 oz. cornbread mix (look for mix without all the junk – Arrowhead Mills makes a good one)
Combine all ingredients in a lightly greased 8x8 baking dish and cook for 55-60 minutes (in that 350˚ oven). Serves 4-6. This recipe can be easily doubled.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Onions
(Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)
- 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, cut in half and cooked until tender in salted, boiling water, then drained
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small onion, diced
- Salt, dried thyme, lemon juice
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat and cook bacon until brown, but not crisp. Remove bacon but leave fat in the pan and add diced onion and a pinch of thyme. Cook until soft but not browned. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Turn heat to high and add drained Brussels sprouts. Cook, turning occasionally, until Brussels sprouts are warmed through and beginning to brown. Return bacon to pan and toss. Remove from heat and serve. Serves 4.
Basic Baked Brown Rice or Dressed-up Rice
My family always has rice and gravy at Thanksgiving. Baking the rice in the oven along with the other stuff eliminates the possibility of a boil-over on the stove and makes really wonderful rice. Use the “dressed-up” version as a true side dish, sans the gravy:
For the basic rice, combine 1 ½ cups brown rice with ½ teaspoon salt in a 1 ½ quart casserole dish. Pour 2 ½ cups of boiling water over rice along with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Cover and bake for about 1 hour at, you guessed it, 350˚.
For the dressed-up rice, combine all ingredients as above, omitting oil, and add ½ cup raisins or currants and 1 cinnamon stick. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 350˚ or until water is absorbed. Before serving, remove cinnamon stick and optionally stir in ½ cup toasted pine nuts.
These dishes will serve 4-6 and recipes can be easily doubled.
I don’t know that this can actually count as a side, but if you're hosting any children on Thanksgiving Day, you might thank me for this. For each child who’s old enough to shake a jar without flinging it through a window (best if you make them go outside in the yard to do this), provide one clean, lidded glass jar (jelly jars are good), about 8 oz. size. Fill each jar halfway with heavy whipping cream and tightly screw on lids. Send the kids far away from the house and any cars, and have them shake their jars like crazy. After about 5 minutes of vigorous shaking, the cream should be thick enough to spread. Provide a plateful of crackers for the kids to spread their butter on.
If necessary, any of these sides can be spiked with bourbon so that the inevitable dishwashing marathon to come may seem more like a 5K (and to dull your awareness of the men who have quietly parked themselves in front of the television for the remainder of the day). Please don’t let the children make bourbon butter though . . . you can run that little experiment on your own at the end of Black Friday.