Where else would a foodie’s thoughts turn to this week but to the greatest eating holiday of the year? We had two Thanksgiving dinners that couldn’t be beat, one of which I contributed sides to, and the other I mostly cooked myself. The rest of the holiday was kind of a bust, though. I won’t go into details, because other family members may be lurking, but let’s just say that if they didn’t tempt us to their houses with promises of plenty of fatty, rich foods you’d never allow yourself to eat on a sane day and equal helping portions of guilt, we’d probably just say fuck it and go to work.
So I’ll talk about mashed sweet potatoes instead. I got to do two versions and compare. I used the same easy technique for each: simmer diced, peeled sweet potatoes over medium-low heat in a small amount of liquid and a good amount of butter for 30-40 minutes until soft, then mash gently. For the first batch, I simmered the potatoes in ¼ cup water with a healthy dash of baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice), ¼ cup brown sugar and 4 tbsp. butter. For the second batch, I simmered the potatoes in ¼ cup heavy cream with 2 tbsp. butter, salt and pepper, and mashed with another 2 tbsp. butter at the end. They both turned out great, but the first batch with the brown sugar, while not overly sweet, was more toothsome and satisfying to me.
I tried a lot of recipes for the occasion, all from various Cook’s Illustrated sources, and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. The winners were:
Onions Agrodolce: Sweet-and-sour cocktail onions, Italian-style, first sauteed in butter and sugar, then simmered in red wine vinegar, water and more sugar plus herbs to create a syrupy glaze. (This was the only thing I remembered to take a picture of; click the thumbnail for the large version.) They were great as an h’or d’oeuvre with crackers, cheese and crudites, sweet on the front end with a tart bite at the back.
New York-Style Cheesecake: Quite a project, requiring 2 hours of prep and baking, 3 hours of cooling and 3 hours of chilling. The top was a bit overdone, but no one cared after pouring strawberry sauce all over it, and slicing into it revealed the creamiest, lightest, most ethereal cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. And I don’t normally like cheesecake much. I must confess, though, that I was not the one who stayed up until two in the morning to make this one; that was my stepbrother. I would have just made brownies.
Updated Green Bean Casserole: This was my favorite new recipe, an update on the holiday staple but using no canned products except french-fried onions. I blanched the green beans, then tossed them with a rich sauce of sauteed mushrooms, chicken broth and cream. I topped it all with a mixture of homemade breadcrumbs, butter and french-fried onions, and baked until brown and bubbly. I couldn’t help going back for seconds on this one!
All in all, it was a successful Thanksgiving, food-wise. And now we can all forget about it for another year. Whew.