Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off: What made the cut

We’ve pitted salad against salad, green beans against corn, corn against couscous, and our livers against vodka. It’s hard to imagine us having a better time together than our Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off.

Well, going to Disney World together probably would have been a good time, too. But I already went this year. Without you. I’m sorry.

I started this as a way to narrow down how many dishes we’re making, as we did make 19 dishes last year. Then I promptly fell in love with every recipe I found and clung to them for dear life, only cutting some from the list after realizing that we would certainly die if we made and ate all 47 of the great dishes I found.

So a few things had to go:

I love you Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, winner of our salad round, but filling the table and our guts with all those gigantic leaves just didn’t seem right. There’s butter to be eaten, kale. Thanksgiving is just not your day.

And you, Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Butternut Squash. I’ve talked about you for weeks. I’ve bragged about you to people who have to feign interest. But I had to cut someone, and Green Bean Casserole has been part of Thanksgiving since the dawn of time, if I understand the pilgrims’ history correctly.

Our final Thanksgiving menu (with the entire family in the kitchen):

Breakfast
Scones
Citrus Salad with Mint Sugar

Bar
Pumpkin Liqueur — For coffee
Bloody Mary Bar — horseradish, tomato, basil and vodkas
Champagne Punch — Vodka, limoncello, lemon juice, champagne

Wine and beer

Day Snacking
Creamy Pea Dip
Cheese Plate: crackers, olives, cheese, nuts

Dinner
Turkey
Tofu Turkey (we’re making our own this year!)
Stuffing
Gravy and Mushroom Gravy
Cranberry Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Roasted Red and Gold Beets, Turnips and Carrots with Goat Cheese and Beet Greens
Green Bean Casserole
Brussels Sprouts caramelized in Ponzu
Celery Root and Kolrabi Puree
Mashed Potatoes
Corn Pudding
Boiled Onions
Macaroni and (Bleu) Cheese

Dessert
Pumpkin Pie
Blueberry Cheesecake

Let me leave you with this: a turkey made of vegetables. Did that just blow your mind? Because then you really won’t want to see my turkey made of tofu.

My friend Allison alerted me to this trend, and this is a turkey vegetable she made for her family.

I ask you: What’s a more fun take on a Thanksgiving side dish than that?

No, really. Tell me. Share your photos with me on my Facebook page. This place is called You’re In My Kitchen. Get in it.

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off 2: Traditional vs. New-to-Me vs. Modern

Green Bean Casserole: Where have you been all my life?

My name is Cavan and I’ve never made green bean casserole. That is, until a few nights ago, as part of my Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off.

After spending a bit of time looking up fancy green bean casserole recipes — au gratin, lemon, horseradish, chestnuts — I realized was going about things the wrong way. If I really want to stack up a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, I have to make it like most Americans would, right? The classic way — frozen beans, condensed cream of mushroom soup and wonderful, wonderful fried onions.

I did not realize that this Thanksgiving icon was really as simple as that. How do people not eat this more often? I can see why it’s famous. Here are recipes for fancy and basic versions.

Of course, if you’re looking to impress on Thursday, green bean casserole isn’t going to win you any awards for creativity. But it’s pretty much guaranteed it will be devoured, and those points count more anyway.

In my side-dish quest, though, I wanted to stack it up against two other dishes: one that was new to me and one that’s a modern take with familiar ingredients.

Corn Pudding: I finally know what Foghorn Leghorn is talking about in the car insurance commercial I don't like.

And that’s how I met corn pudding. Again, this was another blind spot in my knowledge of Thanksgiving side dishes. I wanted to try a corn casserole or a spoonbread this year, and corn pudding seemed like a good mashup.

Corn pudding is not unlike a really soft cornbread with the sweetness built right in. It requires a bit more work than green bean casserole — I know, I know: more work than putting ingredients in a dish and baking? But stuck with me — from making a corn puree to whipping eggs to soft peaks. But after that, you’re right back to putting-ingredients-in-a-dish-and-baking.

The texture and flavor were quite nice, and it scores a few points for impressing guests, too, at least because it’s a throwback for some and a new idea to others. I was pretty sure it was making the cut for my Thanksgiving menu. Here’s the recipe I used.

Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Butternut Squash: Yeah. It's seducing you right now, isn't it?

Finally, I wanted to take some familiar fall ingredients and introduce them to something you would’t expect at the Thanksgiving table. My idea: Israeli couscous with asparagus and butternut squash.

I have a bit of a problem with pearled couscous. I can plow through a Costco bag of it in a few days. I guess that’s true of almost anything, though, so perhaps I’m learning more about myself here than about couscous.

Anyhow, I’ve been making this dish for a few weeks now and love it. I roast the butternut squash with a little brown sugar, sautee the asparagus, cook the couscous in vegetable broth … then throw them all together with some lemon juice and olive oil. Easy. Delicious. Healthy. Oh my. It’s a bit of a shock how flavorful the couscous gets when you cook it in broth. That flavors plays well with the asparagus, and balance nicely with the squash and citrus. Here’s the recipe I started with.

Each dish could earn a spot at your Thanksgiving table, depending on what your ultimate goal is.

  • If you’re looking for something easy, rich, nostalgic and sure to be a crowd pleaser: Green Bean Casserole
  • If you want to try something new but still traditional, and get some pats on the back for your culinary prowess: Corn Pudding
  • If you want to impress people with something new (or something healthy, depending on your crowd): Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Butternut Squash
  • If you want to get through the day: Bloody Mary Bar

Tomorrow: The dishes from our Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off that earned a spot at our table.

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off: The round where everyone wins because it’s just lots of vodka

Thanksgiving Day Bloody Mary Bar: Thanksgiving Day. Day drinking. Clearly the two things are related.

Let’s use an etiquette guide to learn about ourselves. Everyone is one of these:

  1. When hosting Thanksgiving, don’t forget the importance of a champagne punch to keep your guests happy while you work in the kitchen.
  2. When hosting attending Thanksgiving, don’t forget the importance of a champagne punch Bloody Mary Bar to keep your guests yourself happy while you others work in the kitchen.
  3. When begrudgingly attending Thanksgiving, don’t forget the importance of a Bloody Mary Bar vodka to keep yourself happy from punching someone and/or crying while you others work in the kitchen.
  4. When begrudgingly attending Thanksgiving awake, don’t forget the importance of a Bloody Mary Bar vodka to keep yourself happy from punching someone and/or crying while you others work in the kitchen.

Which one are you? Thanksgiving is a magical day that transports me from No. 4 to No. 1 and back again.

Etiquette aside, we truly do have a Bloody Mary Bar as part of our Thanksgiving menu. It’s even a crucial plot point in my “Eat Drink Thank” Thanksgiving trailer. You should have one, too. It’s a long day of cooking, and Bloody Marys offer the perfect justification for day drinking. And by day drinking, I mean morning drinking. Whether you’re in the kitchen or an innocent bystander, you could stand to take the edge off.

This year’s Bloody Mary Bar features horseradish vodka, basil vodka, tomato vodka and bacon (but vegetarian) vodka with a Bacon Salt rim. Jam your glass full of pickles and olives and, if you drink too much, start eating until you’re back to normal. Thanksgiving day drinking isn’t about passing out, people. That’s trashy. You save that for your night drinking, and then you blame that stuff in turkeys that makes people tired. I, as someone who does not turkey, must stay strong and last the entire day without passing out. That’s why I practice for this all year long.

OK now. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off will pit a traditional dish, a new-to-me dish and a modern dish in the ultimate battle of wits.

Go get your Bloody Mary Bar ready.

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off: Winner of the salad round

vs.

Shaved Root Vegetable Salad Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad

Raw. Healthy. Pretty. These salads have it all. But only one can win the Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off.

Whether you’re hosting or bringing a dish, Thanksgiving side dishes should strive for two things: being fairly easy to make amid a dozen other things going on in the kitchen, and convincing everyone at the table that you are a genius. That’s what everyone goes for, right? The ability to say, “Oh, that? It was easy to make!” and sort of mean it while also presenting something that looks quite complex.

Both of these dishes win in that regard. They’re not hard to make. They’re essentially fun takes on slicing — one through a mandolin and the other through a shredder — that result in unexpected salads.

So let’s stack these dishes up according to some common Thanksgiving conundrums:

Easier to make: Shaved Root Vegetable Salad. If you have a mandolin, anyhow.
Will impress people at the table: Shaved Root Vegetable Salad. It’s just so pretty. Seeing paper-thin radishes hanging out with beets — it’s hard to beat (see what I did there?) that. The Kale and Brussels Sprout salad was just green on green, though it pepped up once I turned it into Kale Slaw.
Can be prepped ahead of time: Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. In fact, massaging the kale with salad dressing and letting it sit for a day helped bring the flavors together. Yeah, I got sensual with my salad. So?
Will satisfy fussy eaters: Both lose here. But they’ll satisfy smart eaters. Focus on them.

All that said, the ultimate winner is … the Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad.

As gorgeous as the Shaved Root Vegetable Salad is, you’re still eating a plate of raw root vegetables. Healthy and beautiful, yes, but so is the Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. Using a familiar ingredient in a new way, where the taste still comes through but it’s transformed into a new texture, worked really well. And one batch lasted for several days. I do recommend the Kale Slaw trick with your leftovers — it added a nice sweetness, and brought more color to the dish. I was really happy with how it turned out.

The Shaved Root Vegetable Salad looks so great, but each bite is just a raw root vegetable with some dressing. It has a great wow factor if you plate each serving individually … but who does that on Thanksgiving? We’re looking for stuff that’s OK getting trampled by mashed potatoes and drowned in cranberry sauce and gravy. The Shaved Root Vegetable Salad is too dignified for such things.

Throw the Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad on your Thanksgiving menu for an easy-to-make, filling, unique crowd pleaser.

Next Up: Some traditional dishes take on some modern dishes. We’re talking green bean casserole and Israeli couscous with butternut squash.

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off 2: Shaved Root Vegetable Salad

Shaved Root Vegetable Salad: So pretty. So thin. We should all try to be more like Shaved Root Vegetable Salad. I mean, not you. You're already so pretty and so thin. But those other people. They should try.

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off continues today with a Shaved Root Vegetable Salad facing off against the Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, which then morphed into Kale Slaw.

Shaving things, as it applies to food, is more appealing than it first appears. I will now provide examples: chocolate shavings, shaving a paper-thin slice of apple and placing it in vodka, shaving potatoes and baking them instead of sitting in your pantry eating potato chips and crying. I am now out of examples, but you see the possibilities here.

Or perhaps it’s just my love of mandolins, a device that provides magical slicing options and the ability to accidentally commit suicide while cooking. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off: Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad

Behold: Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. So good that you ignore the fact that "brussels sprout" is a weird thing to say. They should have called it "Baby Cabbage on a Stick." Imagine the state fair tie-ins and trickery. Damn, sometimes I wonder why no one checks with me on these things.

We’re kicking off the Thanksgiving Side-Dish Face-Off today, as I am the type of person* who documents hosting his first Thanksgiving and then creates a fake movie trailer about it. First up, Salad No. 1: Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. Next, Salad No. 2: Shaved Root Vegetable Salad.

If you hated brussels sprouts as a kid, I hope you’ve apologized to your parents for being wrong. Because you were wrong. They are delicious. They are what would happen if cabbage were miniature and grew on stalks. You cannot deny that that is nature at its finest. Think of something you like, and then imagine it miniature and on a stalk. Better, right? Yeah. Better. Continue reading