It happens to the best of us.
You carefully write out menus, calculate servings, make extensive shopping lists, and even chart out when dishes will be put into the oven. It’s Thanksgiving, and no detail can be left to chance.
Then life gets in the way.
Your husband picks up a 10-pound bag of Idaho potatoes instead of the sweet ones you requested. There’s a sudden run on canned pumpkin at the grocery store. The greens you so carefully picked out for the meal’s salad have turned moldy in the fridge. Or you just simply forgot to buy/thaw/chill/pre-cook that one special ingredient.
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As my dad taught me to say, “Garsh, darn it!”
Yet screwups on Thanksgiving Day don’t have to turn into the disaster you tearily imagine. It’s entirely possible to pull something together at the last minute and still have it be delicious.
Got a package of frozen corn, some milk and a few eggs in the fridge? Whisk them into some cornmeal made extra-creamy with butter, pour the mixture into a casserole dish and bake for a half-hour. The result is a pretty terrific spoon bread that will taste so good your guests will assume you planned it.
Sweet and sour pumpkin is easier still. After frying slices of sugar pumpkin until golden in oil, you layer them in a ceramic dish with sage leaves and rosemary and pour hot balsamic vinegar on top. A few hours later, after you’ve done with the majority of the cooking, you’ve got a tangy pickle that can be served as an appetizer or passed with the turkey.
And who needs to worry about finding room for a green bean casserole into the oven when you can rustle up a Brussels sprouts salad in under 15 minutes. Other than toasting some nuts, no cooking is required. Plus, it’s gorgeous, and oh-so trendy. Not to mention incredibly healthful and low-cal in a meal that typically is anything but.
Sweet and sour pumpkin
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.
Serve this autumnal sweet-and-sour pickle as an antipasto or as a side with dinner.
From “Vegetables” by Antonio Carluccio (Quadrille; November 2016; $32.95).
1 medium-sized cooking pumpkin, about 1½ pounds
All-purpose flour for dusting
Olive oil for shallow frying
6 large sage leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel pumpkin and cut first into 4-inch sections, then into thin slices. Dust these with flour. Add enough olive oil to a medium frying pan so it is ¼-inch deep. Heat over medium heat. Fry pumpkin slices until golden on both sides. Drain on absorbent paper towels.
In a ceramic container, make layers of pumpkin slices, interspersed with sage leaves and rosemary needles. Pour vinegar in a small pan along with garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Briefly bring to a boil. Pour hot vinegar over the layered pumpkin.
Leave for a few hours for flavors to combine before serving.
Spoon bread with corn
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.
This souffle-like spoonbread — a Southern staple for more than 200 years — will melt in your mouth. The original recipe calls for fresh corn but I used frozen kernels. Be sure to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks — it makes the spoonbread super light. It’s meant to be a side dish but you almost could serve it as a dessert with a little raspberry jam or maple syrup spooned on top.
From “Big American Cookbook: 250 Recipes from Across the USA” by Mario Batali (Grand Central Life & Style; October 2016; $40).
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup white cornmeal
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
3 large eggs, separated
3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cobs, or 2½ cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9-by-9-inch casserole with cooking spray.
In large pot, heat milk and salt until milk nearly boils. Slowly whisk in cornmeal. Continue to stir until smooth, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered and stirring often, for about 15 minutes, until mixture is quite thick.
Remove pan from heat and stir in butter to incorporate. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, then stir in corn kernels.
Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold egg whites into the corn mixture and pour into prepared casserole. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and center is almost set.
Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with pecorino and toasted almonds
Yield: Serves 6 to 8.
This raw vegetable salad is ridiculously addictive, even if you’re convinced you hate Brussels sprouts. I used a sharp knife to shave my sprouts because my fingertips are terrified of mandolins. It worked just fine.
From “Mozza at Home” by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreno (Knopf; October 2016; $35).
1 cup whole almonds with skins
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste, divided
4 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more for squeezing on the finished salad
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Wedge of pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
Freshly ground black pepper
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spread almonds on baking sheet and toast in oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are fragrant and brown, shaking the pan occasionally so nuts brown evenly. Remove almonds from oven and set aside to cool. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt and toss to coat. Coarsely chop nuts and set aside.
Remove and discard outer leaves from Brussels sprouts. Holding sprouts by the root end, shave as thinly as possible on a mandoline, until you reach the part you’re holding; discard. Repeat with remaining sprouts.
Place shaved Brussels sprouts and mint in a large bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice, sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and toss to coat. Drizzle olive oil over salad, toss and gently massage the oil to coat the leaves. Check for seasoning, adding more salt and oil to taste.
To serve, grate a thin layer of cheese to cover the surface of a large rimmed platter or shallow serving dish. Mound salad on top of cheese and gently flatten the mound to make an even circle. Grate a thin layer of cheese over the salad and scatter the toasted nuts over the cheese. Drizzle a few drops of lemon juice and grind several turns of pepper over the salad. Serve with a big spoon and the cheese and grater on the side for guests to grate more cheese over their own servings.