Thanksgiving wouldn't be as delicious without those favorite side dishes
Norman Rockwell's famous Thanksgiving dinner painting, "Freedom From Want," features a family gathered around a Thanksgiving dinner table. A bowl of composed fruit, covered casserole, celery stalks and what looks like a molded cranberry sauce are present. Still, the huge, beautifully browned turkey being lowered onto the table is meant to be the star. On Thanksgiving at my house, however, while we always serve turkey, I am more than willing to admit that it is all about the sides for my family.
Because it is the centerpiece, let's talk turkey first. Every year at this time, I ask myself, in the most Shakespearean style I can manage: "To brine, or not to brine? That is the question." Friends know I also ask this of them. Responses are mixed, and I will admit, I am torn.
I have made good turkeys both ways. I have come to believe the key to my best turkey was closely monitoring the bird's internal temperature, removing it from the oven when the internal thermometer registers 155-160 degrees and then allowing it to rest at least an hour covered in foil and wrapped in blankets. The turkey will continue to cook, and the temperature will increase by 10 degrees as it rests, achieving the 165 degrees recommended by the USDA.
Yes, 165 degrees, not 180 degrees as recommended in the past, so be sure you don't follow the preprinted targets on your old meat thermometer. Be sure to check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Resting before slicing is the key to juicy meat, so whatever you do, resist the urge to start slicing right out of the oven.
Now, onto my family's favorite part of Thanksgiving -- the sides! Every year I scour the internet and my foodie magazines looking for recipes to accompany our Thanksgiving turkey. After careful consideration, I organize my options and present them to my family, who quickly remind me they really want the same sides we have every year. Once I get over my initial disappointment, I realize this does make sense, as, for many of those sides, this is the only meal of the year when we eat them.
Yes, this includes a traditional sage stuffing made from torn white bread, a favorite task of my kids when they were young, a sweet potato casserole topped with a crumbly pecan mixture, homemade cranberry sauce and relish, along with the very classic green bean casserole. To complete our menu, we always have mashed potatoes and gravy, but no last-minute gravy making for me, as I make mine ahead of time. If this interests you, check out my November 2016 column at www.dailyherald.com/article/20161116/ENTLIFE/161119292?cid=search.
I will admit, the green bean casserole is one of my favorites. I have a childhood memory of helping my mom make this -- open the can, drain the liquid and combine with canned cream of mushroom soup, some milk, soy sauce and part of a can of crunchy onions. Bake and top with whatever onions are left after sneaking a few for myself as a snack. I have repeated this process almost every year, and while most others who will admit to making it too now use frozen beans, I still use canned but have made mine more "fancy" by now using French cut beans instead of regular. Ha!
Despite my family's strong feelings about traditions, I push the limits every year by making at least one new dish, and this year it is a delicious mushroom and goat cheese tart.
This recipe is flexible based on your likes and dislikes. The ingredient list calls for white mushrooms, but feel free to include baby portobellos. But because of the goat cheese's strong flavor, I'm not sure buying expensive mushrooms is wise. And if you don't like goat cheese, consider a cream cheese and feta or Gruyere combo. The secret is to have cheese with enough moisture to spread as a base on top of your crust, so adding the cream cheese to these otherwise drier cheeses is key.
For me, it is all about the filling: goat cheese topped with a savory mushroom and shallot mixture that is finished with a sprinkle of fresh thyme and a drizzle of heavy cream. Sometimes I even add a drizzle of balsamic glaze after it has come out of the oven. True confession, I have actually layered this same mixture in a shallow pan and served it with crackers, too.
However, the crust is an important vehicle for transporting this deliciousness. The recipe calls for the always convenient puff pastry. A package comes with two sheets of individually wrapped pastry, and you need one for this recipe. I always have a box of puff pastry in my freezer. It is a great thing to keep on hand for quick appetizers, and when filled with some fruit or canned pie filling, it is transformed into an easy "homemade" apple turnover on a Saturday morning.
I have also made this recipe with pie crust instead of puff pastry, which can also be purchased premade and kept in your freezer. When I use a pie crust, I also use a 12-by-5-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom, as the pastry needs the support of the pan, and I like the pretty ruffled edge.
Prepared pie crust is sold in circles, so either reroll the crust into the correct shape or press together large pieces to cover your pan's bottom and sides. No egg wash is needed when using pie crust, but prebaking before filling is still required. I often double the filling ingredients, as the tart pan is deeper than the puff pastry's cavity, but you don't have to.
In addition to being so very tasty, this tart is also pretty and will garner you compliments simply on presentation. Plus, you can make the mushroom filling and bake the crust ahead of time, eliminating last-minute preparation.
While this will be an excellent side dish to your Thanksgiving dinner, it can also serve as an appetizer. I have served it alongside a green salad for a nice lunch on a warm summer day, too. I hope you like it as much as I do. Happy Thanksgiving!
Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
2 large shallots, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), defrosted *
1 large egg, beaten to blend
6 ounces soft fresh goat cheese at room temperature
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons whipping cream
Balsamic glaze (optional)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until dry, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet with shallots. Sauté until shallots are soft and mushrooms are browned. Add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Cool. (Can be made the day before.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out puff pastry onto lightly floured surface to 12x15-inch rectangle. Cut one 12x5-inch rectangle, two 11x½-inch strips and two 5x½-inch strips from pastry. Place rectangle on prepared baking sheet. Pierce all over with fork. Using pastry brush, brush all strips with egg. Place short strips, egg side down, atop ends of pastry to form raised crust edge; place long strips, egg side down, atop long sides of pastry. Brush entire tart lightly with remaining egg.
Bake tart shell until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread cheese evenly over bottom of hot tart shell and top with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper. Drizzle with cream. Bake until heated through, about 10 minutes. If desired, drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve hot.
*Feel free to use a traditional pie crust in a tart pan instead of puff pastry. Prebaking is required, but there is no need to brush with beaten egg. When I do this, I often double the filling.
Serves 6 as a side and 8-10 as an appetizer.
¼ cup turkey fat, if you don't have enough add butter to equal ¼ cup
¼ cup flour
6 cups turkey stock, heated in separate pot
Ingredients of your choice*
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat turkey fat and/or butter to a simmer in medium size pot. Add flour and whisk together to fully incorporate; there should not be any lumps. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, continue to stir and cook over medium heat until roux is browned, about 10 minutes. Mixture will gradually turn a caramel color and ultimately start to smell nutty and achieve a rich brown color as flour cooks.
Gradually begin to add hot turkey stock one ladle at a time, whisking vigorously during each addition until about half of the stock has been incorporated. Carefully, pour remaining hot stock into mixture and whisk to combine.
Mixture will seem thin at this point, but will thicken as it heats, so be patient. Bring gravy to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and coats the back of a spoon, approximately 3 minutes. Add a little extra stock, cream or water if gravy is too thick. Remember to add salt and pepper to taste, as there is no salt in your stock.
Gravy is ready to serve immediately or use one of the following techniques to make ahead.
Notes: Place gravy in refrigerator up to three days and reheat when needed.
Place hot gravy in thermal carafe (like you would use for coffee) and seal tightly. Will stay warm several hours and pours easily.
Freeze and reheat when needed. Because of the roux, the gravy should not separate.
Use leftover gravy on leftover turkey and in soups or casseroles.
* If you have a favorite gravy ingredient like giblets or shallots, just add them to this recipe or prepare your recipe with your homemade turkey stock.
Makes about 6 cups
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.