If you have grown tired of making green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and Ambrosia salad, it may be time to liven up your Thanksgiving side dishes.
Local chefs say that with a few new ingredients and some additional steps, you, too, can create some new flavors.
"It is great to stick with tradition, but you can also kick it up a bit with some unique things that will make your Thanksgiving memorable," said David Vartanian, chef at the Vintage Press in Visalia.
Vartanian recently prepared a full Thanksgiving feast in honor of the American Pistachio Growers' new celebrity spokesman: bike racing champion Mark Cavendish.
Among the items he served at the Madera home of Larry and Janice Lowder was one of his signature dishes: roasted baby pumpkins.
"It was delicious," says Sharolyn Schmiederer of Madera, one of the guests. "I didn't know pumpkin could taste this good."
Vartanian prepares the softball-sized pumpkins so they are completely edible. He roasts them, then stuffs them with spicy smoked chicken, pistachios and Jarlsberg cream. The savory dish is a good choice for a first course.
He also suggests taking advantage of what is seasonal, like root vegetables that are easy to roast.
The earthy vegetables bring out a smoky and sweet flavor to mild-flavored meats like turkey. Vartanian likes to roast baby carrots, turnips, parsnips and three different colored beets, including red, golden and chioggia.
Even a simple dish like green beans can be dressed up with some sauteed mushrooms — Vartanian uses chanterelles — and pancetta. He also likes to add fresh spinach — stirred in at the last minute — to his mashed potatoes along with cream, butter and roasted garlic.
"After all, what is Thanksgiving without mash potatoes?" Vartanian says.
Chef Don Waddell, head of the Clovis Institute of Technology culinary program, says simple things like cranberry sauce can be given new life by creating your own. His recipe includes fresh cranberries, a cinnamon stick, water, sugar and the zest from an orange.
"It beats seeing cranberry sauce out of the can that still has the little ridges on it," Waddell says. "That is not always the most conducive thing to see on Thanksgiving."
If you are looking for a new vegetable side dish, consider Brussels sprouts. Although many are not fans of it, Waddell says he wins people over by searing or sauteing the Brussels sprouts and adding bacon and onion.
"Take some of the classics and add to them by just using some fresh ingredients," Waddell said. "It will taste so much better."
Makes 8 servings
2 cups orange juice
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound fresh cranberries
1/4 cup toasted, fresh pistachios
1 cup Satsuma mandarin segments
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon fresh mint, sliced
Heat orange juice, cinnamon and sugar in a sauce pan. Add cranberries and cook until cranberries "pop." Remove from heat.
Remove cinnamon stick.
Chill cranberries in refrigerator. Just before serving, add Satsuma segments, pistachios, orange zest and mint.
Roasted whole baby pumpkins
Makes 6 servings
6 baby pumpkins
4 ounces Jarlsberg cheese
8 ounces smoked (or regular) chicken, diced
2 tablespoons hot chili sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
6 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoons chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place pumpkins whole into a baking pan, cover with foil and bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the pumpkins are soft.
Use a sharp knife to remove the tops of the pumpkins, discard the seeds and season the inside of the pumpkins with salt and pepper.
Heat the butter in a sauté pan and cook the onion over medium heat until soft. In a bowl, combine the smoked chicken, jarlsberg cheese, cooked onion and chives. Mix well and then season with salt, pepper and chili sauce to taste.
Fill the pumpkins with the smoked chicken mixture and pour one ounce of heavy cream into each pumpkin. Place the tops back onto each pumpkin, cover with aluminum foil and roast the pumpkins in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, place one ounce of lemon butter sauce on each of six warm plates and place a pumpkin on each plate.
Lemon butter sauce
2 shallots, diced
1 cup white wine
1 ounce champagne vinegar
2 ounces heavy cream
6 ounces sweet butter
Juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chives
Combine the shallots, wine and vinegar in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and reduce by one half. Add the heavy cream and reduce again.
Over low heat whisk in the sweet butter piece by piece. Season with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Add the chives just before serving.
Roasted root vegetables with garlic and rosemary
Makes 8 servings
1 pound small turnips, with tops
1 pound small carrots, with tops
1 pound small chiogga beets, with tops
1 pound parsnips
1 pound boiling onions or shallots
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
12 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
Peel the turnips, onions, carrots, beets and parsnips. You can leave whole or cut in half, depending on size.
Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add garlic cloves and rosemary. Place on baking sheet and place in 375-degree preheated oven for 30-45 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes.
Cook until tender and slightly browned.
Yams with pecans
Makes 12-15 servings
3 pounds yams
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup toasted pecans
Boil the yams until tender. Let them cool. Peel them and cut them into serving size pieces. Place them in a buttered baking pan. Combine the sugar and water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, when the sugar has caramelized to a golden color, carefully add the cream. Add the maple syrup and let cool.
Pour the sauce over the yams. Place in a 350- degree oven until hot.
Garnish with pecans.
Savory and sweet stuffing
Makes 16 servings
16 slices whole wheat bread, cubed (8 cups)
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 cup California raisins
2 cups hot water
1 stalk celery
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large McIntosh apple, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 egg, beaten
11/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch shallow baking pan; set aside.
Toss bread cubes with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Spread in baking pan and toast in 350-degree oven, rotating once, until browned, 20 to 25 minutes.
Soak raisins in 2 cups hot water for 15 minutes, and drain.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add celery and onions; cook, 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, stir in apples and mushrooms; continue to cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Turn into large bowl and combine with bread, pecans, raisins and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in egg and add broth to moisten, stirring until well combined. Transfer to prepared pan; cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes in 350-degree oven. Then, remove foil and continue to bake until golden brown on top and crisp around edges, 40-45 minutes. Serve piping hot.
California raisin bacon Brussels sprouts
1 pound Brussels sprouts
3 slices hickory smoked bacon (see note), cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup California raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes; for garnish
Wash, trim and quarter Brussels sprouts; arrange in microwave-safe container with 1 tablespoon water. Cover, and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp; remove with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels; set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon drippings in skillet; add onion and cook over medium heat until tender. Then, stir in cooked Brussels sprouts, raisins, salt and pepper; toss to combine and continue to cook just until heated through.
Sprinkle cooked bacon pieces on top. Turn into large serving dish; garnish with red pepper flakes, as desired.
Note: Omit bacon, and use 1 tablespoon olive oil instead of drippings for vegetarian version.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, email@example.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter. David Vartanian David Vartanian David Vartanian David Vartanian David Vartanian California Raisin Marketing Board California Raisin Marketing Board