I seem to have a lot of friends who insist that Thanksgiving dinner is the “easiest” meal to prepare. It’s just turkey, stuffing, some potatoes and maybe corn? Well, it’s not easy for me.
I usually spend weeks before the holiday, scouring cookbooks and magazines for new dishes and ways to spruce up the old standbys.
I usually begin with cranberry sauce, a Thanksgiving dinner staple I can’t do without. I’ve made it with cognac, orange, ginger, dried cherries and apples. And thinking more is always better, I often make two kinds, ensuring we can never eat it all. But it freezes well and can be served with pork and chicken dishes, too.
Then I usually venture into the “vegetable part” of the dinner, where I often succumb to making several types that are not family favorites or simply making more than we need. I know I am safe with broccoli (grandchildren like it!) and maybe green beans (with a few toasted sliced almonds). Peas are tricky (husband), and the Harvard beets were not a hit the year I made them (orange or no orange).
I always make pureed sweet potatoes with vanilla, cinnamon, pecans and cream. They are delicious but fare poorly when guests are choosing between them and extra stuffing. But not being content with the sweet potatoes, I seem to always add carrots—carrots with butter and maple syrup, carrots with ginger, carrots with sauteed shallots, or an Italian version with Marsala wine.
On the “stuffing front,” I’ve accepted the fact that my mother’s recipe is the best—just cubed country white bread, celery, onion, butter, chicken broth and lots of poultry seasoning. I am done experimenting with cornbread, chestnuts, apples, nuts and raisins. Mom’s traditional and plain version seems best for us. I make a lot.
No matter which dishes I end up making for the big Thanksgiving meal, I learned one thing early on. I don’t want to be mashing and whipping potatoes at the last minute. Years ago, I found a recipe for mashed potatoes with chive cream. I cut it out (from somewhere), and it is now covered in plastic and pulled out every year. There is nothing really that unique about it except for the addition of some chive-laced half and half. The most important thing for me is that it can be made a day before the big meal and gently warmed right before serving. It is a big timesaver for me and really good, too.
Mashed Potatoes with Chive Cream
- 5 pounds large russet or yellow gold potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
- 1¼ sticks unsalted butter
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup plus another 1/3 cup half and half
- 1 cup chopped fresh chives
- Butter (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a 13×9-inch baking dish (I use a pretty white floral one that goes from oven to table).
- Cut potatoes into cubes and place them in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cover partially, and boil until tender and very soft (at least 20 minutes and even 30).
- Drain the potatoes and place them back on the burner again for about 15 to 20 seconds to remove excess moisture.
- Cool for a few minutes then place the potatoes in a very large bowl.
- Add the butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mash thoroughly.
- Bring 1 cup half and half and ½ cup of chives to a simmer in a small sauce pan.
- Add to the potatoes in the bowl and stir vigorously with a large wooden spoon. (If you like your potatoes extra creamy, add more half and half to your liking. I keep tasting and add more salt if needed.)
- Place the mixture into the prepared baking pan, and using the tip or edge of your wooden spoon, make swirls and “scallops” on the top.
- Bake in a 350-degree oven until heated through and some of the peaks on top are tinged with brown.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate until Thanksgiving day.
Remove the casserole a few hours before dinner and bring it to room temperature. When almost ready to serve, heat the remaining 1/3-cup half and half and the remaining ½-cup chives. Microwave the potatoes until hot, and then drizzle the heated half and half and chives into the nooks and crannies on the top surface of the casserole. It is then ready to serve, right from the baking dish.
Alternatively, and if you have the oven space, you can bake the potatoes for about an hour, before dinnertime. I like doing the baking the day before so that all is left is the heating.
I have been doing Thanksgiving potatoes like this for a very long time, and it is my favorite dish on the heavily laden table. The touch of nutmeg and oniony chives gives it an unexpected flavor.
I’ve gotten the Thanksgiving cooking magazines out already. I’ve been wondering if marshmallows on the sweet potatoes really would be OK.
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