Food & Drink

5 down-to-the-wire dishes

You may need to make a double batch of Apple Spice Cake.
You may need to make a double batch of Apple Spice Cake.

With just 48 hours to go, I know you’ve got it covered. Or at least most of it.

The Thanksgiving Day meal can be a wonderful experience, but getting there is often fraught with complications, last-minute changes (“You’re bringing WHAT instead of rolls?”) and juggling roles of cook, host and peacemaker — all while shoving a turkey in the oven.

Or, you could be the person who just has to arrive with one dish in hand. Lucky you. You have two options when you get there: Strap on an apron and help out, or stay out of the kitchen, and out of the cook’s way.

Either way, you may need a final-countdown dish, something that will delight guests and not look like you waited until Wednesday evening to prepare it, although with several of these recipes that’s exactly what you can do!

So, I’m offering up some easy answers: Pick something classic, like Watergate Salad, or out of the ordinary, such as Pumpkin Pie Fudge. The glazed carrots from Martha Stewart are a snap everyone will like, the sweet potatoes are a healthy makeover and the Apple Spice Cake may take some of the attention away from the pumpkin pie.

Fix a gravy in trouble

Making gravy is one of the last things you do for the Thanksgiving Day meal. It’s easy for it to go wrong, from lumpy bits of flour that just won’t dissolve in the hot liquid to using too much pan juice. Here’s some advice from www.Bettycrocker.com:

  • Greasy. Place a slice of fresh bread on top of the fat for a few seconds to absorb it; remove bread before it breaks into pieces.
  • Lumpy. Pour into food processor and process until smooth, or press gravy through a strainer; return to saucepan and heat. Editor’s note: To avoid this in the first place, combine your thickener, such as cornstarch or flour, in a jar with some cool water. Tighten the lid and shake until there are no lumps. Then gradually add the liquid from the jar to the gravy and stir to thicken.
  • Too thin. Dissolve 1 tablespoon flour in 2 tablespoons cool water; stir into gravy with fork or wire whisk. Boil and stir 1 minute.
  • Too pale. Stir in browning sauce, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce to color (start with 1 teaspoon). Editor’s note: My preference is a browning sauce called Kitchen Bouquet. A tiny bit adds a rich brown color to gravy, plus some flavor along with it.
  • Too salty. Add a raw peeled potato, cut into eighths; cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes, then remove potato pieces.

Glazed Carrots with Thyme

Prep the carrots a day ahead and refrigerate them in a zip-top plastic bag.

3 tablespoons dark-brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 1/2 pounds baby carrots, peeled and trimmed

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large straight-sided skillet, bring 1 1/3 cups water, brown sugar and butter to a boil over high. Add carrots and reduce heat. Partially cover and simmer until slightly tender, 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, gently tossing often, until carrots are tender and glazed, about 6 minutes. Stir in thyme and cook 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Note: Cooking carrots in a bit of water, butter and sugar brings out their delicate flavor and coats them with a thin glaze. Instead of baby carrots, you can substitute medium carrots, cut into thin slices.

Fresh thyme is wonderful with carrots, but dill or parsley would be delicious, too.

Martha Stewart

Sweet Potato Casserole Makeover

Minus the typical 2 cups of sugar and using half the butter, this healthier casserole can be baked, cooled and refrigerated a day in advance. Reheat, covered with aluminum foil, at 250 degrees for 20 minutes just before serving.

3 cups cooked, peeled mashed sweet potatoes

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

3 large eggs

1/2 cup low-fat milk (1 percent)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon plus one pinch salt

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour (may substitute all-purpose flour)

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart baking dish, such as an 8-by-8-inch Pyrex, with cooking oil spray.

Combine the mashed sweet potato, maple syrup, eggs, milk, 2 tablespoons of the butter, the vanilla extract, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment or a hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed for several minutes, until all the ingredients are well combined and the mixture has slightly increased in volume, then transfer to the baking dish, smoothing the mixture evenly.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, pecans, whole-wheat pastry flour, light brown sugar and the remaining pinch of salt in a medium bowl; use your clean fingers or a fork to evenly incorporate and coat the pecans. Sprinkle over the top of the sweet potatoes in the dish.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until fragrant and lightly caramelized on top. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings, each with 320 calories, 6 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 20 grams sugar.

Washington Post/nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger

Pumpkin Pie Fudge

Forget the pie. You’ll surprise guests with this delicious treat, perfect if you just want a little something sweet for dessert, or to snack on later. It makes a big batch so you can keep some for yourself.

2 cups sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

3 / 4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine

2/3 cup evaporated milk or half and half

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 (12-ounce) package butterscotch chips

1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow whip

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Line a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with foil. Butter the foil, or coat with vegetable oil spray.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the white and brown sugars, butter, evaporated milk, pumpkin and spice. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 10 to 12 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, you should reach 235 degrees (soft-ball stage).

Quickly stir in morsels. Stir vigorously for 1 minute, or until morsels are melted. Stir in marshmallow, nuts and vanilla extract just to blend well. Immediately pour into prepared pan. Let stand on wire rack for 2 hours or until completely cooled. Refrigerate tightly covered. To cut, lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Yield: About 3 pounds, or 132 pieces, each with 52 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 7 grams carbohydrates, 14 mg sodium.

Adapted from a Nestle recipe

Watergate Salad

Rich with crushed pineapple, pudding, marshmallows and whipped topping, this sweet side dish is perfect for a beginner to make.

1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained

1 package (3.4 ounces) pistachio-flavor instant pudding

1 cup miniature marshmallows

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups thawed whipped topping

Combine first 4 ingredients in large bowl.

Stir in whipped topping. Refrigerate 1 hour.

Makes 8 servings, about 1/2 cup each.

Apple Spice Cake

FOR THE APPLE CAKE:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/3 cups light brown sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups grated peeled and cored apples (from any red baking apple, such as Cortland or Rome), about 1 pound

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)

Icing or whipped cream for topping

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, eggs, grated apples and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering to the bottom. Rotate the pan about two-thirds of the way through the baking time. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

5. Choose your favorite fluffy white or buttercream icing to top the cake, or mix up a batch of fresh whipped cream and use that. Sprinkle crushed walnuts on the top, if desired, and add thin slices of red or green apples to the side.

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