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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

For my mother, Thanksgiving was the best day of the year. She enjoyed being surrounded by friends, family, and food. One day of the year when everyone was focused on being together and remembering how blessed we all are. She's been gone now for two years but this year, as we did last year, we'll toast her and remember how much she enjoyed Thanksgiving.

We all know that while turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, the side dishes and desserts reign supreme. Cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with sausages and dried apricots, mushroom and giblets gravy, salads, pickles, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, string beans, squash...and the desserts: pies, custards, cakes, fresh fruit, cheese... Thanksgiving celebrates an iconic moment of generosity from strangers at a moment of crisis. Given the difficulties the world is facing for the coming year, we can use Thanksgiving to share with one another our hopes for the future.

Everyone has their favorite side dishes for the holiday. They need to be flavorful and easy to make. Here are mine: Roasted Whole Tomatoes, Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, and Avocadoes, Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad, Blackened Peppers with Capers, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and, my new favorite, Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. For a dinner party, pick ones that are about the same size.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Take a sharp paring knife and slice each sweet potato open the long way. Using your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

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