I spent all of November in the US with my family, having what was my first US-based Thanksgiving in years. I generally host my own Thanksgiving in Iceland for a mishmash of mostly non-American guests. While I have taken my mother’s traditional Thanksgiving as my starting point, I do things my own way.
For one thing, her dislike for pumpkin and sweet potatoes has somehow kept her from making strides into this yellow/orange vegetable group. (Not to mention that she has so much other food that it could hardly be called necessary to add to it.) I happen to love pumpkin and butternut squash (the latter of which I have been known to use as a substitute because pumpkin was not always available in Iceland), so I took this well past the standard pumpkin pie of my mom’s dinner table. I started making pumpkin curry soup as a starter and introduced a sweet potato casserole that, for some reason, has been exceptionally popular (to the point that some guests call it their favorite among all the dishes I make, and others have adopted the recipe for themselves). Usually I also make pumpkin butter and mini pumpkin bread varieties to send home with guests at the end of the night.
Similarly, in addition to adding some whole new dishes like those described above, I have felt compelled to make improvements on some of the more generic, “instant”/from-a-package kinds of dishes that tend to make their way into many people’s Thanksgivings. I cannot abide the gelatinous goop people dubiously refer to as “green bean casserole”, so I played around and came up with my own from-scratch recipe. (Granted, beans from a can are not exactly a from-scratch solution, but canned beans are not the offensive part of the traditional quick recipe for this. Most people dump in a blobby "log" of canned cream of mushroom soup into the beans with some milk, mix it up and bake it… and this strikes me as a very bad idea.)
I promised guests from my mom’s Thanksgiving this year that I would post my recipes on my blog – but neglected to do so for almost two whole months.
Sweet potato casserole
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 or 4 large), scrubbed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus a bit more for buttering the pan
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200C). Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and pierce each one 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F (175C). Scoop the sweet potatoes out of their skins and into a medium bowl. Discard the skins. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until smooth.
Butter an 8-by-8-inch square casserole dish. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pan and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a bit puffy. Serve immediately.
Green bean casserole (This is one recipe I play with and change and do not follow carefully)
3 pounds green beans (fresh; this year I used three large cans of green beans)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
10 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter
1 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced (sometimes I use regular button mushrooms, sometimes portobello… whatever you like, really)
2 shallots, sliced, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a big pinch of salt and the green beans. Cook for about 5 minutes, the beans should still be crisp, they will be cooked more in the oven. Drain them and set aside. Skip this step if you are using canned green beans.
Butter a baking dish large enough to hold the green beans with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.
Heat the oven to 375F.
Using the olive oil or butter, melt in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the shallots and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream, add the thyme and chives, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the green beans and half the Parmesan and stir well. Pour the green bean mixture into the prepared baking dish, top with the rest of the Parmesan, and sprinkle on the French-fried onions. Bake until everything is hot and bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes.