Not too late for Thanksgiving creativity

By Bill Colvard -
Cornbread casserole is a great last-minute Thanksgiving side. If you’ve got some frozen corn and a couple of little cans of creamed corn, you may not even need to go to the grocery store. - Bill Colvard | The News

It’s Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and you haven’t even given a thought as to what you’re going to do about that side dish you’re supposed to bring to dinner. It’s a problem but it doesn’t have to be insurmountable.

If you’re supposed to cook the turkey, that’s a bigger problem. Possibly an insurmountable one, if you can’t find a fresh, unfrozen turkey. Good luck with that. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is not the best day to go on that particular quest.

Side dishes are another story. They don’t have to take forever to prepare, and they don’t have to be difficult. Holiday-table-worth side dishes can be easier than you might think. Update a classic, or just make something homemade that usually comes from a can. That’s always an impressive trick.

The world is divided into people who love green bean casserole, and people who find it a confusing, possibly disgusting custom. There are other ways to prepare holiday-worthy green beans, and you might win over the latter group with some haricorts verts prepared with roasted chestnuts and a date vinaigrette dressing. Fast, and fancy. Just what a holiday dinner demands.

It is an almost universally unknown fact that cranberry sauce is quick and easy to make. The recipe that follows only requires three ingredients and a few minutes, and your whole family will think you’re a magician because you hold the secret to a holiday classic that heretofore was only available in a can. You can gussy it up with figs or orange peel or herbs, but you certainly don’t have to.

And speaking of gussying up, a recipe follows for sausage stuffing that only requires about 15 minutes to gussy up some stuffing mix. And since you’re not supposed to put the stuffing in the turkey anymore, no one will know it’s a quickie recipe when you serve it in a skillet, preferably cast iron. Cast iron screams homemade, with memories of granny spending hours over a hot stove. Which you, most decidedly, will not do. Nor do you need to.

Baked corn casserole is supposedly a Southern classic, but it’s not often seen around these parts. And it should be. Goes together quick, and uses mostly stuff you probably already have on hand. It takes an hour to bake, but while it’s in the oven, you can be doing something else. Like throwing away the box your pumpkin pie came in, and trying to transfer it to a real pie pan.

Cream corn is a standby of the canned vegetable aisle that some folks heat and eat right out of the can, and others turn up their nose at it. But did you ever consider that cream corn is just a supermarket rendition of a homemade dish, creamed corn? It is, and you can do it yourself. You can cook corn in an actual, honest-to-goodness cream sauce. And it’s delicious. It tastes like the second half of the 20th century never happened. You’re back in Granny’s kitchen when a little cream and a little flour made it easy to eat your vegetables.

Baked Corn Casserole

Considered by many to be a Southern classic, it’s not often seen in these parts. It should be. it takes a hour to bake, but it goes together super fast.

1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2/3 cup whole milk

1/4 cup cream

2 cups frozen corn, defrosted

2 -8 oz. cans creamed corn

kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika

2 tbsp. chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, mix cornmeal and butter until smooth. Whisk in sugar, eggs, milk and cream until incorporated. Fold in corn and creamed corn and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Pour into your baking dish and bake uncovered for 1 hour, or until center is set and top is golden. Garnish with chives and serve.

Broccoli and Cheddar Casserole with Leeks

Broccoli casserole gets an update with leeks, almonds and white cheddar.

3 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets, stems peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch coins

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

Kosher salt

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup coarsely crushed saltine crackers

1/2 cup sliced almonds

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set a steamer basket in a large, deep saucepan filled with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Add all of the broccoli, cover and cook over high heat until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the broccoli to a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and whisk over moderately high heat until bubbling and a paste forms, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour half of the cheese sauce into a large 2-inch-deep baking dish. Arrange the drained broccoli on top of the cheese sauce in a single layer and drizzle the remaining cheese sauce on top. In a small bowl, mix the crackers with the almonds and melted butter and sprinkle over the broccoli. Bake the casserole for 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Haricots Verts and Chestnuts with Date Vinaigrette

Update the green bean casserole with fresh haricorts verts (green bean). And roasted chestnuts. Best of all, it can be made ahead the night before. The cooked haricots verts and dressing can be refrigerated separately overnight.

2 cups vacuum-packed peeled chestnuts (10 ounces)

2 pounds haricots verts

2 small shallots, chopped

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup grapeseed oil

1/4 cup chopped pitted dates

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Freshly ground pepper Salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the chestnuts on a baking sheet and bake until slightly dry, about 5 minutes. Let cool, then thinly slice and transfer to a large bowl. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool under running water. Pat thoroughly dry. Add the beans to the chestnuts.

In a blender, combine the shallots, cider vinegar and oil and pulse until smooth. Add the dates, thyme and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and pulse until the dates are finely chopped but not pureed. Add the dressing to the beans, season with salt and toss. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Chunky Cranberry Sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce turns out to be really quick and easy. And it can be refrigerated for up to 1 month, so any leftovers will last almost until Christmas.

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries

1 1/2 cups apple juice

1 cup sugar

In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries with the apple juice and sugar. Simmer over low heat until the berries burst and the sauce is jammy, about 20 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a heatproof bowl, let cool, then refrigerate until chilled.

Skillet Sausage Stuffing

This recipe is really just a way to gussy up packaged stuffing, but it really succeeds at the gussying. And it only takes about 15 minutes.

1 pound bulk pork sausage

1-1/4 cups chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 large garlic clove, minced

1-1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 tsp. rubbed sage

1 package (6 ounces) stuffing mix

In a large skillet, cook the sausage, celery, onion and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer; drain. Stir in broth and sage. Bring to a boil. Stir in stuffing mix. Cover and remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Yield: 8 servings.

Skillet Scalloped Corn

This is a real quickie. Not exactly scalloped in the traditional sense, but it sure is easy and fast to make.

2 tsp. butter

1/2 cup crushed rich round, wheat, or rye crackers

1 -11 ounce can whole kernel corn with sweet peppers, drained

1 -7 ounce can whole kernel corn with sweet peppers, whole kernel corn, or white (shoepeg) corn, drained

2 -1 ounce slice process Swiss cheese, torn

1/3 cup milk

1/8 tsp. onion powder

dash of ground black pepper

For topping, in a 10-inch skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the crushed crackers to the skillet. Cook and stir until light brown. Remove topping; set aside.

In same skillet combine remaining crushed crackers, corn, cheese, milk, onion powder, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until cheese melts. Transfer to a serving dish; sprinkle with topping. Makes 4 servings.

Creamed Corn

Not your regular creamed corn from a can. This corn is cooked in a real cream sauce.

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen corn kernels, thawed

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. butter

1 cup whole milk

2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a skillet over medium heat, combine the corn, cream, salt, sugar, pepper and butter. Whisk together the milk and flour, and stir into the corn mixture. Cook stirring over medium heat until the mixture is thickened, and corn is cooked through. Remove from heat, and stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted. Serve hot.

Cornbread casserole is a great last-minute Thanksgiving side. If you’ve got some frozen corn and a couple of little cans of creamed corn, you may not even need to go to the grocery store. casserole is a great last-minute Thanksgiving side. If you’ve got some frozen corn and a couple of little cans of creamed corn, you may not even need to go to the grocery store. Bill Colvard | The News

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.